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iBooks 3.0 Wasn’t Nearly the Update I Expected

So Apple unveiled iBooks 3.0 yesterday and it is difficult to describe my disappointment.

I was expecting this update to be part of Apple’s big education announcement and include complete support for Epub3.  Or at the very least I was expecting more features to be supported, but it doesn’t look like that happened.

I’ve been playing with the new iBooks app yesterday and this morning and so far as I can tell it did not add any new support for Epub 3. Even though iBooks Author is supposed to have better support for creating math equations, the iBooks app clearly doesn’t have similar support for displaying the equations. MathML clearly is not supported; I tried the requisite Epub3 sample and I still cannot see the equations.

Update: I’ve gotten a report that MathML is supported. Baldur checked one of the Epub3 demo files on his iPad 3 and the equations did show up. I still cannot see them on my iPad 2.

I’m also not seeing any change in how well iBooks supports things like Javscript, testing widgets, or other interactive features found in the Epub3 spec.

But one thing I have noticed is that the app seems a lot slower on my iPad 2. For the larger ebooks I have seen a noticeable slowdown in responsiveness, an increase time to open an ebook, and even a lag in the time it takes to turn the page.

But at least this app does have access to new dictionaries for German, Spanish, French, Japanese and Simplified Chinese (iOS6 required). And the app can now receive free updates to purchased ebooks – including new chapters, corrections, and other improvements. There are also new sharing options (the usual Facebook, Twitter, email, Messages).

IMO none of the new features outweigh the poorer performance. Nor does the new scrolling mode, though I am amused to see that feature be added.

Scrolling pages is a viewing mode which PDF apps have had for a while now.  The reason it’s still around after all these years is that it is useful for certain types of reading, and that’s why Apple added it to iBooks. But it’s not as pretty as the faux page turn which Apple integrated into iBooks, so when Apple added scrolling mode they decided, for the first time in a long while, to let function (features) win out over form (prettiness). I find that amusing.

In all honesty this update is one step forward, 2 steps back. I wish I could downgrade.

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Baldur Bjarnason October 24, 2012 um 9:44 am

They seem to have focused more on adding features for iBooks Author/multi-touch ebooks than for EPUB3.

For example, as far as I can tell, MathML does actually work, as long as the book is an iBooks Author book.

They’ve added partial support for the EPUB3 FXL spec as well. Missing big chunks of functionality but enough support for people to stop using the old proprietary iBooks FXL format.

Nate Hoffelder October 24, 2012 um 9:46 am

I did read about the new support for EPub3 FXL, but I’ve also been told that it was already supported in the previous version of iBooks.

Baldur Bjarnason October 24, 2012 um 9:55 am

That isn’t true. You could make a hybrid EPUB that featured both the proprietary bits iBooks required and the non-proprietary EPUB3 FXL bits. This is the first version that actually supports FXL rendition metadata as specified by the IDPF.

It cleanly supports decent chunks of the FXL spec without any proprietary cruft and it supports a few features that the old proprietary format didn’t.

Not all of the features of the FXL spec, mind you, but more features than iBooks used to.

Nate Hoffelder October 24, 2012 um 9:57 am

Thanks for the clarification.

Now if only the app weren’t so slow.

Liz October 24, 2012 um 9:59 am

Any idea why Apple hasn’t brought iBooks to the Mac yet? And whether they ever will?

Nate Hoffelder October 24, 2012 um 10:02 am

So far as I can tell Apple thinks you should create on a Mac and consume on an iPad. I don’t ever expect to see iBooks on OSX.

Tim Gray October 24, 2012 um 12:30 pm

Also, that no PC users should come anywhere near their content system.

Baldur Bjarnason October 24, 2012 um 11:09 am

Actually, I just tried the "A First Course in Linear Algebra" sample file from the epub-samples collection and MathML seems to work there. Incredibly slowly, though, at first, as it renders and calculates the book’s length. This is on an iPad 3 with iOS6.

Looks like iBooks is intent on maintaining its reputation as an inconsistent buggy mess.

Nate Hoffelder October 24, 2012 um 11:20 am

I’ll delete my copy of that ebook and try again. (Maybe mine had bugs.)

Edit: Nope. I’m still seeing the same very slow performance as before, and still no equations.

Steve Dunham November 2, 2012 um 2:12 pm

Are you running iOS6? I believe iBooks is built on top of the WebKit that ships with the OS. It’s likely that the version shipping in iOS5 doesn’t support MathML.

That said, it appears that ".ibooks" files is doing some magic to get better MathML rendering than you get with a straight .epub file. I haven’t yet figured out how to trigger it in my own .epub files. It seems to affect placement of limits on integrals, stretching of accent marks.

Nate Hoffelder November 2, 2012 um 2:24 pm

I’m running iOS 6.0, yes.

Paul Salvette October 24, 2012 um 12:24 pm

"so far as I can tell it did not add any new support for Epub 3". Well that certainly blows. Another whiff for Apple. Thanks for the heads up, Nate (and Baldur). To be honest I’ve been dreading updating anything on my iPad since the dreaded Maps app came out. You try getting to a meeting on time in Bangkok when there’s no English road names on the map overlay.

Jon October 24, 2012 um 8:30 pm

Have you tried shutting down your iPad or resetting it to factory settings?

Nate Hoffelder October 25, 2012 um 12:14 am

Just tried rebooting the iPad. I still see the same laggy behavior.

I would hope your other suggestion is not serious; if it were then you would be saying that the iOS platform was broken.

Tim Gray October 25, 2012 um 7:43 am

Feels to me like a missed opportunity re EPUB3; but I guess not many users will know or care.

The event the other day was very much, "We make [insert superlatives] hardware, and -other people- make great software and content for it."

Justin Morris October 25, 2012 um 11:27 am

I cannot open DRM free ePubs from O’Reilly anymore with iBooks 3. See here:

Peter Spenser October 26, 2012 um 6:02 pm

“I wish I could downgrade.”

You can if you have not empitied your Trash yet. If I remember correctly, the old version of iBooks is there, waiting to be reinstalled if you want.

I upgraded to iBooks 3, but only after I had saved a copy of version 2 first. I also did not like some of 3, so I reinstalled 2 until some better, later version appears.

I’m happy enough with version 2 for now. As Liz Castro has shown with examples on her blog, version 2 on an iPad 2 (which is what I have) already supports some quite useful features of both Javascript and EPUB3.

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