Category Archives: Uncategorized

Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible…

 

I apologize. I know I've been seriously neglecting this blog for the past few months. Some time ago, one of the founders of a Bellevue, Washington-based stealth software startup approached me and asked me if I'd be interested in working with them as an advisor on readability issues. Things have escalated since then, and I'm now engaged full-time on User Experience and Readability issues.

It's just like the early days at Aldus Europe, or in the eBooks team at Microsoft. The way I work is much more suited to startups than large companies. I once told a former boss,”Once a company gets big enough to have an HR department, it's time I started to think about moving on…”

It's nice to be working with some old friends and former colleagues. In a good startup, there are no demarcation lines. If moving forward means you find yourself evaluating and recommending software test tools as well as identifying, filing and triaging bugs, then that's what you do. You're in a lifeboat, and everyone's paddling towards dry land. A common goal. You're all in it together. Zero politics, power plays or executive interference. A breath of fresh air.

It's exciting. Expect some formal announcements of what we're up to in a few weeks…

 

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$110 Makes New iPad Best Writing System I’ve EVER Used…

New iPad, in Origami stand, with Apple wireless keyboard: best writing system in the world!

IT’S GREAT WHEN A REAL LANDMARK EVENT HAPPENS. This past weekend, I finally got the writing system for which I’ve been waiting since I began my writing career at the age of 7, almost 56 years ago.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I love the iPad – and especially the new iPad, with the high-resolution screen every human visual system deserves. At the weekend – thanks to my friend Wes Miller – I turned it into the best writing system I have ever used in my life. For only $110.

I began my long writing career on an ancient Remington typewriter I rescued from a junk shop in Glasgow. I’ve never actually learned how to type: I use both index fingers only. But I’m very, very fast with them.

When I was 14 years old, I launched and edited an unofficial magazine at my school, Allan Glen’s High School of Science in Glasgow. Its name was a word-play on Writer’s Cramp. I wanted to call it Writer’s Crap – but my English teacher baulked at that, and it ended up being called Writers Cramped…
The joy of jammed keys…

It was produced by typing on waxed xerography paper using another ancient typewriter, and copies were run off on a Xerox machine and stapled together.

My English teacher, “Paddy” Inglis, let me work in a tiny room behind his classroom. Since he was a heavy pipe smoker, the room stank of his tobacco. And since it had a window that opened, it meant I could smoke, too. It was the start of an association between writing and cigarettes that was to last for decades. When I finally gave up smoking in the 1980s, it was a real struggle for a while, trying to write without a cigarette burning in the ashtray beside me.

Glasgow Deputy News Editor, The Scotsman, 1970s.
No, I didn’t dress like that every day – I was going out to a dinner. Note the cigarette…

In 1968, I became a professional newspaperman. I normally used a portable typewriter, and on a typical day might write a couple of thousand words of news stories. My two-fingered ninja style was so forceful that I had to use two carbons; the top sheet of copy paper (newsprint, cut to typewriter size) was always completely shredded, and there was a layer of confetti constantly swirling around me.

In the early 1980s, I realized that computer technology was about to change publishing forever and began teaching myself how to use one. The first computer I actually owned, though, was a Macintosh, which I got within six weeks of the US ship date in 1984.

Technology has improved over the years, and I’ve had a long series of Windows and Macintosh laptops. (The MacBook was the best – even for running Windows, which was compulsory when I worked for Microsoft).

But still, nothing was ever ideal. Screens had resolutions too low for ideal reading (apart from my 204ppi desktop display). Even laptops were too heavy. I had many of the original Windows TabletPCs. But they were mostly heavy, convertible tablets, low resolution and with short battery life.

When I got my first iPad, that was the biggest improvement yet. Good screen (if still not good enough). Light. 10-hour battery life.

Trouble with the iPad is that while the onscreen keyboard is great for short typing sessions, or when you have no alternative, you wouldn’t want to live there. If you’re a writer who spends hours at the keyboard, as I am, you really need an industry-strength solution. I tried one of the iPad cases with integrated Bluetooth keyboard. But – those chiclet keys! Just awful!

I decided to pair the new iPad with an Apple wireless keyboard. Then my friend Wes Miller told me he used the Origami stand/case with his, and really liked it. So I ordered the keyboard and the case from the Apple Store, and drove into the Apple Store at Bellevue Square Mall to pick them up. WARNING: the iPad is still new enough that any Apple Store, on a Saturday afternoon, will be like a zoo…

Got the gear back home, set it all up in seconds. Keyboard paired flawlessly with my iPad, and the case took about five seconds to fold up into a stand. It looks like it will be a really good way of protecting the keyboard while traveling, too.

