Apple Product News: The Spin for Libraries

Recent announcements from Apple have library implications

July 3, 2012

In March, Apple announced the latest product in the evolution of what it calls the post-PC computing world, and called it simply “the new iPad.” While almost exactly the same shape, the new iPad is heavier because of a battery with a far larger capacity. The extra capacity was needed because of two key differences that distinguish it from previous versions: a Retina Display and LTE.

Retina Display is Apple’s name for a screen that is so dense that individual pixels aren’t visible—giving the screen the illusion of solid colors, crisp text, and incredible picture quality. It debuted on the iPhone 4, but the new iPad’s resolution is 2048 by 1536, higher than most computer monitors but at a much smaller size. With a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch, the screen appears very much like a printed page.

LTE is short for Long Term Evolution, the next generation of cellular connectivity beyond 3G. LTE is shockingly fast where it is available, often as fast or faster than standard Wi-Fi. (In tests with my iPad in two different LTE cities, I was showing download speeds of more than 20 Mbps.)

Apple Configurator

An announcement made the same day will likely help libraries deal with Apple devices. Using the Apple Configurator for OS X Lion, users can configure and deploy iOS devices in three ways:

  1. Create a standard installation for devices, including the version of iOS to install, the apps installed, and the data synced.
  2. Manage existing devices to be “cleaned” after each use by reinstalling to a default setting every time they are plugged in; perfect for libraries that wish to circulate iOS devices.
  3. Assign devices to specific users and manage that user’s interactions with the device, applicable to staff use of iOS devices.

For more information, see the Configurator documentation.

Apple and Textbooks

In January 2012, Apple announced its entry into the world of electronic textbooks.

The company is providing tools for making electronic textbooks with embedded rich media and selling them in the iBooks store for the iPad. It has also partnered with three of the largest producers of textbooks in the United States: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson.

Apple announced three different software products as well: iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U for iPad. IBooks 2 gives you access to the textbook store and has such features as highlighting and note taking, built-in definitions, lesson reviews, and study cards. The iTunes U app is a shortcut into the iTunes U portal for free curricular content from a number of colleges and universities across the world. But iBooks Author is perhaps the most interesting of the products, allowing users to create media-rich ebooks for the iBooks store or exportable to PDF or TXT files without the fancy media embeds. Unfortunately for everyone, Apple chose not to  support the emerging ePub3 standard for import and export.

This is an Apple-only playground for the time being, with no import facilities at all. You start from a template and build out an ebook using tools similar to Apple’s Keynote presentation software: It’s by far the best interface I’ve seen for creating complicated ebooks.

IBooks Author has also generated controversy because of its End-User Licensing Agreement. The EULA stipulates that any fee-based work must be distributed through Apple, subject to its approval and a separate written agreement.

The EULA locks authors into distribution via the iBooks store, which means that libraries and librarians are going to be cut out of purchasing them for collections in any real way. On the other hand, it means that if libraries themselves want to produce tools to help users and distribute them for free, they can easily and quickly do so with iBooks Author.

JASON GRIFFEY is associate professor and head of library information technology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. This article is excerpted from the April 2012 issue of Library Technology Reports.



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