eBooks On An iPhone: An Interview with ZappTek’s Michael Zapp

On July 9, 2008

The holy grail of iPhone applications may just be the upcoming ebook readers that will be making their way to the device beginning this Friday. There have already been ebook readers available on jailbroken phones but the lack of available content has always be a hugely limiting factor. (Content is the huge advantage the Amazon Kindle currently has over other dedicated readers.)

The landscape for reading ebooks on handheld devices will change significantly in the coming months. Market leader eReader has announced the future release of an iPhone version of their software. In the meantime, however, there are an increasing number of choices. One that takes an unusual approach is Legends from ZappTek. We had a chance to interview Michael Zapp, the company’s founder.

Here is what he had to say…

Can you tell us a bit about your company and your current and future products?
Well, ZappTek started in 2002 when I made some utilities for syncing notes and calendar entries to the original iPod — back when all you had was Contacts. This grew as the iPod grew so that we have a number of applications for processing and getting information onto the iPod. As for the future, nothing is ever a certainty but we do have a few more ideas for iPhone applications.

Can you tell us why you decided to focus on the iPhone as your platform of choice when there have been smartphones on the market for years?
The iPhone is the first platform that has a nice development environment and the first that has the capabilities that make it possible to do interesting/useful applications that people will want/need and actually use.

How do you view your application on the iPhone competing with the likes of, say the SonyReader or Amazon Kindle?
 I don’t want to consider it as a competitor for the Kindle or SonyReader. We are trying to do similar things but in both of those cases the focus is on the technology (specifically the e-ink screen). The focus here is on the reading experience — we wanted to make something that’s a joy to use (like the iPhone itself) so that you forget that you’re reading something on a device. You can see this in the fact that each book is an app unto itself. It feels like you’re actually buying the whole book, not just a file to go into a reader. This also means that we can customize the application for each book — we have the ability to render things slightly differently, have actual *color* images, etc.

We really take the book concept to heart — we work with the notion of page as a hard concept just like in a book. There is some scrolling but you actually flip pages (if you have sound effects on it even make a page flip sound), which helps in feeling the actual progress through a book instead of simply scrolling ala a web page. We’ve worked with the author to ensure that the page length is what you would normally get in a book page, which means there’s just over a screen and a half of content when not zooming. That also helps with the bookmarks and notes, which are page sensitive.

Our other difference is the focus on the author. We want to work directly with them to customize their books. This means we can have things like an "about the author" section if they want (like the back cover of a "real" book), set bookmarks for places they want the reader to be able to jump to, etc.

What was the learning curve in using the iPhone SDK like?
Given my knowledge of Mac OS X development, it was pretty straightforward.

What have you learned from developing thus far for the iPhone which will affect your direction for future iPhone development?

The big thing is the limitations. You think you can do anything with the touch interface, but you can’t. The book’s user interface is the way it is because you can’t have every gesture you dream — the detection of one can interfere with others. Knowing this will help with future designs.

Apple has introduced an entirely new distribution model through the App Store, do you see it as a favorable situation for the future of your company?
Yes. In my opinion having a single source makes it easier for customers — that’s why the iTunes Music Store has been so successful.

How does the current model impact future software development for you?

I don’t think it does. I’ll continue to work as I always have.

Do you envision setting aside dollars for marketing your iPhone apps or will you be relying exclusively on exposure via the App Store?
Yes, we (along with the authors) will be marketing this as much as we can.

Do you see your company developing any iPhone specific applications in the future?
We have a few ideas but right now the focus is on Legends.

How much content do you expect to have available?

We will definitely have 4 stories there this Friday, maybe more. We have quite a few more from Michael Stackpole that should appear relatively soon. We’re now lining up other authors but we want to take it slow. I’m hopeful that we’ll have a steady stream of new material coming over the next few months.

With the release of iPhone 2.0 looming what else would you like readers to know?
I think everyone should at least give reading on the iPhone and iPod touch a try. I was sold on the idea when I did a usability test: I hoped on a bus, played some music and read a story. It was surprisingly pleasant! With normal books I find I get a headache reading on a bus but with the iPhone it was much better, probably because there’s less to focus on and the screen is so crisp and clear.

And just think, if you’re waiting around at an airport or dentist you can always pull out your iPhone and purchase something new to read right then and there! How cool is that?

You can see details on current and upcoming books here.

Check back for our upcoming review.