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Listening to Audiobooks on Your iOS Mobile Device

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In this article, Jason R. Rich explains how to download and enjoy listening to audiobooks on your iPhone or iPad. You'll learn about the pros and cons of acquiring audiobooks from the iTunes Store as well as from Audible.com.
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Some people love to read. Whether it involves losing themselves in the pages of an action-packed thriller or the heartwarming story conveyed in a romance novel, learning a new skill from a how-to book, or reading a biography about someone they admire, a book can be a source of entertainment or knowledge while providing an escape from everyday life.

Unfortunately, people trying to keep up in their fast-paced lives are finding less and less time to read a traditional book. However, most people can use some of their unproductive time in a car, on an airplane flight, while working out, while preparing a meal, or while relaxing in bed and simultaneously (and passively) listening to an audiobook. Millions of fiction and nonfiction books have been released in audiobook form, allowing people to listen to a book being read to them by a narrator instead of reading it themselves.

Thanks to digital audiobook distribution services, which include the iTunes Store and Audible.com, there's no longer a hefty financial premium to acquire and listen to audiobooks, which used to cost between $30.00 and $50.00 (or more). In fact, these days, the cost of most audiobooks is comparable to purchasing a traditional paperback or hardcover book (between $5.95 and $29.95).

As a result, most of the major publishing houses are releasing abridged or unabridged versions of bestselling books that can be purchased, downloaded, and listened to on an iPhone, iPad, or any computer or device capable of playing digital audio files.

Acquiring Audiobooks from the iTunes Store

For acquiring eBooks, which are digital text-based editions of books that can be read on your iPhone or iPad screen, Apple operates its online-based iBookstore and offers the free iBooks app, which is specifically designed for reading eBooks. However, if you want to purchase and enjoy audiobooks on your iOS mobile device, you can shop from the Apple iTunes Store and then listen to the downloaded audio content using the Music app that comes preinstalled with iOS 7.

To browse the ever-growing collection of audiobooks available from the iTunes Store, launch the iTunes Store app from your Internet-connected iPhone or iPad. On the iPhone, tap the More icon that's displayed at the bottom of the screen and then select the Audiobooks option. On the iPad, the Audiobooks icon can be found near the bottom center of the main app screen.

Once you access the iTunes Store Audiobooks area, the process of browsing and then purchasing audiobooks is very much like acquiring a TV show episode, movie, or album. The iTunes Store Audiobook section initially displays what's equivalent to the Featured screen when shopping for TV shows, movies, music, or apps. This screen promotes newly released, Apple recommended, and popular audiobook titles.

By tapping the Categories option, you can browse through more than two dozen subject categories, ranging from Nonfiction, Business, and Classics, to Romance, Sports, and Technology.

It's also possible to search for specific audiobook titles by entering a keyword related to a title, author, or subject into the iTunes Store app's search field. Yet another option is to scroll toward the bottom of the Featured Audiobooks page within the iTunes Store and then tape of the Quick Links, which include a New This Week, Top Fiction, Top Nonfiction, Bestsellers By Category, Celebrity Narrators, and another specialized search options.

Ultimately, when you tap the listing for an audiobook, a detailed Description screen for that title is displayed. Part of each Description screen includes three tabs: Details, Reviews, and Related.

Tap the Details tab to display an audiobook's title, cover art, author, publisher, its length, category, and average rating, along with a detailed description and other pertinent information. Tap the Reviews tab to see the star-based ratings for this book, as well as read detailed reviews written by your fellow iTunes Store customers. There's also a "Like" button here that allows you to Like an audiobook on Facebook.

Tap the Related tab to display audiobooks that are by the same author or that have similar subject matter. Displayed just above these three tabs, you'll see the audiobook's Price button and a Preview button. Before making a purchase, tap the Preview button to hear a short sample of the audiobook. This is streamed for free to your device via the Internet.

When you're ready to purchase an audiobook and download it to your iOS mobile device, tap the Price button. You'll then be prompted to enter your Apple ID password to confirm your purchase. As when purchasing any other type of content from the iTunes Store, iBookstore, App Store, or Apple's Newsstand, the purchase price is immediately charged to the credit or debit card that's linked to your Apple ID account. Then the content is automatically downloaded to the device on which it was purchased. At the same time, the content becomes available to all your other computers and iOS mobile devices that are linked to the same iCloud account.

