Apple's iPad went on pre-order for the lucky Amer'cans today (the rest of us have to wait an interminable extra week or so) but Apple also revealed a little more about its iBooks effort. Guess what? It's surprisingly open.
Clicking on the iPad page at Apple.com now reveals a segment in the "Features" tab that explains much more about the iPad e-reading iBooks app and its supporting iBookstore service than we've heard until now. It's due to launch at the same time as the iPad—April 3rd—and iBooks will serve as e-reader, book-shelving service and portal to the Apple digital book store.
We knew iBooks would support the open-standard ePub books format (recently championed by a group of tech-industry e-book hopefuls, including Sony) but we didn't know for sure whether that meant you could read any ePub-formatted text, in a similar way to being able to drop any old MP3 into an iPod, as well as officially-purchased Apple tracks. Now we know: And yes, you can. This goes a long way to boosting the iPad's functionality of course, and means you'll be able to drop files in that you've purchased from other e-bookstores that perhaps have deals with publishers that Apple's not pulled into the fold yet.
More features are also outlined: You can switch between single-page mode when holding iPad like a notepad, and double-page when holding it like an open book in landscape mode automatically. For accessibility purposes you can select the font size to make things easier to read, and you can choose fonts you may prefer. Tapping a word in an e-book will bring up a dictionary definition from the built-in Apple dictionary, or take you to Wikipedia or the web to do more in-depth research (a definite boon for those planning to use iPad in an educational context.) VoiceOver is also enabled, meaning you can get text read aloud automatically...though we're waiting for the Author's Guild to get their panties in a bunch over this, the same way they did for the Kindle.
And the specifications page on the iPad store also reveals something that's not been mentioned much on the Intertubes: The iPad has a "screen rotation lock" switch on its side control panel. And that's fabulous, solving one problem that irritates iPhone users currently—that of the display autorotating the "wrong" way when you lie down in bed to read a page or watch a video. Clearly the iPad is going to be used more like this than the iPhone, and Apple's thought about it.
What we still don't know is whether or not Apple will bolt in FairPlay DRM to books sold through its iBooks portal, so you can access them on devices other than the iPad, and when iBooks will roll out around the rest of the world. But watch this space—it won't be long until Apple reveals more on this.
To read more news like this, not yet in ePub format, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.