ePub3 Issues: Format and Readers
When we started looking for a suitable platform upon which to publish our books, we did look at ePub. When we first looked a few years ago, ePub2 could not deal with some of our requirements, such as fixed layout, video, slideshows and the like. So we passed on that format. When ePub3 was released, it was difficult to find tools to develop ebooks in ePub3: you had to spend too much time with the HTML and CSS code, rather than working with the content and appearance.
When Apple released iBooks Author, the problem was solved. Here was an ePub3 development platform that avoided dealing with code and allowed both fixed and flowing layouts in a single book. The enhancements to regular ePub3 meant that there were compatibility issues, but the enhancements also meant that it was easy to extend the platform beyond what anyone else was doing. So we made the decision to use the iBooks format.
In the last couple of years, Adobe put a lot of work into their InDesign product, allowing better use of many of the capabilities in ePub3. Much of the technology they used for this was supplied by Apple under license. InDesign can now produce ebooks with video, audio, slideshows and fixed layout. Extensibility is still not there yet, and some of the other capabilities in iBooks are not yet available, but ePub3 is now a viable format outside the Apple environment. By 'viable' we mean that writers and publishers can use tools like InDesign to produce a high-quality ebook.
After many efforts at different formats, such as several different Kindle formats, we finally had something that was worth developing for, and a collection of tools to help us do it (Adobe InDesign, PhotoShop and Illustrator), apart from iBooks Author. We have not completely explored all that is possible with InDesign, and we expect Adobe to add more, but we have a version of the book that is very close to the experience on iBooks.
ePub3 Format Issues
Apart from the issues with the difference between ePub3 reader, discussed below, a fixed layout ePub3 is set up for a particular size of display. This makes for a few small issues if the ebook file was formatted for one screen ratio (e.g., 1280 x 800 pixels: 16:10), but is displayed on a device with a different screen ratio (e.g., 1024 x 768 pixels: 4:3). As both these screen ratios, as well a third one, are available on current Samsung devices (to name but one of many manufacturers), there is no easy way to get the fixed layout ebook to match the screen ratio of every device. By comparison, iPads have a screen ratio of 4:3, while iPhones have a screen ratio of 16:9.
ePub3 readers keep the ratio of the ebook displayed in the same ratio at which it was designed, and all blank space to fill the screen if there is a need. In most cases, they will fit the book to the largest possible dimension of the screen, allowing the best possible reading display.
If the book is displayed text with squashed up together, the reader may be ignoring the fonts embedded in the ePub3 file, and is using default system fonts. Some readers allow the user to switch to the embedded fonts, but others do not. Some readers clearly do not use the embedded fonts, and so make the display pretty awful. The embedded fonts were used to ensure that the ebook could be read clearly as designed, so changing the fonts necessarily lowers the readability. If you see this kind of problem, try a different reader.
There is a very large number of ebook readers out there. They come in a wide range of capabilities, ease of use and cost. Many readers are free. A subset of the readers can handle ePub formats, and a subset of those can handle ePub3. A subset of those readers can handle fixed layout ePub3 ebooks, and a subset of those can handle ePub3 FXL (fixed layout) elegantly and reliably. Just because a reader says that it will display ePub3 files, it doesn't mean it will do it well, nor that it will display an ePub FXL file in a way that makes it readable. If you get huge text on screen, it generally means the reader won't handle ePub3 FXL.
If your reader doesn't display the book properly, get another. There are readers that will work well on all platforms tested, using our books, so there is always a reader. And we tested only readers that are free.
To categorized the various readers we tested, they are grouped by the operating system used in the device. We did test the book on various readers on different Apple platforms, and the book displays well there, so it can be used across very many platforms. However, if you will be using the book exclusively on Apple platforms, we strongly advise you to use the iBooks version, as it has both a smaller file size and is slightly more capable that the ePub3 version.
Apple Mac OS X Operating System
The following readers were tested on the MacOS X operating system, and the results are discussed. Testing was done on a MacBook Pro running Mac OS X 10.11 (El Capitan). If you are using a MacOS X or iOS device, it is recommended that you use the iBooks version of the book, which is also a slightly smaller file.
- Apple iBooks This reader is the best on MacOS X. The only drawback apparent was some different scaling (horizontal and vertical) on two animations. This reader has an easy means of going back after following a hyperlink. Recommended. You can get this reader from the Apple App Store, within the Mac's Finder.
- Adobe Digital Editions This reader is excellent, and the only problem noted was some clipping of animations in full-screen mode. Recommended. Available in the Apple App Store, at this location: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/adobe-digital-editions/id952977781?mt=8 as well as the Adobe website: http://www.adobe.com/solutions/ebook/digital-editions/download.html
- Readium (Google Chrome App.) Videos don’t go to full-screen mode. There doesn’t appear to be a way to go back after following a hyperlink. You will need to unpack the ePub3 file to get it to load (ePub files are zipped, so any upzip application will do the unpacking). When loaded, the ebook presents very nicely. Recommended, with awareness of some limitations. To use Readium, you will need to install the Chrome browser, available here: https://www.google.com/chrome/ then download the Readium app within Chrome.
- Calibre A file conversion utility with an ePub viewer. Had some difficulty handling video files full-screen, slideshows don’t work. Not recommended.
- Publiwide Reader This reader crashes on efforts to change pages. Not recommended. (On its website, Publiwide recommends using iBooks for Mac OS X.)
- Azardi Reader Videos don’t play properly, e-mail links don’t work. Not recommended.
