Friday, 14 January 2011

A Few Thoughts about E-Books and iTunes U

Late in 2010, several iTunes U universities including Oxford and the Open University began to publish proper e-books on their iTunes U site. Even though pdfs have already been been able to be distributed through iTunes U, a pdf is not quite an e-book, is it? This particular question is for another blog post.

The advantage of e-books on iTunes U is that they can be made to work with the iBooks app, which can render media-rich e-books. Not only can you read the book and have nice colour pictures (unlike with many e-readers), you can have a nice colour movie clip embedded, or sounds, or a chart of data which you can re-sort and re-jig to get exactly the output you need.

iBooks on the iPad - the little photo could have been a little movie. Photo by shiftstigma on Flickr

The difficulty here is that this kind of e-book is not very open. My understanding is that these e-books are multimedia-rich epub documents. You can view an epub on a variety of devices and on any computer operating system, but iBooks are Apple-only. They require the iBooks app. I have used iBooks on my iPad and it's an extremely beautiful thing. I had trouble using iBooks on my iPod Touch. Presumably I can go to the new App Store and try iBooks on a Mac computer; I haven't done this yet. Have you tried this? If so, please leave a comment --- any good? How about iBooks on an iPhone?

Up until now, Apple seems to have made sure that files coming down through iTunes U can be viewed/listened to on Windows computers at no extra cost. iBooks e-books seems to be a diversion from this strategy -- so far. iBooks for Windows -- will it come to pass?

Terese Bird
Learning Technologist, SCORE Fellow, and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo