Google Optimizes Book Search for Mobile

    February 5, 2009
    Chris Crum

Google Mobile Book SearchGoogle has launched a long overdue mobile version of Book Search for the iPhone and Android. This includes access to over 1.5 million mobile public domain books.

Books on this version have been optimized to be read on small screens, which is not the easiest thing in the world to do. A post by the Google Book Search Mobile Team explains the process a bit:

There’s an interesting backstory about the work involved to prepare so many books for mobile devices. If you use Google Book Search, you’ll notice that our previews are composed of page images made by digitizing physical copies of books. These page images work well when viewed from a computer, but prove unwieldy when viewed on a phone’s small screen.

Our solution to make these books accessible is to extract the text from the page images so it can flow on your mobile browser just like any other web page. This extraction process is known as Optical Character Recognition (or OCR for short).

Unfortunately, this system is not entirely perfect, and plenty of mistakes are bound to turn up. Things like smudges, torn pages, or even obscure fonts can throw up the OCR. The team provides this example from Alice’s Adventures Under Ground:

Text not available

The text the OCR came away with was:

"!" .ÍAoHyU- AUte. U brstty/affc. a. f o.tlas ~tk¿* , I s&O.IL .éfiiíjz tiotkun-) of-ttmlr1¿*y ¿i^n. sta¿rs ! Jfo» …

Obviously that is going to be a problem to readers. However, when readers come across issues like this, they can simply tap on the text to see the original page image for that section of text, so hopefully it won’t be too big a hassle. If these errors occur frequently though, readers are likely to give up and just find something else to read, or find the content elsewhere. All of that said, iPhone and Android users should be happy to have a free library of literature at their finger tips.