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iBooks Now Opens EPUB Files Directly

In another instance where it would have been nice of Apple to publish more-complete release notes, we totally missed a significant change in the iBooks app until recently. Back in “Take Control’s Problems with Apps and Docs in iOS” (25 July 2010), I complained about how hard it was to distribute files to iOS users via the Internet due to limitations in iOS. Although some limitations went away in iOS 4.0 and 4.2, others (no centralized file storage area, no OS-level support for Zip files) remain. Luckily, one notable limitation — iBooks failing to register itself as being able to open EPUB files from other apps — has now been rectified.

The practical upshot of this fix is that you can now transfer EPUB files into iBooks far more easily than before, when the only way was to drop them into iTunes and do a USB sync. For individual users, that means you can send yourself an EPUB via email and transfer the attachment to iBooks, and you can also copy EPUB files into Dropbox and use the iOS Dropbox app to send them to iBooks.

From our perspective as a publisher, even more important is that you can now tap a link to a .epub file in Safari and use the Open In interface to open the file in iBooks. Once we realized this, we changed the interface for the Take Control Library so account holders (everyone who has ever purchased a Take Control ebook from our cart) can now download EPUB versions of their purchased ebooks directly on their iOS devices.

We are still providing slightly different interfaces depending on whether you’re using a desktop computer or a mobile device. For desktop computers, for each book, we provide links to download zipped PDFs. For many titles, we provide also “alternative format” Zip files that generally contain both the EPUB and the Mobipocket (for the Kindle) versions. We’ll soon be breaking those alternative format files apart to serve EPUB and Mobipocket independently.

(We now create our own EPUB files, so those are available immediately after purchase, but converting our EPUBs into decent Mobipocket files with Amazon’s inscrutable kindlegen tool turned out to be something we need to farm out, so Mobipocket files are coming back a week or so after publication.)

For iOS devices, though, Zip files are a pain, since there’s no way to guarantee that users will have an app that can open them (though the popular GoodReader is among those apps). As a result, when you load your Take Control Library on an iOS device, you can tap links to access either the PDF or the EPUB directly; in both cases you can then use iOS’s Open In feature to send the file to iBooks or another compatible app.


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Comments about iBooks Now Opens EPUB Files Directly
(Comments are closed.)

Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-04-07 08:51
Adam, I know that Calibre can convert EPUB to MOBI. Is it that that Calibre does an inadequate conversion job for you?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-04-07 10:44
I haven't tried that particular conversion in Calibre, but it's a little like Charlie Brown and the football. Every time I try to convert something in Calibre, it completely biffs the conversion. And since there's always a new version whenever I launch it (since I don't use it otherwise), testing a conversion always takes a long time too, all so Calibre can pull the football away and watch me fall on my back.

For those who haven't seen it, kindlegen is Amazon's command-line conversion program, and although it works, it's very finicky about what goes in, and the Mobipocket files it created from our EPUB files had very weird font and formatting issues. The files were readable, but not ideal. And since kindlegen has essentially no configuration possibilities, it made more sense to get O'Reilly to run it through their toolchain, which has been tweaked to kindlegen's idiosyncrasies.
harri heikkilä  2011-04-08 00:43
Interesting, but I did not get what you ment by opening in the interface. Can Y give an example?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-04-08 04:27
In iOS, when you're viewing a PDF in Safari, you can tap once on the screen to bring up an Open In button, or, if you have multiple apps that can handle PDF, two Open In buttons (one will be for the default PDF handler, as in Open in iBooks, and the other will just say Open in... and will display a list of available PDF-handling apps).

If Safari can't handle the file at all, as with EPUB, it will display a special Web page with a pair of Open In buttons that look different, but act the same.

Other apps, like Dropbox, may have a Share button (one of those curly arrows coming out of a boxy-looking object) that does the same thing.
Frank Lowney  2011-04-08 04:05
If you configure your server to use this MIME Type:
Content-Type: application/epub+zip
It will be possible to provide a standard hyperlink that will work across all platforms and devices. Safari on iOS will offer to open it in iBooks, Stanza or some other reader while Safari on your desktop will consult the OS for MIME Type mapping for the .epub suffix.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-04-08 04:29
I'm not certain how our Web server is configured, honestly (have to ask Glenn), but there's a real dearth of decent EPUB readers for the Mac. I use EPUBReader in Firefox, and I imagine Calibre and Stanza could both also be used, but they are horrible, horrible applications.

At the moment, your best bet for looking at an EPUB really is to copy it to an iOS device.
Frank Lowney  2011-04-08 10:44
Re poor eReaders for MacOS X, I'd certainly agree with that assessment. This is sorely needed by those who are using Pages or Sigil to create ePub documents on a Mac as the cycle of write, review, edit depends on that capability. Of course getting Pages to read/display ePubs would certainly solve that dilemma for me.
Kristin  2011-04-08 12:03
Does this work with ePUBs that have DRM protection built-in, that previously had to run through Adobe Digital Editions?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-04-08 12:29
None of our EPUBs have DRM, and I haven't tried any that do, but I expect it would, since all that's happening is that iOS is moving the file around internally between apps.

Of course, you would need to have an app receiving it that could handle the DRM, and I believe that Bluefire and OverDrive are the only ones that can handle Adobe Digital Editions. iBooks won't work.
Jim Schenck  2011-04-08 16:51
I was thrilled to try this and it worked. Bought EPUB from Baen, moved it to Goodreader and then opened in iBooks. The bad news is iTunes does not recognize that it is in iBooks and back it up on your iPad mother computer
On a related note, is there a decent EPUB reader for Mac OS X?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-04-09 15:02
Not really, but I use EPUBReader in Firefox. It's OK, but that's it.
mhuyck  2011-04-08 19:37
This is nice, but completely backwards. Will someone please tell Apple that some of us would like to see our books on the Mac, too? This is one area where Amazon nailed it with the Kindle: buy once, read anywhere.