I’ve been to a book reading this year like never before. It’s partly because of the pandemic, I’m sure, but it’s also related to the reduced time spent reading articles and social media. In a normal year I read about a dozen books, and this year I am at a pace five times as much. As a result, it’s no surprise that one of my favorite taps of the year has been Book Track, from developer Simone Montalto.
Book Track was launched at the beginning of the year as a promising 1.0, and then came with a major update in the middle of the year that addressed my first issues with the app and expanded the functionality in important ways. That update was a great setup for the launch of today̵
Book Track contains two types of widgets on iOS and iPadOS 14: Reading progress and quotes. The former is available in small and medium sizes, while the latter is only medium.
The Reading Progress module shows you how close you are to completing the title you are currently reading. New in today’s update. With Book Track, you can now track reading progress in a book by entering the last page you read. The widget will then show you how far you are by viewing the last page read, as well as the total pages of the book, and a visual representation of your progress plus the book’s title, author and cover art. I usually read 10+ books at a time, so tracking progress for a single book is not as attractive to me personally, but for users who tend to focus on a single title while reading, it can see progress on the home screen a great reminder to read more often.
The Quotes widget better suits my needs, and integrates with the quotes you save for a given book. Each book in your library can have quotes added as you read, and with this widget you can have Book Track randomly display different quotes from the title you configure. Like Apple’s Photos widget, it’s nice to be surprised all day long with an updated widget that sparkles joy, or in this case can be inspiring.
One of the key benefits of Apple’s Mac Catalyst technology, first launched last year, is that not only does it allow developers to bring their iPad apps to their Macs, but it’s likely to do so too. more Mac-like in the process. Sidebar is a perfect example of this two-way effect. macOS Big Sur introduces a new sidebar design on the Mac, but before arriving later this fall, iPadOS 14 is currently pushing iPad apps to use sidebars instead of the traditional tab. Developers using Mac Catalyst can support both changes at the same time with minimal extra effort, and that’s exactly what is done in Book Track.
On the iPad, the previous iPhone-like tab bar has been replaced by a sidebar that provides significantly more tools. All the previous tabs now live at the top of the sidebar, but together with three new sections that can be hidden or expanded according to your preferences: Reading status, tags and series. These add-ons make it much easier than before to access your reading lists, reading or reading lists, or to filter your library by a code or series. All of these controls were previously available in the app, but you had to jump through one or more different menus to get to them. Now they are available exactly where they should be: in normal view.
Not happy with supporting the latest features in this autumn’s OS releases, but developer Montalto has also provided Shortcuts support for Book Track 2.0. There are five different actions you can find in the shortcut app:
- Add a new offer
- Book selection
- Get all the books
- Change book details
- Update book progress
The first and last of these are the ones I want to highlight. One is better suited for readers of e-books, while the other is ideal for fans of paper books.
Of these groups, I am 100% e-person. The only time I want to buy a paper book is when a title simply does not exist digitally. So for me, the Add New Quote action is ideal. My normal practice while reading is to mark remarkable quotes, but also save the quotes in a separate note in Apple Notes where all quotes from that book are collected. However, Book Track’s quote function has made me reconsider that exercise. Each book in the Book Track Library can have quotes stored in a dedicated section of the title detail view. With the new shortcut, it’s easier than ever to save quotes in that detail view.
I have created a simple shortcut with one action that takes hold of the contents of the clipboard and saves it in a book of your choice under the quote field. Now, when I come across an offer I want to save while reading, I just copy it to the clipboard, run the Add New Offer shortcut, and the snippet is saved as a new offer to that title in the book track. It’s a smooth process that does what automation does best: speed up a frequent, repetitive process. The only thing that would make things faster is if Apple Books supported running shortcuts via the sharing sheet when text is selected, so I could skip the clipboard step, but unfortunately the app completely disables shortcuts to the sharing sheet.
The other action I want to highlight, Update Book Progress, almost makes me wish I was interested in paper books. Since titles in Book Track are imported from Google Books’ database and include page numbers, the app knows how many total pages a book already has, so it can easily calculate your reading progress. And with a shortcut for updating book progress, you can quickly go to the last page you read in a given book and immediately get the progress updated in Book Track. Here is a video that shows how easy it is.
The reason this works well for paper books, but not digital ones, is that digital books usually do not follow the page numbers of their analog equivalents. Sometimes they do, but it’s extremely hit or miss. I wish Apple and Amazon would make a greater effort to solve this problem, which is especially problematic in the context of groups such as book clubs, but I do not hold my breath for that to happen. As a result, Update Book Progress is a great shortcut for paper books, but with most digital books, the number of pages you see will not be in line with Book Track’s total number of pages for a title, making the shortcut – and the entire reading system – far less useful. However, if you want, you can always change the total page number of a title manually to match what you see in the ebook app of your choice, and then track progress using ebook page numbers instead. It only requires one extra step per book.
Rounding off version 2.0 is the addition of keyboard shortcuts. You can not navigate the app’s user interface at all via a keyboard, but there are still a handful of nice shortcuts to do things like start a search in either your library or an online search, reject overlays, add a new book, or open settings. I have found that shortcuts have been the most widely used because they do not immediately require pressing or clicking to interact with app UI elements, unlike most other available shortcuts.
Book Track continues to stand out as one of the most native and modern app experiences for book lovers. Its widgets and new iPad designs showcase some of the features of iOS and iPadOS 14, and the new shortcut actions provide valuable tools for speeding up normal actions in the app. This app has come a long way in just a few months, and I’m excited to see where the future takes it.
Book Track 2 is now available on the App Store.