Apple updates iBooks, adds organization and full illustration support

The latest version of Apple's iBooks app for iPad and iPhone lets you group books your way, print notes, and see full color images.

Yesterday, the upgrade plans for the Nook Color were reported (Froyo and the launch of Barnes and Noble’s Nook app store but not the Android Market). Today, Apple has its own e-reader upgrade and expansion news.

First off, the Canadian government has green-lighted the launch of a Canadian version of Apple’s iBookstore, which is good news for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch users in the country as well as for Apple (in unrelated news, Rogers, Canada’s largest mobile carrier also announced it will unlock its customers’ iPhones for use on any carrier once their contracts expire – something sure to create envy in the hearts of U.S. iPhone owners).

More significantly, Apple has updated the iBooks app for all iOS devices. The new update (version 1.2) is available free from the App Store and contains some a couple of pretty significant new features (as well as a new icon). Chief among these is the ability to organize books into collections.

Collections can be any grouping of books that you can imagine: biographies, horror, science fiction, mysteries, children’s books, and so on. They can also be more granular and contain specific sub-genres, only the works of a particular author, or books in a particular series of novels. Or anything else that seems logical or appropriate to you.

One nice use is that you can also separate out books that you’ve finished reading from ones your currently reading and/or ones that you haven’t started (a nice feature similar to the Kindle’s Archive feature.

By default collections exist for all books and all PDFs, though as you create your own collections, you can intermingle both ebooks and PDF files in a single collection. As before, you can move books around within a collection. Clicking on the collections button (which also displays the name of the current collection) allows you to switch between collections. As you might expect, you can rearrange books or remove them from collections at any time.

Collections will sync across all of your iOS devices (iPad and iPhone, for example) along with notes, bookmarks, highlights, and where you left off reading. This is a big time saver, but can be turned off if you don’t want to sync your books and collections.

Another nice feature is the ability to print all notes you’ve made “in” an ebook using iBooks via Apple’s AirPrint (obviously, this requires a supported printer, of which there are few at the moment). You can also email notes, though the email doesn’t specify the book for which you made the notes. Still, it’s handy feature, particularly for reference books being used for research purposes.

Finally , the update introduces full illustration support. This has been a challenge for some ebook titles, particularly children’s books where images are at least as important as text (if not more so). Illustration support is also full-color – a benefit for a number titles beyond children’s books such as titles about astronomy, biology, and even some cookbooks.

All in all, it’s nice to see Apple is taking further development of its e-reader platform and store seriously and delivering improvements that will appeal to almost all users.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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