During this week’s special event, Apple unveiled a new major update to iBooks for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Version 3.0 improves upon iCloud integration, adds new sharing features, and introduces a vertical scrolling mode. In addition, publishers can now push out free updates to existing iBooks, which the end user can both see and download within the iBooks app in much the same manner as iOS apps, making it much easier to have the latest edition of a Digital Textbook available. Apple’s free Mac publishing tool iBooks Author has also been updated to provide support for new custom fonts and multitouch widgets for iBooks 3 users. Here’s a look at how the new iBooks 3 features work.
Purchased Books in iCloud
iBooks 3 adds a new Purchased Books collection that displays all of your iBookstore purchases on a single screen, providing much quicker access to your iCloud-based iBooks library. One of our editors has had issues getting this library to appear on an iPad, despite the fact that it instantly appeared on an iPhone; another editor has had no problems at all on an iPad.
iBooks that are not stored locally on your device will be indicated with a small iCloud icon in the top-right corner. Tapping on one of these titles will begin downloading it, and you can tap on multiple titles in sequence to queue up several downloads. The Purchased Books screen lists books by date of purchase and unlike other collections, items on this screen cannot be manually reordered.
Note that the Purchased section also still remains available in the iBookstore and works in much the same way as in prior versions; the new Purchased Books collection simply provides a more convenient view of this information. As with the Purchased section, the Purchased Books collection only includes iBooks that have actually been purchased from the iBookstore—it does not include book samples or even free iBooks from the Project Gutenberg collection on the iBookstore, nor does it include ePub or PDF files that have been loaded from other sources. These non-purchased books must still be synced via iTunes or opened in iBooks from other iOS applications.
The Purchased Books collection requires iOS 6 or later, and can be disabled entirely by going into the iBooks section in the iOS Settings app and toggling off the Show All Purchases option.
When deleting a purchased iBook, you are now given the option to delete it from all of your devices that share the same iBookstore account. Options appear to either Delete This Copy, removing it from the local device only, or Delete From All Devices, syncing the removal across all of your iOS devices.
Note that this does not remove the item from your purchase history, nor will it remove any iBooks that have been downloaded to iTunes. For whatever reason, the Delete From All Devices option does not appear when deleting books from the Purchased Books collection, nor is it available for non-purchased content (samples, Project Gutenberg titles, PDFs and non-iBookstore ePub files). These items will show only a single button labelled Delete.
When using the Delete This Copy option to delete an iBook only from the local device, it will remain in place with the iCloud icon displayed in the top-right corner. Removing an iBook from all devices also removes it from the current shelf, leaving it displayed only in the Purchased Books collection.
iBooks 3 now takes advantage of the new Sharing features in iOS 6, allowing you to easily share selected text via Facebook, Twitter, Messages, or e-mail. Simply select some text or tap on a highlighted section and a Share option will appear on the context menu; tapping this will present the standard iOS 6 sharing screen. Note that the “Share” button replaces the “Copy” option found in the prior version of iBooks, however, you can still copy the selected text to the clipboard from the sharing screen.
Oddly, the Share button appears differently depending on whether you are working with selected text or a highlighted passage. Selected text shows the button as “Share” on the second set of menu buttons, while for highlighted text it appears as the symbolic version on the first set.
Unfortunately, this new feature comes with a very significant limitation: Like the “Copy” option before it, you can only share text from iBooks that are not copy-protected. This basically rules out the majority of content purchased on the iBookstore, with the exception of iTunes U course materials and at least some Digital Textbooks. This will work, however, for non-iBookstore ePub titles and iBooks from Project Gutenberg, however PDF files are left out of the mix for whatever reason. As with copying text, the Share option will simply not appear on titles where the feature is not available.
Sharing via Facebook, Messages, and e-mail will include the selected text followed by an appropriate attribution line; sharing via Twitter simply truncates the text after 140 characters, with an ellipsis and closing quotation mark, but no source attribution.
Note that for some unusual reason, iBooks requests access to the user’s Photos on iOS 6 in order to use the new sharing features.
It isn’t exactly clear why Photo access would be required for this; we’re left to assume that it’s simply a bug in the current version, as we could find no evidence of iBooks actually using the iOS Photo library.
A new vertical scrolling mode has been added as a Theme setting, which can be enabled from the Font button on the top right. Tapping the Themes takes you to the select of White, Sepia and Night modes with the choice of Book or Scroll now displayed below.
Book mode retains the animated page-flip style of prior versions of iBooks; Scroll mode allows you to scroll vertically through the text much as you would in the Safari browser. Page numbers are displayed in the left margin and when controls are visible, a progress bar is shown on the right and a fixed status bar at the bottom of the screen.
As with Theme support in general, vertical scrolling is not supported for PDF files.
Purchased Book Updates
With iBooks 3, publishers can now automatically make free updates available to existing books in the iBookstore. A badge count will be displayed on the Store button when an update is available and the user can easily download it, replacing the existing version.
iBooks will also attempt to migrate any existing highlights and bookmarks when a book is updated, preserving any notes and highlights that can no longer be matched to text in a separate “Old Notes” section at the end of the chapter list. Apple has published a support article, iBooks: How highlights and bookmarks are migrated when you update a book that provides more specific information on how this is supposed to be handled.
The iBooks Settings found in the iOS Settings app have been updated to add a new option for enabling or disabling the Purchased Books collection along with tweaks to the existing options.
Tap Left Margin is now Both Margins Advance, effectively providing a rewording of the same function. Online Audio & Video is now Online Content, implying that other types of online content may be available in iBooks in the future.
iBooks 3 now provides support for German, Spanish, French, Japanese and Simplified Chinese dictionaries in iOS 6 and adds the ability to display iBooks in foreign character sets such as Japanese, Korean and Chinese.
While not a revolutionary upgrade, iBooks 3 does add some useful new features for users, and sets the stage for easier book reading on smaller-screened devices ranging from iPhones and iPod touches to the iPad mini. However, the most significant additions are likely found under the hood to support new features found in the recent iBooks Author update, which should allow publishers to take even greater advantage of the iPad platform for a new generation of media content and Digital Textbooks in the classroom. It’s clear from this update that Apple will be maintaining the “iPad only” status of Digital Textbooks for the foreseeable future, though it will leverage the iPad mini as a tool to make these books available to users on smaller screens.