Reflections on Working with iBook Author

At the core of the creative process is the willingness to step back, reflect on what you’ve accomplished, ask how it’s going and then get back to working on it some more. So after a few weeks of using iBooks Author (IBA), I thought it was time to practice what I preach. I’ll use this post to explore my initial reaction to working with IBA framed with by thoughts on the reflective process. A good warm up for a keynote I’m giving on the reflective process in a few weeks.

I got my first iPad recently (I skipped versions 1 and 2) and was very excited about using the new iBook Author program to create an iBook. As I took a closer look at IBA, I realized that while it presented some interesting opportunities, IBA had some notable shortcomings. On the plus side, it’s very easy to create an engaging mix of text, images, recordings, and videos. Perfect for my first IBA project – a document-based history iBook. I had already posted lessons on the homefront in World War II and realized there was a wealth of government films, posters and other artifacts that all fell within the public domain. So I got very excited about making an iBook that embodied my approach to empowering the student as historian.

Stay tuned for my finished iBook on Homefront USA. If you’d like to be notified when the book is finished, leave a comment below or send me a tweet @edteck. I’ll be offering a free sample for my beta testers. Here’s a sample of some of the great content that’s available. (1942) Walt Disney made this short film for the US War Production Board

Find patterns
While IBA supports a more interactive reading process – searching text, adding bookmarks, highlighting text, defining words – at the core IBA is designed for traditional instructional methods. For example, iBooks built-in note taking feature is designed to create flashcards (don’t you use flashcards to memorize stuff?). Its built-in test feature can only be used to create an objective questions – not the tools I was looking for to support critical thinking skills. There doesn’t seem to be away to copy and paste text from my books author into some other iPad program. I don’t see ways for students to share their thinking without leaving the iBook.

Videos are very interesting components of iBooks, but here’s the challenge. The more videos you put in the book, the bigger the file size of the book. Not only does iTunes place a 2 gig limit on the size of an iBook, but in practical terms no one wants to fill up their iPod with your book. One option is not embed the videos, and instead, link to them with a YouTube widget. That keeps your iBook’s file size smaller, but it means your reader will need to be online and not in a school network environment that blocks YouTube.

Ask for help
I spent a lot of time on Apple discussion groups reading IBA-related threads, and posting questions of my own. I posting a poll on Twitter to ask educators what they thought about the YouTube link vs embed the video question. Results – nearly 90% of them voted to embed the videos into the book. Reflection can be a social experience. Framing questions and sharing your progress forces you to construct models that capture what you’ve accomplished and better define the tasks that lie ahead. Hat tip to my friend and colleague Mike Gwaltney who took a look at my concept iBook and offered great feedback.

Share what you’re learning
As I found online resources for using IBA, I posted them to a collection I started at My Publishing with iBooks Author began to attract viewers, many of whom proved to be great resources for me. As I tweeted out my new online resource finds, more leads came in and I found myself connected to a group of educators exploring the same topic. One contact, Luis Perez, made me realize that I wasn’t taking full advantage of the iBook’s accessibility features. He’s also working on ways to compress video size, and still be able to have caption videos for accessibility.

Motivate yourself with design thinking
Open yourself up to the cycle of planning, execution, reflection you might expect to see in an artist’s studio – it’s addictive. I find myself thinking about and working on this iBook all the time. (that’s why you haven’t seen any posts from me in a few weeks) The self-directed project provides all the essential elements of motivation. I chose the content, process, product and was doing my own evaluation. Through it all, I was exploring the frontier of what I knew and what I didn’t know. After all – this is why project-based learning works.

18 Replies to “Reflections on Working with iBook Author”

  1. Peter,
    Great post. iBooks author definitely has a few shortcomings. I can’t wait to see what future updates bring to the table. I too would like to find a better way to handle videos than to embed them all. This takes up a lot of space.
    Again, nice post.

  2. I noted that you mentioned captioning in terms of accessibility and I have read elsewhere that iBooks Author allows Closed Caption tracks but not soft subtitle, chapter and alternate audio tracks. Since these other kinds of tracks are exposed and used in the iPad and in iBooks (when ePub documents have video), I’d guess that it will be added in a future version. These are not only important for accessibility but for pedagogical reasons as well.

  3. I started to make an art eBook (lots of art and a few videos) and was shocked by the size of the file (300-500 MBs depending on options) and then realized my eBook was really just a self-contained website “posing” as an eBook.
    Just could not see anyone wanting to download such a huge eBook file….so I am reconsidering the whole eBook idea.

  4. Video in eBooks (whether .epub or .ibooks) seems to bother a lot of people. Perhaps it’s Apple’s 2 GB iBookstore limit or the fear that no one will download anything that threatens to take a while. Some have referred to the eBook as a “web site in a box” meaning that it can be read or experienced completely offline. The comparison is apt because the structure of eBooks is, in fact, very much like the HTML of web pages. At the code level, they are almost indistinguishable in many places. Take a look at the public ePub standard to see this for yourself.

