Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Miniguide: Read Aloud EPUB for iBooks

In June, Apple made it possible to add an audio track to fixed layout EPUB files, and associate the audio track with the actual text in the book. Users can then have the book read to them. This has obvious uses in children's books, but could also be interesting for poetry, language books, and what about plays with built-in dramatic readings!


Ever since Apple announced the feature, I have been getting requests for help on setting up Read Aloud EPUBs. I'm happy to announce the publication of my new, third EPUB miniguide: Read Aloud EPUB for iBooks. In this new miniguide, I explain how to mark each word in your fixed layout EPUB (no, not by hand!), how to create the audio track, and how to associate the three files so that the words are highlighted as the audio is played. I also explain how to create stop and start buttons and add a background soundtrack.

This new third miniguide is 44 pages long, available in both EPUB and PDF formats, comes with a working Read Aloud sample, and sells for $5. Like the other two miniguides, it is a companion guide to EPUB Straight to the Point and not a replacement for it. Because the Read Aloud feature only works with fixed layout books, you may wish to purchase my Fixed Layout EPUB for iPad and iPhone as well.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Using Zapf Dingbat symbols in EPUB

It's been one of those days, so I figured I'd just top it off with a little project that I've been meaning to do for a while. At least then I'll have gotten something done!

So, I'm working on a EPUB project and I need some Zapf Dingbats... they aren't hard to put in an EPUB, the problem is I can't ever remember which symbols are available and of course, what their codes are.

So I created a little table that answers both questions, showing all of the symbols next to the code you'll need to make them appear in an EPUB book in iBooks. I added a quick refresher about how to use the codes to make the symbols appear and then I made the whole thing into a little EPUB file for easy reference. Enjoy! I hope you find it as useful as I do.

Using Zapf Dingbats in EPUB

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Amazon skips by Apple's gate

Amazon had to remove the Store button from its Kindle app for iPad a few weeks ago, to avoid having its app removed from the Apple store altogether. Apple says that all sales from an app must use Apple's own API and must remit 30% of every sale to Apple. Apple also prohibits links to stores on one's own site. The new Kindle app is the same as the old, except it's missing the Kindle store button.

We knew that wouldn't last long. Today. Amazon released a new web-based Kindle app called Cloud Reader.

A web-based app, in contrast to an iOS app is just a little program that works through the browser. It can do almost as much as an iOS app but has several advantages:

1. Web apps (like websites in general) do not need Apple's approval. Indeed, Apple has no control over the contents of a web app. It could, however, conceivably limit a web app's power and access to iPad features, like the accelerometer (sp?).

2. A web app can be updated automatically without the user's interaction. That means Amazon (or whoever) can add features without having to wait for anyone else (like Apple) to approve such additions or for users to download an upgrade.

3. A web app can download information to the iPad—including data (like ebooks) and even the app itself—so that it can continue to work when the user does not have internet access. Amazon's books are initially available directly through the cloud, but if you click them, they are downloaded to your iPad.

And voilà. Amazon's Cloud Reader, complete with downloadable books, and the all important link to the Kindle Store:

Kindle Cloud Reader overview

A little pop-up message reminds you that you can "install" the app (that is bookmark the app's web address to your home page) by clicking the bookmark icon and then choosing "Add to Home Screen" from the pop-up menu that appears.

Add to Home Screen

Add bookmark

Then the web app (which is really just a Safari bookmark) will appear on your Desktop (can you tell my kids have been using my iPad!?)

Cloud Reader on desktop

Curiously, when you access the web app through the bookmark, it appears without any Safari header. And indeed, looks a lot like the regular Kindle app.

Kindle Cloud Reader

Here is the same book accessed through the Cloud Reader directly from Safari:

CloudReader with headers

I don't think I know enough about how apps work to explain that. If you know, I'd be happy to hear about it in the comments.

It will be interesting to see if Apple continues to try to enforce its 30% take on everything sold through iOS. I can't see how they can possibly do it, but what do I know.

The other thing to take away is Amazon's perhaps obvious insistence on being available on the iPad (the app doesn't work for iPhone yet). And to me, that continues to point to Amazon supporting EPUB and all of the wonderful things you can do with it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Back in the USSA

Almost a week and it both feels like we've always been here and like I'm a time traveler overlapping my steps, looking at the old me living my old life. Very strange. It's going to take a few days to get up to speed. But I've got lots to talk about!

My Catalonia Press has published a new book, “What Catalans Want”, by Toni Strubell, a collection of interviews of interesting and important Catalan public figures, including Jordi Pujol, Oleguer Presas, Elisenda Paluzie, and many more. It's available in gorgeous color (with beautiful photographs of the interviewees by Lluís Brunet), will be available in a more economical black and white edition, and or course can also be found in EPUB and Kindle formats, from Amazon, Apple's iBookstore, or directly from Catalonia Press, where you can also download a sample.

Next, Apple has just published a new iBookstore Assets guide (4.7 Rev 4), which promises to give information about creating Read Aloud EPUB books. If you're an iTunes Connect member (more info here), you can download it from the Deliver Your Content section. (I have a new miniguide coming soon on the same subject, and will announce it here as soon as it's ready.)

In addition, there's a new version of iTunes Producer (2.4) available from Software Update that promises that "common EPUB errors can now be fixed automatically". Not sure what that means, but I'll let you know when I do.

iTunes Producer 2,4

Finally, I recently noticed that two EPUB samples that I had posted to the iBookstore over a year ago had just been approved by Apple. It wasn't that they were studying them all this time; they had said they were not accepted into the iBookstore because they were just samples. I disagreed, couldn't figure out how to delete them altogether and just left them there languishing with those sad red dots. Imagine my surprise when I look up my Sales info and see that people are downloading them left and right. It doesn't seem quite right to me that Apple should first reject them and then a year later decide to approve them without telling me. For the record, the samples are about how to embed audio and video and are OK as far as they go. They are pretty outdated, however, and have been superseded by my much more complete Audio and Video in EPUB miniguide.

More soon!

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