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Apple Goes Back to School with iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U

In a special event in New York City, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller and VP for Productivity Software Roger Rosner unveiled a pair of free apps aimed at reinventing the textbook market: iBooks 2 and iBooks Author for the Mac. Not content to stop there, Senior VP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue and VP of iTunes Jeff Robbin then introduced the free iTunes U app for iOS.

iBooks 2 -- iBooks 2 is an update to Apple’s free ebook reading app for the iPad, enabling users to read specially created enhanced ebooks containing rich multimedia elements and interactivity, along with gorgeous layouts. Apple is focusing the new capabilities of iBooks on the textbook world, where videos, interactive images, 3-D graphics, and embedded review questions can significantly enhance the learning experience.

These features enable zooming into the image of a chromosome to get a better look, for instance, or rotating a 3-D model of a molecule. Or, an interactive graphic might enable you to tap the parts of an insect’s body, highlighting them in other photos elsewhere on the screen. Switching orientations changes the display from a scrolling approach (portrait) to a page-based design (landscape) with multiple columns and in-text graphics.

The iBooks textbooks that Apple showed off included a built-in glossary; you can browse through it or tap bolded words to look up their definitions in the glossary (which can even include images) or in a dictionary. Searching remains, of course, and is improved — when you tap a word, you can search for it in the textbook, in both text and media (presumably mediated by a search index), or extend the search to Wikipedia or the Web. If the textbook’s glossary includes the word, the glossary entry will also come up as a search result.

Another nut that Apple has apparently cracked is that of pagination — it’s important in a class for everyone to be literally on the same page, and these books have fixed pagination in landscape mode. You can’t change fonts or sizes in landscape mode, but those standard iBooks controls appear once again in portrait mode.

More interesting are iBooks 2’s new note-reviewing capabilities, which work only in iBooks textbooks. Just as with iBooks previously, you can tap and hold or swipe to highlight text, and then tap the highlighted text to add a note. But with an iBooks textbook, notes can be used in a study card format where you see the highlighted text on the “front” of a virtual index card and your note on the “back,” which you reach by tapping it. The stack of cards can even be shuffled to aid in studying for tests.

Although iBooks 2 remains a universal app that runs on all iOS devices, the iPhone and iPod touch versions cannot display these new iBooks textbooks (they don’t even appear, which is good, since they’re huge). Plus, several times when I tried to view the “Life on Earth” textbook in iBooks 2 on my original iPad, all I got was the introductory audio on a gray screen — I had to shut my iPad down and restart it before iBooks 2 would show the book properly. (“Life on Earth” is currently available for free; it’s a nearly 1 GB download.)

iBooks Author -- Previously, iBooks was relatively limited in what it could display, and adding audio and video to an EPUB was difficult at best. Creating iBooks textbooks is where the second new app — iBooks Author — comes in. It’s a Mac application, available for free from the Mac App Store as a 136 MB download, and compatible only with Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. (It turns out that iBooks Author can be run in 10.6 Snow Leopard, but doing so requires some trickery. Digital Tweaker has the details.)

Not surprisingly, iBooks Author is reminiscent of Apple’s iWork applications, providing a number of templates to start. As in Keynote, you add pages to your book, putting text, graphics, and multimedia elements on each. You can import text from Pages or Word, and iBooks Author honors a set of styles for creating items such as headings, sections, and so on. You can even import Keynote presentations as interactive elements.

Like Pages, iBooks Author can build the table of contents automatically, based on styles that you use for headings in the manuscript, and you can create glossary entries from the Glossary toolbar or by Control-clicking a term and choosing from the contextual menu. Then you bounce over to the Glossary interface to enter a definition.

Unfortunately, iBooks Author doesn’t appear to have the change tracking and commenting tools that are necessary in any professional publishing situation, which means that text will have be pretty much final when it is flowed into iBooks Author, and any collaboration on layout and object placement will have to be done manually.

iBooks Author can export three types of files: text, PDF, and iBooks. The text export is likely good only for extracting text from an existing file, the PDF export appears to be useful only for a certain level of proofing, and the iBooks format is apparently slightly mangled EPUB, with a different MIME type (drop one on BBEdit if you want to look inside). You can export directly to a connected iPad for testing, which is far easier than the normal convoluted process for syncing ebooks to the iPad.

