MET:IBooks Author

From UBC Wiki


Brief Overview

iBooks Author is a free application downloaded from the Mac App store that allows users to create and publish their own multi-touch digital books for viewing on the iPad. This authoring software takes advantage of the stunning retina display and natural user interface (NUI) of iPad technology to deliver a highly interactive and engaging e-book. iBooks Author was introduced to the market on January 19th, 2012 [1] and in its short time since inception, has been praised for its affordances in education. Educators are now able to simply drag and drop their lecture notes into a template and add interactive multi-touch widgets. This easy to use authoring software has allowed those with limited technical expertise to create and contribute to the growing databank of e-books. Although still in its infancy, iBooks Author has huge implications on curriculum delivery and revolutionized the ease at which e-books can be produced.


iBooks Author builds upon constructivist principles to deliver a final product that is constantly evolving. Instructional Systems professor David Jonassen, described that “a critical characteristic of meaningful learning is mindful activity. In order for learners to be active, they must manipulate something (construct a product, manipulate parameters, make decisions) and affect the environment in some way.” [2]. From this perspective, the interactive simulations, multimedia integration, visualizations, note taking features included with textbooks on iPads, provides a learning experience unmatched by a printed book.

It is the multi-modal nature of the e-book created in iBooks Author which may prove to be exceptionally helpful to both teachers and students. O’Brien and Voss note that the addition of text to speech, applications like Voicethread and the use of social bookmarking open the potential interactions into social meaning-making of image, sound and text. [3] For students whose first language is not English, translation features make e-books much more accessible, allowing students to participate in a greater degree. This also requires consideration on the part of the instructor designing the e-book, as the literacies involved in reading multi-modally are significantly different from reading text on a print page. [4]

Other considerations the instructor and designer must reflect upon are student familiarity with the device being used and the format being used, as different e-texts and devices operate in manners differently enough to require time for familiarization with the operating features. Central to all Apple Computer mobile devices including the iPad and theiBooks Author software, is a very powerful operating system, based upon a natural user interfaces, NUI (pronounced ‘Newee’).

NUIs leverage instinctual human abilities, to allow users to learn to interact with computer technology, in an often nearly invisible manner. As our computing devices have become more advanced, so to have the user interfaces used to control them. In his 2010 article published in The Futurist, Richard Yonck insightfully quotes Apple Computer in this regard, as having said that "the less alike two entities are, the more obvious the need for a well-designed interface becomes." [5] Apple demonstrates its understanding of this design challenge, with its highly intuitive gesture based interface design for iBooks on iPad, which reduces navigation to the swipe of a finger.

NUIs reuse existing skills that we are born with, such as grasping and pointing, along with learned skills which we develop though interacting with our natural environment [6]. NUI developers, refer to simple skills that easy to learn through casual observation, such as tapping, along with learned composite skills, which build upon existing skills to achieve more complex interactions, such as the multi-fingered gestures. The overall ease of use, including greater accessibility, the potential for collaboration and the benefits of multi modal learning, are among the many benefits NUI can provide. Textbooks experienced on an iPad can be powerful, intuitive to learn with, fun to use and engaging. As users swipe, tap, pinch, watch, write notes and listen to their textbooks with an iPad, it's possible for some users to develop emotive relationships with their technology, at which point ethnographers and psychologists of computer culture, including MIT professor Sherry Turkle, would say that the devices have become not just tools, but relational objects; subjective extensions of ourselves, which influence how we view ourselves and the world around us [7].

The potential benefits of NUIs are already being realized in education and if resources such as textbooks delivered on the iPad are any indication of its positive impact, the benefits will likely continue to increase as the technology matures.

Features and Benefits

by Chris Quarrie for ETEC 510 May 30, 2015

Content Creation

iBooks Author has many features that give it a competitive advantage over other digital e-Books. It comes pre-configured with a number of templates that can be customized to fit the intended audience of the final product. Upon picking the layout of the e-book, the author has the option to add a short media clip as an introduction to the iBook. This media clip acts as a secondary book cover allowing users to quickly identify the subject matter within the iBook. For those familiar with navigating Apple products, the user-friendly home screen makes creating a book simple and fast. Apple takes out the guesswork by making everything drag and drop along with easy manipulation of text and media with the click of a mouse. iBooks Author encapsulates WYSIWIG editing technology making it user friendly for people with varying levels of expertise.

Text Manipulation

The Natural User Interface (NUI) of the iPad allows a user to manipulate and interact with the text portion of the iBook in a number of ways. Upon highlighting a word that requires clarification, the iBooks built in dictionary will provide the definition for you. A built in search feature also allows the user to navigate the iBook through searching critical concepts or important subheadings. In addition to these intrinsic features, iBooks Authorcontains an easy to use glossary that adds an interactive component to traditional text based definitions. Publishers can now highlight a term for the glossary, provide a text definition, but also add other media and widgets to enhance its understanding. This interactive glossary is essential for students taking courses that require a high level of vocabulary competency.

Interactive Multimedia Widgets

Widget Menu

A widget is generally a small application of limited functionality that can be embedded into ones own website or blog. Apple has taken the idea of pre-packaged software bundles and made them available in their Authoring software. These widgets provide the backbone for the interactive media that have become popular in digital books such as Al Gore’s Our Choice. A list of default widgets along with their functionalities has been provided below. These widgets can all be customized through the widget inspector to serve the users specific needs.

▪ Gallery: A sequence of images your readers can swipe through, each with its own custom caption.

▪ Media: A movie or audio file readers can play.

▪ Review: A sequence of interactive multiple-choice or drag-to-target questions.

