Image courtesy of Flickr user quinnanya. Licensed under CC 2.0 BY-NC-SA.With the release of the Apple’s iPad last April, students around the globe dreamed of purchasing and reading their textbooks on the beautiful 10” color screen. Five months later, with the start of the new semester only days away, the quantity and quality of iPad eTextbook readers is scarce and poor. Among the contenders are Amazon’s Kindle App, CourseSmart’s eTextbooks and the newly release Inkling.

Pricing

Behind each application is a digital book store, interestingly enough, all three distribute their content through different pricing schemes. Amazon treats an eTextbook the same as a regular Kindle Book, the digital textbook is DRM protected but is yours to keep. Amazon distributed eTextbooks are roughly the same price as a regular print book. CourseSmart offers online and offline 180 day eTextbook rentals at about half the price of print book. Note that you must have a connection to read CourseSmart online textbooks. Finally, Inkling distributes content by the chapter, allowing you to pay for only the sections you actually need. This translates into huge savings for courses that only cover certain chapters of the textbook. Inkling chapters are yours to keep and go for $3.

Selection

Finding a digital version of the book you’re trying to obtain can be a real crapshoot. Amazon stocks a good number of textbooks, however none of the required texts were available for my courses next semester. CourseSmart faired a little better, stocking 2 out of 5 of my required texts. Strangely, they only carried the previous editions of these books. Inkling only offers a handful of textbooks, but this will surely improve as they mature.

Usability

Although the user interfaces are different on all three applications, they are all beautifully designed and provide useful tools when reading. The two most appreciated features present across the board are text highlighting and search. It may seem like fairly basic feature, but if you’ve ever used an index too look for a specific keyword you’ll understand the convenience search provides. Text highlighting allows you to mark specific passages and key phrases, when it comes to studying for an exam you can pull up a list of all your highlighted passages to quickly jump to the important stuff. For those concerned about reading on the iPad screen, well,  in my opinion it’s a non-issue.

Final Verdict

Amazon, CourseSmart and Inkling all show great promise in becoming the premiere iPad eTextbook reader app. Unfortunately, at this time they are still very immature and thin on selection. If you’re lucky enough to find your required text on one of these services, you may as well give it a shot. To those who dreamed of replacing their heavy book bag with a slim iPad this fall, we’re not quite there yet.