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New Reading App Promises Support for All Epub3 Features, Disappoints

mathml[1]An Israeli software developer by the name of Helicon Books made a startling claim today. According to their press release, they’ve developed the first fully Epub3 compliant reading app for Android.

That claim is startling, or at least it would be if it were true. Until today the only apps which fully supported Epub3 were iBooks, which is unfortunately limited to iOS, and Readium, which is currently limited to running in Chrome.

According to Helicon, their Gyan reading app supports:

  • Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) including animated SVG.
  • Displaying mathematical formulas using W3C MathML standard.
  • Javascript enabling more interactive books.
  • RTL languages including page progression direction.
  • Media overlay (Speak aloud as called by Apple) for audio books or mixed text and audio.
  • fixed layout mainly for comics and children’s book.
  • integrated video

Unfortunately, the app does not actually support all parts of the Epub3 spec.

I couldn’t contain my curiosity, so I bought the app. It does not live up to the hype.

I installed the app on my original Samsung Galaxy Tab, which is running Android 2.3 on a single core CPU. I’ve tried a number of the demo files from the Epub3 archive and I found any number of issues.

Fixed layout does not seem to be working. The Javascript based quiz widget in one ebook did not work. MathML did not display at all, though I did get to see empty boxes where the equations were supposed to be. And while this app does display languages like Arabic in the correct rtl direction, page turns are incredibly slow.

Update: the MathML equations showed up after the rest of the ebook was rendered.

I could continue and list in detail all the things wrong with this app, but I don’t see a reason to do so. The claim of full Epub3 support is, well, fiction.

And the app itself is disappointing. This app is slow, ugly, uses poorly designed menus, and lacks such basic behavior as responding correctly to the Android "menu" button. It also lacks almost all of the basic features you would expect to find in a paid reading app like bookmarks, notes, and a dictionary.

I can’t believe I wasted $5 on this piece of crap.

And the truly scary part is that Helicon says that the app is available for license. Yeah, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Google Play


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Mike Cane December 19, 2012 um 4:45 pm

>>>which is running Android 2.3

Don’t you have anything more modern? Maybe the old OS accounts for some of that?

Nate Hoffelder December 19, 2012 um 4:49 pm

They said I needed Android 2.2 to install this app. If what it really needs is 3.0 then they should have set that as the limit.

And given that half of all Android devices still run 2.3, my tablet is a valid test subject:

And the thing cost 5 bucks. That alone sets a high standard.

Paul Salvette December 20, 2012 um 5:50 am

Thanks, Nate, for the heads up. I guess we’ll just have to keep waiting for a decent EPUB3 reader.

pankas December 28, 2012 um 1:41 am

and so what??? free KOBO works perfect

Rotem Segal December 30, 2012 um 3:56 am

First of all what part of EPUB3 spec this application does not support?
This application was tested with the preliminary EPUB3 test suite from the IDPF ( Ori Idan CEO of Helicon Books is co-chair of the IDPF EPUB3 test suite group.)
In addition we tested it with all the EPUB3 samples available from IDPF website.

Nate Hoffelder January 15, 2013 um 11:38 am

I named the parts of the spec which did not work when I tested them in your app. Also, the general functionality of the app sucks.

Richard Pipe February 10, 2013 um 12:50 pm

And AZARDI 17 which is currently limited to Windows, Mac and Linux desktops and supports all those things. Of course this is about an ePub3 reader on Android, but really saying Apple’s reader is ePub3 compliant is stretching things a bit. It is a mini-subset of ePub3. Guide over-rides Landmarks, it doesn’t do reflowable and fixed layout mixed. That is reserved for their Publish application.

When developing fixed layout for AZARDI 17 we used every book in the IDPF test suite and frankly with a few exceptions the test books are a total load of garbage. We ended up creating our own test book suite with enough nuance and documented behaviour requirements to be actually useful for creating a reading system.

Viraja Nemani April 20, 2013 um 5:46 am

Hi Nate Hoffelder,

Your review mainly speaks about only User Interface. We have upgraded our reader further more, you can test free version of Gyan here: Google Play

Helen August 22, 2013 um 3:22 am

Have to agree with Richard, the "test books" in the IDPF are horrible and most of them shouldn´t work anyway. I can see a hint of why this never get´s solved when there´s not even proper tests released.

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