June 30, 2015 Last Updated 8:47 am

Apple releases update to iBooks Author with added iPhone support via ePub templates

Update to Apple’s eBook design software does not alter the existing templates often used for creating interactive eBooks for the iPad, but adds two new ePub templates

For digital book publishers who recognize the growing importance of reaching readers who like to use their smartphones to access eBooks, this has been a very important day. This morning Apple released iOS 8.4 which provided the iPhone with support for multi-touch eBooks, and this afternoon Apple released version 2.3 of iBooks Author.

The release notes mention iPhone support, but the really interesting part is what follows:

Create Multi-touch books using new ePub templates.

This is Apple’s way of saying that designers will want to play around with the ePub templates if they want to create eBooks that can be considered native to the iPhone.

As you may have seen in TNM’s first look at the new iBooks for iPhone, existing eBooks created with iBooks Author work now on the iPhone, but only in a limited fashion. For one thing, the books were really designed for the iPad and its display, with the Mac versions mirroring them. Translated to the iPhone, they are like replica editions of print magazines – mis-sized with gray bars along the sides of the page.

iBA-iPhone-previewThat doesn’t mean they don’t work on the iPhone, they do, but it is obvious that they were designed for a different digital device – the iPad.

Now along comes the update for iBooks Author and it doesn’t solve the problem quite in the way you might have thought. There is no export for iPhone option, or a third orientation labeled “iPhone”. The existing landscape and portrait templates are still designed for the iPad.

But the ePub templates – classic and blank – are the ones a designer will want to work with when designing specifically the iPhone.

Here is Apple’s own description of their new templates:

The new iBooks Author ePub templates:

  • Export to ePub3 format.
  • Allow the reader to read in both paginated and scrolling view.
  • Allow the reader to change the font size in the book.
  • Can include some interactive widgets, such as movies, audio clips, HTML, and image galleries.
  • Can be viewed in any ePub reader that supports ePub3.

Apple warns designers that while their ePub books should look as they do in iBA on an iOS device, there may be variations on other devices.

[Note: As TNM reader Jessica discovered, see comments, you MUST make sure you have installed the iOS 8.4 update on your iPad or iPhone in order for eBook previews to work. The iOS 8.4 update brings in a new version of iBooks which works with the new version of iBA.]

But what about those eBooks that have both landscape AND portrait orientations? TNM’s Guide to Digital Publishing Platforms only works in landscape on the Mac and iPad, so it shows up only in landscape on the iPhone, as you would expect.

TD-iPhoneBut Talking Digital did include both a portrait as well as landscape option. But on the iPhone the portrait version does not show up. Why? It’s because of the way Apple handled the graphics – they put them along the left side, remember? That doesn’t work for the iPhone, the screen is too small (see at left).

So the solution Apple seems to have come up with is to make designers use ePub templates – that is if a properly designed, multi-touch eBook for the iPhone is your goal.

This may create some interesting decisions: do you go with the existing templates that work best on the iPad and Mac, but one just work on the iPhone; or go with the ePub templates? I can’t answer that question right now as I have bared opened them and previewed them on the iPhone. The next step is to do a little design work and then preview what I come up with on the iPhone, iPad and Mac.

One thing I know, today’s updates will have designers scrambling. If you, like I, am in the middle of production of a new eBook using iBooks Author, there will be good reasons to stop your work for a bit to reconsider your designs.

Fun times.

Update: I’m discovering serious problems with the new iBooks Author and its support of the iPhone. I found that if you use one of the ePub templates and have a video that you want to autoplay it will. If you have built a book with one of the older templates and have an autoplay video it will not autoplay. Big problem.

The other thing I noticed is that when building an eBook using one of the older templates you could disable portrait, or what they now call scrolling view. This can’t be done with the new ePub templates (not surprising since it is ePub). But this means you really cannot design for landscape, something required by many designers.

What we have here is a compromise: you can publish new books with limited design for the iPhone, and have your older eBooks work on the iPhone. But if you want a truly interactive eBook you’ll still have to design for the iPad. That may be disappointing news to many publishers, what with iPad sales declining.

There may be workarounds possible that designers can discover. I’ll be interested to hear from those have created quality eBooks for the iPad to see if they solutions I am, at least for now, missing.

  • Jack Smith 3 years ago

    As of July, 2015, I’m unable to update I-Books… anyone else having difficulties?

  • Jessica 3 years ago

    Able to update iBooks on Mac, but Preview function is lost between iBooks and iPad. “Newer version of iBooks needed.” No update for iPad it appears. Help?

    • Douglas Hebbard 3 years ago

      In order to continue previewing your eBooks, using version 2.3 of iBA, you must install the iOS 8.4 update which brings in a new version of iBooks.

  • Bentley Nelson 3 years ago

    Rather than thinking of “iPad sales declining,” think of iPad sales as reaching their saturation point. There is no reason to be upgrading an iPad as much as an iPhone. For one thing, the devices are not subsidized like smartphones. In terms of consumer device adoption rates, iPads are probably more like DVD players than they are like computers. Studies show that over 50% of US households have tablets, most of them iPads. I’m more concerned with developers who are releasing software that’s incompatible with the existing installed base than with the rate of device sales. If the DVD disc format was updated as often as the typical app there would be NO home video market.