e-Books: Formats, Apps and Devices Explained

e-Books: Formats, Apps and Devices Explained explains various e-book formats and how you can read e-books on devices other than e-readers.

In a few short years, the popularity of e-books has really taken off for obvious reasons:

  • They’re usually much less expensive than their paper copy counterparts.
  • Access to them is instantaneous. You don’t need to wait for them to be shipped to your mailbox if you’re buying them online.
  • You can carry around hundreds, if not thousands, of e-books in a small device.
  • Many e-book readers are back lit so you can read them at night without disturbing your sleeping partner with the light of your bedside lamp.

Many public libraries have e-book lending services such as this one operated by the Brantford Public Library, and authors periodically offer promotions reducing the prices on their e-books or sometimes even offering them for free.

But if you don’t consider yourself to be exactly tech savvy, you might be confused by a lot of the e-book terms that are used.

e-Book Formats

The most popular e-book formats for novels and nonfiction books which don’t have extensive formatting in their design such as memoirs, biographies, etc. (i.e. no images, tables, charts, and that sort of thing) are:

  • PDF which stands for “Portable Document Format”. This is a format developed by Adobe Systems and it’s been around for a long time. This is not usually used for the kinds of e-books that are available for sale on Amazon, Kobo or Barnes and Noble and similar e-book retailers.
  • MOBI which is short for “Mobile”. This is the format used by Amazon and is synonymous with “Kindle”. While you might find .mobi e-books available for sale on independent sites, you won’t find books in other e-book formats available for sale on Amazon. Amazon also uses .kf8 (“Kindle Fire 8” a.k.a. .azw) which was introduced with the release of its Kindle Fire tablets.
  • EPUB which stands for “Electronic Publication”. This type of e-book is very popular and is sold by Kobo, and Barnes and Noble and many other online e-book retailers.
  • iBOOK which is an Apple specific format based on .epub but with some differences.

There are many other e-book formats and you can read more about them here if you’re interested.

These formats, with the exception of PDF, are designed to be “fluid” so that they can adjust to the size of whatever device they’re read in much like web pages. So whether you’re reading the text on your phone or on a tablet or e-book reader, the text should adjust to fit the screen properly to make it easier to read by re-aligning and resizing the text.

Reading e-Books

What a lot of people probably find confusing is that you can download software and device applications which allow you to read:

  • .epub e-books on desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, Kindle, and Apple devices
  • .mobi e-books on desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, Android, and Apple devices

As with most things Apple, however, software and apps for non-Apple desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, Kindle or Android e-readers are not available to make it possible to read this proprietory .ibook format. If I’m misinformed on this point, please let me know in the comments.

Popular e-Book Reading Apps and Software

Check out these free e-reading options:

  • Calibre
  • Kobo
  • E-book Software for Windows
  • Adobe Digital Editions
  • Epub Readers
  • Kindle Reading Apps
  • Free e-Reading Apps on Google Play
  • e-Books on the Cloud

    Another reason e-books are probably so popular is because the same e-book can be read on multiple personal electronic devices if you store the e-book on a cloud. These devices could include:

    • Desktop computers
    • Laptops
    • Tablets
    • Smart phones
    • And, last but certainly not least, e-readers!

    So, that means you could read a chapter on your tablet before you fall to sleep, read more on your phone if you take the bus to work and then read another chapter on your computer at work (during lunch of course!) and you will be able to pick up where you left off with your e-book.

    When you keep your e-books on a cloud, it simply means that they are stored in a neutral place on the internet in an account just for your e-books such as the Kindle Cloud. You may be required to sign in to access your e-book if you’re using a publicly accessible computer or device. Alternatively, you could also store your file online using a site such as Dropbox. These sites, however, are not designed to track where you left off reading your e-book and you would have to remember where you left off in the book to start reading it again and I don’t believe that Dropbox is accessible with a basic e-reader.

    e-Reader Versus Tablet

    A low end Kindle (.mobi) or Kobo <.epub) e-reader can be purchased starting at about $80 depending on the model and features you want. They will have wifi allowing you to download e-books directly onto the e-reader. A low end Nook starts at about $100.

    It wasn’t always the case that e-book readers came with wifi and my very first e-reader, an early Sony, had to be hooked up to my desktop to upload books that had previously been downloaded to my desktop through the internet. Compared to today’s e-readers this sounds like something from the dark ages, doesn’t it?

    Amazon, Kobo and Nook also offer tablets that work as e-readers, but practically any tablet can be used as an e-reader with the installation of an appropriate e-reading app so if you want the options, benefits and functionality that a tablet offers (cameras, GPS, web browsing, etc.) with your e-reader, you don’t need to limit yourself to just the tablets they are offering. Visit your local computer store and explore all the options – price, features, etc. – before making a decision.

    Prices have dropped substantially on these electronic devices. That first e-reader I just mentioned (no backlighting, only good for reading e-books, strictly black and white and grey scale) retailed for just shy of $300 about 5 years ago. Shortly after I got it (of course!) the prices nosedived and the functionality was vastly improved to the point where you couldn’t buy an e-reader that didn’t have wifi! Now you can buy a tablet with all the bells and whistles for about the same price!

    Photo credit: Pixabay