Friday, 31 January 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

Five Launchers Which Make Your Android Tablet Look Like an iPhone, WindowsPhone, and More

Posted: 31 Jan 2014 02:47 PM PST

One of the great things about Android is that it is almost infinitely customizable. If you don’t like how something looks, you can search Google Play for a replacement.

Don’t like a widget? There’s a dozen alternatives. Don’t like the home screen on your tablet? There are a hundred alternatives to choose from!

I was reminded of the many options today when I set out to find a new home screen app for my Hisense Sero 7 Pro. I was looking for a home screen that behaved and looked like the home screen on the Kobo Arc 7 (or possibly the home screen on the Kindle Fire HD).

In short, I was looking for a home screen which would put my ebook library front and center. I didn’t finds that home screen (not yet), but while I was exploring I found a few fun alternatives that I thought would be fun to share.

Sidenote: Scroll down to the end of the post for a few tips on how to install these apps and how to switch between them.

Espier Launcher

First up is the Espier Launcher. This is an iPhone inspired home screen app which looked pretty good on my tablet:

Click to Embiggen

Click to Embiggen

This launcher replaces the app drawer with the infinitely long chain of iOS home pages, and uses icons that look a lot like Apples. It offers quite a few customization options, including some that require a paid upgrade. It’s available in Google Play as Espier Launcher and Espier HD (for larger screens).

Best iPhone Launcher

Next is the Best iPhone Launcher. Yes, this app is basically the same as Espier, but it looks different and it manages to replace the notification bar across the top of the screen with one that looks like it was copied from Apple (it doesn’t, however, replace the existing icons). Also, I preferred it over the Espier Launcher, which was a good enough reason to include it.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

This home screen doesn’t work so well on a high resolution tablet, but it should work okay on a smaller screen. You can find it in Google Play.

Paper Go Launcher Ex Theme

This next home screen app makes your app icons look like they were drawn free hand on a piece of brown paper. It appears to have been designed for a smaller screen, so I wouldn’t try it on a tablet.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

You can find this app in Google Play. It is actually a theme for Go Launcher, so you will need to install both.

Launcher 8

If iOS isn’t your thing then how about Windows Phone? Launcher 8 offers a stomach-turning Metro-style replacement home screen that will convince the uninformed (me, for example) that we’re looking at a device running one of Microsoft’s OSes.

launcher 8

This is a terribly confusing home screen app which I assume is behaving just like you would expect a Windows Phone to behave (even the lock screen behaves differently). The tiles are customizable, and the home screen scrolls vertically to show more rows of tiles.

Y0u can find this app in Google Play. And if this launcher doesn’t suit you, check out Windows 8 launcher. That second launcher would have been my first choice (it looks nicer) but it’s not compatible with my Hisense Sero 7 Pro.

Atom Launcher

And if yu’re looking for a theme out of left field, try Atom Launcher. It’s a minimal;ist typographic theme which looks and acts like nothing I’ve seen before on an Android tablet.

atom launcher 1  atom launcher 2

You can find the Atom Launcher in Google Play. If you want a suggestion, I would combine it with the Typo White theme. It replaces the more common icons with words (Chrome, music, browser, etc). It’s visually eye catching, though I’m not sure I would want to use it for long.

Of the 5 launchers mentioned above, i think I like the Espier the best. I’m not an Apple fanboi, but I like the number of customization options and the generally clean appearance.

Which launcher did you like?

Can you suggest one to add to this post? (Any launcher that will make my Android tablet look like it’s running a different OS would be great.)

P.S. Installing these alternate home screens is simple.  Just look for them in Google Play and click the install button. If you cannot find an app in Google Play on your device, chances are your device isn’t compatible.

P.P.S. Make a note of the home screens you install; you can remove them by going to the apps menu under the settings menu and then selecting the app and choosing the uninstall option.

P.P.P.S. If you want to switch between the home screens on your device, press the home button. Once you find a home screen which you want to use all the time, press the home button, check the box, and then click okay. it will lock in one home screen as default.

The post Five Launchers Which Make Your Android Tablet Look Like an iPhone, WindowsPhone, and More appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Google Play Books Doesn’t Support Epub, and Other Crazy Possibilities

Posted: 31 Jan 2014 08:05 AM PST

Epub Chimeric[1]advocates like to pretend that it’s an industry standard format, but that’s not completely true.

