Software: ePublish and be damned

Keith White
27 November, 2010
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If you want to create your own e-book to read on your iPod touch/iPhone/iPad you have a choice – PDF or the open-source format ePub. So what’s the difference?

On iOS devices PDF files display exactly as they were created but you can’t alter the font size and the page doesn’t stretch to fill the screen in landscape mode. This makes the page very hard to read on an iPhone/iPod touch unless you create the original with a large font. You can enlarge the display with a gesture but that overfills the screen and requires horizontal as well as vertical scrolling.

ePub files give you far better display options, especially on the smaller devices. In both formats you need to insert your graphics directly into the text, otherwise they won’t appear. In Pages use a single word processing document rather than text and graphic frames.

Creating ePub files was quite tricky until the iWork 9.0.4 update at the end of August added the ability for Pages to export to the ePub format. At the same time Apple released a sample Pages document with most of the formatting styles you are ever likely to need.

Open this document, remove the existing text, insert or create your own and then apply the styles from the original document.

These styles include a range of body text, headings, captions, quotes and a table of contents (TOC). If you’re new to the whole Styles thing perhaps consult Pages’ help files first.

Next, connect your iOS device and download the free iBooks app from the iTunes Store. Install iBooks and then drag your first ePub file from your Mac across to it. Open iBooks and your new creation will be sitting proudly on a shelf on a neat wooden bookcase.

Drag PDF files similarly from desktop to device. Toggle the Books/PDF button to view the PDF bookcase. Simply touch a book or PDF to open it and swipe sideways to scroll through your document.

Both formats allow you to search. Touch anywhere and a menu appears at the top of the screen. A magnifying glass icon brings up a QWERTY keyboard for you to enter your search items. Hit Search and your results appear in a scrollable list with page references. Touch any of these and you zip to the page with your search term highlighted.

From the same menu strip you can return to your iBooks Library, adjust brightness or bookmark individual pages. You can also choose to display pages of your book as small icons complete with any bookmarks you have applied.

Unique to book files is an additional menu item which gives you a choice of nine font sizes and a number of alternative fonts. From a Pages document created in Palatino I was offered Baskerville, Cochin, Georgia, Times New Roman and Verdana. You can also toggle between a sepia and a lighter background.

The ePub format also gives you an active table of contents so you can quickly link to a particular chapter. Using an open pinch gesture selects a block of text and brings up a submenu and a small magnifying window so you can scroll through the selection and select a particular word.

You then have the options to copy, highlight, add a note, search for similar words and phrases or refer to an installed dictionary. If you’re online you can also go to Google or Wikipedia. Both Highlight and Note are removable and offer a choice of five different colours.

If you’d rather read someone else’s e-books, there are a number of sites offering free e-books in the ePub format – mostly classics. When I lugged volumes of the German philosopher Nietzsche around university in the 1960s I never thought I’d be reading his entire opus on a tiny handheld device nearly 50 years later.

This article originally appeared in the November issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

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