Hands-on with iBooks Author – Just How Easy is It?

After today’s big textbook announcement, I thought that I’d give iBooks Author a look, and let you guys know what the new service is all about. To begin with, I don’t have any e-book experience, so I’m going to look at iBooks Author as a layperson, since Apple says that anyone should be able to use these tools successfully.

Installing the app literally took two minutes. If you’ve ever used Apple software, like Pages, Numbers, or Keynote, the interface will be familiar.

The app opens to a series of templates, which include basic, contemporary, modern type, classic, editorial, and craft. I’m assuming that you can also use custom created templates that have been downloaded from external sources as well.

When a template is chosen, it switches into edit mode, which reminds me a lot of Keynote. There’s a bar on the left that organizes all of your pages, and the window on the right displays the page currently being worked on. I chose to experiment with a picture book that also has some text. 

Pages are highly customizable, and template elements are all placeholders. Replacing images with my own was as simple as dragging and dropping them into place. You can drag photos from the desktop, iPhoto, or even straight from the web. Text is replaced with a simple click, and extra elements can be added from the toolbar at the top.

Everything is organized into chapters, with a main chapter page, a section heading, and then base text, but this can be altered in any way that you want. I only wanted pages, so I deleted the excess sections. I already explained the ease of inserting photos and other media, so I’ll touch on text. I wrote up a couple of sample pages to try it out.

You can type in the program, or copy and paste from another source like Pages, and the app will format everything in the correct way for display. There’s no messing with spacing or fonts, or worrying about what the output will look like or whether or not you’re putting it in correctly. Pages with text can also be fully edited, to include photos, videos, graphs, charts, and more.

When adding chapters and pages, the table of contents is automatically generated. Your chapters can be automatically imported from Word or Pages, which is a real time saver. I found that it imported my text and formatted it properly, and I was then able to add other media to the pages in a short amount of time.

There are several different page layouts that can be inserted, from chapter pages and section headings to text pages with 1, 2, and 3 columns. There are also pages for forewords, copyrights, dedications, and entirely blank pages.

If a simple book is not enough, iBooks Author supports HTML5 and Javascript for people who want to take their books further than what the app can do on its own. It also supports multi-touch interactions like pinch and zoom for photos and swipe gestures.

During the process of creating, you can hook up your iPad to your computer and send a version to iBooks to preview on the tablet, so you know exactly how everything will look when you’re finished. Completed books can be exported and then uploaded to the iBookstore using iTunes Producer.

I have some experience with Mac programs, so a lot of this seemed familiar, but it is still impressive that I, as a person with no publishing program experience could pick up iBook Author and use it right away with no problems. Apple has definitely succeeded at creating a simple to use publishing tool that is accessible to everyone.

This is a tool that isn’t just for textbooks – it can be used to create photo books for family, journals, diaries, recipe compilations, and more, thanks to its myriad of editing tools, turning almost anyone with something to say into an author. This is an incredible app and integrated system that is going to change the way publishing works.

Apple’s iBooks Author can be downloaded from the Mac App Store for free.

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About Juli: Contact me via Twitter: @julipuli

  • Liz Gosselin

    Thanks for your review. How do you add simple pages (not section or chapter pages)? I’m looking everywhere and can’t see that option. Thanks again.

    • Liz Gosselin

      Well, I just figured out that blank pages show in page thumbnails view, but not in book outline view. But I’d like to be able to change style of imported word files to simple pages instead of sections or chapters. Or import them into a blank page. Doesn’t seem to work. Any suggestions? Thanks.  

  • http://twitter.com/julipuli Juli Clover

    You can distribute books privately – use publish, save the file, and you can distribute it to anyone. They can take the file and upload it to their iPad to iBooks though iTunes.

  • dsienko

    What about custom fonts an Unicode?