Inst@Review: iBook Author isn’t just an ebook authoring tool

[Note: Shortly after I posted this, I edited it to remove a rant I had that I've since discovered was misinformed. I've explained it at the bottom of the post.]

Apple introduced an incredible product today called iBooks Author.

Apple describes the product this way, “iBooks Author is an amazing new app that 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.”

Now, it may be strange to some of the 12 people who read this blog that I’d be saying that an eBook authoring tool that does anything beyond making text more book-like and readable is “incredible” as I’m on record many times as saying how little I like things called books or magazines that are crammed with interactive goo-gahs. And I’ve written that book and magazine publishers have wasted their time on developing such interactive apps and calling them magazines or books. (Ironically, I wasn’t writing that about Apple, but about the Kindle Fire and Amazon’s aggressive push into children’s books.)

But I’ve also written that when apps are not called “books” or “magazines” or when the interactive goo-gahs help explain or entertain or add-to a story or the experience, I’m gung-ho.

I know I’m going to confuse some people (Reader #8), so maybe I should just say this simply: iBooks Author is not merely an ebook authoring tool. Indeed, it could have been easily called iGames Author or iInteractive Presentation Author or iInteractive Training Author or (here’s the take-away part) iApps Author.

Let me point you back a few weeks to my recap of predictions for 2011 in which I explained why I was wrong about a my prediction that, “Apple will mashup features of Keynote and iMovie and create a program called iAnimator.”

I take it back. I was only wrong about being wrong. iBook Author is what I was talking about. (As is, the software from some Apple alumni who don’t mess with the ebook metaphor, called Tumult Hype.)

iBook Author is a recognition of what I’ve been trying to express for over a year (and is one of the wish-list platforms of Hammock Labs): If you start with the suite of tools that creative-oriented (designers, illustrators, audio-types, film-makers, web-developers, etc.) Mac users already understand: Keynote, iMovie, GarageBand — and then, you start tweaking the methaphors and beef up the animation tools so that creating interactive experiences in HTML5 is the technical outcome (great content is the non-technical objective), you’ve developed a platform that is going to make Adobe squirm and free the results of a lot of content creation from the web (as in, websites can easily be morphed into offline, iPad native apps, as well).

If you are a power-user of Keynote or any of the Apple iWork or iLife products, iBooks Author will look familiar (I’m looking at it now). Right now, however, everything about it says, “this is a tool for creating text books.”

That is a trojan horse! (The ancient Troy kind, not the computer virus kind.)

That’s sort of what Apple did when they first came out with the iTunes Store. Recall it: It was a means to buy and organize record-label music (and, oh, you could put all that other music you had just lying around your computer on the desktop software version of iTunes).

Only later, did iTunes become a massive commerce marketplace for the distribution of paid and free software apps and video and podcasts and university lectures and streaming TV shows and movies that you can view on your TV.

And only later, did Apple realize they could tweak the metaphors of Garageband to be a podcasting tool. And only later, did they realize that Keynote is an incredibly popular web development and app prototyping platform. (Or do they even realize that now?)

So, today, there’s a Trojan horse product called iBooks Author. And for a while, you will think it’s about creating text books and, no doubt, interactive books that few people will care about reading. The whole textbook and interactive book thing may succeed or not — Apple doesn’t bat a thousand on business verticals, but the one they’ve competed in best is the education market, so it’s a good place for them to start.

But if you step back and see that this is actually an App creation platform that is going to allow you to create things that look a whole lot like something that you don’t think of as a book, but more like a videogame or sales presentation or whatever app you can dream of, you’ll start seeing how the iBook Author is more than textbooks, or books.

This is just the beginning. Watch this space.

Note: Shortly after first posting this, I removed a section that complained about Apple only allowing iBook Author projects to be distributed via the iBook Store. I can show you in the Apple user instructions where I found that, but I’d rather just say I was wrong and leave it at that. Bottomline, there is a way to distribute iBooks with the interactive goo-gahs to users without going through the iBooks Store. It’s a bit clunky, but I’m sure it will get easier. The document has to be free, which is fine, as my complaint was focused on such free documents.

Later: This post can give you an idea of what I was ranting about earlier. Although, I believe his beef is a bit broader than mine.

Later: Let me note the following for the record: It is difficult to locate the how-to directions for sending someone an iBooks Author created document via email. I couldn’t find it on the Apple.com support site, however, it is on the Help Center that’s associated with the program, itself. Here are the directions, just in case I forget them:

Note: You have to use the  Apple OSX Mail application for this to work

  • With the book open, choose Share > Send via Mail, and choose an option from the submenu:
    • iBooks Author for Mac: Creates an iBooks Author document (with the extension .iba). Your recipient needs to have iBooks Author installed to open the file.
    • iBooks for iPad: Creates an iBooks document (with the extension .ibooks). Your recipient can open the book by tapping the file in Mail on an iPad, or by importing the file into iTunes (by dragging it to the iTunes window) and then using iTunes to sync the book to an iPad. The recipient must have the iBooks app and iOS 5 on his or her iPad.
    • PDF: Creates a PDF document (with the extension .pdf). Hyperlinks work in the resulting PDF, but other interactive media, such as movies and 3D objects, might not work as expected.
  • A new mail message opens with the version of your book attached.
  • Edit the email message and click Send.

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