Well the details are out, and I don't think this is the Amazon killer that was being mooted, nor should it present a risk to Smashwords. But it does have some very interesting features that may result in some innovative books being produced and could be Apple's next big, bold move.
First, the deal. Although the eBooks to be uploaded will be in ePub - an industry standard as long as your second name isn't Amazon (with your first name being www dot) who use their own format, which if they hadn't so successfully carved out such a large chunk of the eBook market would be considered a bad thing for them, but they have so the jury isn't done deliberating yet.
So using an industry standard format should make this process accessible, right? Well, right-ish. Despite it being a platform independant standard, Apple are only releasing the software that gives you access to publishing with them on Apple machines. At first glance that shouldn't be too suprising, but hang on - in our house, which is probably reasonably representative in accumulated technology terms, we have a number of PCs (a desktop rarely used, two laptops used daily and a netbook last seen disappearing in the direction of my daughter's house) plus an iPad and an iPhone. I don't think we're alone in recognising the value and utility of the iPad but haven't felt compelled to ditch the PC technology for the Apple devices. I know they're good, people love them; but by God they're expensive and as I tend to do the following things on my laptop - write books, blogs, emails and surf the Internet then I doubt a Mac would give me that much more than a PC that justifies the price difference.
But here's the real crippler - any books published using the Apple software are to exist exclusively on Apple - no concurrent publishing on Amazon, Kobo, Sony et al. Or publish via those channels plus Smashwords and you still get your books on Apple iBook store anyway. It's a tough call, but one I can resist - heck, at least Amazon is trying to bribe me to run with them exclusively - they have just increased the January bribe to $700,000 to be shared around. But I'm sticking with her Majesty The Queen and resisting the bribe.
So now we've got the two biggest players in the eBook world trying to get exclusive rights to eBooks - I don't think in the long run following this trend is going to produce any winners, just a lot of fragmentation and therefore losers.
However at the top of this blog I suggested that there were some features that bear consideration, which given my previous paragraphs might seem a strange way to conclude with. Before Christmas Apple gave away an interactive eBook based on the The Beatles' Yellow Submarine film and record. Apart from being about forty years late it was very well done, it included sound and animation and ran very smoothly - who would think we would be talking about books running? My guess is that Apple aren't looking to the music promotion media as the way forward, though. They are looking at what could be the future of textbooks - truly interactive training manuals from pre-school to University level course books - how about a Gray's Anatomy carried on an iPad where the med students could delve deeper and deeper in the circulatory system; or how about the aircraft maintenance manual that had animated hydraulic circuits that the engineer could input realistic faults to so that they could analyse symptoms in front of them on the dispersal (I know I'd have loved that when working on military aircraft operationally)?
I suspect Apple won't be too cut up by my not porting my five novels across - they'll still be able to sell them anyway - but I for one, as a technical author, will be looking at their new iniative very closely as it could herald a brave new world for those of us with appropriate technical skills and knowledge. I may even look at buying a second hand Mac!
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