ePub support on the iPad

My post about publishing on the iPad left out a HUGE fourth avenue for small publishers, which is e-books and the ePub format.

ePub is a digital book format based on XHTML. It includes XML, text, and images similar to an HTML page. When you export in Indesign to a digital book, it is exporting into the ePub format. Books in the ePub format allow the user to search, look-up the definition of words, change the size of text, and leave digital bookmarks.

With the iPad, Apple is also releasing iBooks, an e-reader app and bookstore. Amazon has also created a Kindle app for reading their e-books. Books created with the ePub standard can be sold through either establishment. In addition, iBooks will read any ePub-based book on the iPad, including books copied to the device or delivered via e-mail.

ePub and e-books are another way small publishers can get their content into the hands of readers, and it may be the easiest. I’ll post more about how to convert your existing InDesign files into ePub files in future posts.

What the iPad means to Publishing

Much has been written about big book and magazine publishers flocking to the iPad, but what about the little guys? When we talk about publishing on the iPad, we can mean one of three things: delivering print content as documents, either as PDFs or something like a Word or Powerpoint file, delivering content to the iPad via the web, or delivering content via full-fledged iPad apps.

The iPad and Print Content
Like the iPhone, the iPad can read Word documents, PDFs, text files, Excel, and Powerpoint files. The iPad can also read documents created in the iWorks counter-parts to Microsoft Office: Pages, Keynote, & Numbers. The most common way to get these files on and off your device is via e-mail, but you can also use Apple services like iWorks.com and MobileMe, or web services like Google Docs. Beginning with the iPad, you can also use iTunes 9.1 to transfer files to and from your computer. Right now the process is somewhat cumbersome, as Apple does not give you free reign to the file system. For example, the iPad disk does not show up in the Finder like a USB drive, allowing you to copy files on and off at will.

Many have tabbed the iPad as a content consumption device, but with the native iWorks apps, the iPad can also be used as content creation device as well, although it is limited. The iPad does not support the addition of fonts, so you’re stuck with 44 that are included. The iPad also doesn’t support any kind of printing, which means you’ll have to save your Pages, Keynote, or Numbers document as a PDF, e-mail it to a Mac or PC, and then print it – a real pain.

While I don’t see system-wide font support in the near future, I think printing will be solved soon. Apple could work with printer manufacturers to create iPad apps for printing. For example, an “HP Print” app could, in theory, allow the iPad to print to any HP printers on the current wi-fi network or via bluetooth pairing. Apple could create a printing app themselves with many of the standard printer drivers included. With this week’s announcement of a 4.0 update to the underlying iPhone operating system, Apple could add OS-level printing support to shared printers on Mac and PCs, or some other solution.

Websites customized for the iPad
Most printed content is already re-purposed into a website. The iPad has a browser and can view normal websites, though it lacks Flash. Websites can be bookmarked to the home screen, where they grab the site’s favicon and resemble a normal app. Web apps can be created by making a site that behaves like an iPad app, but is written in HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Your website can sense the iPad version of Safari, and switch to the iPad version of your site. John Gruber explains an Apple project called PastryKit here, that helps with this process.

Content delivered as an iPad app
This has been the most talked about publishing consequence of the iPad. Creating an iPad app amounts to repurposing your printed content or website into a self-contained program that can be downloaded to the iPad, exactly like an iPhone app. Your app can be completely free; it can be free but charge for “issues or episodes;” or you can create a separate app for each issue or episode. With an iPad app, you can make full use of the iPad hardware and user interface. Like CD-ROMs of the past, you must create a unique interface, but you can also take advantage of the fact that this is a mobile platform. If your content is a food guide, it could sort nearby reviews to the top based on the user’s current location. If your content is a text book, it can include 3D models that spin as the iPad is tilted. This is truly an opportunity to have fun with how your readers will interface with your content.

Creating a full-fledged iPad app, however, requires skills you probably do not already have in-house. You’ll need a Mac for development and a programmer with knowledge of the iPhone software development kit and the Objective-C programming language. You can get started here, or hire one of the many software developers already helping companies convert their content into iPhone and iPad apps.

