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iBook Lessons: BookWidgets

iBook Lessons is a continuing series about ebook writing and publishing.

Developer Niels V. has been hard at work developing customizable HTML5 widgets for iBooks Author integration. He and his partner started working on this project when iBooks Author first debuted this past January. Since then, their iBooks Widget creation tool has matured (although it is still not quite ready for sale) and the first book using this technology is now for sale in the iBookstore.

The book in question is Ranching and Reading by Dr. Marti Dryk. It's a reading comprehension and vocabulary text. Dr. Dryk's publisher, Bruce Brown of E Skills Learning, contacted Niels after discovering his tool. He was looking specifically for a quiz widget that allowed students to send results to their teachers. Unfortunately, although iBooks Author offers a built-in review widget, it does not provide any communication capabilities. Student answers and performance cannot be sent to teachers.

Previously, Brown and his colleagues were involved in publishing education apps. They decided to test out the iBooks waters. "Ranching and Reading" was their first entry into an iBooks alternative to applications. Their primary hurdle, however, was what Brown called "accountability." He explained how teachers needed to know how the students performed on the iBooks quiz.

iBooks Widget's quiz widget seemed to be a perfect match. This widget creates quizzes with a variety of question types (including multiple choice, text answers, and picture ordering) and report results to the teacher. The student can immediately review which questions he got right, but he cannot modify his answers.

The quiz widget is just one of about eight or nine widgets that Niels has been creating. (He's still in the process of creating more.) Other standouts include an image carousel with Google Maps integration, an interactive graphing plot generator, and an embedded streaming YouTube widget. Although the focus to date has been on education, these tools can be used in any genre of books.

The widget creation tool remains in private beta, although Niels has been working with customers like E Skills Learning who have contacted him through his web page. "We're waiting to see how the tools mature," he told TUAW, "to decide when we do our product launch." He does not yet have a fixed date to offer.

He invites interested parties to contact him on the website landing page. Niels is responding to queries as he receives them. In addition, he points to his free guide about creating interactive books in iBooks Author. If you sneak a peek at Chapter 6, you'll find a deployed preview of several of these widgets.

The goal is to deliver a creation tool that lets you pay (using a credit-based system) to build watermark-free and royalty-free widget exports, which you can then fold directly into your iBooks Author creations, and then upload to the iBookstore without further payment.

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