iBooks for Kids: Confusion

A while ago I blogged about a silly little iPad app I wrote for my three year old son, and how it led me to wonder about iBooks.

It struck me that an app that was essentially a book that played sounds, and perhaps had a few animations, would make more sense as an iBook. Especially as we now have access to the iBooks 2.0 platform which supports rich media content and has an easy to use authoring package.

So I wondered. And I looked. And this is what I found out.

Existing iBooks for kids are boring and overpriced.

  • Most stuff already out there uses iBooks pre version 2.0. This means you get a pretty basic eBook with pictures. A very few support sound and even some animation but it is a far from engaging experience.
  • The use of a standard eBook is a bad fit. The pages in kids books are often oddly sized and require lots of space for illustrations; you dont want simple text wrapping. As such, by default you will find that quite often the pages scroll from left to right as you flip the page, which is a pretty bad user experience. You can make both pages of a double page fold fit on the screen but you lose any sense of involvement and the book becomes letter-boxed and lost in the unused screen space.
  • Many publishes offer iBook versions of their paper counterparts. They are digital copies, plain and simple. Considering they offer such a bad experience its surprising that they are actually the same price as the printed media. One book in ‘real-life’ was a touchy-feely cloth book for 0-3 year olds with just 5 pages. Its iBook equivalent was still £4.99 yet its main function (texture) was obviously non existant!

The App Store is not the right place for books

  •  If you are looking for an engaging kids book in the real world you go to a book store, or at least the book section in a toy store. In the world of iPad it makes sense that people should go to the iBooks store but not necessarily the App Store.
  • But the iBooks store is newer than the App Store and its not installed by default. Yet.
  • Because the App Store is just there and because apps offer limitless possibilities for the user experience, many compelling kids books can be found on there. Except they are not books. They are apps. It just isn’t…quite…right.

iBooks 2.0 still isn’t a perfect fit

  • When you start to explore iBooks 2.0 and iBooks Author one thing becomes apparent: It was designed for text books. This should come as no surprise given the marketing push…but for me at least, it did. I was surprised to find that it so rigidly organises everything into chapters and sections. It does this to such an extent that the only kids books that I found that did use iBooks 2.0 have had to work around it.
  • Expecting kids to get the ‘pinch into and out of a chapter’ gesture is unrealistic. At least for small children. As a workaround the books I saw used a single iBooks chapter with a single section and titled various pages in that section “chapter 1″, “chapter 2″ etc.
  • There is no page flip animation. Sad. But probably more practical for tiny hands.
  • Landscape is where it’s at. Although iBooks Author supports both orientations, you are confined to landscape for navigation; portait is an optional extra.
  • There are still relatively few built in ‘widgets’. Because it is geared towards text books, if you want something a bit different you will need to write some code. Specifically you will need to create some HTML5 widgets in dashcode.


iBooks Author for iBooks 2.0 is the best there is. But it is still not as good as developing an app…and you will need to work around several issues. However, as iBooks continues to grow it seems like it should be the place to look for these kind of books that are heavy on rich media and…well, fun kid stuff.

I wonder then. If you want to create a compelling kids book that will be found by parents who are searching for such things: Do you create an app or a iBook? Do you need a developer or a publisher?

I think maybe its time to find out.


Playing a Sound from a Dashcode Widget

I’ve just begun to play around with Dashcode for the first time. I wanted to develop a widget that, when clicked, plays a sound. Figured it would be pretty simple. It nearly was.

The general steps are as follows:

  • Launch Dashcode and select ‘Custom’ from the Dashboard section.
  • Click on Library (top right) and click Parts
  • Drag a button onto the widget
  • Drag and drop a sound file (.m4a or any other file supported by QuickTime) from Finder onto the widget
  • For the sake of following these instructions, rename the sound file element from ‘video’ to ‘sfx’

Okay. Now we just have to write some code that will play the sound when you click the button. Fortunately or unfortunately, Apple provide some example code. If you go to the Library again and select Code instead of Parts and type ‘play quicktime’ in the search box you get some sample code. This is what you will see:

// Values you provide
var qtElement = document.getElementById("elementID");	// replace with the ID of a QuickTime element

// QuickTime code

Now, at this point it should simply be a case of opening up the inspector, navigating to the events tab (far right), creating an onclick handler, pasting in the code and renaming ‘elementID’ to ‘sfx’.

Well it would be…If the sample code wasn’t completely wrong! The code that actually works is below:

function onButtonClick(event)
    var qtElement = document.getElementById("sfx");

There are two problems with the original sample code.

  1. The actual element is just a div container. To get to the media player element you have to access the first child of this container.
  2. The Play() method has the wrong casing and should be lower case, not upper case.

It kinda makes you wonder what the point of providing sample code is if it doesn’t actually work? Anyhow. Hope someone finds this useful.

I woud be interested to know if anyone knows of a better way of playing a sound effect? If you do, please post your suggestion in the comments.