Realising the potential of an iBook

Actually I’m not allowed to call it an iBook. Apart from referring to an old Apple laptop, the term is reserved for the app in which digital books for the iPad appear. So books that I create for the iPad are created in software called iBooks Author, are sold on the iBookstore and are read on the iBook app, but rather than referring to the books as an “iBook” which would be a succinct way of referring to it, I have to call it “a digital book made for iPad” (oh and next month when the iBooks app will be available on the Mac, then I will have to call it “a digital book made for iPad or for a Mac running the latest version of OSX”). Hmm… Well if Apple reads this blog and complains, I’ll do a search and replace. In the meantime, I’m calling it an iBook.

Last week I was typesetting a new book called Awesome Creation by Rabbi Yosef Bitton as an iBook. There are literally hundreds of footnotes in this book which made for a tremendous amount of work, but I thought if I’m already spending a couple of days doing the popup footnotes, let’s make it more interesting…

The book has many references to Tanach and I thought that perhaps it would be useful, rather than just say Job 1:3, to actually hyperlink it to the text online, after all the iPad is a connected device. I found that Chabad have an online chumash which nicely displays both the Hebrew (with nikud) and English translation and I’m able to hyperlink directly to the pasuk.

For a book of this nature, being able to directly link to the source material is great. Chabad also provide Rashi so when the book reference Rashi on Genesis, I was able to directly link to that too. I’m hoping they expand their online library to include other commentators.

Here is a screenshot from within the book.

Footnotes in e-books created with iBooks Author?

Footnotes have long been a problem in print books. Put them at the bottom of the page and the page becomes ugly (particularly with long footnotes), put them at the end of a book and they are rarely referenced (endnotes). The common practice is that if you want a person to actually look at the footnote then it should be put at the bottom of the page.

So what do we do in digital books. iBooks Author has a great support for glossary entries, but footnotes are not the same as a glossary. Whereas a glossary term is usually a definition of the word, a footnote doesn’t necessarily refer to a word and is, as implied by its name, a note. In print, a footnote is reference either with numbers or with an asterisk. However, how do we solve this problem in e-books and specifically e-books created for the iPad in iBooks?

One solution is the same as print: put a small number and hyperlink this to the note somewhere else in the book. However, apart from the fact that it’s somewhat clumsy, it is also rather hard to tap precisely on that tiny weeny superscripted number. Also the process of jumping around the book is fine if you want to jump to a section or chapter to read, but to jump around the book to read a note that says “Genesis 1:1” is a little unwieldy.

Unfortunately (at the time of writing) iBooks Author doesn’t provide a solution for this so until Apple solves the problem, what is the solution?

Since many of the books by Renana have footnotes we had to come up with something that works. The idea actually came up from Ira Weissman who suggested an image of a thought bubble instead of the asterisk. Tapping on the bubble would bring up the footnote text. This solved the problem of people’s fingers being too large for a small footnote reference whilst simultaneously keeping the reader in the same position.

As you can see in the image on the left from Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s book, Sacred Monsters, tapping on the cloud brings up a pop-up footnotes. Whilst this does take a tremendous amount of time to create in iBooks Author, the resulting digital book in iBooks is much more elegant.

The footnotes, like the text in the book, can contain richly formatted text, hyperlinks and even images.
 

Where’s the BACK button?

So one of the nice features of an e-book produced for iPad (like the books on www.renanabooks.com) is the ability to tap on links in the books and navigate to other parts of the book. However, after tapping away, you suddenly realise that you want to get back to where you were before!

The book, The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy available on the iBookstore.
is a book which makes much use of cross-referencing to different sections and diagrams within the book. The hyperlinking seems a great way of navigating this book (please note that this halacha book is sexually explicity), so how do you go back to the bit that you were reading? Fortunately the iBooks app does have a very slick method of handling it, but unfortunately it’s kind of hidden. I say “kind of” because once you know where it is you see the logic…

All you do is tap on anywhere on the page of your ebook to make the menu bar appear and then tap on the icon of a bookmark on the top right of the page. No, the answer isn’t to create a bookmark before you jump – that would be very annoying… After tapping the bookmark icon, a drop down menu appears where you can choose your recently viewed page and in fact navigate forward and backwards.

Putting this under bookmarks does make sense, but I would have liked to have seen perhaps some gesture or hint. Oh well I guess you can’t have everything.