At a press event at the Guggenheim Museum in NY, Apple yesterday introduced a new, free application for creating electronic books called iBooks Author, and while it has some notable limitations, it promises the kind of step-function increase in user empowerment not seen since the days of Hypercard. Seriously, it gave me flashbacks to 1987. And I don't say that lightly.
The iBooks Author software is essentially a page-oriented multimedia creation tool; that is, you can imagine PowerPoint on steroids, or for those familiar with high-end production, Quark or inDesign. But in addition to allowing you to easily create pages with rich media assets, it takes you to the next step, automatically packaging everything up in an electronic publication format distributable on the iPad.
If you time traveled back to 1986 and showed me an iPad, I would have been really excited, particularly with its size (and, oh, THE INTERNET). If you came back two years later and said "Look, now you can publish and distribute a multimedia book on this device!" I probably would have said "Wait, you mean you couldn't before?"
iBooks Author is a big deal -- for example, my sister desperately needs to be able to write a textbook illustrating her methods of teaching digital media to artists -- but it is yet another case where Apple is doing the obvious thing and the rest of the industry is just flailing around. Or, not even that, just lying still.
Also, I don't really understand why this isn't just an extension to Pages.