We are what we think.
All that we are arises from our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
-- Gautama Buddha
We are sometimes asked why we chose to develop our books for Apple devices. Sometimes this question is structured in a Windows vs Mac environment. But this is the wrong question, in many ways.
We chose to develop a book first, quite some time ago, in fact several years before the iPad and iPhone had been released. But we also needed to include a lot of other material that was essentially electronic. An electronic book was clearly a solution. The problem: there wasn't a good format. The standard ePub format at that time was designed to allow content to be displayed on any screen device, and so was built like a web browser, rather than a book. The Kindle formats were very static and for many years black and white. PDF was totally static. There didn't seem to be a good solution.
When we saw the Apple iBooks Textbooks and what they could do, there was instant appeal. Because the possibilities of different displays were limited, the book could be designed to appear like a book, with fixed pages, without having to second-guess the hardware. The extensibility and supplied widgets took the format beyond ePub in what we could do with it, both now and in the future.
Here we had a solution that combined the best of both worlds: a way to make the book work like a paper book at one level, yet also be very extensible in taking advantage of the underlying computing platform. In addition, the iPad could allow the book to be viewed in landscape orientation, as a two-page spread, or in portrait orientation, where it became more like a very long webpage with thumbnails for the figures. While fixed layout ePubs can be created, they do not yet have the option to switch to flowable text in the display device, depending upon the device's orientation.
When we produce a version of one of our books, the pages are fixed. Page 123 is page 123 every time, on every Apple device. Even in portrait orientation or continuous scrolling mode, there are still page number hints that maintained the same numbering. Page numbers are important for a book that will be cited and referenced. Similarly, the caption for a figure stays with the figure across devices. If we avoid having headings on the bottom line of a page, we don't have this particular issue at all. That makes our books much more like regular paper books, and so easier to use and read. Different versions are a bit like different editions, and moving pages are expected in that situation.
One other point that was important to our choice was the need to include mathematical formulae in the books. ePub has not handled these very well. While the iBooks app handles formulae in ePub well, other readers decided that every occurrence of anything like a formula required it be surrounded by line breaks, even if it was in the middle of a line of text, and even if it was a single character, like a sigma. This clearly wouldn't do for a publication where there were more than one or two formulae. By contrast, iBooks handles formulae very well. They appear identical across devices to how they were composed in MathType. This was an important consideration in choice of a platform.
iBooks Textbooks (also termed MultiTouch books) initially were only available on the iPad. The resolution of the first iPad was sufficient to produce a very nice looking presentation, while the Retina display made that even better. Then as part of their effort to unify applications across platforms, Apple developed a version of iBooks for the Mac that would display Textbooks in landscape orientation. Early in July, 2015, Apple released a version of iBooks (in iOS 8.4) that would allow Textbooks to be read on the iPhone. While this is tricky to read in landscape mode, the addition of a 'scrolling lock' allowed the 'webpage view' with thumbnails to be used in any orientation, and so the text could be read reasonably well, and thumbnails of figures expanded to full-screen view.
Finally, we looked at the process of selling the book. If we sold it as a Kindle book, or retailed it as an older ePub (ePub2 format) outside the Apple iBook Store, we would have to charge at least double the retail price to get the same return, while delivering what we feel is an inferior product. In addition, other outlets did not have the same ability to manage updates. We could arrange to sell it ourselves, but then we need to 'reinvent the wheel' for updates, at least. So, better product, better management of the product, better price. Is there a downside here?
So we had our platform, iBooks, and it worked displaying our book on the three main Apple devices: Mac, iPad and iPhone. We also had a delivery and maintenance system for the books that allowed us to keep everyone up to date with the latest version of the book for free, and allowed us the lowest retail price.
But people still felt we had chosen the wrong direction. Wasn't Apple just a small player here? Doesn't Android dominate in tablets and phones (and 'phablets,' in between the two)? And more particularly, isn't all of surveying, mapping, geomatics and geospatial science running Windows, and moving towards Android?
So perhaps some data may help here. There will be a lot of data points given, not always linked together because causation is difficult to demonstrate, but they may give some alternative viewpoints.
At the Surveying and Geomatics Educators Conference in late June, 2015, while launching the book, Bill Hazelton asked the participants (admittedly a small number): Who had ready access to a Mac or iPad (the iPhone wasn't running Textbooks until a couple of weeks later)? Slightly more than half raised their hands. Quite a few also had iPhones. If this is an indication of availability of devices, things are not completely dire for us, as it suggests that the people there were representative of the larger population of buyers of such devices: about half of the population has access to Apple devices.