I’m writing a book just now. So I’ve spent the last two days at the keyboard, cranking out more than 5000 words. And this system is a joy to use. If I want to wander around, hands-free, I can use Dictation, which works really well even if it’s not perfect.

If I’m going out, the iPad goes with me. If I have a thought I need to get down, or I have half an hour in Starbucks, I can use the soft keyboard.

And when I really need to get down to business, I have the Origami setup. Another thing I really love about writing on the iPad is that when I want to review what I’ve written, I just lift the iPad off the stand, find a comfortable chair, lean back and read at leisure. And, of course, the 264ppi resolution makes reading a joy.

Now I have a flexible, portable, yet 100% industrial-strength writing system. It’s the best I’ve ever used in my entire writing life. If you do any amount of serious writing, this is the system you want.

I’ve also made huge progress this morning on using the iPad for blogging. I’m typing this on it now. I’ve been struggling for a while because of the really crappy behavior of Blogger on the iPad, and I’ve been seriously tempted to change to WordPress or some other blog host, at the same time hoping Blogger would catch up to the iPad.

However, today I found a great solution. I’m typing this using Blogsy, which is a really neat interface to Blogger, WordPress or any other blog. And I’m using Web Albums HD for Picasa to upload pictures. Blogsy lets you drag-and-drop them into place.
Blogsy. Much more usable than Blogger’s own UI
Another problem solved. Now, back to the book…
 

New iPad: 50-year Science Fiction Dream Becomes Reality…

Dreaming that one day I’d have an iPad… Pendeen Road Primary School, Glasgow, 1959. (I’m on the left, second row from the back, in front of our teacher, Miss MacDougal.

Progress has a way of creeping up on you. Small, incremental changes happen one after another, and you don’t even notice them. It’s a bit like climbing a mountain. You’re on a path, focused on putting one foot in front of another and not really paying attention to the changing landscape. Then you stop and look back – and you’re amazed at just how far you’ve come.

When I was a wee boy in Glasgow in the 1950s, I had a crazy dream, inspired by the science fiction I devoured. One day I’d have a device that would let me carry every book in the world on it. All the music I loved. I’d be able to view photos and watch movies on it – even make my own. It would have a great screen, that was even better than paper to read on. And I’d be able to use it to make TV calls (we didn’t have video then!) to anyone in the world.

My Universal Communicator wouldn’t expect me to type. I’d just speak to it, and it would understand.

I’ve been at or near the leading edge of progress most of my life. I got into computers in the early 1980s, when I was a newspaperman in Glasgow, because I could see they were about to change the publishing industry forever. I got a Macintosh six weeks after they shipped in the USA. I was desktop publishing by the end of 1984, created my first electronic book in 1985. I was on the Internet in 1992 or 93 (first version of the Mosaic Browser from NCSA). By 1998, I was running a 204ppi desktop display (it retailed at $13,000!)

One foot in front of the other…

On March 16, I stopped and looked up. My new iPad arrived.

One of the features Apple seems to have almost sneaked into the new iPad is dictation. It’s amazingly accurate – even with my Scottish accent. Yes, I saw the YouTube video of the two Scots guys in the voice-operated elevator. Yes, I did say “Eleven”. And the iPad came right back with 11 🙂

I won’t go on about the screen again. Anyone who’s seen it and used it knows it’s superb. 264ppi is enough to set the standard for the next 10-20 years. Hard to believe Apple manufactured this device for the price, and still makes great margins on it.

One reviewer hit the nail on the head the other day. He said that Apple has made the iPad so easy to use, with so little interface clutter, that it’s just a sheet of glass which becomes your portal to the world.

I can’t see any Android or Windows tablet being able to compete. Sure, geeks might wax enthusiastic. They might even have some features which are better on paper than the iPad equivalent, checked off on a Feature List by some Program Manager, somewhere.

But, in the words of the Incredible String Band; “You know all the words, and you sung all the notes, but you never quite learned the song”.

The new iPad sings. It’s the Universal Communicator I dreamed of, more than 50 years ago – the computer for the rest of us, because it’s no longer a computer.

I’m still dreaming, of course. About the Professional Media iPad. A screen with the same resolution, but at least four times as big. Touch-driven professional photography, video and sound editing and production. With a file system that lets you easily access big media archives on hard disk.

