Sunday, January 22, 2012

iBooks Author review

The iBooks Author interface
Last week Apple announced its plans for educating our youth, at the centre of which was a tool for creating textbooks for the iPad - iBooks Author. You may not know this but education was always held in very high regard by Steve Jobs and though not known for his philanthropy he had as he said "probably given more computers to schools than anyone else in the world."  iBooks Author is a tool to let average folks create interactive multitouch textbooks for the iPad - think of it like GarageBand for books.
    It's available for free from the Mac App Store and there is an update to the iBooks app (iBooks 2) to support some new functionality for textbooks. Once you've created a textbook you can distribute it for free as a download from your website or, and this is perhaps the exciting bit, sell it through Apple's iBook store. If you sell the book for free you don't need an ISBN, but if you sell it for $s you'll have to apply for an ISBN first. The maximum price you can sell an iBooks textbook for is $14.99, and Apple has already done deals with publishing companies such as Pearson, McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and DK Publishing. Just like with the App Store Apple will keep 30% of the price of the book for its trouble. $14.99 is cheap for a textbook so I assume Apple is hoping to change this market, just like iTunes changed the music industry.
A page from The Universal Machine iBook
    Though I have no immediate need to create a textbook I thought I'd download iBooks Author and check it out. I have to say I'm impressed. It's basic look and feel is like Apple's iWorks apps. So if you're familiar with Pages and Keynote using iBooks Author will be a breeze. There are several textbook templates you can choose from and creating your textbook is as simple as importing or cutting and pasting text, images and multimedia into your textbook. iBooks Author is not a tool you'd use to write your text book. You must do that first; gather together your multimedia assets (video, sound files, images, 3D models, charts, tables, etc.) and then use iBooks Author to assemble your textbook.
    As a test I took the preface and first two chapters of The Universal Machine and turned them into an iBooks textbook. This took about an hour, which included learning to use the tool. Once you're ready you can preview your textbook by connecting an iPad to your Mac (did I mention iBooks Author is a Mac only app). When you're done press "Publish" and your completed iBook is ready for uploading to the iBook store or giving away for free from your website.

    All in all it's a very easy app to use and the resulting iBooks look very professional. You could use it for other things than just textbooks, a travel diary of a holiday, wedding albums, and I'm sure people will come up with lots of ways of using this useful tool.