I’ve had my head down recently, preparing a series of enhanced ebooks using Apple’s iBooks Author. So, what’s it like?
‘Very easy’ as in, non-techy publishing people (especially anyone who’s ever done any layout) should be able to pick it up in an afternoon, without any training.
This, ultimately, is both a good and bad thing.
In terms of stability and options, the criticisms that I’m about to make seem harsh in light of this being version 1.0 of a piece of free software. But that said, a few issues are worth mentioning. When a preview sent to the iPad crashes, it does so by closing down in a way that Apple finds elegant – blinking off without any error messages. This leaves you with no clue about where the problem is and no choice but to roll back to an earlier, working saved version and start over.
This lack of flexibility takes some getting used to. Having planned to spend a day experimenting with different video codecs in order to make the final video as good as possible, it was a shock to discover that there are no options *at all* – there is one export setting in Quicktime that you simply have to use. Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on how well you like the performance you are given. The video was actually really good, but some standard image compression (on the tablet itself) was more of a problem – it didn’t suit our style of animation, and there was basically nothing that could be done about it.
Still, all in all it’s a solid piece of software that gives you a temptingly easy and cheap route through production to market. So what’s the problem? It’s more of an idealogical one. The ideal scenario, in which enhanced ebooks need to be developed only once (in the universal epub3 standard) and sold on multiple platforms is getting further and further away. Apple and Amazon are focused on drawing you in to their walled gardens, and iBooks Author is a clear part of that. And ultimately, in the long run, proprietary systems suck big logs.
It’s worth having a look at a demo video now, in order to get a sense of the thing.
It’s quite an eye-opener to go from that to the simplicity of iBooks Author, which ignores HTML5 animation and simply assumes that you wouldn’t want to do anything that fiddly. You can see how, from Apple’s point of view, iBooks Author is a great piece of software. As it makes creating enhanced books so much easier – leaving you with much cheaper development costs – it becomes increasingly tempting to crawl into that walled garden. No matter how less interesting the final results may be, or much you might kick yourself for doing so.