However, don’t get your hopes up for being able to use iBooks Author for EPUB in general — the license agreement states that files created with iBooks Author must either be made available for free or sold only through the iBookstore, and they will likely display only in iBooks on the iPad without some hacking. In short, if TidBITS wanted to create an enhanced Take Control ebook using iBooks Author, the only way for readers to purchase it would be through the iBookstore, which makes it much harder for us to communicate with readers and provide outside-the-book features as we do now. It would also make it harder for us to provide a similar ebook in other formats, such as one that can be read directly on the Mac or on the Kindle. I’m not saying we won’t try iBooks Author, but it won’t be a sea change for our publishing model.

iTunes U -- Apple’s third app — which requires iOS 5 and is available for not only the iPad but also the iPhone and iPod touch — does for online course content what iBooks 2 does for textbooks. Apple has long provided lectures from numerous colleges and universities in audio and video format via iTunes U, and with over 700 million downloads, it has been successful. The iTunes U app can play the simple audio and video for existing courses, but it gets far more interesting when used with a newly enhanced course (it also gets flakier — as with iBooks 2, I experienced a number of crashes; you can expect minor updates to both apps as Apple works out the bugs). If you want a sample, check out Duke’s Core Concepts in Chemistry.

The iTunes U app breaks an enhanced course into four sections: Info, Posts, Notes, and Materials, and you switch between them using tabs on the right side of the screen (iPad) or bottom of the screen (iPhone/iPod touch). The Info tab provides subsections for things like a course overview, an instructor bio, and the outline of the course.

The heart of the course lies in the Posts tab, which brings together text, audio, and video lectures and assignments, along with the new iBooks textbooks created with iBooks Author (which can be read only on an iPad, remember). Although the Core Concepts in Chemistry course I looked at seemed fully fleshed out, for courses that are in progress, new posts alert you to their presence via notifications. You can even play an audio or video lecture and listen in the background while in a different part of the interface, such as the Notes tab. When you complete an assignment, you can check it off.

In the Notes tab, you can create general course-level notes, and any notes from iBooks that are part of the class will appear as well. (But remember, you can make notes only on EPUB-based ebooks; although iBooks can display PDFs, which will be common in courses, you can’t make notes on those.) Those books may appear within the assignments, and they’re all collected in the Materials tab as well. The course includes (or will download) all the core materials, but some supplemental materials, including books and apps, may require additional purchases.

How one creates an iTunes U course was not shared, although Apple said that six schools have had access to the new tools and have created over 100 new online courses. We’d like to see Apple open up the tools necessary to create an iTunes U course, just like iBooks Author, such that it would be possible to create — and sell — training courses via iTunes, although that gets back into the single-store debate.

Ironically, the presence of all this information online may reduce attendance in classes even further, something we’ve heard professors in iTunes U lectures complain about with the ready availability of recorded lectures.

A more speculative question is what will happen — particularly in certain subjects where collaborative scenarios or access to specialized equipment aren’t important — to higher education in general if it becomes possible to take most courses online in this fashion. Will the intangibles of a college education — maturation, networking, exposure to opportunities — and the eventual diploma be seen as worth the skyrocketing tuition costs?

An Apple a Day for Education -- I’ll give Apple this — they don’t think small. These apps set a new bar for electronic books and online courses, and the apps are all available for free. The problem is that Apple also wants to own the entire pie, and in the process say exactly what is and is not possible. That’s not particularly different from Amazon, which tries to lock works into the Kindle ecosystem by refusing to support EPUB. But at least the far-less-ambitious Kindle format can be converted to from other formats.

Debates are already raging on Twitter about how iBooks Author doesn’t allow works created with it to be sold anywhere but the iBookstore, and we publisher types are already trying to imagine how we can justify the extra effort and expense of creating iBooks textbooks for a single retail outlet. Plus, Apple is talking about these textbooks being inexpensive — on the order of $14.99 — which may play havoc with publisher business models that rely on high prices for books that are reused for multiple years. How it will shake out in the publishing world remains to be seen.

