I think we can all agree by now that the iPad has proven itself useful in all sorts of different situations. In fact, it seems that new uses pop up quite regularly as the hardware improves and app developers explore new and interesting ways to use the device.
One of the original uses, that I’ll argue is still one of the most popular ones, is reading. The iPad is a pretty solid device for reading in general and we’ve seen that taken up a notch even with the release of the iPad Mini. A lot of iPad users spend a serious amount of time reading on their devices. I’ll throw myself into this group and will even go so far as saying that the majority of the time I spend on my iPad is reading.
iBooks and the Kindle app are the obvious forerunners in this space and have been around essentially since the beginning of the device. These applications are certainly cool, but they are essentially a port of reading a physical book into a digital space. The apps are trying to recreate that experience of reading a book even down to the realistic page turn animation that you’ll see in iBooks.
I’ve always felt like these devices had so much potential to really change the way we consume books, but I’ve been less than impressed with the so-called innovation in this space. A fancy page turn animation only goes so far for me. We should be looking to make the experience better and really take advantage of these devices. An iPad is a computer. It can obviously do certain things that we humans cannot do. Why shouldn’t we be taking advantage of that functionality with regard to books?
When Marvin came across my desk I felt like I finally got my wish. The description for the application was quite intriguing right away. It’s an eReader application, yes, but it is trying to take things a step further and utilize the power of the computer that is the iPad to make the experience of reading a book even more immersive.
It’s probably quite evident that I’m mostly interested in the ways in which Marvin differentiates itself from the popular eBook applications, but I feel the need to rundown the more standard features you’ll find with many apps in this category. Marvin actually has a really great feature set for an eBook reader even if your aren’t interested in some of the different things it does.
Layout adjustment, font options as well as color scheme options are simple to change. The options presented are more than adequate.
Marvin also allows you to change a handful of the standard gesture controls to your liking. For example you can set a two-finger swipe to flip five pages or jump to your bookmarks. Swiping up and down can also be set to adjust the display brightness and warmth.
I love this. I feel like I always want to make adjustments and not being forced into a menu to do so is great.
Marvin functions seamlessly with Dropbox. And when I say seamless I mean seamless. Connect your Dropbox account and Marvin will search your entire Dropbox for eBooks and make the available to download to your Marvin library. They can be in any folder anywhere within your Dropbox account and they’ll be neatly compiled into one list for you. This capability makes managing your library incredibly easy.
Also, I’d like to note that at the current version, Marvin opens only DRM-free ePub books, but word is they’ll be expanding their compatibility in future releases.
As you can see Marvin is a nicely featured eBook application. It offers everything that you’d expect and more and it’s all packaged into a pretty thoughtfully designed interface. While those features are important that’s not what caught my eye.
There seem to be new applications in this space that are exploring ways that we discover new content and share and engage with our fellow readers. Readmill is one that fits the bill. It’s a very cool application, but leans more toward features to help you share passages, track what you’ve read and what others are reading. It’s about the community.
Longform is another interesting reading application. This one is all about finding good things to read. It is essentially a curated list of interesting reads on various topics from around the Web. This isn’t an eBook reading application, but I point it out to illustrate a category of applications in this vein that are all about curating things to read for you. Very little thinking involved, just browse the suggested work and read.
There are many other applications that aim to help create community as well suggest great content for you to read. The portion of the process that has been lacking the innovation is the actual reading of the content. How we consume the content.
Here’s where Marvin comes in. The application uses a form of artificial intelligence to analyze a book to provide you with some really cool features.
There’s an option available on each book you open in your library that enables Marvin to take a deeper look at the text you’re reading. Tapping this icon will tell the application to read the book which opens up possibilities for some serious analysis.
The auto read has been quite quick in my experience, but does warn that it could take a minute depending on the size of the book. After the initial read, you’ll be able to take a deep view from anywhere in the book.
Let’s say you’re reading The Great Gatsby and you’d like to get a little more information on Daisy. Or you’d just like to try to understand the character a little bit better. With Deep Look you’re able to highlight her name and hop straight to a summary of the character.
This feature isn’t completely perfect, but it certainly provides some useful information that wouldn’t otherwise be very easily obtained.
It’s possible to go even further and dig deeper into your chosen book. Marvin helps you to explore the book via external sources as well. An auto-generated list of relevant articles along with the capability to search for articles on specific characters and places from the deep view is also possible.
It’s not that difficult to tap over to Safari and do a simple search on the topic of interest, but it sure does make a lot of sense for this feature to be right within the application too. Having all those sources in one place and really quickly accessible is a handy feature that allows you to easily dig deep into any related subject.
Within the deep view of a book you’ll see a list of characters and places and the like that are prominent in the book. Each one in the list can be added to the summary. A summary can then be generated based on what was selected. In this example I selected Gatsby, Daisy and Tom (the three most prominent characters) and had Marvin run a summary for me.
After a few sections a notice will appear giving you the details of the summary. A new book is essentially created and placed in your library that summarizes the book in the way you selected.
The summaries appear to cut out and compile only the relevant text according to your summary criteria. I haven’t spent enough time testing the summary on enough different books to really get a sense for how well it does, but again, even if it isn’t perfect, the function it is performing is no easy one to do outside of Marvin.
Let’s Keep Going
This article is partially a review of a really solid eBook reader application and partially and exploration of what can be done with eBooks. Marvin has a great feature set and is simply a good eBook reader application, but what gets me really excited is the experimentation into new territory.
Electronic books, by their electronic nature, are capable of so much more analysis and are just generally easier to study than their traditional papyrus counterparts. Taking notes, highlighting text (and tracking those notations), defining words on the fly along with the deep view and summary technology make for a pretty robust learning tool.
Granted, some of this feature set won’t be of much use for the average reader. Heck, I don’t think I necessarily have a ton of use for the application with a lot of the books I’ve read recently. The basic run of the mill eBook reader or even the print version work just fine for me most of the time, but if I ever feel the need to really sink my teeth into a book and want to really understand everything about it, then this technology is where I’ll turn.
I remember back to my school days and think of how much easier working through complicated, deep books would have been with an application like Marvin. If you haven’t tried the app, I’d suggest you do so. I’m excited to see where Marvin ends up and I’m excited to see others try to take things even further. Let’s keep going.