I just bought a GoFlex Satellite wireless hard drive for my iPad. 500 Gb, and the battery will power it for five hours. I wish it was at least twice the size, since we have 750Gb of photos, plus video. It does a great job of wirelessly streaming video to the iPad. Nice if there was an easy way to import photos for iPad editing, now that iPad apps like Photoforge 2 will handle the full professional resolution of 21+ megapixels our Canon cameras crank out. I can import new photos direct from the camera, but can’t find an easy and convenient way to get at our massive archive. If you’ve solved this, please let me know.

But these things will come, now we have a high-resolution, easy-to-use, mainstream device. I dreamed of the future, and it’s here.

3rd Generation iPad: Entering A High-Resolution, Post-PC World…

3rd Generation iPad: A New Year’s Resolution I’ll definitely keep…

The announcement from Apple yesterday of the 3rd Generation iPad will, in my view, go down as one of those historic moments in time when the world changed. Not just because of the device itself – although a mainstream computer with this much resolution will indeed change everything – but because some of the sales figures quoted make it clear we are indeed moving into a post-PC world.
Since PCs first appeared, humans have had to adapt to their idiosyncrasies. In the beginning, you had to be able to program them to do anything. Learn command-line interfaces. Then, you had to learn the applications you used. Or figure out how to drill down five levels deep in the Display Properties of Windows XP in order to turn on ClearType, for example. (sorry – that was a personal sore spot).
Apple has figured out the future. Not humans adapted for computers, but computers adapted for humans. The astonishing sales figures revealed by Apple CEO Tim Cook yesterday show the old order is passing: Apple sold more iPads last quarter than any PC manufacturer sold PCs. There have been 315 million iOS devices sold so far, and 25 billion downloads from the App Store. And all of that before yesterday’s unveiling of the highly-anticipated iPad3, which did not disappoint.
The announcements were right in line with my predictions. I suggested Apple would probably double the resolution of the existing iPad, rather than give it the full 360 pixels per inch (ppi) resolution of the iPhone. In my view, the 10-hour battery life achieved by the first iPad was a breakthrough which Apple would continue to regard as a sacred goal for all future iPad versions. It’s critical, because a 10-hour battery means a student, or an office worker, can use it to move from class to class or meeting to meeting all day without a power cord.
Let’s recap on resolution. It’s not a number determined by some graphics standard of the past, like 640 x 480 or 1024 x 768 pixels. True resolution is really all about pixel size – how many of them you can pack in an inch.
Human vision can resolve out to 600 dots per inch. That’s vernier acuity, or an ability to detect edges used historically in, for example, the scale of a precision Fortin Barometer. In reality, once you get out beyond 250 ppi, you’re pretty much done. If you plot “Perceived Improvement” against “Pixels per inch”, you get a curve which by around 200ppi is beginning to flatten dramatically, and by 250ppi is almost flat.
Explained simply, that means you can throw as many additional pixels per inch at a screen, but beyond 250ppi no-one will really notice the difference.
Increasing the pixels-per-inch resolution is an n-squared problem. To go from 100ppi to 200ppi means a 2x increase in both horizontal and vertical pixel counts, and therefore a 4x increase in the number of pixel computations a system must perform. To go to 300ppi is a 9x increase in computation. The math is killer. The demands on a computer graphics card are staggering. And a faster graphics card able to handle more pixels naturally consumes more battery power.
Another problem with making pixels smaller is that the wiring tracks in the LCD display which drives the RGB sub-pixels become increasingly intrusive. You start to see proportionally more wiring and less pixel. This also affects the amount of light the panel’s backlight needs to transmit.
Apple claims to have developed a new technology which elevates the luminance sub-pixels above the wiring tracks, putting them on a higher plane and resolving this problem.

