Today I had an opportunity to get my hands on an iPad with Thomson Reuters' proprietary eBook reader called ProView. After my disappointment with LexisNexis and its BlueFire Reader (see my review here), I was keen to see what the competition was doing.
What is the reading experience like? In contrast to LexisNexis’ publications, through the control panel in ProView you can choose to either have the pages match the printed book, or you can set it so that the text reflows to eliminate scrolling. Which mode is better will depend upon personal preference (including how large you want the font to be) and whether your iPad is in landscape or portrait mode, but the flexibility of being able to read it as if it were a printed book, or not, has obvious advantages over the LexisNexis product.
Navigation is relatively easy with a dedicated button that brings up the Table of Contents (as with LexisNexis). The demonstration used one of Thomson’s annotations of the Corporations Act, and while the Table of Contents divided the text into the different Parts of the Act, only some of the Parts unfolded further to reveal a more detailed Table of Contents for that Part. For legislation of the size of the Corporations Act this is a major deficiency in navigating the text. It is possible to go to a particular section through the Act’s Table of Provisions (which is hyperlinked) but as that ranges over 50-odd pages itself, it is not a substitute for a properly-nested Table of Contents.
There is also the ability to go to a particular page. In ProView the “page” is the same pagination as in the printed copy (including the use of Roman numerals for introductory parts), and is selected by entering the page number you wish to skip to. This is in contrast to LexisNexis where there is no obvious correlation between the “page” of the Book and the printed book, and page selection is by use of a slider.
The search functionality in ProView has two very distinct advantages over LexisNexis. Firstly, it allows for complex searches using Boolean operators (although the text does not seem to be usefully divided into particular sections for the purposes of allowing AND searching to be useful, it does allow for proximity searching which achieves a similar end). LexisNexis only allows single word or phrase searching. Secondly, it brings up a list of search results by displaying how many times the search terms appear in the various chapters of the book. This allows you to skip ahead to the search results in a particular chapter. An update to ProView due at the end of February will allow you to display the results with a line of text providing context.
“Footnotes” can be viewed by tapping on the footnote number, which then brings up an inline pop-up box. The advantage of this is that you can read the footnote text and the context at the same time, rather than skipping through to the endnotes (which is the LexisNexis method). Unlike LexisNexis, however, the notes don’t otherwise appear in the text: the only way to view them is via the pop-up box. The box is currently a fixed size, so that longer footnotes need to be scrolled through.
Bookmarks and annotations operate differently in ProView to LexisNexis. In LexisNexis, the only way to create an annotation is to add it to a bookmark (which you can do either by selecting text and adding a bookmark to that text, or simply by bookmarking the “page”). Unless you create a text-selected bookmark (which then highlights the text in yellow) the reader does not indicate that the page is bookmarked. The only way to read the annotation is to exit the text and go into the bookmarks (which are then listed either by date or page number, so you need to remember what page you were on in order to locate your notes).
In ProView, things work very differently. Firstly, bookmarks and annotations are separate functions. The bookmark is literally a bookmark, providing nothing more than a cross-reference to the page. Notes are created separately. Highlighted text to which the annotation is attached becomes yellow, and little marginal box appears to indicate the note is attached. Tap on the note, and your annotation appears in a pop-up box, without taking you away from the text.
Now, this is where ProView gets funky. When you buy an eBook you can view it on both an iPad and in a web-browser on your desktop. You can create annotations on either the desktop or the iPad, and ProView will synchronise them between devices. Annotations can be created offline, and will then upload and synch when next connected to the internet.
Not funky enough? How about this. Your annotations will transfer across to corresponding text of updated editions of the same text. If there is no corresponding text, you don’t lose the annotations: they continue to be available as “Displaced Annotations”.
There remain some limitations with ProView. A big one is the unfolding Table of Contents referred to above, although Thomson Reuters are aware of the issue and are considering ways in which to facilitate easier browsing navigation through the text. While you can copy and paste, you can’t at the moment print from the iPad. You can’t search through annotations, a functionality that will hopefully be introduced in future versions of ProView. There is no Back Button, so when you leap forward through the text you can’t leap back. However, the update to ProView due at the end of February will apparently provide a Navigation History that will allow you to do so. Sharing of annotations is also currently not available, but is something that Thomson Reuters have in development
At present there are only eight titles available: 6 collections of tax and corporations legislation, the Australian Tax Handbook and Miller’s Australian Competition & Consumer Law. The cost of the printed book or the eBook is the same. For an additional 30% you can have both as a bundle (and as a special offer, the Australian Tax Handbook can be purchased as a bundle without the 30% surcharge).
It is probably apparent that on the basis of my limited time with each, ProView is a vastly superior eBook reader to the BlueFire reader adopted by LexisNexis. This superiority is apparent in terms of usability, flexibility, and functionality. LexisNexis have a long way to go to catch up to ProView.
DISCLOSURE: Thomson Reuters is the publisher of a law text that I wrote 8 years ago, and which is the process of being updated for a second edition.