June 15th 2020
The news this week that Apple is discontinuing iBooks Author may not have come as a great surprise.
I have talked with several people recently, who have valuable educational and training material tied up within the iBA app and .ibooks format, worried that this might happen, and actively looking for an alternative.
We have been let down by before by the failure of Adobe’s apps and formats (Flash, Flex, Adobe DPS, Muse) and now the .iBooks joins this long list. Longevity is one of the main benefits of using standards.
An open ‘future-proof’ standard that supports rich and complex illustrated layouts with interactivity and accessibility is needed. The good news is we have had one for nearly ten years. It is EPUB.
I have long maintained that the modern EPUB format is better than most people believe or understand. The problem with interactive EPUB is not the file format.
EPUB has a PR problem. It needs a rebrand. I was only half joking when I said if we just changed it’s name to OMGPUB then people would be amazed at what this new format can do.
The problem with interactive EPUB is not the file format. It has been their creation and their distribution.
For some, iBooks Author fixed both of these problems but for many publishers it was too much effort to (re)create their publications and too restrictive to distribute only through the Apple BookStore.
The creation problem
Apple are promising an update to their Pages app to import iBA content. It is yet to be seen what this will support and how much we can export to EPUB.
My approach for creating interactive EPUB is to write tools that extend, improve and fix the output of the industry standard page layout application Adobe InDesign.
This year, my company’s tool CircularFLO has received a major update to include accessibility and interactivity. Here is a clip from my session at CreativePro Week ealier this month.
I am keen to find out if this is the best approach or if we need other methods.
A note on accessibility in fixed layout EPUB3
The rich layout and design features of iBooks Author definitely lend themsleves to larger screens and fixed layout.
Fixed layout EPUB has been dismissed by some EPUB producers for it’s lack of accessibility however many of the EPUB accessibility features can still be used. By defining reading order and including landmarks and navigation, adding schema.org metadata, media overlays and image descriptions, fixed layout EPUB publications can be much more accessible than iBooks Author content.
The distribution problem
One of the failures of iBA was it’s restriction to Apple only readers. We had to direct readers to download content from Apple.
It has been too long, but with EPUB we now have more options for easier delivery to more readers. Including cross platform delivery, offline reading, desktop reading and instant access via the web.
Viewing on Windows and Mac desktop
With the latest versions of Thorium Reader from EDRLab, we now have an offline, desktop reader which support interactivity and accessibility across Windows, Mac and Unix desktops. This is new, this demo video just came out this week. (Look for some great EPUB interactivity support being demonstrated at 18m46s in). This features Galdo’s Gift which I was involved in creating.
The Thorium desktop viewer allows offline reading but in my early tests with a web connected desktop computer we can also use the power of the web to stream content in and out of the EPUB.
Online viewing via the browser
There is already terrific support for interactive EPUB both in custom apps and online with Colibrio Reader. Circular Software have built full search and secure access control to publications presented using Colibrio Reader with MasterPlan.
By sharing a URL, MasterPlan allows the secure direct sharing of EPUB (or PDF) pages straight to the user, the site, the publication and the spread. Here is a live link to a read aloud EPUB page working in the browser.
View this publication via our website
More accessibility and interactivity from InDesign with CircularFLO 2020 CircularFLO 2020 brings us over thirty new…
An open invite to join a new group
Let’s join together to test and prove how to make and share fully interactive and accessible fixed layout EPUB3.
I propose that interested parties now form a new technical group with me where we create, test, demonstrate, problem solve and provide practical steps to compare, match and extend the iBA feature set but using the rich, open standard of EPUB.
I have created a new Slack group and am today inviting many of the iBooks Author users, ebook producers, technologists and digital creatives I know to join this group. You are invited to join as well.
A little less conversation, a little more action please
We can and should have discussions, of course, but let’s treat this as an action group not a discussion group. We should achieve end-to-end workflows with demonstrable results not mere recommendations. I would expect us to reach all our conclusions this year.
This is something I have been thinking about for a long time and I am willing to volunteer my time, support, advice, development and software tools for use in this group.
Now is the time to move beyond iBooks Author.
Circular Software Limited
I presented a working demonstration of over thirty ideas for interactive fixed layout EPUB last year at the Digital Publishing Summit in Paris. Here is the full session:
I spoke about and demonstrated the concept of securely sharing interactive publications via the browser last year at Digital Book World in Nashville. Here is the full session: