Missed in all the iPad hoopla: Great features in the new iBooks 3.0

At last week's event Apple announced version 3.0 of iBooks, their free ebook-reading app for iPhone and iPad, and iBooks Author, their free software for the Macintosh that lets users create multimedia, multitouch ebooks. The iBooks app adds a range of great features that many had been clamoring for. Most notably, you can now, finally, copy passages of text and share that text via email, iMessage, Facebook, or Twitter. This had been a big handicap in previous versions of the software, especially if you were working on an academic paper and needed to quote passages. The only way you could do it was to retype it.

Similarly, in the past you could jot notes in your ebooks, but those notes were stuck in iBooks. You could easily navigate to those notes and view them in situ, but there was no way to copy them into other documents or share them. With version 3.0 you can note share your notes or print them. PLUS, your notes also include the text from the ebook that they're referring to.

These are very helpful changes and make the app much more useful in a wider range of contexts. When you do share copied passages from the books, they include a link to the book in iBookstore so that the person with whom you're sharing the material can easily purchase a copy of the book, if desired.

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iBooks also has a number of other new features. Instead of turning pages you can now have continuous scrolling -- a feature some think was prompted by the smaller screen of the iPad mini. The pages are still discrete, with page numbers appearing as you scroll through the book. And there are visible breaks between sections.

There are also a number of new iCloud features. iCloud will now keep track of which page you're on should you continue reading your book on a different device. Your bookmarks, notes, and highlights are also stored in the cloud, so that they appear across devices. iBooks also now includes a new collection, called Purchased Books, that shows you a shelf of all the books that you've purchased from the iBookstore. Similar to iTunes Match, if you have a book in iCloud that's not currently on your device, there will be a little icon on it indicating that it's in the cloud. Tap it, and the book will download to your device. An additional new feature is automatic notification of new editions -- and the ability to freely download the new edition.

The new iBooks app can also take advantage of the new features of iBooks author. These include a wider variety of fonts and 9 new templates, including some templates designed specifically for reading ebooks in portrait orientation. Also, the vertical templates provide uniform pagination so that it's easier to specific pages if you're a teacher assigning pages to be read or an academician citing the text. Other features include more support for embedded audio and support for mathematical expressions.

These are significant upgrades for these free apps, and it shows Apple's commitment to the iBooks/education environment.

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Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.