The iPad will be a boon to communication and create new opportunities in publishing, but what it means to your pre-existing content is up to you.

iTunes Web Previews have SEO Mojo

In November 2009, Apple added webpage versions of every listing in the iTunes catalog, what Apple calls iTunes Web Previews. Before, links to items in the iTunes called a redirect that launched iTunes. Now, the pages can be viewed in your browser without a trip to iTunes. This excellent article talks about the effect of these web previews, namely, that iTunes pages now rank near the top of Google Searches for artists, songs, and iPhone apps.

iPad details emerge

Apple took 50,000 pre-orders for their new iPad tablet computer today. They also revealed several new details. First, the mute/vibrate button borrowed from the iPhone will serve a different purpose on the iPad: it will lock the screen orientation. As one of the main uses of the iPad will be reading, users laying on their sides need not be inconvenienced by the built-in accelerometer switching the orientation from portrait to landscape as they shuffle around.

The iPad will also feature several accessibility options, borrowed from Mac OS X. Users can zoom into any area of the screen up to 5X, reverse the display for greater readability, or have books and other text read to them aloud. Apple also revealed screenshots of a la carte 3G ordering, along with alerts that warn the user when they are approaching the lower plan’s 250MB cap.

Apple’s new product is shaping up to be more more than a “big iPod touch.” It’s eReader app, iBooks, looks like a winner. Plus, with full-sized apps like Keynote, Page, and Numbers (think Powerpoint, Indesign, and Excel) already available, the iPad could truly replace the laptop for many more users than people expect.

Sleep Cycle

To use Sleep Cycle, you place an iPhone on your mattress while you sleep. This $0.99 app is able to monitor your body movements with the iPhone’s built-in accelerometer, thereby tracking your sleep cycles. It charts how much deep sleep you are receiving, when you are going in and out of R.E.M. sleep, and a true average of the sleep you’re achieving. By monitoring your cycle, this clever app can attempt to wake you up at your most natural wake state within 30 minutes of your alarm time.

When I first heard of Sleep Cycle, I got excited and immediately downloaded it before realizing that the app probably wouldn’t work in the bed I share with my wife. Wouldn’t it pick up her movements, rendering all collected data unusable? The app sat on my iPhone, never used, until I finally decided to try it this week. Sleep Cycle calibrates itself the first two nights, adjusting for the variables in your bed, mattress, and pillow. So far the results are good. After placing the iPhone on my side of the bed, the app seems to accurately track my specific cycles. If you have a king-sized bed or a tempurpedic mattress, Sleep Cycle’s results should be nearly perfect. Worried about overnight cellphone signals close to your head? Simply put your iPhone in airplane mode. Sleep Cycle’s biggest inconvenience is that because the app runs all night, you’ll have to plug your iPhone into the wall. If you can convince your wife to put up with a power cord coming out of your pillow, you can start enjoying a good night’s sleep.

New Apple Tablet could be named iBook

I want to go on record about the name of Apple’s new tablet computer, which will reportedly be introduced on January 26. Rumors have said it will be called the iSlate, or iGuide, but I still think the name that makes the most sense is iBook.

Consider: Apple owns the rights to the name and has not used it almost 4 years. Tell me a name that fits into Apple’s offerings and makes more sense for a small, book-sized tablet that will act, in part, as an eBook reader? I don’t think the fact that Apple’s former low-end notebook line shared the name will stop Steve Jobs from going back to the well.

The only reason I think Apple may not choose to call their new tablet the iBook is if they want to further highlight the fact that this is not just an eBook reader, but a multi-function computing device. The thing is, everyone knows that, just like they know a MacBook is a laptop. I guess we’ll see in two weeks.

