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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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