▪ Keynote: A slideshow or other presentation created with Keynote 5.2.

▪ Interactive image: A graphic with callouts (labels); readers can pan and zoom to view detailed information about specific parts of the graphic.

▪ 3D: Add a 3D COLLADA (.dae) file readers can manipulate.

▪ Scrolling Sidebar: Content (with text, images, and shapes) that’s related to the surrounding text but isn’t part of the main text flow. In the completed book, readers can scroll through the contents of the sidebar separately from the rest of the page.

▪ Pop-Over: An overlay (with text, images, and shapes) that opens when the reader taps an image in the completed book.

▪ HTML: An HTML5 widget (with the extension .wdgt)

Widget descriptions retrieved from [8]


For instructional eBooks that one would typically encounter while taking a course, Apple has a review widget that allows an author to embed questions in a variety of formats. On the users end, one can simply circle their choice and check their final answer with the simple touch of a screen. Assessment becomes instantaneous and allows users to check their understanding as they progress through the book. Users can also highlight sections and make notes that are saved for clarification. This feature allows for organization of content and users to develop their own questions. “Evidence shows that children can produce and recognize educationally productive questions and can adapt them to their knowledge needs. The challenge is to design environments in which students can use such questions to guide their building of knowledge, thus assuming a higher level of agency in learning" (Scardamalia, 2009, p.2). These review and note taking features build upon research in knowledge construction and provide an added benefit to the teacher and the learner.


Apple has taken into consideration user accessibility options through their VoiceOver feature located in the general settings menu. By selecting this option, users have the ability of having the device read the iBook to them. This feature works wonders for students who have various learning challenges, specifically visually impaired. This built in feature no longer requires expensive software to decode text as was the case in the past with programs such as Kurzweil. The latest version of iBooks now has support for over 18 languages ( By providing language support, Apple has expanded its global market and allowed consumers to sample and translate books in foreign languages. The iBooks library will inevitably grow and become rich in content published from around the world.


Price Wars vs Price Fixing

Apple has faced several lawsuits related to iBooks since its release in 2010, including a trademark suit filed in 2011 over the very name, iBooks. Of greater concern to Apple however, is a current US government antitrust complaint filed against Apple and several major publishers including Simon & Schuster and McMillan, alleging that the publishers conspired with Apple to raise ebook prices to increase profits for publishers. This coordinated attempt to fix prices would apply pressure on low cost book sellers such as Amazon, to increase their prices, helping Apple avoid potential profit eroding price wars. In contrast to the previous wholesale model of pricing which was common in the industry, where publishers allowed retailers to set their own prices, Apple negotiated with its publishers to let them set the price of individual books and in turn allow Apple to retain a 30% profit from the sale of each book on the iBookstore. While several of the publishers such as Hachette and HarperCollins, have settled with the US government over the complaint, Apple along with some major textbook publishers including Pearson and Macmillan, continue to fight for the validity of the agency price model.

Open vs Closed Formats

Apple continues to be openly criticized by some in the education community, for its closed, proprietary approach to designing and publishing textbooks. Textbooks created with iBooks Author may only be sold on the iBookstore using Apple's proprietary .ibooks format for electronic publishing, which incorporates digital rights managed (DRM) protection to prevent unauthorized copying. With the release of iBooks Author 2, Apple now allows users to export and freely share textbooks in both text and portable document formats (PDF), which has been perceived by many as a positive shift from Apple's previously limited approach to textbook distribution. However, to fully realize the multi-touch interactive and multimedia capabilities of an iBook textbook, the technical and creative affordances of Apple's proprietary .ibooks format and free iBooks Author 2 publishing software are required. Texbooks purchased in .ibooks format, must be viewed on an iPad or iPad Mini, which does also provide for the highest quality user experience for reading iBooks Author textbooks. To some in the education community, the use of design software available only for Apple computers and the reliance on iPad for viewing, represent a very closed development and distribution approach, which is problematic. Others support more open creation of educational resources and a wider choice of devices to read textbooks. The open education resources (OER) community initiated by MIT, aims to make learning resources such as textbooks, free to distribute and use. Educational startup Boundless Learning, based in Boston, is an example of how open-licensing and sharing of educational resources can be curated and published as an open alternative to paid electronic textbooks. Though the longevity of such open resources are also at risk of shifting to a more closed and monetized resources in the future, as has occurred recently with textbooks from Flat World Learning.

Adoption and Usage

The increase in Internet availability coupled with advancements in tablet technology has led to iPads trickling into classrooms across the world. School districts are taking note and technology has become an essential component of the British Columbia Education Plan. iPads still represent the largest piece within the tablet market place and in keeping with their tradition, Apple has focused a large part of their efforts on the educational marketplace. Although Apple does keep many of their statistics private, mandatory quarterly reports have provided an approximation of iBooks downloads and usage. The brief timeline provided below outlines the growth in popularity that iBooks has undergone since its inception three years ago.

  1. Jan 27th/2010, Apple reveals iBooks as an application that forms a part of the operating software for the iPad Apple announces iBooks application as a part of their operating system for the iPad.
  2. Jan 19th/2012, Apple introduces iBooks Author along with iBooks 2 and iTunesU.
  3. Today, over 1.5 million books are now available on the iBooks store, and customers have downloaded over 400 million books since the store’s launch in 2010. [9]


  1. (PC-Magazine, 2012)
  2. (Jonassen, 1999, p. 222)
  3. (O’Brien and Voss, 2011)
  4. (Coiro, 2012)
  5. (Yonck, 2010, p16)
  6. (Blake, 2012)
  7. (Turkle, 2004)
  8. (
  9. (Macobserver, 2012)