Skeuomorphic eBooks - do you miss them?

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Here we have a double spread of 'Memoirs of an Islet' in iBooks before iOS7.

Image for Skeuomorphic eBooks - do you miss them?

In pre iOS7 iBooks, the books theme could be turned off.

Image for Skeuomorphic eBooks - do you miss them?

In iBooks for iOS7 there is no book appearance.

Image for Skeuomorphic eBooks - do you miss them?

Spread in fixed-layout ePub for iOS7 iBooks with grey slither top and bottom.

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Now set to fill the screen of iPad.

Image for Skeuomorphic eBooks - do you miss them?

If we allow single pages then there may be a hint of the opposite page showing.

Image for Skeuomorphic eBooks - do you miss them?

Fixed-layout ePub in iBooks for MAC OSX - no hint of binding is shown in a double page spread.

With the latest version of iBooks for Apple's iOS7 comes the total disappearance of the 'look of the book'. No more pseudo leather look cover or page edges; no more shaded spine, nor even the wooden bookcase for your library.

Apple's decision to do this falls in to line with the re-design of iOS - making for a much simpler (minimalist - you might say) look and feel. Much of the shine and shadows on any icons and objects has gone.

When it comes to the iBooks app, there are some issues that need addressing and I am disappointed that publishers have lost some element of control. Strange things happen when you compare re-flowable with fixed layout though!


Re-flowable ePub

Prior to iOS7 the default view of an ePUB in iBooks was to show a simulation of a book with page edges and a spine in the landscape mode. You can see here how this looked.

To remove this 'book skeuomorph' the user could choose the Full Screen mode from the Themes section. As you see in the accompanying picture, this removes all book-like appearance. This setting is a user-preference and stays thus for reading of all re-flowable ePub ebooks in the user's library.

With iBooks for iOS7, there is no available option to choose the 'Book' theme. The default view is no book appearance and no spine (or binding) in the landscape view. I am sorry to say that there is not even a thin line to separate the 2 pages in a spread.

Fixed-Layout ePub

In this format, the user/reader has no control over the way the book displays. The default was to show the book skeuomorph, but publishers could turn this off and show the book without. 

The publisher can control the appearance of the book with this metadata setting in the .opf file:

<meta property="ibooks:binding">false</meta>

the eBook can display without the book appearance (the default view being with the book appearance).

In iOS7 the book appearance is simply a very subtle line separator between the pages in a landscape, spread view. There is no hint of a book-like appearance apart from this line to represent the binding.

When the pages of the book do not fill the iPad screen, the space remaining was (pre iOS7) a textured grey. Now in iOS7, the space is filled with flat light grey tone.

A Matter of Taste?

Publishers who are creating fixed-layout ePub eBooks from existing printed workflows, are often using the same size and proportions for the eBook. Within iBooks before iOS7 this was an acceptable solution because the simulation of the book and the textured gray surround, defined and re-inforced the page size, keeping the aesthetic of the page intact.

With the new minimalist iBooks app, this boundary between the page and the device is very weak. In some situations, there may be an unattractive slither of pale grey surround. Furthermore, in single page, portrait mode, the display shows a small fraction of the opposite page in a spread, and with the shaded binding gone, this makes little sense.

Fill the Screen with a Spread?

I have modified my own Megalithic Landscapes (a fixed-layout photo book), to fill the iPad screen and show only the spread. The pages are not viewable as single pages in portrait mode.

To fill the screen when a spread is shown the page size need to be in the proportion: 6x9; in my case the viewport is set 600x900 thus:

<meta name="viewport" content="width=600,height=900" />

The dimensions of the body are set to be the same in the CSS.

Making things look good in the spread view, means that a single page view will always show a part of the opposite page in a spread. In the example here, you see an unpleasant piece of text from the following page. This is why I have opted to lock the view to landscape with a spread. Users can still 'pinch to zoom'.

Fill the Screen with a Single Page?

If you want to fill the iPad screen with a single page and remove the book appearance completely, then this is another option.

To do this, the page size needs to be set in the head of each page thus:

<meta name="viewport" content="width=768,height=1024" />

and the spread view is turned off like this in the .opf file:

<meta property="rendition:spread">none</meta>

This is a perfect set up for comic eBooks.

Further Thoughts about skeuomorphic eBook appearance

  1. Setting ibooks:binding for re-flowable eBooks makes no difference. This is a shame. I think we should, at least be able to see a dividing line between the pages in a spread.
  2. It would be possible for a publisher/eBook designer to add the book appearance in a fixed-layout ePub, by setting an image background in the CSS. A single image could be used, or, for greater flexibilty, smaller images for the corners, tops and sides (this is how the earlier versions for iBooks delivers the book appearance).
  3. Other book reading apps such as Kobo and Kindle do not have any false book appearance.
  4. iBooks for Mac OSX (Mavericks latest), does not display even the merest line between the pages in a spread, even if you have the metadata switch: <meta property="ibooks:binding">true</meta> set in the .opf file. You can, however provide this line by using a border setting in the CSS for the parent block. Other solutions are also available.
  5. I haven't as yet, discovered any way to switch settings or CSS by querying for iBooks on MAC.

Posted on 03 Jan around 12pm


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