Why you should avoid iBooks for your medical ebooks

Recently, my younger brother, who is a 3rd year medical student, purchased a medical review book through iBooks. He spent more than $50 on the book, and was using the highlighting feature and other annotation feature available in iBooks.

Then he asked me how he could access the book he purchased on his computer so he could have it open while he was in a lecture in class. I told him he was out of luck. By purchasing a book through iBooks, you lock yourself into Apple’s ecosystem, which is a walled garden.

The Kindle app by Amazon has a feature set that rivals iBooks, and most importantly, it’s device agnostic. This is crucial because the books you purchase through Amazon can be accessed on Android, iPhone and Kindle devices.

The most important part of this is you can view ebooks purchased through Kindle on your Mac — by downloading their app in the Mac App Store.  Medical textbooks are usually not “casual reads”, and as mentioned above, having the ability to read the book on your desktop or laptop can be crucial.

Further, Amazon’s ebook section is vastly more populated with medical ebooks than Apple’s.

So if you’re going to purchase a medical ebook on iOS or Android — go through the Kindle app — it gives you significantly more flexibility and less buyers remorse.

Kindle app for mac

Kindle app for iOS


Iltifat Husain, MD

Founder, Editor-in-Chief of iMedicalApps.com. Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Director of Mobile App curriculum at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He is also the founder of iPrescribeApps, a platform for prescribing apps to patients. Dr. Husain has given lectures on digital medicine globally. He went to North Carolina State University for undergrad and went to medical school at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

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29 Responses to Why you should avoid iBooks for your medical ebooks

  1. D Choy December 10, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    I don’t see it your way.

    When you buy a textbook off the shelf, it comes in one format – the book you buy. If you’re lucky it might come with a bonus CD.

    That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t buy the textbook though.

    I agree, having it in kindle form may be more flexible, but that does not necessarily equate to avoid buying in iBook format. I don’t read textbooks on my computer and I hence don’t need that functionality.

    It’s always tiring to hear the same chant “apple’s walled garden”. How about Google’s walled garden? Buying an Android app means you can’t transfer it to your iOS device, but somehow that seems to get left out of the message.

    To me this is always an issue of informed choice. As long as consumers are aware of what devices they can use their apps or media on then it’s up to them to decide, and they can choose to vote with their preference.

    • Iltifat Husain, MD December 15, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

      So I wasn’t talking about Google here — don’t really care about them here. But agree at the end of the day it’s up to the consumers and vote with their preference — which they are obviously doing as iBooks hasn’t taken off anywhere close to where Apple wanted it to, or even compared to Kindle. But the point of the article is if you want your book available on multiple platforms, and even on your computers — stay away from iBooks and go to Kindle.

      • MStatton December 20, 2012 at 12:27 am #

        Ummm. No. You also fail to mention the lack of features the Kindle version has over the iOS versions. There are many medical sites that don’t allow kindle to access them even though you paid for that functionality. Kindle is a pretty walled garden sold to those who don’t know any better. To each there own, but don’t for a second think the highly flawed Kindle world doesn’t have it’s own problems.

  2. D. Borst December 10, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    This makes sense if the book is just reflow-able text — which to be honest remains the largest fraction of medical textbooks available. But the promise of iBooks, which amazon does not seem to have answered, for medical textbooks is the highly interactive iBooks Author 2 style textbooks. This cohort is small but growing.

    Hopefully we will see Apple release a desktop copy of iBooks — though you still would be unable to see the book on a non-Apple device.

  3. Jasmin December 12, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    I don’t think this addresses any highlighting/annotating wishes, but I believe iBooks can be viewed in Preview on a Mac (not sure how it would open on a PC) by opening iTunes and double clicking the book.

    • Iltifat Husain, MD December 15, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

      Jasmin, does your iPad have to be connected to your Mac in order to do this? I can’t seem to access my iBooks via Preview on iTunes.

      • Jasmin December 17, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

        Sorry, I don’t actually have any iBooks. My husband is a techy and I was passing along the information. If I ever get an iBook I will test it out and let you know!

  4. Ali December 16, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

    There’s a way to open books purchased for ibooks if your iphone/ipod/ipad is synced with your itunes library on the laptop… From itunes you select the book, right click on it click on ‘show in windows explorer’, right there you’ll find a file with the .epub extension, which can be opened with any epub viewer (available everywhere on the net, just google it…)

    • Iltifat Husain, MD December 16, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

      So I looked into this. Unfortunately the books are DRM restricted. So if you want to view it in an epub viewer you have to strip the DRM off. Way too many hurdles to go through. If people want to view their ebooks on the computer as well as their mobile devices they should stick to Kindle.

  5. Neville Dastur December 17, 2012 at 5:02 am #

    I have to agree with Iitifat on this. Apple need to wake up to the fact that this very closed system they have created is not good. Fair enough if they want to restrict sales via their store. After all the iBooks author tool is free, but to not even allow reading on their own desktop is crazy.

  6. K. Noma December 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    What about the Inkling platform. Doesn’t it allow you to see the purchased medical textbooks on either an iPad, iPhone or a PC? It also allows you to annotate, and highlight parts of the book.

  7. Grant December 17, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    Kindle ebooks are formatted horribly. They are not in the original book format and make reading review books more difficult. Inkling or Kno are MUCH better ebooks than kindle. One positive for iBooks is it lets you search words in a regular PDF! Try that with the other readers.

    • Stuart Ray December 17, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

      If you have a PDF then there are many solutions that work well (I would not recommend the Kindle reader for that). The article above is about buying a book; in that case, buying for Kindle means being able to read and annotate on many platforms (and contrary to your comment, it’s an immensely popular format), whereas buying for iBooks leaves you “walled in”.

