iPhone as an ebook reader: What’s out there?

[UPDATE 23 June 2010: I’ve posted a more recent survey of iPhone and iPad reader apps which you might want to check out.]

Whatever Steve Jobs’ view of reading books on his iPhone, it seems just about everyone else with an interest in gadgets and reading wantsApple iPhone to see the iPhone kitted out as the ebook reader of choice. There has been quite a bit of activity since Apple released its Software Developer’s Kit (SDK) for the iPhone back in March. So, what’s out there for your iPhone today?


The pick of the iPhone ebook readers so far seems to be Stanza from a start-up called Lexcycle. The reader, still in beta form, is an elegant implementation that is in tune with the iPhone’s operating style, and has good ebook format support including the open ePub standard. You can check out a video showing Stanza in action (Quicktime video).

Stanza features built-in support for HTML, PDF, Microsoft Word, and Rich Text Format reading, as well as several of the major eBook standards: unprotected Amazon Kindle and Mobipocket, Microsoft LIT, Palm doc, and the International Digital Publishing Forum’s epub Open eBook standard. Regarding the latter, it has easy connectivity to Feedbooks, a site that supplies a wide range of ebooks in the ePub format (including the ability to create your own). The Stanza developers have also opened its programming interface so that others can port their formats to the Stanza platform.

Unfortunately, its biggest drawback at the moment is that it’s a little too closely tied to the Apple world. You need a Mac computer to run the Stanza Desktop application to get books on to the iPhone. Lexcycle say they will be producing a Windows version but haven’t yet committed to a timeframe.


The biggie at this stage is the porting of the eReader ebook reading software, one of the most widely used ebook formats. eReader began life on the Palm mobile platform and has broad support across the key mobile platforms plus Windows and Mac. It’s tied up with the Fictionwise ebook store which provides a large number of commercial ebook titles. [Update:] Take a look at this video of eReader 1.1 to see how it works. Nice to see the easy connection to websites other than the developer’s own for the download of the .pdb formatted books.


BookShelf was the first ebook reader for the iPhone. It reads plain text (.txt), .html with images, FictionBook2 with images (.fb2), Palmdoc (Aportis), Plucker with images and non-DRM Mobi files. It comes with a tandem application called ShelfServer which runs on your PC and is what you use to load your ebooks onto the iPhone. ShelfServer runs on Windows, Mac or Linux. Because it’s running on your own PC or network, you can use the iPhone’s wifi capability to connect to it. Here’s a video that shows you how BookShelf and ShelfServer work.


Texterity is a magazine-oriented reader that’s been available for several months on the iPhone. Unlike the book-oriented readers, it creates a facsimile of the magazine, ads included, replicating the magazine layout. The Texterity reader connects to its own newstand that provides access to its selection of magazines. Here’s a video of how it works on the iPhone.

Coming (soon?) …

A couple of notable early absences are the Amazon-owned Mobipocket reader and the open source FBReader ebook reader software. Both are reportedly working on iPhone ports but at the time of writing, there’s little firm information and no sign yet of either. While it’s yet to come up with its iPhone port, FBReader in April released an early beta version for the open Android mobile operating system being promoted by Google. Android, which is securing solid industry support, should eventually be a viable competitor to the iPhone and other reading devices once phone makers begin to release devices using the system.

Comments (5)

  1. Michael Brein

    Any suggestions as to how to create an ebook application for sale in the Apple Store?

  2. Pingback: A basic eBook primer

  3. iPhoneDeveloper


    I have developed an epub reader for iphone.

    Any publishers interested in releasing book can contact me.


  4. David Barnes

    This is incorrect information.

    Stanza on iPhone DOES NOT support “Microsoft LIT” format.

    – If you drag your .lit book (unencrypted one) to stanza (on iTunes).. Stanza on iPhone shows the book as a download in progress and the error: “Import Failed.. Failed to import ‘mytestbook.lit’ : Unknown file format for ‘mytestbook.lit’

  5. Martin Taylor (Post author)

    Thanks for the correction, David.

Leave a Comment