Feeds

Apple vs Amazon in ereader format smackdown

iBooks enlists kiddies on the EPUB3 front

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Who's your mega corporate daddy?

Just recently, Apple announced iBooks 2, and with it a new category of pedagogical ebooks that make full use of EPUB 3's new video and interactive capabilities. These textbooks are currently only available in the USA, so the rest of us can only watch from a distance and make impressed "ooh" noises. Top of the innovations, above the interactive review questions, multi touch gestures, movie segments and 3D flythroughs of cells, is simply the preservation of page numbers. Lecturers will welcome the ability to say "turn to page 348" instead of "search for Trilobite and count 36 paragraphs down".

But the real game-changer is that Apple simultaneously released the Mac-only iBooks Author, a free-to-use WYSIWYG tool that, to paraphrase the marketing froth, allows even bewildered numpties to create scintillating works of interactive genius.

But there are Jobsian caveats to iBooks Author that make it less than free. Its output is almost EPUB 3 but has some subtle proprietary differences (gotta love those). There's also a 2GB filesize limit, which may seem like plenty for an ebook, but keep in mind that we're talking about next-gen titles with full interactivity, video, sound and graphics (and probably some text too). A multimedia app, in other words. Suddenly 2GB seems ludicrously small, and will limit the authoring tool's appeal.

The biggest limitation by far, though, is that the geolocated detective mystery you wrote using iBooks Author can only be sold on Apple's platform (where Apple nets 30 per cent of all revenue). This creates a legal swampland where it isn't entirely clear how much of your own creation Apple purportedly controls.

iBooks Author is far less about stirring up big publishers (they'll stick with industry-standard Adobe InDesign) as it is about unleashing the previously frustrated hordes of indies and cowboy go-it-aloners - and this alone has raised Apple's game in the face of stiff competition from Amazon.

Deciding which format to back, then, could be based on which corporate megalith is more likely to "do an Adobe" and kill their platform without much warning, as Adobe did with mobile Flash last year.

Traditionally with format wars, one side eventually caves in and the other format "wins". But that's unlikely to happen here. Remember this is Apple and Amazon, neither of which is exactly known for compromising or backing down: and there's way too much at stake - control of the gateway to the world's knowledge.

Another option is to look at your paper-based book collection and ask whether you want to "own" ebooks in much the same way, or feel each time you buy (sorry, license) a new ebook and open it up, you're doing so at the whimsical behest of a corporate god who may revoke the title from under your nose at any time. Who will you trust more to house your lifetime's collection of books, Apple or Amazon?

Books, music and more

From my perspective, both as a reader and a publisher of ebooks and crowdsourced travel guides, EPUB 3 is a clear winner as it's an open format - though this isn't a clear endorsement of iBooks. Titles bought via iBookstore are restricted to devices authorized for the same iTunes account. So "choosing iBooks" is not the same as "choosing EPUB 3."

Whichever format you back, it's tempting to conclude "it's a great time to be a reader" with Apple and Amazon pushing clouds stuffed with books linked to devices that make the search and purchase process smooth. You might even say it's a great time to possess a DRM-stripping tool so you can continue to own your own books and read them wherever you like. The arrival of these supercharged new formats, though, means books have changed. Whether that change is for the better is unclear. ®

Matt Stephens is an IT consultant in Central London. He co-authored Design Driven Testing: Test Smarter, Not Harder and founded independent book publisher Fingerpress.

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
PEAK APPLE: iOS 8 is least popular Cupertino mobile OS in all of HUMAN HISTORY
'Nerd release' finally staggers past 50 per cent adoption
Microsoft to bake Skype into IE, without plugins
Redmond thinks the Object Real-Time Communications API for WebRTC is ready to roll
Microsoft promises Windows 10 will mean two-factor auth for all
Sneak peek at security features Redmond's baking into new OS
Mozilla: Spidermonkey ATE Apple's JavaScriptCore, THRASHED Google V8
Moz man claims the win on rivals' own benchmarks
Yes, Virginia, there IS a W3C HTML5 standard – as of now, that is
You asked for it! You begged for it! Then you gave up! And now it's HERE!
FTDI yanks chip-bricking driver from Windows Update, vows to fight on
Next driver to battle fake chips with 'non-invasive' methods
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
Ubuntu 14.10 tries pulling a Steve Ballmer on cloudy offerings
Oi, Windows, centOS and openSUSE – behave, we're all friends here
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
The Heartbleed Bug: how to protect your business with Symantec
What happens when the next Heartbleed (or worse) comes along, and what can you do to weather another chapter in an all-too-familiar string of debilitating attacks?