Getting to Know iBooks Author

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Over the extended weekend I had an opportunity to get to know iBooks Author a little bit better. You might be thinking to yourself, “iBooks Author??” A few weeks ago when Apple made their big textbook announcement, they also released a free tool for Macs running the latest operating system (OSX Lion) that allows users to easily create books to be read in the iBooks app on the iPad. Tomorrow we’re hosting two iPad workshops in my office and I thought it would be the perfect reason to create a supplemental ebook handout about our district’s iPad implementation and using iPads for teaching and learning. Feel free to check it out yourself! You will need to have an iPad running the latest operating system (iOS 5.0.1) and an updated iBooks app. Just keep in mind its a work in progress and I don’t have an editor, so you’re likely to find a typo or two…or three.

After spending the past few days working off and on in iBooks Author I learned a few things…

  1. Wickedly Easy – First of all, there is almost no learning curve for picking up iBooks Author. If you are familiar with other Apple productivity software, such as Keynote or Pages, you will have no problem using this tool.
  2. Content Choices – Adding text, images, video, and weblinks is amazingly simple. In most cases all you have to do is drag, drop, and resize. I’m still amazed I have a book with six video clips in it.
  3. Exporting Options – When iBooks Author first came out there was a lot of buzz about being forced to publish through the iBookstore. In reality, you only have to publish through the iBookstore if you are looking to charge for your book. This book is free, so within iBooks Author I was able to export my book out as an iBooks file or PDF.

iBooks Author is early in its development, so naturally there are some bugs…or at least best practices that still need to be ironed out.

  1. Videos – The iBooks Author help menu recommends utilizing video that has been recorded at 720p. However, by doing this your file grows very quickly and iBooks Author doesn’t seem to do any compressing when the book is exported. Fortunately, Kelly is much more knowledgeable about video production than I am, so he fiddled with an iPad setting in Adobe Media Encoder and re-encoded my videos with a variable bit rate. This greatly reduced their file sizes (like from 1GB to 50 MB) without any significant loss in quality. To me this might be an area where Apple might want to do some work. Otherwise, we’ll all be trying to send and open 4GB iBook files.
  2. Introduction – For some reason whenever I put an image on the Introduction page it ends up on the cover of every chapter. I am fairly sure there is some sort of user error I am making, but I have yet to figure out the solution.
  3. Images vs. Gallery – It took me the better part of an hour and some mentor textbook samples from the iBookstore to figure this out that if you want your readers to be able to click on an image and have it expand to full screen then you need to use a Gallery. Your gallery may only have one image, but you end up with some dead white space below the photo where the navigation menu goes and you can’t get rid of it. I would like there to be a setting for all images in Inspector where you can click on an image and have it automatically blow up.
  4. Downloading & Opening in iBooks – When you download an iBook created in iBooks Author on your iPad the file will download in Safari and once complete you will see a “Open in iBooks” button. Click on it and be prepared to wait. Depending on the size of the book nothing will happen on your iPad for 30seconds to a minute. It will seem like a really, really, really long time and then suddenly the iBooks app will launch. Whatever you do, don’t repeatedly click the “Open in iBooks” button thinking it isn’t working (as I did), because then it will take even longer. I’ve tried downloading my sample book on a several iPads today and it was the same experience every single time.

If you have a few spare moments give iBooks Author a whirl. In spite of the few issues I mentioned above, its a pretty great application. I’m looking forward to seeing teachers use it as a tool for developing and desseminating curriculum materials, as well as a piece of software students can use for creating digital publications. Oh…and let me know what you think about my first book.  If you don’t have an iPad you can also download a PDF version of the book.  You will just lose the ability to play videos.

Joe

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