    But must an eBook be so self-contained? Why not embed an external video? There is even a hybrid option in the HTML 5 “local storage” option. There is an SQL lite database on your iPad into which applications can stuff all sorts of data, including video. This would be separate from the initial download of your iBook. Both external video linking and local storage would require the use of the HTML widget.

    File size. An iBooks file has to be H.264 video and AAC audio in an .m4v container. All other things (window size, frame rate) being equal, file size is bit rate times duration. Essentially, you are balancing quality with file size. There is no free lunch.

    Presets are nothing more than someone else’s guess as to what balance of file size and quality is best. If the presets available to you aren’t satisfying then you need an application such as Compressor or Telestream Episode that allow to to come up with your own recipe.

  5. Charles,
    I feel your pain on file size.

    Frank brings more technical understanding into the dialogue. I think the idea of linking to external videos is a viable alternative. Since I’m targeting middle school kids, I need to think about smaller file size on school iPads, lack of wifi and firewalls that keep kids from external videos, and the allure of iBook interactivity. Thus my plan is to break my Homefront iBook into 2 or 3 separate volumes. I also will use edited versions of some videos with links to full versions of the videos outside the iBook on the internet.

    BTW My Publishing with iBooks Author has some good references on file compression. Just added some good advice on Compressor 4 settings and Davide Barranca has some good ideas on image file compression on page 2.

  6. Thanks for the post. Helpful sharing of thoughts.

    I’ve been in the planning and execution stages of my first ibook for the past 6 months. What finally came out is a solid website with writing and different embedded links to social media incl. tumblr, google maps, social cam and the like. This website will be the foundation for an extended premium and hopefully monetize-able version. I first plan to publish a teaser before releasing the full version. Trying to focus on the creative process of reflecting, learning, adapting, and follow through.

    From my viewpoint, the question is not file size. ibooks are another form of curated trans-media content. With how fast wireless coverage is going, ibooks and ebooks won’t be disconnected from the internet for far too much longer.


  7. Peter

    Your scoop, Publishing with iBooks Author, is a life savior!!
    I am producing my book with iBA and a found many tips in your site!
    Thank you!
    Have you update the iBA this week?
    best regards from Brazil!

    Rui Dias

    1. Thanks Rui, I kept the focus on how-to ideas that I found useful in my quest to figure out iBA. Glad it was of help to you. I haven’t downloaded the iBA update yet. I always like to delay updates to see if there are any problems. I heard is that you’ll be able to publish directly from the new iBA. That’s good news. I found iTunes Producer to be awkward for uploads. Good luck with your book

  8. Guys, I’m new to ebook or epub publishing.

    I’m basically looking for a program other than ibook author to do so school books for the high schools in Hong Kong.

    Do you have any suggestions?


    1. I’ve used one other program – Apple’s Pages program to export an ePub. In addition to text, the resulting eBook can include audio and video. The file can then be shared out to devices via external drive or network.

  9. Hi, I wonder if you know of an evaluation tool that allows me to assess the accessibility of my book in iBooks Author. This tool can run an automatic accessibility check, or if there is a guideline that explains how we can evaluate the accessibility ourselves to conform to WCAG-2.0 standards. Advice appreciated.

    1. Hi Amanda,

      My “go-to” iBooks expert, Dr. Frank Lowney, replied to my query:
      “As for the question on accessibility testing, the first problem is that the WAGA standards are for web sites. Although *.epub and *.ibooks formats have a lot in common with HTML and XML, they are not similar enough that an automated process for WAGA could be easily adapted to assess these eBook formats. Given the specifics of the standard, a second problem emerges. I’m not sure that an automated tool could do a complete assessment of a web site. There are a number of things that can only be looked at subjectively.

      So the short answer is “no.”

      As far as I know, Apple doesn’t look for accessibility in deciding whether to place eBooks into the iBookstore. The encourage it. They enable it. They don’t enforce it.

      This is a great question because it prompts us to think about what an iBooks Author equivalent to the WAGA 2.0 standards might look like and how to go about using such a standard in assessing the accessibility of eBooks created with IBA. It would have to be a manual process, at least initially.

      I checked to see if IBA has an AppleScript dictionary. It does but I don’t think that there are enough operators to do what this questioner wants. That could come later. I’ll do some more checking around.”

      ~ Hope this helps,

  10. Thanks for this reply it is very helpful. I suspected as much. it is true that the creator does need to have a sound understanding of the principles of accessibility while creating the iBook and the guidelines are not enforced within the process of creation, the creator has to go looking whether they are amateurs or experts.

    I have tried to search for iBooks that are somewhat “accessible” and am not having much luck. It would seem that there are more guidelines and promotions for making Apps accessible rather than iBooks themselves. Would you be able to give me a few examples of accessible iBooks so I can see the current standard? In the book I am creating at the moment I am following standard epub guidelines from JISC which encourage an accessibility statement, a direct link to all images and video resources for example.

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