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Apple is launching a new version of its iBooks software, tailored to present vivid, interactive textbooks for elementary and high school students on its iPad tablets.
IBooks 2 will be able to display books with videos and other interactive features, the company announced Thursday at an event at an event at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
It's not clear how Apple plans to get it front of students, however, since textbooks are subject to lengthy approval processes by states. Also, few students have iPads, which start at $499.
Apple also revealed iBook Author, an application for Macs that lets people create electronic textbooks.
Major textbook publishers have been making electronic versions of their products for years. Until recently, there hasn't been any hardware suitable to display the books, so e-textbooks have had little impact. PCs are too expensive and cumbersome to be good e-book machines for students. Dedicated e-book readers like the Kindle have small screens and can't display color.
Tablet computers like the iPad, however, are both portable and capable of showing textbooks in vivid color.
Apple is also setting up a textbook section its iTunes store.
Among the launch titles will be two high school textbooks — Biology and Environmental Science — from Pearson PLC and five from McGraw-Hill. They will cost $15 or less, said Phil Schiller, Apple's head of marketing.
Schools will be able to buy the books for its students and issue redemption codes to them, he said.
According to biographer Walter Isaacsson, company founder Steve Jobs in the last year of his life was working to radically change the textbook market. At a dinner in early 2011, Jobs told News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch that the paper textbooks could be made obsolete by the iPad. Jobs wanted to circumvent the state certification process for textbook sales by having Apple release textbooks for free on the tablet computer.
The new format looks very promising, and with the addition of interactive diagrams, timelines, and review questions, could really help to better engage students. As I mentioned on another iBooks post here, it's a bit disappointing that the reader is currently available only on the iPad. iTunes is Windows/Mac compatible, free and allows users to access Apple's store to purchase music, books, apps, and more. It seems very restrictive to only permit reading of iBooks on Apple's iPad, when PC and Mac laptops (along with Android devices) would be more than capable of doing the same.
That being said, I understand Apple's rationale for making the free iBooks Author available only on a Mac platform - to drive up sales of hardware, but if Apple really expects to dominate the digital textbook market, they've got to open up the iBooks reader to other platforms.