Apple has informed participants in its iTunes Connect media publishing service that the iBooks Author app for Mac “will no longer be updated and will soon be removed from the Mac App Store.” This is a moment long feared by fans of iBooks Author (see “iBooks Author Conference Highlights Worries about iBooks Ecosystem,” 24 October 2017).
Introduced at a special education event in early 2012 (see Apple Goes Back to School with iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U, 19 January 2012), iBooks Author was Apple’s attempt to provide a tool for “educators and smaller publishers to create their own books.” Apple instead will focus its ebook creation software efforts on Pages and has provided a support document, “Transition from iBooks Author to Pages,” to help iBooks Author users make the switch to Apple’s word-processing and page-layout app.
At its introduction in 2012, iBooks Author seemed to herald a renewed interest in instructional software on Apple’s part. Designed to put the creation of interactive textbooks into the hands of educators, it provided powerful yet (relatively) simple to use word processing and ebook layout features along with a gallery of “widgets,” interactive items that book authors could drop into their manuscripts, such as image galleries, embedded spreadsheets, quizzes, and various kinds of media.
However, ebooks produced with the early versions of iBooks Author were not standard EPUB documents, readable in third-party ebook readers. Instead, they were limited to Apple’s iBooks reading software, which provided support for the non-standard interactive content that iBooks Author books could contain. Nonetheless, many publishers took advantage of the software to produce media-rich books not intended for the educational market, such as travel books and cookbooks.
iBooks Author soon fell on hard times: Apple’s book publishing business became mired in an antitrust case over price-fixing just a few months after iBooks Author was released (see “Explaining the Apple Ebook Price Fixing Suit,” 10 July 2013). While Apple battled the suit, which it eventually lost, the company seemed to lose interest in promoting the app and providing support for educators who wished to use it. Apple continued to update iBooks Author, even adding support for exporting in EPUB format (see “Updates Expand iBooks Author’s Reach,” 10 July 2015), but the company rarely mentioned it in public.
Instead, Apple turned its attention to Pages. Long a part of Apple’s iWork suite, Pages was being completely redesigned by Apple at the same time the company was fighting for its book business in court. When that app, now Pages 5, arrived in late 2013, most observers considered it to be feature-poor compared to the previous versions of Pages (and to iBooks Author), and it offered none of the distinctive capabilities that iBooks Author possessed (see “New Free iLife and iWork Apps Share across Devices and Platforms,” 22 October 2013). Nonetheless, Apple continued to enhance and expand Pages’ capabilities, and recent versions of Pages have included ebook templates, ebook publishing capabilities, and media features similar to some of those in iBooks Author (see “Pages 7.3, Numbers 5.3, and Keynote 8.3,” 12 November 2018).
With the imminent demise of iBooks Author, Pages is the only ebook publishing app from Apple available to publishers and educators. As far as publishers are concerned, the current version of Pages may well fill the void that iBooks Author’s absence will create. Its ebook formatting capabilities have become quite powerful, and, unlike iBooks Author, Pages can produce standard EPUB books that can be read on other devices than Apple’s own.
For educators, Pages is a mixed bag. On the one hand, Pages provides only a few counterparts to iBooks Author’s widgets—specifically, media and image galleries. On the other hand, Pages runs on iPads, iPhones, and Web browsers as well as on Macs and offers collaborative capabilities that iBooks Author never possessed.
This last point is important. Even though educators should have access to powerful ebook publishing tools, few working teachers have the time or expertise to write and publish books on their own while also preparing lesson plans, marking assignments, and, of course, teaching classes. Being able to share the workload, to collaborate with other teachers and with content experts on a book project, is a capability that iBooks Author never offered.
Unlike the proverbial doghouse in which iBooks Author has languished over the last half-decade, Apple has updated Pages regularly and with at least a modicum of fanfare so that people know it exists. In many ways, Pages has become the rich media authoring app that iBooks Author aspired to be. We can hope that Apple brings more of the iBooks Author widgets to future versions of Pages.
Fortunately, veteran iBooks Author users need not discard their hard work when the app they have been using finally disappears into the great bit-bucket in the sky. In its letter to iTunes Connect members, Apple said, “If you have iBooks Author books you’d like to import into Pages for further editing, we have a book import feature coming to Pages soon.”
If that import feature works well, the demise of iBooks Author, while sad, may not be as heartbreaking to aspiring educational authors as it might have been.