New display technology reduces intrusive wiring tracks at sub-pixel level
The new iPad, then, has 264 pixels per inch. And it’s enough to change the world.
As readers of this blog will know, I’ve been a strong advocate of pushing screen resolution to this level for well over a decade. In 1996 or 1997 – I forget which – I first got my hands on a 133ppi Dell laptop. My next system was another Dell Inspiron laptop with a resolution of 147ppi. And by 1998 I was running a desktop system with a 204ppi flat-panel display from IBM.
In those days, adapting Windows UI to higher resolution displays was painful. You had to go in and manually adjust all then sizes for text, icons etc. Even then, most of the applications you used – and Windows itself – pretended that all screens had the same resolution, 96ppi.
Apple went to a resolution-independent graphics architecture in the 1980s. However, the true significance of that move was not revealed until high-resolution displays appeared – along with new graphics chips capable of driving them.
The 3rd Generation iPad has a display resolution of 264ppi. And still retains a ten-hour battery life (9 hours with wireless on). Make no mistake. That much resolution is stunning. To see it on a mainstream device like the iPad – rather than a $13,000 exotic monitor – is truly amazing, and something I’ve been waiting more than a decade to see.
It will set a bar for future resolution that every other manufacturer of devices and PCs will have to jump.
Having that much resolution in a handheld device will be the final step in changing reading forever. I’m not the only one who believes this. Andrew Rashbass, chief executive of The Economist Group, recently gave a fascinating presentation he called LeanBack 2.0. He postulates that in the days of print, we leaned back and read. The Web and computers made us lean forward to read. Devices like the iPad have restored our ability to lean back, relax, and read. LeanBack 2.0!

Lean Back – and Read!
Watch the video 

Apple updates iBooks with new book fonts

An iBooks page, showing one of the new book fonts, Iowan, and the new Full Screen view.
Apple this week shipped a new version of its iBooks reader with four new fonts, picked especially for reading books on screen. 
Although I love reading books on my iPad, I’ve always felt Apple could have done better for its iBooks reader than picking a selection from its OS fonts. Now it has…
The fonts include three serif faces – Iowan, Athelas and Charter – as well as the sans serif face, Seravek. The more observant will have noticed that it has replaced Verdana, which is gone. 
The new fonts have been combined with other improvements, including a new Full Screen view which removes the visually distracting “page edges” graphic and leaves a beautifully clean reading page. 
Iowan is a real gem of a book font. I’m currently reading a Robert Heinlein SF novel, in Iowan, in Full Screen mode, on my original iPad, and it’s the best eBook reading experience I’ve had yet. 
You might think I’d be irate about the loss of Verdana, as the person who originally commissioned Matthew Carter to design it in 1995 (it was my first major project after I took over as leader of Microsoft’s Typography group in 1995) However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Verdana was originally intended to improve reading on the Web, and it was amazingly successful at doing that. It set a whole new standard for reading on the Web. But with its large x-height and very generous spacing, it never felt comfortable as an eBook font.
Verdana’s serif stablemate, Georgia – also designed by Matthew – is a better book face. Indeed, until Apple shipped its new faces this week, Georgia was probably the best and most popular font picked by customers for reading on their iPads and iPhones. 
The view that Verdana and Georgia are not very suitable for eBooks is not merely personal. When I was part of Microsoft’s eBooks team, we decided that neither was good enough for the sustained reading involved in books. So we built a new version of the serif font, Berling, for Microsoft Reader running on PCs, laptops and dedicated eBook devices (we had a 150ppi, full-color, book-sized prototype device of our own which we had built). For the smaller screens of PDAs and phones, we built a new version of Frutiger in collaboration with Linotype – called Frutiger Linotype. 
The fact that we spent so much time and money creating new faces – when we already owned Verdana and Georgia outright and had spent a great deal of money on hinting, character set coverage etc., speaks for itself. 
Georgia may previously have been the best iBooks font. But I for one never felt totally comfortable with it as a book face. There’s something very dark and “vertical” about the way it feels. 
I’m guessing what I’m feeling at an intuitive level harks back to the original design constraints. The brief to Matthew was to design two new typefaces – one serif and one sans serif – specifically for reading onscreen at the then-current screen resolutions of between 88 and 96 pixels per inch. This was three years before we’d invented ClearType, when lack of resolution on screens was felt more in the horizontal axis than in the vertical (at least for Latin-based languages).
So Matthew began by creating optimal screen bitmaps for the fonts at the two most important sizes for reading – 10 and 12 point. The resolution-independent outlines were created only after we knew the exact bitmaps we wanted at those sizes, and the outlines were then hinted to make sure those were what the Windows TrueType rasterizer actually generated.
The point of going over all this history is really just to say that Verdana and Georgia were the best anyone could do for reading on a screen back in 1995. But with screen resolutions of 133ppi for today’s iPads (soon to be double that if the rumors about iPad 3 are true) and the stunning resolution of the iPhone’s Retinal Display, we can do better, 20 years on. 
If you have an iPad or iPhone, give Iowan and Full Screen a whirl. I think you’ll like it…

Should Apple and Amazon REALLY Control eBook Design?

Who’s in control of your book design? You – or Amazon and Apple?

