SiliconFilter

Hands-On With iBooks Author: eBook Authoring Made Easy, Not Just for Textbooks

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Apple just launched its new free eBook authoring app iBooks Author during an event in New York earlier today. During the event, Apple mostly focused on textbooks and authoring them with iBooks Author. In reality, though, the software will come in handy for a multitude of different kinds of books. It also opens up a whole new world of publishing for those who may want to create paid and free books based on their photography or travel experiences, for example.

We now had some time to test the app, which fits right into the same paradigms that Apple's iWork has already established for productivity apps on the Mac. There are the usual Inspector windows for accessing more advanced features, for example, as well as the pull-out panel on the side of the windows with your paragraph, character and list styles.

Everything feels very fluid and it's obvious that the same team that worked on iWork was also responsible for this product. This isn't iPhoto for books, by any means, though. While it's not Adobe InDesign or a complex design tool like either, it's clearly meant for users who are willing to put in a bit of time to create the best possible product (but then, if you are going to write even a short book, you're obviously pretty dedicated to what you are doing in the first place). Turning this short review into an iBook took about 15 minutes without any prior knowledge of the app, so it's not unthinkable that teachers could do this with their lecture notes, too, for example.

Template Chooser ibooks author

Working with iBooks Author

It's worth noting the first thing you realize when you start using iBooks Author is that this isn't meant to be a replacement for Pages, Word or your favorite text editor. The program expects you to focus mostly on layout and interactivity. Apple provides you with six templates, all focused on textbooks, though you can obviously arrange your box with your own layouts as well. 

Ibooks author reviewAdding Interactivity

This is obviously the most fun part of the whole experience. Apple provides you with 7 widgets that you can use to add interactivity to your book: Gallery, Media, Review, Keynote, Interactive Images, 3D and HTML.

Most of these are self-explanatory: Gallery and Media allow you to add images, audio and video files and Keynote allows you to add Keynote presentation to the documents.

The Review widget is obviously aimed at textbooks and allows you to create multiple-choice quizzes. There doesn't seem to be a way to save the results of these, though, and hence there is no way to tally them up at the end.

Interactive Images allows authors to add call-outs to images and also to have the image automatically zoom in to a specified area.

The 3D widget allows you to add COLLADA files, an open standard for creating 3D models, to your book. It's the same kind of file Google's SketchUp would create, for example. You can't add too much interactivity here, it seems, though, just the ability to see the object from all angles.

Widget 3d

As for the HTML widget, it's worth noting that you can't just import any old HTML file here. They have to be Dashcode-style files, the same kind you would use to build an OSX Dashboard widget. That actually gives developers quite some flexibility (adding maps, advanced interactivity etc.), but it definitely isn't the same as just throwing some HTML together. 

A lot of the highly interactive widgets you see in Apple's demo video were probably made using the HTML widget or Keynote.

Becoming a Published Author

Apple allows you to export your documents in three formats: iBooks (obviously), PDF and as a text document. Given Apple's license restrictions, you are only allowed to sell a book you authored with iBooks Author on the iBookstore. You can't sell your PDF file on your website itself, for example (though you are allowed to distribute a free version "by any available means," meaning you could give away free sample chapters as a PDF, for example).

It's worth noting that to sell a book in the iBookstore, you will also need to get an ISBN number for your book, set up an account with Apple and install the iTunes Producer software for uploading your books to the store.

With your iPad connected to your computer, you can also see a preview of your book at any time, by the way.

Help Center publish

Apple, it seems, will vet the books that it will let into the store. One interesting requirement is that you have to create a "sample book" before your book can be added to the store.

It's worth noting that you can obviously also distribute your book outside of the iBookstore if you just want your class to use it, for example. Users can then upload it to their iPad through iTunes or just tap on it in the iPad's native email program to open it.

This Review as an iBook

Obviously, I couldn't help myself and had to turn this short review into an iBook, too. You can download it here. Just email it to yourself or upload it to your iPad through iTunes. If you are on an iPad, you can also just click the link and open the file on your iPad directly.



