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iPad and ebooks: Lots of unanswered questions

An iPad simulator isn't the same as the real device, and that's going to slow things down

Right now people are conflating the whiz-bang demos from Wired, Penguin and the magazine world with the iBooks offering. In fact, no one can say anything right now other than that iBooks uses the EPUB format. Will books from iBooks be able to include custom fonts? Video? Audio? All unknowns.

iPad CoverageIf it’s true that books in the iBookstore can include video, for example, what kind of video? Adobe promotes Flash video for use in EPUB, but of course there’s no Flash in the whole iPad/iPhone ecosystem. So yes, EPUB is a standard, but the kind of content that would really showcase a tablet versus an E-Ink reader — like video — seems to have already fragmented before the device even hits the marketplace. That kind of fragmentation is going to deter publishers from doing much more than what they’re already doing: making text-only EPUB for wide distribution, and doing the occasional book-as-app experiment (at a premium price point).

We’re already seeing the tension between Apple’s own interests and their control of the App Store with the announcement that many apps (notably the Kindle) won’t be available in the App Store on release of the iPad because they haven’t been able to test on a real device. And then … how long until they release? That’s totally up to the Apple approval process.

In our development of an HTML5-based web app, we’ve found that hardware profiles are key to making web apps really compete. Ibis Reader isn’t nearly as compelling on an older iPod Touch as it is on an iPhone 3GS. By providing what is apparently a really sexy tablet that’s capable of running video and games fluidly, Apple also widens the playing field to let web apps shine too. As the hardware increases in capacity, web apps become increasingly attractive as an end product, not just as a way for web developers to play in the app space.

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  • Steven D. Krause

    Well, I can tell you based on personal experience that Kindle for the iPad works just fine, though I did have an interesting tech support issue. Basically, I had some problem opening up a book I had and the trouble-shooting instructions that Amazon had on its web site had me pushing an edit button that didn’t exist. Still, after this little issue, it worked out well.

  • Liza Daly

    I’m glad that the Kindle app made it in, though the Barnes & Noble one is still pending.

  • bowerbird

    i’m glad to see that liza acknowledges
    the difficulties of inconsistent renderings
    by the various .epub viewer-programs,
    because when i made that same point
    on her blog, she erased my comment…

    i’m hoping the o’reilly blogs are more
    inclined to tolerate a dissenting opinion.

    -bowerbird

    > http://blog.threepress.org/2010/04/05/ibooks-and-epub/
    > Overall I’d say iBooks is pretty good
    > for a first-generation ePub reader.

    i love it how you .epub supporters insist
    that .epub is a format with long standing
    based on standards that are well-developed
    when it helps your cause to make those claims,
    but then turn right around and offer _excuses_
    for the sorry state of .epub viewer-applications
    by asserting they’re “first-generation” products.

    it is even more ridiculous when the companies
    you defend are behemoths like apple and adobe,
    with tons of money and armies of programmers
    at their beck and call. if these companies cannot
    get it right, is there any hope that _anyone_ can?

    consequently, users are being forced to re-live the
    “browser incompatibilities” of the last two decades,
    coupled with the d.r.m. complications that plagued
    the e-book scene as it first played out a decade ago.
    do you have any idea how long it’ll take to sort it out?

    was it too much to hope that you would be able to
    avoid mistakes that the past revealed as obvious?

    unfortunately, you’ve already committed too many
    of your own resources to actually confront the fact
    that you picked the wrong horse in this little race,
    so you’re just gonna have to watch as the mammals
    run circles around your bloated and inefficient apps.

    -bowerbird