People have noticed that the iPhone is becoming a great environment in which to do some serious reading. But I am not sure that we have yet fully recognised why it has changed our expectations of the optimum digital reading environment. One point was recently well made by Hugh McGuire the Canadian blogger, publisher, philosopher. (He also leads Librivox).

My experience of reading news on iphone is totally different than reading on the web: on the web I flit from place to place, on the iPhone I read much like I would a newspaper … going through the whole thing, reading multiple articles. And as mentioned I might possibly pay for it on the iPhone.

I think this is a fascinating shift in my content consumption … back to an older, more focused kind of reading. (Quoting Hugh McGuire from an email).

This is a subtle point. The iPhone is a better reading environment because it is NOT completely of the web. I think its really a point about the way Apps work on the iPhone, rather than the way that the web, or Safari, works on the iPhone. In my experience, browsing the web on my iPhone is just about as mercurial and unsticky as browsing from the laptop, but the apparatus of the App (only one App at a time, they take a moment or two to fire up) tends to give them some valuable friction. A retaining wall, which if it is not a ‘walled garden’ is something like a ‘reader’s carrel’. There is a threshold with each App, which keeps you within the App in which you are browsing; whereas when one is reading a news site on the wild web it is just too easy to be distracted. Every link is a link out. Its too easy to flip over to something else, there are no boundaries to a web newspaper or a web magazine. But there are some subtle boundaries to an App which is branded for a newspaper or a magazine.

It could be that the ‘Appy’ quality of serious reading on the iPhone is the key to developing an effecitve publishing culture in that environment. There is a lesson here for book, magazine and newspaper publishers. Get your Apps in order!

There is another reason that the iPhone reading experience is subtly different. Touching. There is something special about touching what you read, more about this on another occasion….