On the other side of the equation are the schools — where will the budget come from to outfit students with iPads and to buy these iBooks textbooks? It’s not impossible — we know of some local school districts that have had great success with pilot programs for tablets (Android, in this case), both in terms of student achievement and cost savings. But many schools can purchase only state- or district-approved textbooks, and that’s where Apple’s connection with publishers may be key — it should be much easier for a government entity to approve an electronic textbook if it is simply the electronic version of an approved traditional textbook.


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Comments about Apple Goes Back to School with iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U
(Comments are closed.)

Tom Gewecke  2012-01-19 15:24
I'm really mystified why Apple cannot seem to provide an iBooks for OS X after all this time. It seems especially strange with the new textbook initiative -- don't most HS students have laptops? Perhaps I'm missing something...
gastropod  2012-01-19 20:07
I suspect it's for the same reason that iBooks tries to detect a jailbreak and if it does, it refuses to run. Because once the app starts opening books on a full computer, it becomes easy to find the key and remove the encryption. If there's a way to truly own rather than rent an iBook, it's being kept very quiet, at least compared to how easy it is to find instructions to remove the drm from adobe and kindle books.

(Though I do remove drm when possible, I only do it for legally aquired books, and I don't share them out. It's to my advantage when authors don't have to work at mcdingles to pay the rent.)
Tom Gewecke  2012-01-22 11:55
Interesting idea, but Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Googlebooks have no problem providing an app for OS X so you can read their books without removing any DRM. The lack of iBooks is truly unique.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-01-22 12:00
I don't think it has to do with DRM, but Apple's focus of driving content consumption to iOS devices, where the multi-touch interface changes the interaction paradigm in a way that Apple wants to encourage.
Tom Gewecke  2012-01-24 10:20
Your explanation is the best one I think, but it seems a bit insane to exclude textbooks from the laptops so heavily used by many students at secondary level and above.
Joe Swann  2012-01-19 15:40
I am very impressed with iBooks Author until it comes to the license agreement. Suppose I invest a lot of time creating a book and Apple, in their infinite wisdom, decides it is not worthy of publishing in their store. What than? Why should I invest my time in something only to be locked in with no alternatives but to rip my hard work out of one format and put it into another? There's something about this that doesn't sit well with me.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-01-19 15:44
I agree entirely. It's not clear to me exactly when Apple might reject a book, but as long as that's a possibility, it's a major stumbling block.
Kevin Murphy  2012-01-24 06:56
The word, "draconian" has already appeared in social networking, and it seems appropriate. Does this evoke memories of Apple prior to opening the system to outside developers? And, of course, my dark days of PC ownership--Hi, Microsoft!
The Atavist project is looking more interesting by the moment!
Don’t get too excited about all the Apple iBooks self publishing news. As soon as you publish you create and publish your book through Apple’s “iBooks Author” you give up your rights to publish that book through any of the wide variety of popular eBook publishers. I don’t work for this company but my personal suggestion would be to use If anyone has tried going through the process of getting an ebook published and up for sale on more then one site then you know that each site has a different system and different requirements that make the entire process long and frustrating for each of them. helps you easily get your ebook properly formatted and submitted to a ton of the major ebook retailers including: Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and the Diesel eBook Store to name a few. They also sell your ebooks on their own online store and make your ebook available for sale in just about every format that exists and to top it off they do all of that for free!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-01-20 06:04
It's not quite that you give up your right to publish the book elsewhere, it's that you can't create a book in iBooks Author for sale anywhere but the iBookstore. And since nothing but iBooks on the iPad can read those books, that's not entirely unreasonable.

There's nothing stopping you from using the same content in a standard EPUB that you could then sell anywhere you wanted - Apple is not getting any exclusivity to your content, just the instantiation created in iBooks Author.

Now, that's leaving aside the question of whether this is a good move on Apple's part, which I personally disagree with. But that's largely why they've targeted this at the textbook market where there will be fewer objections than from small publishers and self-published authors.
S Mulji  2012-01-20 18:25
Overall, this is a great initiative on Apple's part. I think if they really want to make it more "fair", they should license the iBooks Author file format to other tool developers, such as Adobe.

That you you can create these new-style interactive iBooks using whatever tool you want & on any platform, be it Windows or OSX.

