Mobile apps and interactive e-books are converging! Sorta.

Recently, I had the chance to experiment with Apple’s iBooks Author (iBA), a Mac tool for creating graphical and interactive user interfaces directly in the contents of an e-book. For a first generation tool of its kind, it’s pretty amazing and most certainly will attract authors and creatives alike in pushing boundaries of e-book publishing. What’s so great is it takes the complexity of Javascript, CSS, and HTML 5 out of the equation for the casual, nontechnical author.

I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of iBA or teach you how to use the tool. Instead, I encourage you to read Erica Sadun’s informative series iBook Lessons. Erica dives into the details while explaining creative, technical, and even legal limitations.

What iBA does is bridge the gap between what was once only possible in native application and bring it to an EPUB 3ish format for iBooks on iPad.

“Wait a minute, ‘EPUB 3ish and iPad’?”

Yes. What iBA outputs is proprietary format built on EPUB 3 but enhanced by Apple to run exclusively on the iPad (no iPhone). There are other considerations to make, such as the EULA Apple imposes. To paraphrase, creators own their content but Apple owns the file format and ultimately iBA output published to Apple iBookstore. As you may have deciphered, iBA file format resulting from tool output can only be used for publishing to Apple’s iBookstore. One may not reverse engineer or attempt to convert to EPUB 3 for sale on other stores and platforms, such as Kindle, Nook, etc. So beware, iBA user, there are limitations: choose wisely a platform that works best for your creation and audience.

Speaking of limitations, I may have jumped the gun by stating iBA, or EPUB 3 for that matter, bridges the gap to native applications. The bridge is in construction; any attempt to cross requires grappling hooks, climbing rope, and a good bit of faith. Certain functionality today can only be developed using tools and technique on a technically “lower” level. For example, animating complex 3D scenes with responsive user interactions while achieving an acceptable level of performance might only be possible using OpenGL, a fast graphics pipeline that talks directly to the graphics hardware. The capture of user interaction and timely audio along with these scenes are better fitted to native application. The aforementioned iBook Lessons by Erica Sadun touches on user’s experiences and decisions to go native app or publish a book. Another good read explaining when to go native or e-book is InspiringApps’ Blurring the Lines Between eBooks and Apps blog post.

A great example published by Medallion is the award-winning Angelique novelette animated e-book. We published as a native application on the Apple Appstore since it used OpenGL at the core to achieve the visually stunning animations and timed audio including author read-aloud. Go get it for $0.99. Quite a bargain, and it was nominated for a 2012 Chicago Innovation Award!

I close this post by adding one piece of indispensable advice and something all authors, publisher, creative, and developers must consider when publishing to Apple. If your creation functionally operates like a book, at the core interacts as a book, it must be submitted to Apple’s iBookstore and not to the App Store as a native app. This is quite subjective and up for interpretation, but Apple is increasingly rejecting apps that function like a book. Before deciding what route to take, closely analyze the purpose of your creation and make sure it is something that absolutely could not be achieved going the e-book route before developing a native app. Please contact me if you have any questions about this process or anything e-book related. I’d love to hear your story.

If you are a Mac user, go get iBooks Author and have fun. You will be amazed at what it can do.

I can be reached at brian (at) medallionpress.com. Shoot me a message and follow me on Twitter: @TripleThreatMob.

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