This post is not meant as a criticism of either Amazon or Apple. Each has done more to push forward the adoption and availability of eBooks than any other company since the first text appeared on a computer screen. Thanks to them, we now have a large installed base of reading devices, and hundreds of thousands of book titles available in eBook formats.


However, I’ve spent most of my working life thinking at least ten years ahead. (That’s as much a curse as a blessing. Ten years is too far for most managers to even contemplate – far less support).


I’m thinking of the future of eBooks. Now that these two companies have finally taken eBooks mainstream, it’s time we – and they – began thinking more about their design. People like Jan Tschichold spent their lives considering and implementing good book design. Yet in eBooks, the tail is still wagging the dog. Design of eBooks today is driven more by the functionality of eBook reading software and short-term competitive goals than by either aesthetics or art.


Great book design is high art combined with a deep understanding of how humans read.

eBooks can be every bit as beautiful and readable as printed books. This post contains some suggestions for moving the field forward. It is based on months of research, hands-on eBook development, and many years of thought.

ANY COLOR YOU WANT, AS LONG AS IT’S BLACK…


Amazon really started the eBook ball rolling with Kindle. It’s a low-cost device, holds plenty of books, has a battery that runs for days, and was linked into Amazon’s already-massive paper book-selling website and delivery system. Yes, there were other devices before it, but Kindle’s the one that achieved critical mass first.

Then along came Apple with the iPad – a far more versatile device, used for many things besides reading – with an iBooks app that in my opinion creates a far better experience.
Some of you will jump on this assertion and declare your preference for the Kindle, especially now that Amazon has announced its own $199 tablet device. But it’s revealing that in all the hoopla of the Kindle Fire announcement, there was no mention – zero – of how the Kindle reader software might be updated to take advantage of the new color capability. Like Henry Ford, Jeff Bezos still seems to think that you can have your eBook in any color you want – as long as it’s black-and-white. Perhaps he has a surprise up his sleeve. It’s significant that Amazon has made no mention of the Stanza Reader since it acquired Lexcycle…


However, the only option I can see in Kindle Fire today which would support color and typography is to produce your eBook as a PDF – and what a backward step THAT would be!
Some of my thinking is definitely based on the future potential of eBooks. But it’s surprising how much design you can put into an eBook, even today, provided the device and the software support more than black-and-white text in one font…


That’s why the experiments I’ve been doing over the past few months have focused on iBooks running on the iPad. They have convinced me that there’s a great future for eBook design if the right kind of collaboration takes place.


Books are too important to the human race for this not to happen.


Just one example of the thought that went into printed book design…

In this post I want to focus on typefaces and sizes in eBooks, and how current options in eBook readers – both iBooks and the Kindle app on the iPad – place brutal constraints on book design. I also want to start outlining a better approach which is easy to implement and would pass greater control of eBook design back to the graphic designer and typographer, where it belongs.


WOULD YOU LIKE PMN CAECILIA? OR PMN CAECILIA?

Let’s first explore the font and size options available today…

iBooks currently includes six typeface choices. Of those, only two – Georgia and Palatino – create an acceptable reading experience. iBooks also supports embedded fonts, which I’ve been researching intensively while I create the lavishly-illustrated iBooks version of Tanya’s book: “Sanctuary – Wetland Birds of Kauai”.

The Kindle app is even worse. While its PMN Caecilia typeface is pretty readable, the reader has no option to change it. And Kindle does not support embedded fonts at all.
Embedded fonts can make an iBook look terrific. I’ve shown sample pages in earlier posts on this blog.

I’m beginning to develop an eBooks Design Manifesto. Here are my first three “demands”:

  • eBook readers should give designers and publishers complete control over what fonts to use in their books, and support the full range of typefaces available today by enabling font embedding.
  • Since typefaces are an integral and vital factor in design, the designer should have the ability to disable inbuilt font choices.
  • The font industry should make using fonts in eBooks identical to using them in a printed book: Provided you have purchased a legitimate copy of the fonts, you should be able to use them to create as many millions of as many books as you wish.


When desktop publishing first appeared in the 1980s I was there, and deeply involved. It created a huge “gold rush” for the font industry, which found that millions of people who’d never even thought about fonts suddenly found they wanted as many as they could get their hands on. What was formerly a small niche market to professional designers and the print industry exploded to become a mainstream one. The same could easily happen again. Chances are this new gold rush would be even larger, since distribution of eBooks is essentially free and democratic in a way that print never was, and cost-of-entry is almost zero, enabling more people to publish books than ever before.

