A First Look at the iBooks Author App

by on November 27th, 2010
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Leveraging its long-standing relationship with the educational market, Apple today announced a slate of iPad-related products meant to revolutionize instructional delivery. Central to Apple’s plans is iBooks Author, an app for Mac OS X that provides an efficient, user-friendly way to publish professional e-books. Apple says iBooks Author, which it designed with educators in mind, will allow individual teachers to self-publish electronic textbooks tailored to their students’ exact needs. How realistic is this aim? Here are some of my thoughts after spending a couple hours exploring iBooks Author.

Installation, Interface, and Help Menus

Mac OS X users can download iBooks Author from Apple’s App Store. The app is free, and set up is a breeze, just like other App Store purchases.

Users of Apple’s other content creation software, such as Pages, Keynote and Garage Band, will find the interface intuitive. The interface combines the easy-to-understand clickable icons of Pages with a viewer as fast and visually smooth as Safari. I had no problem finding category buttons for each of the major actions an e-book author might desire, including text boxes, tables, charts, colors and media. A side-column navigation bar provides helpful information about the type of e-book page currently displayed in the viewer. I was able to open a new document, select a template and add various types of pages (including section starts and a table of contents) in a matter of minutes. iBooks Author is built for ease and speed.

The app’s Help Center is no disappointment either. Clear, concise tutorials explain the workflow process, ways to incorporate rich media, and how to publish and print a final copy. The tutorials are by no means extensive, but they are helpful, especially given the app’s intuitive interface.

Starting Your First E-book

Starting your first e-book in iBook Author is as simple as choosing a template from a visual list. A handful of professional-looking templates allow some basic choices in layout and design. I was surprised more templates weren’t included, though perhaps soon more will be made available for free download. Nevertheless, after selecting a template, developing a book is as simple as clicking on the “+” button on the menu bar to add a new page. Page layouts are arranged by chapter, section and page, with various options for number of columns and boxes for visuals highlighting a limited number of choices. Clearly, the app is careful not to overwhelm with options. High end professional designers might find the app simplistic. For those of us looking for a quick way to produce functional e-books as instructional materials, the emphasis on efficiency is a plus.

Adding Media and Widgets

iBooks Author makes incorporating media, including audio, video, and Keynote presentations, a simple process. A “media” button on the menu bar pulls up access to Garage Band, iTunes, iPhoto, Photo Booth, and iMovie files. From there, visual lists make selecting from available files simple. Then it’s just drag-and-drop, with click-and-drag resizing of images.

iBooks Author also makes widgets available for slightly more advanced users. Available options include 3-D, gallery, and interactive image widgets. I did not fully explore these options, but I was able to select a gallery widget and drag-and-drop my way to a slideshow with zero hassle.

Final Steps and Publication

Apple wants to make publication as easy as one click. I might eventually discover that’s the case, but for now the “Publish” button directs me to information about iTunes Producer, which appears to be the publishing network for iBooks. I’m sure that some account registration will be necessary before publication, but the app appears to provide a simplified way to upload a completed (if not fully proofread) e-book.

Conclusion

I’m not convinced that iBooks Author will revolutionize education and center the iPad as prime instructional tool of the future. However, the app is easy to use and immediately helpful to teachers such as me, who are desperate for cost-neutral pathways to using digital media as an instructional tool. iBooks Author will help me get students more convenient and richer access to instructional documents. It might even pave the way for me to switch to a hybrid or completely on-line structure. Certainly, for teachers with at least basic technology skills, iBooks Author is worth some attention.

S. Alexander Cooke teaches high school English in Columbus, Ohio.


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