I have seen a little praise for Apple's iBooks authoring system. I have seen a lot of complaints. My view is more complicated.
We have clearly needed a set of standards for ebooks for some time. The publishers are not interested, and can only be dragged in kicking and screaming. This actually parallels the success of the iPod.
We know that digital music was the wave, and wanted some coherent system and uniform interoperability. Some devices came out, but were hampered by operability, interoperability, and mutually incompatible formats, etc. Apple stepped in with the iPod/iTunes, and it simply worked. The file formats were proprietary and incompatible with everyone else's – and still are – but they crushed the market at the time, and still own it. No one but iTunes can make reliably an m4a file that an iPod can read, and no other brand player can play them – they did release Apple Lossless to the public, however. Competent MP3 players lay ignored on the $5 racks at stores, and iPod sales are strong.
The upcoming iBooks market will look the same. The nooks, kindles, Sonys, et cetera, are popular but mutually incompatible. None have the support of the publishers, but two have the support of major content resellers/marketers. The demand is there, but the players have succeeded in fragmenting the market – and we still cannot put a damned equation into an ebook! This makes technical books impractical without resorting to the pdf format – which has terrible software support on existing readers excepting the iPad.
The iPad is an expensive, but very good, reader. It has some disadvantages as a reader compared to the nook and kindle, but it offers some serious advantages for advanced content. The iBooks format will render well, and will allow advanced and active content – perhaps even equations. The system will allow content creators to provide the knowledge and innovations without having to hand-craft the component xhtml files, validate them individually, hand assemble them into the package, and then validate the package – all from the command line with a patchwork of kludgy tools.
I am pissed that I got into this too early, and invested my time, energy, and money into the ePub format that is now a waste. With some luck, I can dump my nook and migrate to the iPad.