June 30, 2015 Last Updated 9:33 am

First look: multi-touch iBooks on iPhone a work in progress

Publishers who have used iBooks Author will be thrilled that they can reach iPhone readers with their eBooks (plus an update to iBooks Author has been released, as well)

The big news today from Apple was the launch of multi-touch eBooks for the iPhone. OK, maybe it was the launch of Apple Music. But we’re digital publishers, right, so iBooks are far more important that whether Taylor Swift is streaming.

Guide-iPhone6-380Apple dropped the iOS 8.4 update around 8am PT, but not all iPhone owners would get the message. On top of that, Apple waited until 8am to allow developers access to iOS 8.4 through the developer site. That’s where I downloaded the software, which meant a long restore time as all my apps had to be reinstalled and I needed to go through the process of redoing Touch ID and more.

But eventually my iPhone was ready to go.

To throughly test the update I chose TNM’s own Guide to Digital Publishing Platforms. This eBook was built using iBooks Author and published late last year. At the time, Apple had just added Mac support, so the book could be previewed on both the Mac and iPad when built. Font choices were made with the iPad mini in mind so that the smallest device that the eBook might be read on would still look good.

Because the book was built in a fixed layout in landscape, fonts are not adjustable. Those books, like novels, that are built to be read in portrait, with adjustable fonts, will be just fine on the iPhone. So, it is those eBooks, like The Mozart Project, that provide a good test of multi-touch iBooks on the iPhone.

So, how does TNM’s Guide look on the iPhone today, once iOS 8.4 has been installed? The answer is ‘not bad, but not perfect.’

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, after all, all eBooks, built using iBooks Author, have been designed for the iPad. This means that until there is an update to iBooks Author (will that come soon?) multi-touch eBooks are going to look a bit strange.

To show you what to expect, I’ve created a walk-though video of the Guide, as seen on the iPhone. Some notes about the video:

Adobe-iPhone6-380First, the first time you have opened the iBooks app after installing iOS 8.4 you will immediately see new books there. These are the eBooks you own that previously could only be read on your iPad or Mac. If you don’t own an iPad or Mac, and therefore have never downloaded a multi-touch eBook, you’ll see nothing different. But as I have bought plenty of these, my iBooks library on my iPhone suddenly grew ten fold.

Second, multi-touch eBooks can be large files. The Mozart Project is 1.18 GB. iPhone owners who want to read eBooks on their iPhone will now need more storage (hey, Apple, we all need more storage). The good news is that eBooks can be stored in the cloud, and re-downloaded when desired. But downloading a 1 GB eBook takes time, of course.

Third, eBooks built in landscape for the iPad will work in both landscape and portrait on the iPhone. This was a bit of a surprise. The reason for this might be that the iPhone is usually in portrait when using the iBooks app and the cover of an eBook shows up immediately in portrait. You then can turn your iPhone to landscape to start reading the book.

Finally, pages are going to be small. But a tap of the screen will pull up text. You’ll notice in the video below that scrolling text boxes, when tapped, come up full screen. If there is lots of text then the reader scrolls through the text. But in some cases, like the first scrolling text boxes seen in the Guide, scrolling is suddenly not necessary. Videos work great, as you would expect, but photo galleries are a bit confusing (see the end of the video). To make them work you must tap the first photo, you cannot scroll through the photos on page as you can on the iPad.

There are other features that need to be tested, like pop-ups and animations, but this is a start. Next, publishers will be hoping to see an update for iBooks Author with new iPhone-centric templates.** But, in conclusion, those publishers praying for Apple to include iPhone support for iBA built books are a little happier today.

** iBooks Author HAS been updated – see post on the update here.

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