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Feb 8, 2012

Apple Education Announcement: A short series

The fourth and final post in this series is going to focus on some of the technical concerns I have about iBooks Author and how those technical issues effect iBooks and, possibly, the future of e-textbooks in general. Apple would have you believe that the company has revolutionized the e-textbook and inviting authors into their ecosystem will allow for major pushes forward in education and open educational resources (OER).

iBooks Author uses a file format based on the epub2 specification. Why Apple choose to use epub2 instead of epub3 (whose specs were public as early as Feb, 2011) is a mystery. Epub3 has many of the same interactive features that iBooks Author has but it also has one very important difference: epub3 supports HTML5. For publishers of math and science textbooks, this is extremely important. MathML (usable under HTML5) is a markup language that makes it easier for math and science content developers to publish on the web -- so complex math and science symbols can be natively rendered in a browser. Epub2 does not support HTML5 therefore, it does not support MathML. Apple is a step behind in the e-textbook market before even starting.

Apple only allows you to export to a text or pdf file (instead of the epub format). Ideally, when creating your content if you use none of the interactive widgets proprietary to Apple, you would be able to export to the epub format. But, Apple is focused only on funneling content to iBooks. It is to their advantage to keep the output in a proprietary format that only iBooks can read. From a business standpoint this is understandable: iBooks Author is free. From a user standpoint, this rigidity is another strike against Apple. E-textbooks and OERs are about flexibility.

The hope of e-textbooks and OERs is to give people the content in whatever format they are most comfortable with: The Kindle, the Nook, the iPad, a laptop, desktop or tablet. This is a leap away from how traditional publishing companies have operated. With it's proprietary format and exclusive licensing agreement, Apple has pushed this movement backwards.

How long will it be before people realize the shortcomings of iBooks Author? This is a tricky question because, regardless of the shortcomings, access to the secret garden may be too good to pass up. Major publishing companies have already made the leap, how long before others follow?

Remember, Vimeo may have better quality content but, everyone uses youtube.

Will you be taking the plunge into iBooks Author?

Apple Education Announcement Series:
- iBooks Author: A game changer?
- E-textbooks and the adoption cycle
- The digital divide: the true cost 
- Technical shortcomings


  1. Arnel Tuazon • Very interesting views on your blog. However iBooks Author is made by Apple and given away free so it's their rules. Your argument sounds more like the "you want your cake and eat it too" argument. If Apple is going to invest time and money on a free app then they are entitled to reap some of the benefits from what is created with that app. Remember they are a technology company not a charity. They could have charged a bit of change for the app and then allowed writers to simply sell the books where ever they wanted. This however could lead to fragmentation of the market and harder for authors to have their books exposed to the general public. Also, in terms of the the iOS devices, these are not restricted to only what is created by iBook Author so as with my iPhone I can read epubs, mobis, and pdfs. It's not as restricted as one would think for the end user.

    iBooks Author is not strictly epub2; it falls between epub2 and 3. It has some HTML5 and Java features in order for it to use the multimedia content, but I guess not enough to allow for MathML. Hopefully Apple will address this matter or someone will create a rival app that utilizes the epub3 format.

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