Google Releases Optimized version of Google Books for the iPhone

BY Jason

Published 14 Feb 2009

Google Docs - Spreadsheets

Google had released the optimized version of Google Books for the iPhone thus opening up over 1.5 million public domain books in the US (and over half a million outside the US) for iPhone users to browse.

These books which are already available on Google Book Search have now been optimized so that they can be read on iPhone's small screen.

Google Books Project was started in 2004 with the aim to collect in one place as many out-of-print and rare publications as possible.

At that time, Google's co-founder Sergei Brin had said:

"We just feel this is part of our core mission. There is fantastic information in books. Often when I do a search, what is in a book is miles ahead of what I find on a website."

With last week's announcements, Google is trying to give users access to over 1.5 public domain books from anywhere.

The user interface of Google Books for the iPhone is very intuitive and quite fast for an iPhone web app, however, it still cannot beat the responsiveness and slick user experience of iPhone apps such as Stanza and Classics (which also offers the most realistic reading experience on the iPhone).

The interesting part about Google's announcement was the backstory about the work involved to prepare so many books for the iPhone.

wrote on their blog about it:

"If you use Google Book Search, you'll notice that our previews are
composed of page images made by digitizing physical copies of books.
These page images work well when viewed from a computer, but prove
unwieldy when viewed on a phone's small screen.

Our solution to
make these books accessible is to extract the text from the page images
so it can flow on your mobile browser just like any other web page.
This extraction process is known as Optical Character Recognition (or
OCR for short). The following example demonstrates the difference
between page images and the extracted text:

"Because I made a blunder, my dear Watson— which is, I am afraid, a
more common occurrence than anyone would think who only knew me through
your memoirs. …

The extraction
of text from page images is a difficult engineering task. Smudges on
the physical books' pages, fancy fonts, old fonts, torn pages, etc. can
all lead to errors in the extracted text. The example below shows the
page image from the original manuscript for Alice's Adventures Under
Ground. In this extreme case, the extracted text is riddled with errors:

"!" .ÍAoHyU- AUte. U brstty/affc. a. f as ~tk¿* , I
s&O.IL .éfiiíjz tiotkun-) of-ttmlr1¿*y ¿i^n. sta¿rs ! Jfo»

Imperfect OCR is only the first challenge in
the ultimate goal of moving from collections of page images to
extracted-text based books. Our computer algorithms also have to
automatically determine the structure of the book (what are the headers
and footers, where images are placed, whether text is verse or prose,
and so forth). Getting this right allows us to render the book in a way
that follows the format of the original book.

The technical
challenges are daunting, but we'll continue to make enhancements to our
OCR and book structure extraction technologies. With this launch, we
believe that we've taken an important step toward more universal access
to books."

Interesting stuff, it would have been great if book publishers allowed Google to use it's technology to bring up-to-date publications iPhone users (maybe via a paysite).

Google Books has the couple of drawbacks:

  • Content: It gives you access to over 1.5 million books in the US (and over half a million outside the US) but these are public domain books which are out-of-print while I am usually looking for up-to-date publications. 
  • You cannot access the books for offline reading which is possible with iPhone apps such as Stanza and Classics.

To check it out and start reading, point your iPhone's  Safari browser to

What do you think about Google Books for the iPhone? Actually the bigger question is, do you think iPhone's small screen is good for reading? Please let us know in the comments.

Some related news:

Amazon plans to bring Kindle books to the iPhone. An Amazon spokesman while speaking to The New York Times had mentioned “We are excited to make Kindle books available on a range of mobile phones…We are working on that now”. I will definitely be looking out for that one.

[via Google Book Search Blog]