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iBooks Author Gains New Import Options

It has been a busy week for the Updates pane in the App Store window, with various software updates being issued to provide Yosemite and iCloud compatibility, so you can be excused if you didn’t notice this one: Apple has updated its free iBooks Author ebook authoring software to version 2.2.

Though its toolbar now contains a curious blend of Yosemite-style and Mavericks-style icons, and with the app itself looking more like Pages ’09 than its Yosemite-enhanced descendent, iBooks Author has nonetheless received some under-the-hood enhancements to bolster its ebook-building prowess.

The change list is short and several of the items are no more than welcome usability tweaks. For example, the HTML widget can now provide on-the-page interactivity (formerly, the widget opened in a separate view when activated), several widgets that provide playback can now have auto-play enabled so that they start playing when a reader comes to that page, the Keynote widget now provides better transitions, and images can now function as hyperlinks. (There is another hyperlink feature touted — the capability to link to a location in another book — but I couldn’t figure out how to create such a link, and the help was silent on the topic.)

iBooks Author also gains two new Blank templates, one for landscape books and one for portrait-orientation books, a gift to publishers who want to create their own book designs and who formerly had to do so by stripping the artwork out of an existing iBooks Author template.

The headline features in this update, however, are two new import capabilities — or, rather, Apple mentions two, but I found three.

The first is the capability to import Adobe InDesign IDML files. These are not actual InDesign document files (those are .indd files); rather, IDML is an intermediate format to which you can export InDesign documents so they can be opened in versions of InDesign other than the one in which they were created. iBooks Author users can access this import feature by choosing Insert > Insert Chapter From > InDesign File (IDML).

The second import capability is support for EPUB (or, as Apple incorrectly spells it, “ePub”) books. This feature merits a top-level place on the File menu: File > New from ePub File. Just for larks, I tried this out on my own EPUB of “Take Control of iBooks Author” (which I hope to update soon).

This was a particularly interesting book with which to test the EPUB import feature, and not just because of the topic — Take Control books generally tend to push the EPUB format rather hard, as they incorporate varying list styles, embedded graphics, multiple fonts and various colors, and lots of internal and external links. Nonetheless, the EPUB imported in a matter of a few seconds, somewhat surprising given that it’s over 7 MB in size: most novels in EPUB form clock in at under 1 MB. Even more surprising, the results, while not perfect, were quite good. I imagine it would take me only a few hours to clean up the rough edges.

The third new import capability was likely not mentioned by Apple because it is embarrassing. Although iBooks Author has, from the beginning, been able to import Pages files as chapters, the app could only, until now, bring in Pages files produced by Pages ’09. At long last, though, it can import files both from that version and from the current Pages 5.5.

The changes to iBooks Author in this latest update are welcome indeed, and make the free app even more useful for both casual and professional ebook publishers. However, it’s time that Apple turned some serious design attention to the app so that it matches the look and feel of Yosemite. And, who knows, maybe even give it the capability to export EPUB as well so it could be used to create books that could be read beyond the iPad and Mac, and sold in places other than the iBooks Store.


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Comments about iBooks Author Gains New Import Options
(Comments are closed.)

Den Vincents  2014-10-17 19:17
Still no page turn FX! How hard can it be?
M. Perry  2014-10-18 07:58
The change list is short, but it's impressive. I'll be taking a second look at IBA.

Blank templates are a great start. From Day One, IBA's main failing was that it created beautiful textbooks with graphics but not attractive books with just text. Short of templates for that, blanks are a good start.

Importing InDesign files is a major plus, subject only wondering why the iBooks team thinks we write (much less use ID) in individual chapters. My books are one ID file. Hopefully IBA can handle them.

That matters because, although ID's new export can create excellent reflowable and fixed-layout epubs, it can't put them in one portrait/landsacpe package like IBA.

There's one issue unaddressed. Apple should realize that in ebooks, it has only one competitor—Amazon. As the #2 retailer, it benefits from smaller retailers keeping Amazon from getting a lock on the market. Users should be allowed to send their IBA epubs to other retailers.

--Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books
Thanks Michael for running through the key changes in 2.2. I absolutely agree with you that the key to the future success of iBA lies is the ability to export to EPUB3. In the education market for example many universities are moving away from one mobile platform (i.e iOS) towards support for students bringing their own devices. Much as Photoshop used to be the killer Mac App back in the day, I can see iBA claiming that mantle again if only it had more flexibility in its export options. And surely with the iPhone 6/6+ its about time that multi-touch books were supported on the iPhone?
john Whitehead  2014-10-19 07:44
They still haven't fixed the glaring problem of local formatting. It is still the case that applying a paragraph style changes all italic and bold characters in that paragraph to roman and removes all superscripts. This makes it unusable for academic publishing.

This is not the case in Pages so why it should be in IBA, supposedly closely related, is a deeply frustrating mystery.
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-10-19 10:51
I'm not sure what you are doing, but I just applied a different paragrah style to a paragraph that had mixed roman and italic in iBooks Author 2.2, and the italics were preserved.
artMonster  2014-10-20 23:37
" to a location in another book"
This might help:
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-10-21 02:07
Thank you!! That document is both very enlightening and disappointing: the method for linking two Multi-Touch books described in the support document looks very much like a fragile kludge, and one with serious limitations (e.g, you can only link to books listed in the iBooks Store).

Apple can do better than that. I hope that it will.
Steven S Means  2014-12-04 22:02
Heavy users of iBooks Author will find changes to the editing capabilities enormous and disturbing. Background colors to text boxes now often turn the whole section BLACK on BLACK or some other solid color obscuring text ... upon exiting from the edit. There is no undo available, however random clicking at some other task can retrieve undo and slow careful undo clicks can restore sanity. A simple two second edit can now take an hour. If not corrected cascading effects can destroy entire section of the IBA document. Version 2.2 has reduced and restricted features. My test documents are as large as 1.5 GB and have complex visual compositions. IBA "was" the only software which could manage the editing of my documents. All others are more destructive.
Steven S Means  2014-12-04 22:16
My concerns for IBA probe a different direction than "text". Web composition as possible using hyperlinks and free form composition can ("could") be supported by authoring software. PDF documents can replicate such documents but not adequately create or edit them. Marked up documents often lose flexibilities when "flattened" or changed in format. Some of us still look forward to supportive editing capabilities. The current moves to make apps behave consistently on multiple platforms requires dumbing down large platform implementations. Pages and Numbers suffer already and so do we, their users. The users of IBA 2.2 are a smaller clientele, but not less important. The loss of editing power, the lack of reformatting capabilities, the undocumented presets, the inabilities to do standard branching and multiple version comparison restrict the capable authors to hard copy like borders. We must ask for more.
Steven S Means  2014-12-04 22:27
Internet authors are not defined by or limited to iBooks and Kindle. Web authoring is complex and capable, dynamic and wondrous, informative and inclusive. Moving traditional books to the web has admirable success, a large portion of significant writing ranging from rare manuscripts to professional commentaries is already available. It is the newly emerging complex document that has uneven support. Hypertext resides in an enormous playing field offering complex experiences we are just beginning to enjoy. authoring software should not bring simplification or dumbing down. Apple continues what it blundered into with User Groups (PSUG friends remember those days) by providing authoring environments free of cost (Adobe is still building bricks of mud and clay). I am impatient and demanding. Recent simplifications of Pages and IBA are unacceptable. Writers drive Ferraris of the mind. At least some of them. Even our pre-readers, our preschool children are capable of visual joy.