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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  • ananduser - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    It appears that Apple does not want to stray from its perceived ideal price of an ibook, 14.99$; the same price for which it is under investigation for colluding with the publishers, aka pricefixing.
  • rfbrang - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    I don't know how it is today but all of our books were 5-10yrs old in HS. Physics, Chem, Earth Science, Precalc, Shakespeare, and College Prep don't change that often. Demanding people buy an overpriced toy that needs to be replaced every 2-3years will not fly with taxpayers. The school system purchasing the digital book rights and demanding the student families purchase a specific overpriced toy to run the books will not fly with parents. Some people actually want to keep their books a few extra years for review.
  • JKolstad - Friday, January 20, 2012 - link

    I wouldn't be so sure -- people are already accustomed to spending tens of thousands of dollars for college, and it'd be a VERY rare college student today who doesn't have a laptop (which not that many years ago many people would have called "toys" as well). Adding a tablet to that mix is already not uncommon, and overall isn't going to be seen as that big of a deal IMO -- especially if tablet prices fall or if Apple is smart enough to release their reader for Android.

  • twotwotwo - Friday, January 20, 2012 - link

    Apple's going to offer some solution to the "how do you pay for the iPads?" problem, likely one that lets the student/family own the iPad. Maybe it's a low-end education-only iPad (ePad!). Maybe it's deals with school districts (get all your kids using iPads and Apple will discount or throw in some free pads for students in lower-income families or something). Maybe it's a boring old education discount, but deeper. Maybe they foresee a $200 Apple tablet in X years and they're laying the groundwork early to get those in schools.

    In other words, I think the textbook deal is part of a bigger push to get iPads in classrooms. I don't think they'd start in on this without a long-term plan that could succeed, and this deal alone isn't it.
  • Hector2 - Friday, January 20, 2012 - link

    This is a good application for eBooks and the iPad. But at the end of the day, you really can't learn any more from using an eBook than from a standard textbook. Just throwing money at computers for kids isn't going to make them smarter or better educated. Unless it's cost-effective, It 'll just increase the cost of education
  • IceClaec - Saturday, January 21, 2012 - link

    While I do think the textbook aspect is nifty (though I will never use it), the writer's app has some slightly disturbing properties. For example, read the following portion from the EULA on the app:

    "If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software (a “Work”), you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g., through the iBookstore) and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple."

    Basically, if you use the app, they own the work. This quote aptly sums it up:

    "It’s akin to Microsoft trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can’t freely sell it to Getty. As far as I know, in the consumer software industry, this practice is unprecedented."

    You can read more about it here:
  • vincent8687 - Sunday, January 22, 2012 - link

  • EssV - Monday, January 23, 2012 - link

    Is this from Apple or kno( on IPADs? Kno had this for quite sometime.
  • Curlysrevenge - Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - link

    Apple is the biggest drug dealer in the world regarding education. They practically give away technology and then when the need arises to update or add apps charge an arm and a leg. There is no such thing as a 15 dollar text book digital or otherwise. What is in it for Person and the others to slash their prices by over 150% so that Apple can push Ipads?

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