- Simple ePub Reader (Google Chrome App.) Very slow to load and cannot handle ePub3 books. Not recommended.
- Readiator (Google Chrome Plug-in) Cannot load the ePub3 file. Not recommended.
Apple iOS Operating System
The book was tested on an iPad and iPad Mini, as well as an iPhone 5. If you are using an iOS device, it is highly recommended that you use the iBooks version of the book, as it was designed specifically for the iPad. It will also run faster and better than this version.
- Adobe Digital Editions Opened and ran everything, but page moves are slow on both iPads. A reliable presentation. Recommended reader on iPads, but not available for the iPhone. Find the app at the Apple App Store, here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/adobe-digital-editions/id952977781?mt=8
- iBooks Opened and ran everything, but page moves are difficult on iPad Mini. Ran well on a regular iPad. Ran well on an iPhone (although it is a bit small). Recommended. The reader can be downloaded from the Apple App Store, available as its own app on iOS devices.
- Gitden This app doesn’t open the fonts embedded in the ePub3 file, and so uses substitute fonts and runs into display problems. Not recommended.
- Ebook Reader Presented the book with a dark background, making it largely unreadable, and had no apparent means of changing it. Not recommended.
- Publiwide Reader Unable to get the app to find the file. Not available for iPhone. Not recommended.
- DL Reader Cannot handle fixed-layout ePub files. Not recommended.
The book was tested on an HP Pavilion 17" laptop running Windows 7 Professional SP1.
- Adobe Digital Editions Opened and ran everything, except the audio, which lost the links on the page. Videos don’t go to full-screen mode. Otherwise it worked well. Recommended. The application can be downloaded from Adobe's website, here: http://www.adobe.com/solutions/ebook/digital-editions/download.html
- Readium (Google Chrome App.) Videos don’t go to full-screen mode. There doesn’t appear to be an easy way to go back after following a hyperlink. You will need to unpack the ePub3 file to get it to load (ePub files are zipped, so any upzip application will do the unpacking; put everything in a new folder). When loaded, the ebook presents very nicely. Recommended, with awareness of some limitations. To use Readium, you will need to install the Chrome browser, available here: https://www.google.com/chrome/ then download the Readium app within Chrome.
- Azardi Reader Videos don’t go full-screen. Otherwise, this reader works well. Recommended. You can download the reader from here: http://azardi.infogridpacific.com/azardi-download.html
The book was tested using a Samsung Galaxy Tab4, running the Android 4.4.2 (Kit-Kat) operating system. There does not seem to be a really good reader for these ePub3 fixed-layout files on the Android platform, at this point, but there are two ‘near misses.’
- Adobe Digital Editions Opened and ran video, audio and text, but failed to display the slideshows properly. Page moves are slow. Recommended, with awareness of the slideshow problem. However, this is a very new release, and it may be fixed soon. You can find the app at: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.adobe.digitaleditions
- Gitden It takes a long time for the app to number the pages after the book is loaded, but it must be left to do this (perhaps 30 minutes or more), otherwise the other operations won’t work well. Doesn’t use the fonts in the ePub3 file, and so has problems with poor typography and so readability. Not Recommended.
- DL Reader Cannot handle fixed-layout ePub3 files. Not recommended.
- Pocketbooks Cannot handle fixed-layout ePub3 files. Not recommended.
- Aldiko Did not load book properly. Not recommended.
- A EPub3Reader Would not load book. Not recommended.
- Cool Reader Not recommended.
- Ebook Reader Slideshows don’t work. Difficult to access some links because page movement areas are large.
- Universal Book Reader Cannot handle fixed-layout ePub3 files. Not recommended.
- Readium Successfully loaded from an upacked file, and played videos, audios and slideshows. Videos don’t go to full-screen mode. There doesn’t appear to be an easy way to go back after following a hyperlink. You will need to unpack the ePub3 file to get it to load (ePub files are actually zipped, so any upzip application will do the unpacking, and will put everything in a new folder). Recommended.
- Simple EPUB Reader Crashed trying to load the full book. Looking at a short version of the book (for testing), there were some problem with the fonts, as it appeared not to load the embedded fonts. Not Recommended.
- Readiator Could not load the book. Stalled partway through. Not recommended.
- Smart-Read Crashed when loading the fonts, so either it won’t deal with embedded fonts, or the book is too big for this application. Not recommended.
- Embellisher Ereader Unable to open any eBook other than those you have to purchase from their site, all of which appear to be by the one author. Definitely not recommended.
- Lektz Could not open book. Application creashed during loading. Not recommended.
- MobiApp121 eReader This is NOT a free reader. But it still crashed partway through loading (during the videos). Definitely not Recommended.
The book was tested on a 13-year-old repurposed IBM Intellistation, running Ubuntu 14.04 on a Pentium 4 processor (2 GHz). It runs slowly to start with, so slow responses in readers were difficult to judge.
- Azardi Loaded the book quickly and displayed it well. Large heading text used the wrong font, but the main text was displayed correctly. Within the limits of the computer’s speed, the reader appeared to load and run the audio and video correctly, and the slideshows worked. Recommended.
- FBReader’s E-book Viewer Loaded the book, but displayed it without any of the proper formatting, i.e., as a long single page. Videos don’t work. Not recommended.
- Calibre (E-book Viewer) Loaded the book quickly and had few issues with fonts. Slideshows don’t work, but videos and audio seem to work. Not recommended.