Printed books are physical, fixed formats, designed for a specific size — the font size and so forth can’t be altered later on. Ebooks are digital files, read by software, formatting, like: margins, font types and sizes, font and background colour can be changed in the software. This is one of the fundamental advantages of buying an ebook over a printed novel: the reader can potentially have total control over the visual presentation layer. And yet most ebook apps offer limited customisation options, which seems odd.

It’s understandable that software designers are keen to keep things simple, not only does that mean a simpler — less complicated — user interface, but less customisation options means that apps are faster, and easier, to develop. Having said this, the ‘plastic’ nature of software lends itself to reader customisation — it’s perfectly suited to fussy bookworms. Customisation options are especially important for accessibility, most obviously partially sighted readers.

With the explosion of mobile phones, mobile camera lenses are quoted with angles of view that equate to the equivalent 35mm format. This provides a standardised context. It might make sense to offer text sizes in points: 9pt, 10pt, 11pt, 12pt, 13pt, etc. Instead of giving generic incremental sizes ‘small’, ‘medium’, and ‘large’. Often one size is too small and the next up is huge. How about a slider instead? Why offer three colour schemes, when computers offer a practically intimate number of variations? And why limit the font choices? Is it not possible to include system fonts as well? This can come down to the developer enforcing standardisation throughout the operating platforms they support, and thus going for the lowest common denominator — Amazon for example opts for its own fonts instead of system ones.

The needless lack of customisation options in ereaders is minimalism gone too far — it makes things simple for the developers, but what about the readers? It’s frustrating when software doesn’t offer flexible customisation, especially when it would be relatively trivial to implement, neatly tucked away in ‘Advanced Settings’ tab. Is this a case of designers thinking that they know better than their users?