I Dig It

idigitpromo-300x256My big time-waster right now is an iPhone game called “I Dig It.” You play Farmer Lewis who’s down on his luck and has gotten a few months late on his mortgage. He has, however, constructed a jet-powered digging machine which you must pilot. If you can dig beneath his farm and discover $100,000 in 4 hours, you’ll save the day. And when I say 4 hours, I mean you have 4 actual hours of game-time, though you can start, pause, and stop as often as you like. Do yourself a favor and spend the $1 on the full version. You’ll get more than your money’s worth, or less if you figure in all the lost production.

How to Unbrick EDGE iPhone 3.0 beta 5

Over the weekend, I attempted to install iPhone 3.0 beta 5 on my first generation EDGE iPhone. The install didn’t work, and my iPhone was stuck with the Pink Screen of Death (PSOD). The phone refused to update to the new OS, either through iTunes or Xcode. Numerous reinstalls, power/home button dances and prayers did not fix the problem and of course there was no way to go back to OS 2.2.1. Finally, I found the solution:

Download iPhone 3.0 beta 4. You will have to Google for the location, but should be able to find it. This beta expired May 29th, but that’s okay.

Restore your iPhone to beta 4 through iTunes 8.2. Option+click on “Restore” to selected the beta 4 ipsw file. Once it’s done, iTunes will complain that your software has expired. Ignore this and option+click on “Check for Updates.” Now select the beta 5 ipsw and it will install. I think the key to this solution is that iTunes is not doing a restore of beta 5, it is simply updating your phone from one beta version to the other. Good luck!

Why are people excited about the Zune HD?

This week Microsoft announced the Zune HD, a new sexy-looking Zune media player that will feature a touch interface, HD radio, and HD video (though not really). The features won’t make you forget about your iPod Touch, but a lot of people are excited about the refresh. Most probably thought Microsoft had given up on the whole Zune idea. Now that it looks like Microsoft has big plans for the Zune, why do people care?

The most obvious reason: because it’s not an iPod. It’s not that people don’t love their iPods, it’s just that we have an affinity for the underdog. It’s the same reason we love Macs and the New Orleans Saints. Some people just prefer things that aren’t mainstream, either because they like to be trend-setters, or simply because they hate the masses. The iPod has become the de facto standard.

Second, the Zune HD appeals to the Microsoft fanboys. Yes, such a sub-group exists. When Macs were getting their butts kicked, the Apple-lovers could unite in a single cause of increasing mac-awareness. In the last few years, it’s been Microsoft on the defensive with Vista, the Zune, Microsoft’s various failed web initiatives, and reaction to the “Get a Mac” campaign. This has given Microsoft supporters a reason to fight, and with PR nightmares like Vista, an inspiration to get the word out. The Zune HD is a good looking piece of hardware, and Microsoft doesn’t usually do “good-looking.” There’s reason to drool, at least until we get our hands on it.

Lastly, the Zune HD announcement offers the glimmer of a coherent device strategy from Microsoft, one that could bring some iTunes-simplicity to the Microsoft world. With a combined Zune/Xbox/Windows marketplace and media experience, Microsoft could make up a lot of ground fast. Throw in device syncing and things get interesting.

The Zune won’t catch the iPod/iPhone anytime soon, but a combined Microsoft ecosystem that builds on the successful Xbox platform and leverages a little bit of the natural reinvestment that will accompany Windows 7 could eventually give Apple some competition. That is a big “could.” The reality is that Microsoft “could” just as easily lose interest in the Zune again.

Repair Permissions!

“Repair your permissions.” It’s the Mac OS X cure-all for fixing almost anything, taking the mantle from the days of rebuilding your desktop. Along with restarting your computer, fixing permissions seems to eliminate 90% of the little problems that can occur everyday on an OS X computer. Recently, we began to have problems with several computers while printing to our Xerox Splash RIPs. We quickly realized that reinstalling the print drivers fixed the issue. Then one day while reinstalling print drivers for the second time on the same machine I started thinking: the OS obviously can’t see some of the files necessary to print. Why is that? The answer hit me like a ton of bricks: incorrect file permissions. If a file’s permissions are wrong, other parts of the OS can not access that file. I repaired the permissions and the printing program went away. Yes, this “quick-fix” really is the first step in troubleshooting any OS X issue.