    • Iltifat Husain, MD December 18, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

      Yep, if the PDF organization structure was a bit better, iBooks would be great for annotating.

      BTW, agree w/ the Inkling comment and I address that above — just not enough Inkling medical textbooks yet.

  8. Stuart Ray December 17, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    D Choy’s comment above about Google apps is a total non sequitur, not only because this is about iBooks (as noted above), but also because this is about content. No one expects compiled software to run across platforms, but it’s obvious that portable content is far more valuable than locked content. While someday iBooks will exist that are both authoritative and dynamic, until that happens I will steer my students toward products that support flexibility.

  9. Michelle December 18, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Kindle books aren’t that great either and can’t be very platform restrictive. There have been several times that I have wanted to buy or download a Kindle book only for it to not work with the Kindle app on my iPad because it wants you do download it to a Kindle device or USB. Pain in the butt. I spend more time getting downloadable ebooks to work on devices that it isn’t worth the effort. BTW I am very techie, so it isn’t my lack of experience.

    I just find it sad that public libraries and popular fiction ebooks are light years ahead of medical ebooks. Medicine pioneered the ejournal now we are still slogging around with clunky ebooks.

    Ebooks on the web (not downloadable) are device agnostic and can be read easily. Sure you can’t take notes on them, I’m a write down notes in a spiral kind of person anyway. That is how I did it when I read paper books. I rarely wrote in the book because it was more difficult to merge those notes with in class notes.

  10. Michelle December 18, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    “Kindle books aren’t that great either and can’t be very platform restrictive”
    Oops sorry I meant to say that they CAN be very platform restrictive.

  11. Iltifat Husain, MD December 18, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    Yea, so I really don’t see how they are “very” restrictive? They are available on almost every single platform. I’ve never run into an issue where an ebook didn’t work on an iPad and only a kindle device — is this an issue though? Could you give an example?

  12. Justin December 18, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    My firm, AlertWatch, is using the iBooks author suite to include video and other interactive features in our training manual. The only other way to get these features is to use Captivate or Articulate, which are expensive and more difficult to use for average people. Neither of those play well with mobile platforms. So, if it’s a standard medical book, I think Kindle provides a little more flexibility. Otherwise, iBooks continues to be a great option.

  13. Grant December 18, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    The ebook company “Kno” is the best source for my books I’ve needed for my M2 year. I have also purchased Step-Up to Medicine for help with clinics this year and also for rotations next year. Kno is available on iPad, android, windows, and web. They keep the original publishers formatting which is very nice. The UI is not as nice as Inkling, but as lltifat pointed out, the inkling library is still in the expansion phase and Inkling takes longer to put titles out because of their more involved interactive UI. I have actually never used iBooks for texts because iBooks never had the text I needed available. As a recent example, the reformatting Kindle does was extremely noticeable on Step-Up to Medicine where it made the high-yield boxes hard to even discern from regular text. As I mentioned before, the only thing i use iBooks for is I can import a PDF article from Dropbox and directly search for a keyword. Which I love and is a huge time saver.

  14. Katrine Aronsen December 19, 2012 at 3:28 am #

    This blogpost has many interesting points to add to this debate. (It`s a jungle out there!)

  15. Jacqueline December 19, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    This is not an iBooks issue, this is a much broader eBooks issue. I would recommend the purchasing of content through Amazon.

  16. Jacqueline December 19, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    I would NOT recommend the purchasing of content through Amazon, oops.

  17. Michelle December 19, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    This post is a good reminder for all considering ANY ebook. Apple and iBooks may be the most restrictive but getting books in different formats from your device isn’t always smooth and easy. The area of ebooks is still very much in a state of flux. So think twice before you spend the money (especially if it is a lot) and look for information to make sure you will be able to read, take notes, switch devices, if any of that is important for you and that book.

  18. steve July 21, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

    just got in on this discussion but am so delighted to hear that the new Apple operating system will allow iBooks to display on the computer! May be the best part of the upgrade. steve d

  19. Piyush July 17, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

    I haven’t tried kindle books. I am going to purchase a kindle medical book and see how it works.

    Things I love about iBooks
    1. Voiceover facility (once you learn the gestures and how to use it with apple keyboard), I just love it. I read the book the regular way. For other times, I LISTEN to the book. Turn voice over on(from settings>accessibility..play with settings, speech rate, learn how to use rotor)..This way I can revise my medical books. Enhances my learning experience. Audio + visual.

    2. I just love the way iBooks deals with highlighting. Just tap and hold on screen, drag to select. DONE. Very neat.

    For those two features alone, I’d pay for iBooks even if it costs higher.

    for example. Rapid review physiology costs 20$ on kindle, but 42 $ on iBooks.

    So why in the world would I do that? Simple.

    I can listen to my iBooks, put them on speaker. Very effective way to go through the chapter first time. Repeat. Repeat. AUDIO stimulation, you are learning. But there are times when you have to pause and go back…pause and read the traditional way. So tap with two fingers on the screen to pause. Think. Switch off voiceover with three finger triple tap. Do the Annotations if you need to do.

    When revising. I turn on the voice over and listen to the material. Since I am not a very good reader. I find this exceptionally beneficial. Hope you do an article on this. I could help you out with it. I feel I have mastered the voiceover gestures.

    Next is SPEAK SELECTION….when you want to listen to only a section of the text. Say paragraph.

    That summarises why I prefer iBooks. I am not really looking for portability on to computer. I never read on computer. iBooks on iPad and iPod Touch is more than sufficient.

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