Apple recently announced the launch of its free iBooks Author desktop application, which – they claim – “allows anyone to create beautiful Multi-Touch textbooks — and just about any other kind of book — for iPad. With galleries, video, interactive diagrams, 3D objects, and more, these books bring content to life in ways the printed page never could.”
This post takes you through my humble first attempt at making my first iBook using iBooks Author. The gallery below contains screen captures of all the aspects I will cover in this review:
When Apple announced the new iBooks Author app, my first reaction was to say about time! The iPad was clearly a powerful tool for content delivery in schools but, prior to the announcement, content creation and sharing was very much the realm of the professionals, which I was clearly not. Yes, you could use Pages to create multimedia documents which you could then export as ePub files, but the results look positively amateurish compared with what iBooks Author can deliver.
Using iBooks Author
iBooks looks very much like a cross between Pages and Keynote (Apple’s answer to Word and Powerpoint respectively). As a regular user of both, I felt I knew my way around iBooks Author instinctively from the word go. Even if you are not familiar with other native Mac applications, the ready-made templates and the intuitive tools and layout allow you to start writing your iBooks straight away.
An important aspect for someone, like me, who has lots of older word documents already saved in my hard drive, is that importing into iBooks author is as easy as dragging a word document into the application. It then automatically creates an iBook with it with the correct titles, chapters and sections. The same process applies to images, video and sound clips. This is a massive time-saver.
Publishing the iBook is a very straight forward affair too. I was first taken aback when the Publish button took me directly to a sign-up screen to become an iTunes Producer, as it made me think that the only way to distribute the content was through iTunes (thereby having to sign up to Apple iTunes’ rather restrictive producer agreement which essentially says: we own you!). I then realised that you could export the iBook as an ibook file, which can be distributed as you would any file and then be synced to any iPad using iTunes.
This is where the iBook’s real advantage over ordinary textbooks. Videos, sound clips and animations play within the iBooks itself, bringing the subject to life in front of our eyes. This is incredibly engaging for the user – at least for now, while this technology is fairly new and exciting.
In addition to multimedia galleries and 3-D animations, the application makes it very simple to add multiple choice questionnaires and drag and drop exercises using its widgets option. In the gallery, above, you can see what these activities look like. I’ve added a number of activities at the end of each section in my iBook that test the reader’s comprehension of the topic before they move on to the next. This is a real big plus for teachers.
Readers can also add personal highlights and annotations to the iBook, as you would in any exercise book. This is particularly useful to people, like me, who need to annotate their thoughts straightaway, otherwise they are gone… forever!
As a languages teacher, I have found the ability to add a glossary of terms and vocabulary especially advantageous and practical. Once a given word is added to the glossary, it is highlighted in bold in the main iBook, allowing the reader to tap on it to access further information, such as usage or meaning.
With it being my first iBook, I have not added any 3D animations (mainly because I could not get hold of appropriate ones, the process itself is as easy as adding a picture), Keynote presentations, galleries or extra HTML code (an RRS feed for example) or interactive images, all of which are widget options within iBooks Author. The result is nevertheless still a stunning interactive book which I hope, will help me deliver content to my students in an engaging, effective and, above all, pedagogically sound way.
For many the main drawback will be the fact that it is an Apple only product. You need both an Apple Mac computer and an iPad to create and preview any iBook. The outcome of your labour of love then can only be read by an iPad (and not by any other tablet, like Android based tablets or Kindle tablets). This is quite restrictive, especially given the fact that Apple products tend to be considerably more expensive than the alternatives. I remain hopeful that, as this technology matures, common file formats and compatibility will emerge that would open up iBooks or eBooks to a wider audience.
Many have pointed out how an electronic version of a textbook is not really that big a deal in terms of the evolution of education. They are, in my view, right to a degree: iBooks do exploit and, to a certain extent, perpetuate the one-to-many, sage-at-the front model of education, but the fact that we are exploring new ways of creating and delivering content that can be created and shared by anyone (teachers or learners) with the right tools has to be, in my view, a step in the right direction.
It has been also said that the technology that iBooks uses is old (it is, after all, HTML based – the same as any webpage on the internet) and therefore an iBook really offers nothing new. I disagree. iBooks Author makes it incredibly simple to create and distribute an iBook. You can do it. Your students can do it. Even if it’s currently tied up with a particular platform, you do not need to be an internet expert or a web wizard to publish your content. Secondly, many have criticised iBooks and eBooks in general for being a glorified offline web-page. In my view, and in a world where wi-fi is not always accessible (I’m talking about our schools, not the third world!), the fact that it is offline is a definite plus, not a drawback, as users do not depend on a flaky wifi or an unreliable internet connection to access the content.
That’s all I can think of. I hope this review is useful to you and do let me know what you think. My first attempt at an iBook, still a work in progress, can be downloaded here.