Google has unleashed its incubating digitized book monopoly onto the iPhone (and iPhone-wannabes running its very own Android OS).
Yesterday, the online ad broker announced a mobile version of Google Book Search, boasting that the new service offers over 1.5 million digitized books to Americans still interested in reading things longer than a Tweet. All are optimized for the small screen - or, at least, iPhone and Android small screens.
Oompa Loompas inside the Google Chocolate Factory have used some sort of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to extract text from the company's full-sized book scans, so that they can be reformatted for mobile browsers. But as the company acknowledges with a post to the Official Google Book Search blog, this doesn't always work.
"The extraction of text from page images is a difficult engineering task," the Oompa Loompas explain. "Smudges on the physical books' pages, fancy fonts, old fonts, torn pages, etc. can all lead to errors in the extracted text."
For example, when Google's OCR attempts to extract text from this scan of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures Under Ground:
It comes out like this:
lV~e.il!" .ÍAoHyU- AUte. U
brstty/affc. su.it a. f o.tl as ~tk¿* , I
s&O.IL .éfiiíjz tiotkun-) of-ttmlr1¿*y
¿i^n. sta¿rs ! Jfo» ura.ve ...
But Google calls this an extreme case. And when your mobile book turns to gibberish, you can switch to the full-size scan. "If you do bump into some rough patches where the text seems, well, weird, well, you can just tap on the text to see the original page image for that section of text," the Oompa Loompas say. Of course, that won't fit your phone.
And at the moment, Google's mobile Book Search offers only public domain titles. So, calling it Google's answer to the Amazon Kindle is a bit premature.
Or maybe not.
If a New York court approves Google's proposed $125m settlement of a longstanding class-action lawsuit against Book Search, the digitized-literature project will one day rule the world. In the latest issue of The New York Review of Books, Harvard University libraries chief Robert Darnton warns that an approved settlement would give Google "a monopoly - a monopoly of a new kind, not of railroads or steel but of access to information."
And we at The Reg have said much the same thing.
The settlement has Google giving itself $34.5m to build and maintain a "Book Rights Registry" where authors and publishers can resolve copyright claims - in exchange for a pre-defined cut of Google's revenues. Unless other web giants are willing to shell out the dough needed to solve copyright issues on their own - not to mention build a massive book-scanning and serving operation - Mountain View will have the market largely to itself.
"Google alone has the wealth to digitize on a massive scale. And having settled with the authors and publishers, it can exploit its financial power from within a protective legal barrier; for the class action suit covers the entire class of authors and publishers," Darnton writes.
So, for the moment, Amazon's Kindle is the better ebook. But in the future, if you want access to as many book titles as possible, you'll have no choice but to load Google Book Search on your iPhone.
Chances are, you won't be running Android. Google power extends only so far. ®