iBooks 2 and the Apple Textbooks

I haven’t posted to iPadWatcher for a while, but the temptation was too much when two of my favorite subjects, the iPad and Books were so much in evidence as they were this week.  When Apple introduced version 2.0 of its iBooks application for for the iPad with new enhanced support for interactive textbooks, a lot of people had a lot to say about it. I was one of them, but I decided to hold out a bit and better digest the news, before I started to write about it.

Lets’s start with what was announced, regarding books.  Apple introduced both a new version of its eBook reading application for the iPad and a specialized eBook creation application for the Mac. The combination of these applications produces some impressive results as can be seen in a seven minute video published by Apple.

Life on Earth - Chapter 1

Life on Earth - Screenshot

On the original iPad the new iBooks 2 application has a great tendency to crash when you are interacting with the “interactive parts” of the textbooks.  This happens so frequently as to almost render the new books unusable at all.  Hopefully this will get sorted out in a minor update released within the next couple of weeks.  As it stands iBooks 2 is most disappointing to a large part of the potential readers due to instability issues.

I have had less opportunity to play around with the iBooks Author application on the Mac, it seems like a very interesting piece of software.  iBooks Author borrows heavily from the interface of Apple’s iWork applications and seems very intuitive to use.  Getting started with the process of creating a new eBook is very straight forward with the help of the supplied templates.

iBooks Author

iBooks Author has specific support for embedding Keynote presentations as a multimedia element embedded into the textbook as if it where a picture.  That is where the interactive part starts to come into play with the new textbooks proposed by Apple.

While the application seems like a great way to create great looking eBooks, Apple has left some strings attached which diminish the general appeal to content creators in general: books created with iBooks Author can only be sold through Apple and for reading on Apple devices.   There is a technical limitation as Apple took some liberties in extending the proposed EPUB3 standard in order to achieve the desired results and because the software’s end-user license agreement specifically limit you in this fashion.

While I can understand Apple not wanting to make free applications for consuming its content on competing devices, I feel that explicitly trying to block content creators from selling their content for consumption by users of other devices is a very backward way of doing business.

One thing which is not clear to me, but Apple may already have made known is whether or not the file format specification used by these new enhanced books will be freely available so that third-party authoring tools can generate compatible content. I’m sure that there will be a lot of interest in this area.

Some publisher interest as shown in the form of a handful of titles which are being made immediately available.  Interactive textbooks is an area which publishers might embrace more enthusiastically as producing one of them is a much more complex and multifaceted endeavor than write a regular book.  Most authors are not experienced or have the means to create sophisticated eye-catching 3D animations or great looking video clips.  This is a space where large corporations certainly enjoy the advantage against the self-publishing author.

I have always been a huge believer in eBooks, having worked on creating reading and authoring tools for them as far back as 1998.  I feel that Apple’s new moves in this area, along with Amazon’s are going a long way towards making eBooks truly a reality in everyday usage scenarios.  Regardless of the appeal of interactive content, textbooks are just to heavy and take up too much space.  I wouldn’t want to carry my 10-year-old son’s backpack for a long distance haul, due to the weight of the school books and notebooks he has to carry back and forth everyday

In order to get to a point where no one needs to carry so much dead weight just to go to school we still need to go a long way, starting with making the reading devices way more affordable.  We need to get to point where the loss of an iPad due to accident of theft won’t be such a heavy unexpected burden on a family’s monthly budget, so that it can be immediately replaced.

It will be interesting to see how Apple’s initiative evolves and how other companies react to it.


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