Even before iBooks Author took the stage in 2012, Apple offered the average Mac user a way to build basic ebooks through its word-processing software, Pages. Now, after four years of stagnation, the company has (surprisingly) started improving the app's ePub export capabilities. Here's a look at what's changed (and what still needs work).
Four years of silence
Pages originally debuted its ebook export option back in August of 2010. Like its Word export feature, Pages's ebook export could only translate certain aspects of your document into ePub format (the primary filetype used by iBooks as well as most non-Amazon readers available at the time); so, for example, certain text stylings and rich text elements might not appear correctly in the ePub. Additionally, many of those elements required very precise formatting in the Pages document in order to actually appear in the exported file.
Apple provided interested ebook-makers with some basic guidelines and an externally-linked template in a support document on its website, but both had omissions and offered clunky workarounds in compensation for missing features. I had the privilege of experiencing most of those in my daily work: We used Pages for a full year to build our Macworld Superguides ebooks before switching to a Word/InDesign workflow, and my frustration with the software led to severalarticles and a conference talk.
After two years went by without any improvement to Pages's tools, I assumed Apple's ebook engineers were working elsewhere and when iBooks Author was released, those presumptions seemed to have been confirmed. Why would Apple focus its energy on a a limited export option that could never fully reflect the original version when it had iBooks Author to work on?
The joke's on me
Despite iBooks Author's existence, it turns out that there's at least one engineer on the iWork team still interested in ePub export. When the new version of the iWork suite was released, I discovered that someone had snuck into Pages 5.0 a bunch of fixes for some of the most glaring ebook export problems. For example, you can now manually insert page breaks into an ebook by using Pages's break tools, rather than having to use the template's "Chapter Heading" template to do so.
But that's not all: The Pages 5.2 update last week actually mentioned "improved ePub export" in its release notes, and added a few more fixes. That's right: Not only did someone take the time to improve ePub export for Pages 5.0, but they seem to actively be working on making it better with future releases.
Why restart development on Pages's ebook export tools now? My bet's on making sure there are (semi) usable tools for authors looking to publish ebooks to the iPhone. iBooks Author doesn't yet (and may never have) an iPhone export option, and given that authors can prep iBooks Author books in Pages, better tools in the word-processing program are a great way to ensure that Apple's products stay relevant in the ebook-creation game.
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