WWDC: minor updates, not major launches expected, may be the big news for publishers
A minor update to iOS may be the big news for publishers coming out of WWDC as Apple previews iOS 9, but releases iOS 8.4 and with it support for iPhone textbooks
In the U.S. the official start to summer is usually the Memorial Day holiday as the weekend usually brings warmer weather and the promise of summer vacations. But this year, the calendar will bring us Memorial Day as early as it can be, May 25, and so it feels a little odd. For one thing, it has been downright cold here in Chicago the last few days (not really that unusual for Chicago), and for another, WWDC is still a couple weeks away.
For those of us that follow tech as part of covering digital media, Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is really the beginning of summer. Scheduled for early June, the event previews the next generation of Mac and mobile operating systems and usually also includes a few hardware updates. The event is not as widely anticipated as the iPhone event in September, if only for the fact that so few tech reporters actually are developers. But the new features introduced in the fall are usually previewed at WWDC.
Developers should expect to be able to get their hands on new betas of both Mac OS X and iOS software, but consumers should not expect anything more than a bump up in the current version of the operating system they are currently running.
Where will the big news come from? Apple may still be scurrying to secure media deals that will allow it to introduce both its anticipated music streaming service – a variation of the current Beats system, but integrated into iTunes – and a new Apple TV channel line-up that includes a network TV subscription element. But if things are set in stone by the time Tim Cook walks on stage, the best he may be able to do is unveil a new Apple TV. As the hockey puck sized device is long in the tooth, that might be just fine for a lot of consumers who think Apple fallen behind its rivals in this area.
Most tech reporters will be eager to hear of the next generation of iOS, iOS 9, that usually gets released at the same time as the new iPhones are presented in the fall. Some have even gone so far as to speculate that maybe, just maybe iOS 9 will be introduced at WWDC (they’re nuts).
They will be disappointed that all is expected is the release of iOS 8.4. But publishers, especially eBook publishers may finally rejoice as iOS 8.4 is expected to bring iPhone support for iBooks Author.
A couple stories appeared last week that said that iOS 8.4 would bring textbooks to the iPhone. I was hesitant to say anything because I have not personally downloaded iOS 8.4 as I no longer have an extra iPhone that I can load a beta to – and I didn’t feel the current beta should be loaded on to the phone I currently use every day. But if I hear that iOS 8.4 is at gold master stage you can be sure I’ll jump on the Apple developer site and download it immediately.
Every creator of interactive eBooks has had two things on their wish list: the ability to bring their interactive eBooks to Amazon’s Kindle, and that same ability to bring them to the iPhone. No one expects Apple to help Amazon by addeding an export-to-Kindle option to iBooks Author, that’s Amazon’s job, but what about the iPhone?
The lack of iPhone support has been one of those things that reinforces the notion that Apple’s current management team is less interested in publishing than it was under Steve Jobs. Apple was built on its support for desktop publishing, that it would abandon publishers seemed unthinkable. But…
So, a minor update to iOS may be the big news for publishers coming out of WWDC. The only thing missing, of course, is that iBooks Author rumor. One assumes that an update for Apple’s eBook software would be necessary, but maybe not.
iBA is currently on version 2.2, with the last update released on October 16th of last year. That update brought the ability to import ePUB and InDesign files. It also added a new blank template, as well as the ability to create hyperlinks within the book (and link from an image).
For me, personally, the biggest change was the ability to have widgets auto-play. Makers of books for children have always wanted this feature as they would like children to not have to use video controls to see their interactive material. I’m currently working on a book where this feature is used as a chapter front device (I’m just hoping we actually finish this book as production has been slow, slow, slow).
The changes brought with version 2.2 seemed minor, but they were the kind of incremental changes one wants to see in a new piece of software, and I think eBook makers were very happy with the update – more happy over time as they started to use the new features. But it is interesting to see that over time more users have started to give the program negative reviews inside the Mac App Store. It may be that early adopters of the program saw its limitations right from the beginning and were determined to adapt, but new users expect more from iBA than the program is currently able to deliver. Clearly Apple is not going to put a big team of developers on the iBA product, so change and improvements will be slow to come. Meanwhile, Adobe is making a push with InDesign to have it become the default eBook production tool. But it, too, is limited in its export abilities.
I did a search of Google News this morning for “Apple Newsstand” – 10 stories came up, 6 were from TNM. That tells me that there is not much to report on this front: for the time being, at least, the Newsstand will remain unmaintained, of little importance to Apple, and increasingly irrelevant to major publishers.
Eight months ago to the day the big news was that Apple had brought on board the team behing TRVL and the PRSS platform. The question was whether this was an acquisition of a digital publishing platform, or just the hiring of two talented people: Michel Elings and Jochem Wijnands. Like all Apple hires, the two are now radio silent and based on what has happened since the news broke, we may never know for what reason the two were brought on board. (Both are good guys, obviously talented, but what exactly they are doing at Apple remains a mystery. Neither would risk, of course, even an off-the-record conversation with me to reveal their mission at Apple.)
Meanwhile, the lack of news out of Apple regarding the Newsstand, combined with my own conversations with Apple representatives only reinforces the notion that nothing can be expected regarding either the Newsstand. The last communication with Apple was in February when they acknowledged that the Newsstand categories were broken and showing apps in alphabetical order (allowing scammers to launch new digital magazines with names that start with “AA” in order to game the system – that the App Store team approves these scams is really something that makes publishers fume).