Apple today announced that it would begin offering digital textbooks on the iPad via its iBooks app. The books, which currently focus on high school-level subjects but will later expand to cover the entire K-12 curriculum, can cost up to $14.99, and Apple is working with publishing companies such as Pearson, McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and DK Publishing to make it happen. The textbook store is available in iBooks 2.0, which requires iOS 5 and is currently available as an update to the original iBooks app.

The digital textbooks can include interactive elements like pictures, video, or 3D models, which will be displayed more prominently while the tablet is in landscape mode, while flipping it into portrait mode will display a text-centric view. Students can highlight text in multiple colors and take notes, and use the app to automatically display flash cards of their highlights and notes mixed in with glossary terms from the book. Glossary terms, usually displayed in bold, can be tapped to bring up definitions of the word both from the book and from the built-in dictionary, and the text is fully searchable.

Of course, most of these features are imports from existing eBooks and old-school educational CD-ROMs - embedded video, highlighting, note taking, and many of the other things Apple showcased aren’t new innovations, though they appear to be implemented well here. More interesting was the iBooks Author app for OS X, available for no cost in the Mac App Store.

iBooks Author is used to create these interactive textbooks - pictures, videos, and Keynote presentations can be dragged into any of the provided templates, and authors of existing books can import their Word or Pages files to save time. More advanced coders can also create interactive widgets using HTML and Javascript. Publishing books requires an iBookstore seller account, the iTunes Producer app, and an active iTunes Connect contract with Apple - a full FAQ is available here. Once all of these requirements are met, the book can be submitted to Apple for review. Textbooks have a maximum size limit of 2GB.
The technology behind all of this looks solid - iBooks Author makes eBook authoring and publishing relatively painless, and buying the books on the iPad is cheaper than buying a physical copy, at least at face value. Carrying around a single iPad is much less burdensome than carrying a book, and the ease with which students can look up words, take notes, and review material is impressive.

Even so, to my mind there’s a sizable gap between what Apple announced today and something that could truly make digital textbooks ubiquitous: the cost of entry, i.e. either purchasing an iPad for each student’s use or mandating that students purchase iPads for school use, is fairly high, even if you figure for a conservative 3-4 year replacement cycle (and even with AppleCare, iPad warranties run out after two years, making a 2-3 year cycle more likely, especially once you factor in iPads that are dropped, spilled on, or otherwise destroyed). Over time, the reduced cost of the books may offset the cost of the iPads, but the upfront cost (along with the cost of supporting the devices) is likely to scare away cash-strapped public schools. The announcements made today are less likely to revolutionize education, and more likely to increase the usefulness of iPads in school systems that are already using them.

iBooks Author requires Lion and is currently available for free in the Mac App Store. iBooks 2.0 is available for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch as an upgrade for the original iBooks app, though digital textbooks are not available on the smaller devices.

Source: Apple

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  • Scannall - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    Times change, and methods change. I'm an old guy now, and back when I was taking physics, calculus and other advanced math we had to use sliderules. But, now a Ti-89 is the minimum you need for any of these.

    I think it's more than a bit premature to discard an idea on the basis of a product intro and a short article. I know they've spent a whole lot more time on this project than I have just reading this article.
  • jesh462 - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    The simple fact is, for any advanced class, you need to reference multiple textbooks across multiple pages. Trying to do this on tablet-size screen real estate with an OS that is as bad at multitasking as iOS is would be pure and simple torture. I would still spend the 250 for a real textbook rather than this half baked shtt.
  • JKolstad - Friday, January 20, 2012 - link

    I think it depends a lot on the class... I have a master's in electrical engineering, and while, yes, occasionally you need 2 or 3 books open, it's more the exception than the rule -- I probably did 90+% of my homework with just the class's main book and a calculator. Heck, I did most of my homework at the student union or the cafeteria or other places where I typically didn't *have* access to my other reference books anyway...

