What’s new in iBooks 1.5

Apple has released iBooks 1.5, an update to its free, universal e-book reader and storefront to the iOS iBookstore. It’s a nice update with welcome new features like a new Night theme for reading in the dark, a full-screen layout option (finally), several new fonts and a revamped annotation palette.

Plus, you can finally say goodbye to the dull covers than come with free public domain books (though making your own isn’t that difficult). Here’s my look at iBooks 1.5 for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.

New Night theme

Apple has created a new white-on-black “Night” theme meant to improve readability in the dark. It’s definitely effective, and moving the brightness slider a bit to the left improves things further.

I’ve been using the Sepia theme for a while now as I disliked the bright white, and now I’ll certianly use Night when reading in low light conditions. It doesn’t reduce glare, of course, but it’s much more pleasant that having an all-white page (or all-sepia for that matter) blast light into your eyes.

To enable the Night theme, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the font icon located on the upper right-hand side.
  2. Tap Theme.
  3. Tap Night.

I’ve been using it while reading in bed, but I imagine seatmates on a bus or airplane would appreciate this setting, too.

Full-screen layout

This is such a welcome improvement. The new full-screen layout lets you hide the stack of “pages,” center binding and cover illustration on your iBooks. Once enabled, it fills your screen with text and hides those potentially distracting elements. It looks especially good in landscape orientation, as the picture below illustrates.

To go full-screen with your iBooks, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the font icon located in the upper right-hand corner.
  2. Tap Theme.
  3. Move the Full Screen slider to the On position.

That’s it. Take the de-cluttering a step further by tapping the book to hide the top and bottom toolbar. Note that the book’s title and author remain at the top of the page (title only while in portrait orientation) and the page count remians at the bottom, though they’re dimmed when you dismiss the toolbars. The page-turn animation also remains when full-screen is enabled.

Full-screen before and after

New Fonts

iBooks 1.5 offers four new fonts, bringing the total to seven (new additions marked with a *):

  • Athelas*
  • Charter*
  • Georgia
  • Iowan*
  • Palatino
  • Seravek*
  • Times New Roman

I’m no typeface geek, so I’ll let you suss those out.

New covers for public domain books

Another welcome, albeit purely cosmetic, change. These look a lot better than the basic beige of many Gutenburg project titles.

Incidentally, it’s quite easy to create your own iBook covers for free Gutenburg titles. Just make sure you don’t violate any copyright laws. First, here’s how to create the image.

  1. Find an image you’d like to use. You can do a Google image search, of course, but perhaps a photo you took in Verona, Italy will be even better for that copy of Romeo & Juliet.
  2. Create a new layer and add your title.
  3. Re-size the image. Choose 420×599 pixels and it’ll have the same dimensions as the other books on the iBookshelf.
  4. Compress the image to a single layer and export as a high-quality JPG.

Next you’ll have to replace the boring beige cover. This process will be familiar to anyone who’s altered iTunes artwork on a podcast, album, etc.

  1.  Open iTunes and click the Books category.
  2. Right-click (or Control-click) on your target book and select Get Info.
  3. Click the Artwork tab.
  4. Drag and drop your image into the box and you’re all set. The image will appear in iBooks on your iPad after your next sync.

Re-designed annotation palette

There are some nice changes here for those who like to mark up their e-books with highlights and notes. Apple has redesigned the palette with new colors and styles. To make changes, call up the Highlight menu:

  1. Double-tap a word you’d like to highlight.
  2. A menu appears, offering Define, Highlight, Note and Search. Tap Highlight.
  3. The color palette appears. There are six colors to choose from, as well as cancel and Note.

The color you choose will apply to the current and future highlights as well as notes. You can, of course, choose a differnt color at any time.

There are a few interesting things to note here. First, most of colors look terrible with the Night theme. The default yellow esepcially turns a sickly olive green. If you intend to use the Night theme and highlights a lot, I recommend the bright purple (fourth from the left in the image at left). It looks the best in the Night theme.

Also, highlights retain their color when viewed in the table of contents, but notes are always depicted as blue (see below). Finally, the full-screen layout is exclusive to the iPad; you won’t find that option on the iPhone or iPod touch. Frankly, they don’t need it. There’s no central fold illustration in iBooks on those devices, and the stack of “pages” is so subtle you barely notice it.

All in all this is a very nice update. I recommend downloading it whole-heartedly.