How to listen to audiobooks on iOS

You've got several options for listening to audiobooks on your iOS device.

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If you’re an audiobook fan, you probably like to listen to your favorite books in many places: at home, in the car, in the gym, or when you’re out walking or running. You can use your iOS devices for this, and you can use a number of apps, depending on where you get your audiobooks. Here’s an overview of apps for listening to audiobooks on iOS.

You can get audiobooks from a number of sources. You can buy and download books from, or from Apple’s iBooks Store, or you can rip your own audiobook CDs. You can also buy some audiobooks on MP3 CDs; these CDs contain books already converted to MP3 files, which you can add to your iTunes library without ripping.

Where you buy the files affects how you can play them back. If you rip your own audiobook CDs, your files won’t have DRM, but if you buy audiobooks from Apple or Audible they will. Because of this DRM, you can’t play audiobooks in just any app.

Apple’s iBooks app


Playing an audiobook in the iBooks app.

Let’s start by looking at Apple’s tools for playing audiobooks on iOS devices. When Apple released iOS 8.4, in April, the company moved audiobook playback and management from the Music app to the iBooks app. In some ways, this makes sense; both ebooks and audiobooks are a kind of book. However, audiobooks are audio; so playing them in the Music app also makes sense.

Audiobooks you sync from iTunes to your iOS device get shunted into the iBooks app, where you can play them back as you used to in the Music app. If you don’t see them in iBooks, tap the category menu at the top of the window and choose Audiobooks.

When you play back audiobooks in iBooks, you can adjust the speed (tap the Speed button at the bottom left), skip ahead or back 15 seconds, and set a sleep timer. You can also access book chapters. Tap the chapters button at the top right of the window, and you’ll see a list of chapters. Unfortunately, all you see, even if the book has named chapters, are names like Track 1, Track 2, etc.

There are a number of pros and cons to buying audiobooks from the iBooks Store. I hesitate to recommend that you don’t buy audiobooks from Apple, but there’s one serious limit to purchasing audiobooks this way. Unlike just about every other type of digital content you purchase from Apple, you cannot re-download audiobooks, and you cannot keep a library of your books in the cloud. With Audible however, you can always re-download your books, and their app gives you access to everything you’ve ever bought.

Audible’s app


Playing a book in Audible's app.

Audible’s iOS app can serve as your only audiobook app. It displays your library; all the books you’ve bought from Audible, and which are stored in the cloud. It shows you books you’ve downloaded to your device within the Audible app. And it even lets you play audiobooks you’ve synced to iTunes, but only if you bought them from Audible.

The Audible app also lets you choose chapters, but only from cloud or device content; not with books you’ve synced via iTunes.

If you do buy books from Audible, you’ll probably find their app the most practical, since it does give you access to your entire library. You can still sync files from iTunes, but the cloud feature makes it much easier to use, and you may never need to sync.



Bookmobile is a fine alternative to Audible or iBooks.

How about a third-party app for your audiobooks? The $4 Bookmobile plays all kinds of audiobooks. (There’s a limited, free version you can try out; after that, a $4 in-app purchase unlocks all the app’s features.) In addition to playing any that you’ve ripped yourself, it can also play audiobooks with DRM sold by Audible or Apple.

Bookmobile is a mighty flexible app. While it’s interface is a bit hard to get used to, you can use it to change the playback speed with more granular settings than iBooks or the Audible app, skip ahead or back by minutes or seconds, and there’s even a driving mode, with simplified playback controls for use in the car.

Bookmobile can play books you’ve synced to iTunes, or you can use iTunes File Sharing to add files to it directly. You can also add books from Dropbox or other cloud services, and download them from web URLs. Finally, Bookmobile also plays podcasts, but that’s a topic for another article...

One more thing

While Apple has moved audiobook playback to the iBooks app, you can still play your audiobooks in the Music iOS app, at least at the time of this writing (iOS 8.4.1). In iTunes on your Mac, simply add your audiobooks—ripped, Audible, or iBooks Store—to a playlist and sync that playlist to your iOS device. Open the Music iOS app, and select that playlist; you’ll be able to play any audiobooks it contains.

You’ve got several options for listening to audiobooks on your iOS device. Try them all out and see which works best for you.

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