Posted by Graeme McKinstry on 21 January 2012 | 0 Comments

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With Apple’s announcement of a new iBook format and a new authoring application, I thought I might offer an opinion on how I see this playing out.

Unusually, I wll offer my conclusion at the begininning: that this is an opening salvoe in what promises to be a protracted war.

As to why I think like this:

  • Apple has a long and distinguished history of kick-starting whole new areas only for others to come in later and gain a majority share. Think: popularizing WIMP (Windows, Icons, Pulldown Menus) interfaces, desktop publishing, music (in this I think that Apple’s ability to get the major music studios together is more of an achievement than the iPod itself), smartphones and Tablet computers. The only areas where they have managed to hold on to the majority of the market are with Tablets (for now), iPods and, to a far lesser extent, desktop publishing. This is not to minimize their achievments but just to put it in some sort of perspective.
  • The new iBook format has some glaring omissions, most obviously in that it only works with iPads. My guess is that some problems will be addressed in the near future: not being able to view iBooks on an Apple Mac seems particularly egregious. 
  • There are still big holes in the implementation: typographic controls are still limited (e.g., no decent line breaking algorithm, no hanging punctuation); setting mathematics hasn’t been addressed, etc. The iBook Author application isn’t aimed at people who care about the detail; only the obvious and flashy areas are suitably addressed.
  • The only way for the new iBook format to gain widespread traction is to open up the format, or at least fold the improvements back into the (ePub) standard. I believe that this will happen, but as to when, well, with Apple that is anyone’s guess. As it stands now, iBook seems to be a vehicle for Apple to sell iPads. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but if I was a major textbook publisher I would certainly be interested in this announcement, but I also would be leery of putting all my publishing eggs in one proprietary basket.

So, does this mean that we won't be using the new iBook format here at MCK? Not all all—we will defiintely be experimenting and converting some publications into the new format. However, we will also have to look at catering to other platforms that the new format doesn’t deal with.

The real key here is “patience.” As I used to tell my children when they were younger, patience means “to wait.” iBook, or its successor/competitor, will undoubtedly get better in time.

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