Thus, you can start listening to it on your iPad, for example, and then download the same audiobook from your iCloud account (at no additional cost), continue listening to it on your iPhone, or use the iTunes software on your Mac or PC. Your iCloud account will automatically sync your "bookmarks" and keep track of where you last paused the audiobook, so you can resume playing it from where you left off on any device.

Once an audiobook is purchased and downloaded to your iPhone or iPad, launch the Music app to listen to it. Keep in mind that unlike watching a movie or TV show episode, an unabridged audiobook can be anywhere from 8 to 20 hours long. The Music app's onscreen controls for listening to an audiobook are the same as when you listen to music.

The Audible.com Alternative

Just as Amazon.com offers an alternative to shopping for printed books from a traditional bookstore (such as Barnes & Noble), it also offers a vast selection of eBooks that are compatible with its Kindle eBook readers and the Kindle iPhone/iPad app. Amazon.com owns and operates the Audible.com online service, which offers one of the world's largest selections of downloadable audiobooks.

To shop for audiobooks from Audible.com, you'll need to visit the company's website at http://www.audible.com. You can do this from your computer or using the Safari web browser on your iOS mobile device. Once you set up a free Audible account, you can purchase and download audiobooks from this website and pay the full retail price for each title, or you can subscribe to the Audible service and acquire audiobooks at a significant discount.

Audible offers four different subscription plans. The basic $14.95 per month plan includes one audiobook download per month and a discounted price on all additional purchases. The $22.95 per month plan includes two audiobooks per month, plus a discount on all additional purchases. Either of these subscriptions can be cancelled any time, and the first audiobook download is free for new members.

Two annual plans are also offered by Audible.com. For $149.50, you can download up to 12 audiobook titles any time throughout a 12-month period; the $229.50 plan allows you to download 24 books during the one year period.

Using the Audible App

Once you purchase any audiobook from Audible.com's website, it gets stored within your free cloud-based account. You can then download and access it any time from your computer(s) or mobile device(s). For the iPhone and iPad, there's an official Audible.com app available for free from the App Store that makes listening to audiobooks acquired from Audible.com an easy and enjoyable process.

Although you can manage your audiobook purchases and listen to them from the Audible app, purchases cannot be made directly from the app. In terms of the audiobook listening experience, the Audible app offers several advantages over using the Music app to listen to audiobooks acquired from the iTunes Store.

For example, you can increase or decrease the playback speed of the audio while listening to an audiobook. It's also possible to quickly jump between chapters—or manually fast forward or rewind by dragging your finger along the onscreen Time slider, or by tapping on the Rewind 30 icon, which rewinds by 30 seconds per tap.

The Sleep timer is also a useful feature. Tap it once and then choose for the app to automatically pause and bookmark your audiobook after 8, 15, 30, 45, or 60 minutes; or at the end of a chapter. Another onscreen icon allows you to add a virtual bookmark at any point while listening to an audiobook, so you can quickly return to that point in the book any time later.

Audiobook Listening Options from Your iPhone or iPad

Just like any audio played on your iPhone or iPad, audiobooks can be heard from the speaker that's built into the device or using corded headphones that plug directly into the device's built-in headphone jack.

Alternatively, both the Music and Audible apps are compatible with the iOS 7 AirPlay and Bluetooth features. Thus, if you have either AirPlay- or Bluetooth-compatible speakers, you can wirelessly stream the audio from your iOS mobile device and listen to it on those speakers.

Bluetooth- and Airplay-compatible speakers are available from a wide range of companies, starting from around $20.00 and going up to several hundred dollars for high-end speakers from a company like Bose (http://www.bose.com) or Sonos (http://www.sonos.com). Three mid-priced speaker options that are battery-powered, portable, and durable, but that can fill a room with high-quality sound, are the Jambox speakers from Jawbone ($149.99 to $299.00, https://jawbone.com/speakers).

Meanwhile, if you have a hands-free kit or an auxiliary input jack within your vehicle, you can listen to audiobooks that are being played from your iPhone or iPad through your car's stereo system.

Yet another option is to connect an Apple TV device ($99.00) to your HD television set and then stream the audiobook content from your iPhone or iPad wirelessly to the Apple TV using AirPlay, so that it can be heard through your television speakers or home theater system in stereo surround sound.

Final Thoughts

Listening to audiobooks is an entertaining, relaxing and potentially educational experience that you can do just about anywhere—at home, in your car, on an airplane, or while working out. This is a convenient and cost-effective way to hear the latest bestsellers (as well as classic novels, nonfiction, and how-to books) that you don't otherwise have time to read.

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