Apple Education Announcement: A short series
The fourth and final post in this series is going to focus on some of the technical concerns I have about iBooks Author and how those technical issues effect iBooks and, possibly, the future of e-textbooks in general. Apple would have you believe that the company has revolutionized the e-textbook and inviting authors into their ecosystem will allow for major pushes forward in education and open educational resources (OER).
iBooks Author uses a file format based on the epub2 specification. Why Apple choose to use epub2 instead of epub3 (whose specs were public as early as Feb, 2011) is a mystery. Epub3 has many of the same interactive features that iBooks Author has but it also has one very important difference: epub3 supports HTML5. For publishers of math and science textbooks, this is extremely important. MathML (usable under HTML5) is a markup language that makes it easier for math and science content developers to publish on the web -- so complex math and science symbols can be natively rendered in a browser. Epub2 does not support HTML5 therefore, it does not support MathML. Apple is a step behind in the e-textbook market before even starting.
Apple only allows you to export to a text or pdf file (instead of the epub format). Ideally, when creating your content if you use none of the interactive widgets proprietary to Apple, you would be able to export to the epub format. But, Apple is focused only on funneling content to iBooks. It is to their advantage to keep the output in a proprietary format that only iBooks can read. From a business standpoint this is understandable: iBooks Author is free. From a user standpoint, this rigidity is another strike against Apple. E-textbooks and OERs are about flexibility.
The hope of e-textbooks and OERs is to give people the content in whatever format they are most comfortable with: The Kindle, the Nook, the iPad, a laptop, desktop or tablet. This is a leap away from how traditional publishing companies have operated. With it's proprietary format and exclusive licensing agreement, Apple has pushed this movement backwards.
How long will it be before people realize the shortcomings of iBooks Author? This is a tricky question because, regardless of the shortcomings, access to the secret garden may be too good to pass up. Major publishing companies have already made the leap, how long before others follow?
Remember, Vimeo may have better quality content but, everyone uses youtube.
Will you be taking the plunge into iBooks Author?