Apple can still restrict the iBooks format version to being sold in the iBooks store but at least you're not restricted to using only their tools.
Kevin Murphy  2012-01-24 07:03
Thanks for the clarification. That may reduce the "draconian" aspect, but I agree with you that it is a questionable move on their part. I already have two novels that are also iBooks, and that did not limit my publication elsewhere as EPUB, etc. In fact it was my publisher,, who pointed me at the iBook option.
Ken Levasseur   2012-01-20 04:28
The impact in math will be minor unless support for TeX is not added
Curtis Wilcox  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2012-01-20 21:40
If iBooks Author is producing essentially EPUB files it's an XML format and should use MathML for math. However, MathType works in iBook Author and MathType accepts TeX input.
Caitlyn Antrim  2012-01-20 10:50
I like iBooks Author, but what I need now is "Take Control of iBooks Author." How about it guys, will you take on the challenge and rush it to market? I see a lot of use for this beyond educational textbook, but I have to learn every trick on my own. I'll pay to learn from the TC authors.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-01-20 11:22
We'll certainly be talking about it while we're all together at Macworld Expo next week. :-) It's an interesting issue, because iBooks Author could be very cool for an individual teacher to use to build free books, but it's quite troubling for publishing companies that might want to sell in more than one venue.
Pat Dirlik  2012-01-21 05:41
Ibook Author looks great, and seems easy to use. Making it available in Snow Leopard would be better.
I have software which cost more than the computer itself, and WILL NOT be updated to operate under the Lion system, so I need to stay with Snow Leopard.
Why can't Apple make this application available for a fee, like Pages?
Doug Grinbergs  2012-01-22 22:36
> Life on Earth is currently available for free

Cool! I wanna see how sexy this is!

> it’s a nearly 1 GB download.

Oops, not so cool for those of us already low on space. (:-( Anyway, on the base iPad, this quickly consumes 1/16th of your system's memory. (Alas, I had to settle for just the smaller sample content. (:-( ) So, how many of these complete books will an average student iPad user be able to download and use with other stuff already installed?

As for feedback, on my pretty full iPad, Apple displays only "there is not enough available storage to download… You can manage your storage in settings." Yeah, so how about helping me clean out some cruft, maybe delete huge, never-used apps?
hello Adam C. Engst and all readers:

the questions i never hear asked on any site/blog/forum/mag:

iBooks Author can create any eBook, not just TextBooks, fine, but in the end it's about allowing individuals to finally self-publish to earn a more decent living than the current economy allows.

well, does Apple allow
you to sell any iBooks Author book outside the TextBooks category in iTunes?

does Apple allow you to change the price or must you sell only at $14.99? what @ $1?

Apple hypes iBooksAuthor but does not mention you can only sell your books if you have an iTunesConnect account: can one share one's app iTunesConnect a/c or must one have a separate a/c for selling books?

4. ISBN:
hype does not mention ISBN. so, where the heck does one get ISBNs and is that affordable to individuals if iBooks Author is made form them in the 1st place?

does it take as long as apps to get approval on submission?
what criteria is unacceptable?

Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2012-01-24 07:15
Only Apple can provide definitive answers, but from my experience with the iBookstore they are:

1) You should be able to put your books in any category in the iBookstore. iBooks Author is doing nothing to require a category in iTunes Producer.

2) Again, you should be able to choose any price, since that's something you do in iTunes Producer.

3) You must have an iTunes Connect account, and if you already have one (for iOS apps, for instance), I believe it must be separate. I have two - one for our TidBITS News iOS app and another for our iBookstore account.

4) Every book in the iBookstore must have an ISBN. Bowker's policies say it must be different from the print ISBN of the book, if there is one (it's supposed to be one ISBN per format) but that's not enforced in any way. It is absolutely not affordable (in the U.S.) to get a single ISBN - I think it's a few hundred dollars. ISBNs become affordable when bought in bulk - we bought 1000 last time (but we're cruising through them with formats and venues). The ISBN requirement is one of the reasons Apple pushes the aggregators I mentioned - they provide cheap ISBNs.

5. Apple has said nothing about approval, which I find VERY distressing. Their track record in this area is poor at best - they are trying to provide what they see as the best possible user experience, which entails a level of oversight that can border on the ridiculous. Usually it takes between a day and a week for a book to appear on the iBookstore now.

Now, with 1 and 2, it's possible that Apple will be applying some policies to category and price that hasn't become clear yet, but I'd be surprised.