9:14 am


Amazon Launches HTML5-Based Kindle Cloud Reader to Sidestep Apple’s Rules

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Amazon launched Cloud Reader today, a browser-based eReading application that allows it to work around Apple’s rules for in-app purchases and subscriptions.

Apple has set strict rules for how vendors can use its platform to enable in-app sales and subscriptions. To work around these rules, Amazon and many other e-book vendors recently removed links to their websites from their native iOS apps, allowing them to skirt some of Apple’s rules and avoid paying extra fees to Apple. This, however, also degrades the user experience significantly. Thanks to Apple’s rules, though, we are now also seeing even more development efforts around HTML5-based web apps for offline reading of books, newspapers and magazines. As these apps run in the browsers, they don’t have to follow Apple’s rules and don’t have to go through the App Store approval process.

The Financial Times, for example, decided not to give Apple 30% of the money it makes from in-app subscriptions and launched an HTML5 app instead. Today, Amazon joined the fray by launching Cloud Reader, a web-based e-book reader that can also be used offline thanks to HTML5’s built-in caching mechanism. Cloud Reader works in Safari and Chrome, but not in Firefox. It looks especially good on the iPad, but doesn’t work on the iPhone (yet).

cloud_reader_large

HTML5 vs. Native Apps

Cloud Reader is, without doubt, one of the finest examples of how a well-designed HTML5 app can easily compete with a native app. The fact that the focus here is on text, of course, helps, as an e-reader doesn’t need fancy animations to work well. The app does, however, feature some nice animations here and there and, most importantly, offers deep integration with Amazon’s Kindle store, something that is still missing from the company’s native apps.

Among the few things that don’t work in the web app are swipe gestures (to skip pages, you can only click on the edge of the screen), but otherwise, every feature you would expect from a Kindle app is here. Once you add a bookmark to the app to your iPad homescreen, you wouldn’t even know that you’re not using a native app if it wasn’t for the slower response time when you skip pages.

Right Now, Mostly Developed for iPad – Coming to Other Devices Soon

In the long run, Amazon will likely bring Cloud Reader to other platforms as well. Right now, it seems specifically targeted at iPad users, but the beauty of a web app is that it could allow developers to bring the same service to virtually every web-capable device.

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3:28 pm


Apple's Rejection of Sony Reader App Sows Confusion

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To buy a Kindle or Nook eBook for your iOS device, you can’t use an in-app bookstore. Instead, you have to go to Amazon’s website to buy your book. The same holds true for virtually every other iOS e-book reader. Yesterday, however, Apple rejected Sony’s e-reader app for the iPhone, arguing that apps that offer users to buy content outside of the app also have to make their virtual goods available through in-app purchases (read: purchases that allow Apple to take its 30% cut).

Kindle for iPad

This is a very odd development – though, as Harry McCracken and John Paczkowski note – for the most part, it’s fully within the realm of Apple’s existing developer guidelines. Apple, however, never enforced these rules. Here is the statement Paczkowski received from Apple:

We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines. We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.

The actual rules, however, say nothing about the need to offer the same content for in-app purchases that’s available outside the app.

11.2 Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected

11.3 Apps using IAP to purchase physical goods or goods and services used outside of the application will be rejected

Based on this, it would also be hard for companies like Amazon, Google and B&N to let you buy books inside an app and then read the book on your Kindle, too. Assuming Apple follows through with the rules it outlined in its statement, we can expect some major changes in the way e-book vendors go about their business on the iOS platform. Also, giving Apple a 30% cut of all their e-book sales could potentially drive quite a few vendors away from the iOS platform as it would be almost impossible to make money from their books after Apple gets its cut.

This could have consequences for Apple itself as well, though. As Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey told the L.A. Times, he “wouldn’t be surprised if phones were ringing at the FTC today about this.”

As of now, all of the current eBook apps are still available in the app store and none of the other vendors have received any notice from Apple about a change in its policies yet. It could just be that Apple didn’t do a good job at communicating the reasons why it rejected Sony’s app and the reasons for rejecting the app aren’t quite as drastic as it currently looks. It could also be, however, that Apple has simply gotten greedy and want to drive its users to the iBookstore instead of its competitors…



3:55 pm