Monday, April 5, 2010

iBooks on the iPad, a first glance

I've been looking at the iBooks app with an eye toward designing eBooks for the iPad and have a first collection of observations I hope you find useful:
  1. I hate it that iTunes won't let me see the free, public domain eBooks that I've downloaded through the iBookstore. They simply don't appear in my Books section in iTunes. I'm not quite sure why I didn't see these originally, but they are there in the iTunes Music Library. (Thanks, Nick.)
  2. iBooks doesn't deal with tables very well. I downloaded Pride and Prejudice and it had this terribly broken table of contents:
    Funky columns
    I wanted to see what was causing it, so I had to go to Project Gutenberg, download the ePub there, copy it to the iPad to confirm it was exactly the same file (yup!), and then open it up. The problem is that the three columns of Chapter numbers were formatted as a table, and though there is plenty of room for the contents, iBooks smushes the cells together anyway.
  3. I opened up a book of poetry and cried for page breaks.
    Page Break Control!
  4. All the books I've downloaded from the iBookstore and from Feedbooks open on page 3, 5, or 6 the first time, and not on page 1. In addition, page 1 is on the left instead of the right.
  5. I'm unimpressed with Smashwords' conversion process. It is so automated that the results are practically unreadable. In the books I downloaded, there was no TOC and there was way too much spacing between paragraphs. It's just not how I want to read.
    Smashwords in iPad
  6. Liza Daly over at ThreePress says that links in Feedbooks in iBooks go to Safari and then end up with an error. When I click a link in a Feedbooks book, Safari asks me if I want t download the file and open it in Stanza (which I had installed already). I looked around to see if there was a way to change the default program for opening ePubs but couldn't find one. Strange that the iPad would opt for Stanza over iBooks.
  7. I have yet to find a book that does images well, except for Winnie the Pooh, which I can't dig inside of. (Does someone who has jailbroken the iPad want to send me the ePub file? I'd love to see it.)
  8. In the Winnie the Pooh sample, there is text that wraps around an image at the beginning of each chapter. I'd like to know how to do that.
  9. When you drag an ePub to iTunes, it first adds the iTunesMetadata.plist to the epub file itself (as Liza points out), and then makes a copy of it and adds it to your iTunes folder inside the Music folder. As usual, if you change the metadata (with Get Info), the names of the files and folders change accordingly.
  10. You can only browse a tiny fraction of the free titles in the iBookstore. If you want to browse all of the Gutenberg titles, you can go to their site, find the title you want, and then jump back to the iBookstore and use the Search bar to find the title. They really are in there. I found a Catalan translation of Twelfth Night (La festa dels reis), which did not appear in the Featured section of the iBookstore, but did appear after a search. And all of the accented characters display just fine, as expected.
More soon!


    1. I don't think you're correct on the first point. I downloaded a free Sherlock Holmes book in iBooks and it synced back to iTunes and showed up in on my computer. Sadly, it lacked cover art but I could reveal the ePub file itself. Perhaps your sync settings are tweaked?

    2. Feedbooks books open in Stanza because Stanza has actually registered a URL or a MIME type handler for the ePub books. I imagine Apple didn't include this by default because they want people to go through the iBooks bookstore to buy books.

      I saw that the Bookshelf app supports FeedBooks directly, but I don't know yet whether it can act as a URL handler. I may give it a try.

    3. #5: "It's just now how I want to read." now = not?

    4. #7: It's possible to pull Winnie the Pooh out of the iBooks app, but each file in the ePub is encrypted.

    5. Re: image wraparounds, I would check this mobileread post . The Mobileread epub forum has lots of pointers about handling images.

      By the way, your HTML book got me started on the web. It was great!

    6. Liz - thanks for this great work into understanding eBook rendering.

    7. Regarding #3. Are you saying that page breaks aren't supported at all? This seems pretty stupid.

    8. @Garrick: Thanks, and hey, nice to see you!

      @Christopher. Yes, as far as I can tell, page breaks are not supported on iBooks at all. The IPDF has marked this as a top priority for the next version of ePub.

    9. Well, let me add to that last comment. Because there is a way to create page breaks that work on the iPad... by creating separate XHTML documents. That is, an ePub is made up of one or more XHTML docs that make up the content (along with a bunch of other stuff). If the content is divided into multiple XHTML docs, each one will begin on its own page. This is most typically used for starting chapters on their own page. But it would be unwieldy for a book of poetry (though I suppose better than nothing).

    10. "Yes, as far as I can tell, page breaks are not supported on iBooks at all."

      But only because of a flaw in the ePub standard. Not so much because of iBooks.

    11. @Jon, Hmm. I don't know what you mean. I've gotten CSS page breaks to work just fine in an ePub in Adobe Digital Editions.

    12. Welcome to the bleeding edge of technology: A muddle of competing proprietary formats by competitors and an open standard, ePub, that's woefully inadequate for anything other than ugly novels. I'd hope Apple and the iPad would bring sanity and good taste to this mess, but there's no indication thus far that they even understand the problems, much less have a handle on the solutions. Steve Jobs seems to have abandoned art for geekery, hence iBooks ugly full justification.

      It should be possible to make ebooks look as classy as print books. That we can't do. It should be possible to do that at least as easily as creating a good-looking print book in InDesign. Again, not possible. If something can be done at all, it takes CSS tweaks by geeks and still looks gosh-awful.

      Perhaps we need to educate readers so demand better quality rather than just $9.95 or less bestsellers. When that happens, the industry (including Apple) will follow.

    13. Is ePub incapable of handling symbols and formulas? I'm a mathematician, and converting PDF's with math in it to ePub doesn't work at all (via Epub2go or calibre). But there is a lot of talk about using the iPad as a reader for texts, presumably including math and science. Do the books have to be formatted specially for ePub or how does it work?

    14. @Michael: I think that people do care about book layout. Once there are decent options, I think people will choose them. I'm working on it. (And ePub and iPad do allow right ragged.)

      @Peter: Mathematical formulas are number 9 on the IDPF's list. I'd love to see an example of what sort of thing you'd like to see.

    15. I've noticed the iPad just don't accept some epub standards. CSS statements like 'page breake' are ignored. The whole idea, for example, of putting a OpenTypeFont in the epub, is completely ignored in the iBookstore app. (the same in Stanza, I think). As a reader you can choose your own font, but as a ebup-maker I want to choose the font! It is nice if the iPad has more options, but don't ignore the standard, I would say... The iPad is great by the way.

    16. In the books that show up in iTunes music library, right click on them, select Get Info, go to the Options tab, and change media kind to Book,and it will show up under the books heading.

    17. Thanks for the iPad notes, Liz. As a publication designer I can see that it's time to dive in and sort out the possibilities.

    18. @Kate G: more coming!! And I'd love to hear what you think when you dive in. I'm only a pseudo-designer...

    19. #8

      As would I! I spent hours trying various ways and nadda. Unable to break the DRM on the epub to take a peak too. I have a bunch of books on the go and can't finish them properly until someone finds a way to at least prevent images from being clipped by a page...

      Curse you Apple.

    20. WSz, have you seen and and ? Problem solved!


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