Here we are, four reviews deep into the Textbook Guru eBook review series. If you’d like to take a look back at my other reviews, you can find them here: Kno, Inkling, CourseSmart, Chegg. For our fifth review, I’ve chosen to take a look at the iBooks platform by Apple. I’ve chosen this platform for a couple reasons. First, being Apples native eBook reader, it is likely that iBooks is installed on more mobile devices that any other platform we’ve reviewed. Whether or not users are taking advantage of this pre-installed app is hard to say. Second, the iBook platform is the first in our series to allow self publishing. So whether you’re a self publishing author, or just need to have your own documents readily available, iBooks allows you to upload your own PDFs into the app.
Self publishing is a lot of fun, but lets get down to why we are really here, to review textbooks. If you’ve ever downloaded an app to your iPhone or iPad, or purchased an album on iTunes, then you are already familiar with the purchasing process in the iBooks platform.
Finding and purchasing any book only takes a few clicks (or finger taps). When searching for a textbook, you will usually have an ISBN or the full title an author, which makes searching a breeze. However, if you’re looking for more casual reading, the ‘featured’ and ‘browse’ tabs are a great way to see what kind of books (typically fiction) are popular on iBooks. But we’re after textbooks, so if you sort by category, you’ll find that all the textbooks iBooks has to offer in one place. Many of them you can ‘sample’ by downloading a free chapter to take a preview of the features.
Apple has been a big player in eBooks for a while, a market they grew quickly thanks to the iPad and iPhone apps that help you view all you iBooks on any device. However, recently they have started getting into the eTextbook market. Studying is probably one of the last things you’d think to use an iPad for but it is increasingly becoming a platform for consuming any and all media, so why should textbooks be separate? Apple touts a lot of exciting eTextbook features that are becoming popular such as 3D models, embedded video and interactive quizzes. Lets dive in and take a look at the iBooks experience from start to finish.
The photo above is your ‘Library’ which is the central place to find all your downloaded books or documents. Foregoing a simple list, Apple has a visually simple and intuitive virtual bookshelf for your digital books. This is a small touch, and isn’t much different than Chegg or Kno which use thumbnails of your book covers as buttons, but having them organized on a bookshelf makes them feel more like real books and less like files to be opened.
Once you open a book, you have a simple and hide-able menu bar at the top of each page that contain all your tools. The first and most obvious tool is the ‘Library’ button which just takes you back to your virtual book shelf. The next is a menu to help you jump from page to page in the book without flipping. This menu lets you skip between chapters in the book and the next menu which looks like a note pad lets you jump between bookmarks and notes that you have set while reading. As simple as this kind of navigation is, I have to say Apple did well to put all these markers in one place as opposed to others that have made notes and bookmarks navigable through their own menus. Apple has also included a traditionally simple bookmark tool that is always accessible in the upper right of any page. Just tap the small greyed bookmark logo and it will be replaced with a bright red bookmark to save your place.
Next lets look at the more advanced features iBooks has to offer. For starters, iBooks is only the second platform I’ve reviewed to offer 3D modeling in some of its eBooks. It’s hard to see in a still image, but the molecule below is interactive directly in the page, unlike Kno which has to open an overlay window to make models interactive.
iBooks also has embedded video and image slide shows, like in the image below. Figure 1 is an image slideshow containing 4 images (indicated by the dots below the caption). Sliding your finger across the image flips it to the next image. In the next column, Figure 2 is a playable video, a very handy way for eTextbook publishers to emphasize or further explain a complicated theory.
One of my favorite features on iBooks is one I haven’t seen anywhere else, virtual study cards. Similar to the way iBooks displays your library as a bookshelf, it displays study cards as traditional 3″x5″ note cards. These have chapter specific glossery terms on them so you can quiz yourself. Simply define each term then flip the card to see if you got it right. Swiping puts the card at the bottom of the deck and moves on to the next one.
Each section and chapter has a review section to help you remember what you learned. This is nothing new for textbooks, but many iBooks textbooks have interactive quiz questions built into these section reviews. You get to chose an answer for each question and instantly see if your correct or not. The beginning of each section also has study tools to help you generally understand what will be covered in detail in the coming section.
For the features it offers, iBooks delivers them in Apples traditionally simple yet elegant way. As a general eReader, iBooks is a solid choice and integrates easily into the lives of any iOS device owner. As a study tool for eTextbook users, I think iBooks is a great choice because it is leading the move to digital with many of the most advanced features found in eTextbooks today, but wrapped up in Apple’s intuitive and simple design. The iBooks library of eTextbooks is growing as Apple expands into this market, and chances are many of your textbooks are already available. I think it’s important to note that if you are in a communication or writing field of study, iBooks is likely to have all your assigned novels, biographys, non-fiction etc. This means that iBooks could be your central place not only for textbooks, but other assigned readings (including PDFs your tech savvy professor uploads) and any books you find time to read just for fun.