Another data point is the number of devices that can run iBooks and so display our books. As we are looking at international versions of these books, the global numbers are more important than the US numbers, as the US has about 4.5% of the global population. The figures are to the middle of 2015.
Our books can run on any iPad, and there have been about 271 million of these sold since the iPad was introduced.
Our books can run on the iPhone 5 and 6, and there have been about 482 million of these sold (which is enough devices for one-fifteenth of the population of the planet to have one).
If we assume that Mac computers since September 2012 will run iBooks and so display our books (and that may be a conservative estimate), there have been about 63.5 million Macs sold since then.
That means that globally there are about 816 million devices that can display our books, which is about one device for every nine people on the planet.
I don't know about you, but those numbers staggered me! I know that in my household there are eleven such devices among five people, but the numbers of devices are still huge.
As far as desktop and laptop computers are concerned, their numbers are about 10% of the mobile devices. The mobile devices OS market is divided between Android and iOS; Windows doesn't really feature; the Kindle OS has less than 20% marketshare in devices, is tied to specific hardware, but does have readers for other devices and OS. Even among laptops and desktop machines, Apple tends to be one of the biggest sellers of machines by brand. Sales of laptop and desktop machines have been in decline for some time, while the growth was in mobile devices.
To put numbers like 816 million devices into perspective, here are a few more pieces of data.
Between 1815 and 1975 there were between 2.5 and 5 billion Bibles printed. The figures are from the Guinness Book of Records. This is between 16 and 31 million per year. In recent years, The Economist estimates that about 100 million Bibles are printed each year. The Bible is by far the best-selling book in any year, and has been for centuries. Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities has sold over 200 million copies since 1859, and Tolkein's Lord of the Rings has sold over 150 million copies since 1954 (figures to 2007). The seven volumes of Rowlings' Harry Potter stories sold over 450 million copies 1997-2007.
In the last five years, Apple has produced 0.8 billion devices that can display our book, which is a rate of about 160 million each year. Over the last five years, the hardware for our book has, on average, annually outsold the Bible by 60%, the Harry Potter books by 250%, and Lord of the Rings by 5,550%.
So where does this leave us? First, this isn't about Windows or Macs. Both of those platforms are the small players in this game. It isn't about iOS versus Android devices. Both have massive global marketshare and sales. If we were only worried about sales, we would have gone with a very basic Kindle format. Had we gone to a format for multiple platforms, we would have had to produce to the lowest common functionality of any platform. So we probably would have had little more than a PDF. Had we wanted something that was very similar to a web browser, it would have been far easier to have developed a web-based approach. However, recently the ePub3 format has been extended, primarily by Adobe, which has licensed software from Apple and included it in their InDesign CC.
What this is really about is what platform will produce the desired result. Any platform will provide the opportunities for access to almost a billion devices today, and growth rates that are bigger than any book sales in history. With these numbers, there are no 'niches.'
What we wanted was something that behaved like a book, provided some flexibility in layout within the device, and had serious extensibility that we could develop over time. That worked against the ePub2 platform. We wanted something that we could develop to take advantage of a powerful computing platform behind the book, but was also not dependent on continuous connectivity. That worked against the web-based approach and the Kindle. We needed formulae to work properly across devices, which worked against the ePub2 format. And we wanted to avoid having to develop multiple approaches and have multiple workflows to getting something into production. That worked against trying a multi-platform approach. Finally, we can sell the book at the lowest retail price as an iBook, with the advantages of an active support system.
If Apple releases a version of iBooks for Windows, it won't make much difference, as that's not where the market is. Why chase 10% when 90% is going begging? If there is a version of iBooks for Android, and it can display our books in the same way as happens on the iPad, that will be a great thing for everyone. (There is a low probability of that happening, as most of the Android devices have lower screen resolutions, and Samsung, as one manufacturer, has used three different screen proportions in recent years.) But in the meantime, we have a platform that has over 800 million potential places for our book to be read and used, and by 2017 that should be over a billion devices. These are places where our book can do things, rather than be passive.
We feel that with the iBooks version we have achieved the best result given where we wanted to go, together with where we can take the book from here. We have also developed an ePub3 eBook version of the book, which has most of the functionality of the iBooks version. But where we are may be a far better situation (for everyone) than might be thought if it is viewed with a Windows vs Mac mindset. With our thoughts, we make our world.