    Still, I agree with you that sometimes you absolutely do need more than one book. I see a couple of pretty easy solutions here: Take those more-challenging problems and solve them back at the dorm where you have your PC/Mac with a big monitor (display a couple of books side-by-side... or with a multi-monitor setup, 3 or 4), or just print out the relevant pages from each book *assuming the DRM allows this*. (And unfortunately that's often not a highly publicized detail of a given eBook...)

    I happened to visit the New York Public Library a couple months ago (awesome place!), and the big reading room (that you see in many movies, e.g., Ghostbusters) was full of people who almost all had laptops. I also saw a few who had more than one -- including the setup where they were writing a paper or taking notes on their laptop while using an iPad as an electronic book. That's still an expensive setup -- particularly if you do go the all-Apple route -- but these days it's pretty cheap compared to the overall cost of college.
  • Penti - Saturday, January 21, 2012 - link

    There is a problem though, iBook isn't available on your Mac or Win PC. It's a bit too appliance like, inflexible and unmovable in this case. It's no coherency. Appliances yes they should be, but not the content itself. And if you got the textbooks in PDFs/ePub you can use everywhere you wouldn't need a iPad to read them, a cheap Android tablet or a Nook Tablet or Kindle Fire would probably do then. iPad would be fine too in that case though.

    It's not that tablets and notebooks are expensive a Macbook Air 11 plus iPad 2 wifi 16GB is only $999 plus $499. A cheaper route of the same thing would be a $200 tablet and a $600-700 dollar computer. Considering the school fees the councils pony up here in Sweden (for lower education up to secondary school) and other costs that's really nothing for the school. If you think about corporations most of your desk cost is software hardware is just a small fracture. Schools that neglect the software portion can get away with giving high-school / secondary level students computers especially private ones. Adding a e-reader, or tablet as just one other thing that is not used for pedagogy won't really bleed them dry, every other classroom already has 3000 dollar smartboards that is not in use (or at least not more useful then a 500 dollar projector). It's the infrastructure to use them that would be expensive and halting or faltering. For college, university students it's all pretty much their responsibility, the professor can get away with having written all the material (compendium) for the class himself that is already distributed electronically on some classes some of the books are available as ebook or warez, they acquire the textbooks directly from the publishers, and so on. The more that is moved over electronically it should all be good and get better, moving back to stationary terminals isn't really an option, but for those it doesn't make sense to have iBook/iTunes as a channel if it is exclusively so. It takes a lot not to replicate and end up with the same results as those Educational CDROM's and previous none widely used electronic media. Those low-res screens probably aren't suited for maths and physics also. You can forget about printing out anything. You can forget to save on book costs.
  • jesh462 - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    I agree. Real school work is just stupid to try to get done on a tablet - especially an iOS based one.
  • cptcolo - Sunday, January 22, 2012 - link

    "or math homework with a digital textbook is fail.

    It can take as many as 3 or 4 books open concurrently and frequently referenced to accomplish the task.

    Tablets and laptops aren't practical for this. "

    This is SO TRUE. I have tried before, it is just annoying. You can't flip through a PDF quickly either whither it is on iPad or viewing it on a laptop. Reference text books will be around.
  • GotThumbs - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    So Apple will not become a book editor/publisher......Get 30% (or more) off the top for selling the books through Itunes, then get 600+ from sale of iproducts and needed accessories.

    This smells solely of a self-serving venture.

    Now if this was an open concept that was Open would allow for greater consideration.....but its not.

    No thanks Apple.
  • KoolAidMan1 - Friday, January 20, 2012 - link

    A business trying to make a profit, how shocking
  • Metaluna - Friday, January 20, 2012 - link

    No, what's shocking is witnessing a monopoly/cartel in the making, and people are cheering it on like they just cured AIDS.
  • doobydoo - Sunday, January 22, 2012 - link

    Just because this is innovative, a world first, and a great way for students to save money, doesn't make it a monopoly.

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