Kobo (to name one example) adds their own nonstandard components to the files they sell, Apple prefers their own bastardized form of Epub3 ( iBooks) and uses a proprietary DRM, and then there’s the fact that no vendor actually supports the complete Epub3 spec other than Apple.

And now it seems we can add Google to the mix. A reader has tipped me to the news that Google Play Books doesn’t actually display Epub. Sure, Google will let users upload Epub files, and they maintain a pretense of selling Epub, but their reading apps apparently Do Not Display Epub files when you are reading an ebook.

I learned of this oddity from Ben Hollingum, an ebook developer based in London. He detailed the quirk on his blog a couple days ago:

Most e-readers ruin your books by not recognising certain CSS declarations, overriding them with their own defaults, or by implementing your CSS in a freakishly non-standard way – not so Google Play Books. The part of Google Play Books that handles CSS stylesheets – presumably forked from the Chrome browser – seems to be excellent, it can understand complex pseudo-class selectors and parse combinations of pseudo-class and pseudo-element selectors with ease. The problem comes from the way that it handles the HTML framework onto which that CSS is applied.

This first became apparent to me when I loaded one of the books I was working on into Google Play Books. This book had drop-caps on the opening body-text paragraphs of each chapter. These were identified using an HTML class (p.first) and a pseudo-element selector (::first-letter). I did it this way because it allowed swanky modern systems like iBooks and Readium to display drop-caps, but phrased it in such a way that Adobe Digital Editions and similar readers (which always render drop-caps wrong) would ignore it (pseudo elements mean nothing to them).

When I loaded this book into Google Play books I noticed something odd. In addition to the drop cap on the first paragraph (which rendered very nicely), it added a drop cap to the first letter of the following page (the page break having fallen halfway through the first para). This seemed to imply that Google Play Books was altering my HTML in real-time (it reacted to changes in font-size and line-height that moved the page break), adding in a hard paragraph break on either side of the page break.

Ben goes on to explain the steps to confirm this strange behavior, eventually ending with:

Intrigued, I added another layer to my selector. I changed it to body>div.text>p:first-of-type::first-letter this absurdly convoluted selector should, in theory, have selected only the first letter of the first paragraph of the first div in the whole HTML document. What it actually did was select the first letter of each page.

This seems to imply that in order to render a book, Google Play Books takes the content from your epub and pastes it into an individual HTML document for each page. To make it even stranger, in order to work out where to put the page breaks it must have to apply the CSS to the HTML first, then work out where the page breaks will fall, then chop up the HTML into individual documents and re-apply the CSS. Only after it has gone through all that can it render the page.

Based on this behavior Ben has awarded the title of “weirdest epub rendering engine” to Google Play Books.

If his report is correct then it will most definitely deserve the title, but unfortunately for me I have not yet managed to confirm Ben’s claims.

I don’t think I know anyone (other than Ben) who has looked closely enough at GPB to have noticed this strange behavior, and I didn’t get a response to my tweet yesterday. It had an #eprdctn tag attached, so I thought it would get some attention, but aside from a single retweet I have not gotten even a nibble.

And so I am throwing this story on to the blog just to see what happens. If anyone can confirm or deny this story, please let me know.

In spite of the lack of evidence, I have to say that this report rings true.

This report is consistent with Google requiring that you upload an ePub before downloading it and reading it in the Google Play Books app, and it offers the best explanation for Tom Semple’s remark that GPB only downloads a fragment of an ebook at a time. It would also explain why GPB didn’t support 3rd-party ebooks until the middle of last year.

All of those quirks can be explained by the simple supposition that the Google Play Books app for Android doesn’t actually support Epub. Instead it appears to be using some type of concealed intermediary file format of unknown design to serve up fragments of an ebook.

P.S. If anyone knows of a best practices FAQ for GPB, please don’t hesitate to share a link. I want to see what it says.

P.P.S. In a way, this quirky non-Epub behavior might be caused by Google Play Books’ early history. While Google focuses support on Epub now, there was a time when they would let authors and publishers upload just about any type of file to be sold in Google’s ebookstore. This included RTF, PDF, PDB, XML, DOC, and even Mobipocket (I kid you not).

The behavior reported by Ben could be the result of some Googler’s kludged together attempt to support all those disparate file formats in a consistent manner. I don’t know why they didn’t just convert to Epub, but I suppose at some point this chimeric file made sense. Or maybe they didn’t have enough time to get it right, I don’t know.

image credit Heidi Taillefer

The post Google Play Books Doesn’t Support Epub, and Other Crazy Possibilities appeared first on The Digital Reader.

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