iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U: Changing the Textbooks Game?

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As you may have heard, Apple held an event in New York today on education. They announced the release of iBooks 2.0, an update to their iBooks app that supports the new format creators can make with iBooks Author, a new free eTextbook development tool that is an app for Mac OS X 7.  To complement these new eTextbooks, Apple also announced iTunes U, a new app where you can download eTextbooks, professors lectures. I thought it might be helpful to run through some of what we know so far, and also link to some reactions coming in from different parts of the industry. Engadget did a great job live posting from the event, including pictures of the slides shown. It is well worth a look if you want to see what was said and seen.

First, here’s a brief summary of the proceedings from today’s Chicago Tribune, “Apple rolls out digital textbook service iBooks 2.” The Trib get it mostly right, though coverage is a little light. Of note, they point out that Pearson PLC, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have been working with Apple to create content in the new format. You can bet they now have a significant lead on the field.

Speaking of the new format, files created using iBooks Author appear with the extension .ibooks (iBook Author). One of the first files available is in iTunes in the new format is E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth, which has two chapters available for free download. By all accounts, the .ibooks version of the book is still a bit buggy. It has afforded eBook producers to open up the file and look at what’s inside.

So what is inside an .ibooks file? Is it ePUB or ePUB3? Well, not exactly. It appears that there is an awful lot of the meat of an ePUB with some special Apple content added. Here are a few views of what the files look like:

 Files top view

.opf file (magnify the image for a better view)


HTML chapter file

The reaction to the announcement yesterday was immediate and interesting to say the least. Digital Book World quickly post “Apple Unveils iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, New E-Book Creation Software” as an overview of the event.

Baldur Bjarnson has a great post o “The iBooks 2.0 textbook format” in which he looks at Apple’s new format with an eye on the CSS and tells us the good, the meh, and the bad.

Liz Castro took a quick look through the EULA for iBooks Author and post “iBooks Author is beautiful but you can only use it to sell through Apple iBookstore”. In this post she takes Apple to task for demanding an exclusive an all content created using iBooks Author and intended for sale.

Ed Bott took an even harsher look at Apple’s EULA at The Ed Bott Report’s “Apple’s mind-bogglingly greedy and evil license agreement.” The title is self-explanatory, but it is worth reading the whole post to understand the reasons behind the statement.

While iBooks Author appears on the Mac App Store as an app for Lion only, it appears someone has already figured out a hack to make it work on older versions of OS X. From the French site MacGeneration comes “Tip: install iBooks Author of Snow Leopard.” You can translate the text from the French through Chrome, and it is easy to understand.

Today brought even more responses to Apples announcements. Tuaw.com has a good post looking at iBooks Author files titled “iBooks Author: Under the hood.”

This Much I Know takes a counter view in “Apple’s iBooks Author licensing terms” explaining why everyone should be fine with Apple’s EULA since the files will only work on Apple devices anyway.

ReadWriteWeb tells why it doesn’t think Apple is going to disrupt the textbook market at all in “Why Apple Won’t Disrupt the Textbook Industry Anytime Soon.” The main reasons: the iPad is costly and not cross-platform; Apple’s digital textbooks are not aimed at the college market; Apple is partnering with the big publishers, not killing them, and Apple is not the only player in this market.

Macworld has a nice test drive of iBooks Author at “Hands on: iBooks Author effortless to use, but iPad-only.”

Leximation test out a digital workflow that includes FrameMaker to iBooks Author in “Apple iBooks Author and Adobe FrameMaker?” The results are a bit mixed at the moment.

Future eBook had a mostly negative reaction to Apple’s announcements yesterday at “Apple reinvents the textbook with iBooks 2.” Today they follow it up with two more: “iBooks2 and schoolbooks: first thoughts”and “Apple iBooks Hangover.” The upshot of both is that the announcements weren’t perfect, but we’ll have to wait and see how this plays out, but Apple is increasing the need for publishers to convert education materials to digital formats. The latter article in particular looks as some of the real issues faced by Apple in making digital textbooks available to K-12.

Glazblog has a thorough breakdown (the best I’ve seen so far) of the .ibooks format at “iBooks Author, a nice tool but…” The summary, “iBooks Author is, as always with Apple, a very nice piece of software. Friendly user interface, simple to understand and manipulate even without Users’ Manual. But from a Market point of view, my gut feeling is that it’s one incompatibility too far. Apple is missing a huge opportunity here because it wants to lock the market, trying to offer the best editing environment to kill the other online bookstores.”

Macworld has another good post in “Why iBooks Author is a big deal for publishers.” The key point in this piece is summed up in the subtitle: “Now creators can make interactive books without becoming app developers.” While Apple targeted the textbook market with their announcement, there may be an even better market for the use of iBooks Author: magazines.

Finally, Liz Castro has another post today: “Ten reasons I can’t recommend or use iBooks Author.” Castro focuses on the constraints Apple puts on publishers and authors using iBooks Author in the EULA. Read the comments on this post for a good discussion of the issues.

Ars Technica’s Infinite Loop site examines both the limited nature of iBooks Author content distribution and complaints about the EULA in “Enthusiasm for iBooks Author marred by licensing, format issues.” This post includes quotes from Liz Castro, user experience expert Nick Disabato, and IP attorney Evan Brown (with whom I have had the pleasure to work on licensing agreements on many occasions).

Even Bleeding Cool looks at iBooks Author and what it my do for comics in the post “Will iBooks Author Revolutionise Comics Self Publishing?” A bonus at this site: the Apple video on using iPads in schools that ran at the New York event.

John Gruber’s “On the Proprietary Nature of the iBooks Author File Format” at Daring Fireball is a well-balanced response to Daniel Glazman’s Glazblog post above. The key to understand what Apple has done is, “Glazman looks at these new iBooks books and sees a nonstandard proprietary format. Apple looks at these new iBooks and sees layouts and design features that no other e-book platform offers today. One man’s nonstandard is another man’s competitive differentiation.”

Baldur Bjarnason has added another post on iBooks Author, this time looking at the widgets the app includes. In “The iBooks 2.0 built-in widgets,” compares the standards in the ePUB3 spec to what Apple has done with iBooks Author and concludes, “The biggest, most heart-wrenching, disappointment is that Apple could have done all of this in a standards-friendly manner.”

Mashable’s post “Why the iPad Won’t Transform Education—Yet” highlights the obstacles Apple faces in establishing a toehold in the K–12 market and why it may be an uphill battle.

I’ve downloaded iBooks Author to my MacBookPro and plan on trying it out this weekend (we have a snowstorm starting now in the Chicago area, so I should have lots of time to test it). I’ll share my impressions once I have worked with it a bit.

What do you think of iBooks 2.0, iBooks Author, and iTunes U? Have you downloaded any or all of them and used them yet? Do you plan to?


7 Responses to “iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U: Changing the Textbooks Game?”

  1. Thanks for the long list of articles… 🙂

    Maybe two other blogs that might be of interest (quite critical, certainly regarding the EULA):


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