Scrolling is neat, and scrolling your way through buttery-smooth tables in iPhone OS is even kinda fun. But when it comes to slow, purposeful reading—as opposed to flicking through a list—it becomes tedious. Dragging through thousands of words of prose isn’t skimming, isn’t navigation… it’s laborious. You’re paginating by hand.
When we’re reading on the desktop we have a quick shortcut for pagination: push the space bar to advance exactly one screenful through a web site or PDF. I rely on it so much that I react poorly when web designers obscure part of the viewport with fluff. When a chunk of vertical real estate is obscured, the definition of “pageful” changes in a way the web browser can’t anticipate. Jason Kottke learned this lesson with his blog redesign last year. He was swift to correct it.
But that’s the desktop, where the combination of scroll bar, wheel mouse, and keyboard gives us a lot of flexibility. Multitouch devices have a more limited set of inputs, and while some developers turned to scroll views with invisible pagination zones, iBooks’ designers evidently went in a different direction. iBooks makes you tap or swipe to advance one whole page at a time. If you discount the page scrubber, iBooks has no free-form scrolling at all.
Argue all you like over the superfluousness of animated page flips, but the aesthetics do little to affect the usability of the design: eliminating scrolling as the default means of advancement means less effort and less risk of losing your place.