The Association of American Publishers (AAP) has created an EPUB 3 Implementation Project whose goal is to "accelerate the across-the-board adoption of the EPUB 3 format in the consumer market." EPUB is an open, public standard format for electronic books created by the International Digital Publishing Forum. EPUB is going to be a very important format for delivering educational content (textbooks, lessons, etc.) to teachers and students. EPUB 3 is the latest version of the standard and is based on HTML5 and includes support for mathematics (MathML). Since the DAISY Consortium joined forces with IDPF to work on EPUB, we can also be sure that accessibility is an important goal.
EPUB 3 was created almost two years ago. While the publishing community has rallied around this standard, implementation in the form of EPUB 3 books, and EPUB 3 reading software and devices, has been slow in coming. Instead, the ebook market has been dominated by Apple and Amazon. While they have not shunned the EPUB 3 format, they have not embraced it either. Since they are focused on mass market novels and the like, the features of EPUB 3 just have not had much priority for them. AAP's new project intends to give EPUB 3 a much-needed push.
Our hope is that mathematical equations in ebooks become a first-class media type along with pictures, sound, and video. Besides being able to read math, readers should be able to copy an ebook's equations into other programs such as MathType, Mathematica, Maple, etc. Readers with print disabilities should be able to read equations via speech or braille. Readers should also be able to search for ebooks containing certain mathematics. Eventually, readers may be able to interact with the math by graphing equations and changing them to see how it affects the graph. Perhaps the reader can answer a quiz question by typing an equation answer and the ebook reader will show if it is correct. Because EPUB 3 supports MathML, largely due to Design Science participation, this is all a definite possibility. We at Design Science have also been involved in bringing the MathJax project together with the IDPF's Readium project. Readium is an EPUB 3 reading platform intended to demonstrate and validate the technology and help promote ebook reader development. Several companies have already used MathJax to display math in their ebook readers.
Since EPUB 3 includes support for math and accessibility, we at Design Science wholeheartedly support the AAP's new project. In fact, Neil Soiffer and I have been invited to partipate. We will post updates here as the project progresses. So, what can you do to support this project you may ask? If you are an educator that specifies, recommends, and/or purchases textbooks, or has friends in the publishing industry, you might let them know of your interest in EPUB 3 ebooks and this project. I envision the day when every computer and tablet comes with an accessible ebook reader that handles mathematics well. Such a day cannot come soon enough. Let's all work together to make it happen.