I write books about how to create fixed layout EPUB ebooks by hand so it would seem like reviewing an WYSIWYG iPad app like Book Creator would be shooting myself in the foot. But if you've read me for a while, I hope you know that's not how I work. While it's true that I like getting under the hood and figuring out how things work so I can do it my own way, I'm not at all adverse to good tools that make the job easier.
I liked Book Creator from the start. It's interface is simple and clean and intuitive. After I had played with it for a bit, my daughter picked up my iPad and said, “hey, you're writing a book about me!” since I had happened to use photos of her for my test. I told her she could make her own and she spent the next hour and a half happily placing photos and creating her own book. She asked me for help a couple of times, but mostly, she could figure it out without instructions.
Here's what it looks like. You open Book Creator and and click the New Book icon to begin. You can drop in any photos that you have saved on your iPad. If the orientation of the photo matches the orientation of the page (portrait for the cover, landscape for the interior spreads), Book Creator automatically places it to fill the spread. If not, it's centered. You can make photos larger and smaller, but unfortunately, you can't crop them. (One wobbly hack for cropping is to make the photo larger than the page and have the part you don't want hang off the edges. Only the part on the page will be used.)
You add text by pressing the Tt button and then the i button to choose a font, font-size, bold, italic or underlining, alignment, color, and background color. I like the way you can slide the text bigger and smaller and how you can see the effects immediately (as long as the info menu isn't covering where your text is).
Adding pages is as easy as clicking on the right arrow. If there's a page there, you navigate to it, if there's not, Book Creator adds one. To delete pages, click the Pages button in the upper-left corner and then the Edit button. You can also rearrange spreads in that Pages menu (which somehow is titled Contents).
And the best part is that once you're done, you click the Away arrow (not sure if it has a name, but it's a common iPad button for going to another app) and choose iBooks (there are other options in the menu but none of them work yet, because none of them support fixed layout EPUB yet!).
Book Creator sends you and the book to iBooks. The code that Book Creator generates is pretty reasonable, though I wish they had kept the styling information out of the XHTML and wholly in the CSS. Still, it's not too bad to work with if you want to edit it yourself. (You can use PhoneDisk to grab the EPUB files.)
Complaints? It's still pretty basic. I really want to be able to crop photos, rotate them, and add borders. Red Jumper recommends using an external app for that, still right on the iPad, but as much as I like a simple program that just does what it's supposed to, these are pretty minimal functions. I also want to add video and audio.
I think some of the interface could be more clear. I continually press the Tt button when I want to change the formatting of the text (even though that's the button for editing the content of the text), and the Pages button should probably look like the Table of Contents button in iBooks, since it has practically the same function. I want the info menu to float so it doesn't cover the bits I'm interested in.
More importantly, I want to be able to control the size of the layout, or at least have a few choices, and in particular be able to create portrait-oriented books. The fixed size of 450px wide by 675px high is too small and doesn't give enough room to zoom (as I describe in my Fixed Layout EPUBs Miniguide.)
Still, right now, I think this is a great start, and Book Creator is a perfect place to begin for people who feel a bit uncomfortable wading through code, and/or who don't need the precision or added effects (like Read Aloud, for example) that you can still only add by hand. I can also totally imagine using it for creating quick mock-ups. And it's a fantastic tool for kids—both for telling stories and for creating, say, science reports. Above all, I'm really looking forward to the next version!
You can find more information about Book Creator on Red Jumper Studio's site, which includes a very nice demo and FAQ.