Sony Reader for Android’s New Support for Epub3 Makes Me Think Epub3 is DOA
No one really knows why Sony is still in ebooks (not even Sony) but in spite of the fact they are more disorganized that your average group of 6-year-old girls they do still manage to pull off surprising work.
Sony rolled out a new update yesterday for the Sony Reader for Android app. according to the listing in Google Play, the new version of the app now supports Epub3.
You can download the updated app and the extension from Google Play. Be sure to get the ; that is what (theoretically) enables the support for audio and video, interactive content, and other Epub3 features.
Or at least that is what the listing says. I have downloaded the app (and the required extension) and I’m not really sure that the Epub3 support is completely functional.
Oh, it works about as well as on the iPad (and definitely better than Helicon’s Gyan reading app). And the embedded audio and video work just fine and the videos can even play full screen on my HTC smartphone.
But video and audio isn’t Epub3; various reading apps supported it since 2010. No, I want the interactivity and MathML to work, and they don’t. Some of the embedded image and language support is also effectively nonfunctional.
What’s more, the formatting of the Epub3 ebooks looks like shit on the 4″ screen of my smartphone (htc x710a).
From what I can tell it’s not entirely the fault of the app. I’ve downloaded several ebooks from the IDPF collection of Epub3 sample files, and a couple are frankly unusable. It looks like they have the page margins hard-coded margins built-in, and the ebook designers clearly did not think about how their ebooks would look on screens smaller than the iPad.
You can see the worst offender at right, but there are a couple others that are nearly as bad. That screenshot shows the ebook with the interactive test widget (it doesn’t work, BTW). You’re going to have to click on the image in order to really appreciate how horrible the margins are.
I’m sorry that you had to do that. I really am.
If this app is any indication of what Epub3 support is going to be like for mainstream reading apps then it is dead on arrival.
I’m running the Sony app on a smartphone with a dual-core CPU. In spite of the decent hardware and the fact that 15 months have passed since the Epub3 spec was finalized, most of the cool new features of Epub3 don’t work. What’s more, the ebooks look ugly.
If this is what the commercial Epub3 ebooks are going to look like then that format is dead on arrival. It completely fails to live up to one of the goals of a common format: it doesn’t work everywhere.
Music has standard formats because users know that any mp3 will work in any mp3 player. Video has standard formats and we know the file will work. And of course images have standard formats that work in any web browser.
If you compare Epub to the standard image, video, and audio formats, you’ll agree that it does not behave nearly as consistently as jpeg, mp3, mp4, or what have you.
Don’t get me wrong, Apple’s implementation of Epub3 works well enough. But that’s just one vendor who also put a lot of work into developing their own version of the Epub3 ebook format, iBooks. So far no one else has been able to match Apple, and that renders support for Epub3 inconsistently non-standard.
At this point it looks to me like Epub3 is going to be about as standard as Epub, which is actually available in at least 7 different flavors. That’s not a standard format – not by any user’s definition.
When I last posted on the multitude of Epub ebook formats in February 2012, Felix left a comment that explains this point. His remarks are still true today and apply equally well for Epub ebooks:
What is UNIX? Is it a product? A specification?
What is LINUX? A product? A specification?
Neither is either.
They are simply terms that refer to a variety of individual products that share some ideology and toolkits but are neither a coherent specification not a specific product.
People don’t buy or use LINUX; they buy/use Red Hat, Mandrake, Debian, Ubuntu, MacOX, Android, etc.
There is *no* LINUX as a product. There is *no* UNIX as a product.
At the product level, which is what we are discussing about ebooks, whether the plumbing is derived from the historical UNIX codebase or the various LINUX mutations is irrelevant to consumers.
Just as the internal plumbing of ebooks is irrelevant to ebook buyers.
Like Linux, "Epub" is more of a marketing label than anything. That has to be embarrassing for the engineers who originally developed it.