Apple’s iBooks reader and online bookstore for iPad will revolutionize the way we read electronic content. But so far, self-publishers haven’t been given any direction or tools to exploit the nascent Apple ebook ecosystem.
So the iPad was announced, and there was much rejoicing. Some of usdyed-in-the-wool Apple skeptics and “antagonists” even genuinely applauded the boldness of the device’s entry-level price point while at the same time remain cautiously optimistic despite some shortcomings that are evident in the 1.0 product release. And after the initial luster wore off, reality began to set in.
While many consumers, including myself await the general availability of the iPad and are on the e-mail list to receive notification for when the product can be purchased, there is a glaring lack of information during the product’s ramp-up period for content creators to produce books and optimized websites for the device when it launches.
Yes, Apple has given developers a Software Developer Kit. This is of course extremely important, as applications in the existing iPod/iPhone App Store ecosystem will need to be tweaked to fully take advantage of the much larger display, processing capability and other features not present in the smaller devices.
However, this SDK does not address what is perhaps the iPad’s “Killer App” which is the viewing of content itself, meaning optimized websites and the eBooks that will run in the iBooks application on the device.
First, lets tackle the issue of optimized websites. From what my colleagues who have been working with the iPad SDK tell me, the SDK is primarily for testing native applications which use the iPhone OS APIs in Objective C, not for testing the iPad simulator with websites.
Apparently the implementation of Safari which runs on iPad isn’t part of the current iPad 3.2 SDK in the simulator. This seems like either a glaring omission or that the Safari code for the SDK’s simulator or for the final shipping device hasn’t been baked yet.
While many websites will probably just “Work” with iPad, since the screen dimensions and resolution are closer to a Mac or a PC’s native web browser than an iPhone, any number of UI and usability considerations are going to have to be examined for compatibility to make sure stuff isn’t just broken or if various things need to be tweaked.
The User Agent from iPad’s Safari also needs to be known so that so that web developers can make programmatic changes to our web sites to give iPad users an optimized website experience. We need a Safari simulator for iPad and we need it really soon. I can’t emphasize this enough.
That’s just tweaking websites. From what is known about the iBooks store at initial launch, it will be seeded with eBooks from several large publishing houses. Apple has so far stated that the target format for iBooks will beEPUB. This is a huge validation of that format from Apple, and is a move I genuinely applaud, but that move to support that open format raises more questions than it answers.
First is the issue of authoring tools. Currently, the premier authoring platform for EPUB ebooks is Adobe’s InDesign. Given the current state of relations between Apple and Adobe, I think it’s fair to say that it probably makes sense for Apple to have its own set of authoring tools, or for Apple to Open Source EPUB authoring tools so that small publishers or even self-publishers can get into the game. Right now, e-book production for the independent publisher or author is a huge challenge, and InDesign isn’t cheap.
For example, I’m currently a board member of a not-for-profit organization, the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, which is giving an e-book away, and we want to make it usable on the iPad from day one. The problem is, we have to apply some form of DRM to this book because we don’t want it printed out on paper for free nor do we want people re-issuing it with added text that the author did not intend. So for the moment, we’re giving it out as a locked PDF.
We know PDF will work on the iPad and any number of other eBook platforms, such as SONY’s reader and the Kindle, but we also know we can’t put a PDF on the iBooks store and long term we know that it’s a terribly bloated format for ebook distribution and is only a stopgap.
We have to assume that iBooks will support some kind of DRM on their EPUBs, but Apple does not specify what kind of DRM should be applied to it and EPUB as a standard has no recommended set of DRM formats either.
Almost certainly, it isn’t going to be Adobe Digital Editions otherwise we would have heard about such a partnership during the iPad jamboree. We have to assume it will be something home-grown, that there will be some sort of submission process like the App Store has, but we don’t know what it is yet, or what the expected lead times on book submission will be, or what types of hassles will be involved for the small publisher to get on board with iPad either.
These are questions that Apple needs to answer, and soon, if the iPad is to be successful at launch.
Do we need website-proofing and ebook authoring specifications and tools for iPad as soon as possible? Talk Back and Let Me Know.