SIZE MATTERS

Now, let’s turn to type sizes…


Kindle has a number of predetermined font size choices. IMO, the smallest is too small for comfortable reading, the next size up is too large, and it just gets worse from there…

iBooks is better. It has ten text size increments on the iPad, including some very readable size options. My personal view is that the smallest one or two sizes are unreadable, while the largest two or three are not only unreadable, but turn any design aspirations into a joke. They’re clearly meant to satisfy the “Accessibility” needs of people who do indeed need very large text. But they don’t work the way they are today. True Accessibility requires a more thoughtful, better-designed solution.

I believe passionately that the reader should be able to change type sizes, to allow “large print”, for instance. Fixed Layout ePubs are backward-looking, a short-term expediency hack, and an evolutionary dead end.


However, I believe just as passionately in a truth that every designer knows: design does not scale arbitrarily. Changing type size – especially by significant amounts – entails changing, or at least adjusting, the basic design.

There’s an easy way this can be done, with little effort. As a research project, I’ve produced two separate editions of Tanya’s book. The only difference between the two is that I use a different CSS style sheet for each case. All of the other XHTML is identical, except for the style sheet links.

You could use Javascript to switch CSS. But it would involve an intrusive additional piece of UI. If your ePub book is broken into separate XHTML files for each chapter, you’d need to ensure that not only did a choice made in the first chapter persist throughout the book, but that the size-change UI was always available.

There’s an easy way to do this. Apple’s iBooks menu already has “Smaller Text/Larger Text buttons. So here’s the third demand of my manifesto:

  • eBook readers should offer a set of APIs to allow a designer to hook into their Smaller Text/Larger Text UI and call the appropriate stylesheet, instead of the arbitrary scaling of today.
It might be that the designer wants to include a full ten size options (I can’t think why, but you never know). If only three were offered, the appropriate button would gray out when the top or bottom size was reached.

True design for eBooks is still to come. It is up to us as writers, designers, typographers and publishers to regain control over design in the digital future of books, and ensure that 550 years of book-publishing experience does not become lost in the transition.


Let’s allow Jan Tschichold to sleep easily in his grave…

Publishing for iPad: My iBooks Workspace…


My MacBookPro screen set up for iBook work
I’ve found this a great setup for working on iBooks on my 17″ MacBook Pro, and I decided to share it in case it’s of use to anyone else.
One of the problems with building and editing iBooks is that to see them displayed properly you really have to see them on an iPad. That’s a process with many steps:

  • Save your XHTML, CSS and Image files on your computer
  • Run ePubZip on the parent folder of your book to generate ePub
  • Run ePubCheck to find and fix errors
  • Delete the old version of your book from iTunes
  • Delete the old version from your iPad
  • Drag the new version into iTunes
  • Synch your iPad
  • Open the book


If you’re tweaking the CSS or the XHTML markup, having to do this every time is tedious beyond description.

However, the text rendering inside iBooks is done using Webkit – the same engine that Safari uses. While iBooks does not offer all the Webkit features, its rendering is close enough for most purposes. So a Safari window about the width of an iBook screen will let you view changes instantly.

  • Make changes
  • Save file
  • Hit Refresh in Safari


And you see the changes. It makes experimenting with styles, font sizes etc in your CSS stylesheet quick and painless.

The top window on the right-hand side holds the parent folder of the book. The window below that contains the ePub tools. 

Once you have the files the way you want them, generating the ePub is just a matter of dragging the top-level folder of your book onto the ePubZip icon.

Once the ePub has been generated, dragging its new icon onto the ePubCheck icon runs the check. When completed, that pops up a window listing errors, and also puts a text file containing them into the same folder as your ePub.

Elsewhere on my Mac, I have a “Working Archives” folder. As often as I can remember, I make a copy of the latest working ePub and drop it in there, in case I mess up the one on which I’m working. 

It’s not a very complex setup – or probably even very original. It grew organically as I worked, and is the most efficient and pain-free I’ve found so far. The process of building an iBook by hand needs all the help it can get – especially when you’re working with a book of 17 chapters, with more than 30 full-screen color illustrations so far.

Incidentally, Apple’s Publisher Guide suggests that you should use embedded fonts for short sections only – for example, to show a hand-written letter using a script font. However, I’ve proved to my satisfaction that the embedded font technology in iBooks, the ePub format and iBooks itself are more than robust enough to deal with Tanya’s 128-page, illustrated bird book, which so far is 12.8Mb in size…