One of the big complaints about iBooks 1.0 was that books were automatically full-justified, that is, spacing was added between words—with no help from a hyphenation dictionary—so that the margins on both side would be even. Honestly, it looked pretty gross, with rivers of white space running down the center of text.
Thankfully, for all involved, it was pretty easy for a book designer to remedy the situation. eBooks are written in XHTML and CSS, and CSS is quite handy at specifying left-justification:
text-align: left. Problem solved.
Enter iBooks 1.1 last Monday. Apple hid a switch deep in the bowels of the general Settings that lets readers turn off Full Justification, which is still on by default. Perhaps the idea was to give readers more control, but then why hide it? Who knows how many people will find that switch, my guess is about 14.
Meanwhile, the real damage is that with iBooks 1.1 Apple took away the book designer's power to choose left-justification for their books. Designers can choose centered text, and even right-aligned text, but left alignment is totally ignored (even with
!important) It makes absolutely no sense at all. It's bad enough for a paragraph of text, but short lines (poetry or lists) look particularly awful.
And to all those who would trumpet the rights of readers, you should know that the upshot is that MORE readers and not less will have to contend with those rivers of white space running through their books. It's pretty ironic that a company so careful about its own design should have screwed this up so completely. It really does beg the question of whether any iBooks programmer has ever read a book on screen.
Here's what Apple should have done. First, they should make the defaults be anything they want, that's their prerogative. Second, they should let book designers override the defaults so that we can design beautiful books for those readers who are not inclined to design their own. Finally, if they want the reader to have more control, Apple should offer an easily accessible switch to human readers to override both Apple's and the book designer's style choices and, if desired, choose their own. While they're at it, maybe Apple could look into the hyphenation dictionary.