Textbooks as software: Apple debuts iBooks 2, iBooks Author in new digital education push

The new iBooks Author tool, available for free starting to day in the Mac App Store. (Credit: Apple)

At an event in New York City this morning, Apple unveiled a new version of its iBooks platform for reading interactive textbooks on the iPad, plus a free e-book creation tool for Mac called iBooks Author that can be used for making all sorts of digital books, not just textbooks.

The initiative, which will start with high school textbooks, has the support of major textbook publishers including Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Textbooks will be $14.99 or less. Apple says the books will belong to the students, allowing them to receive ongoing updates when they’re updated by the author or publisher.

Features of the interactive textbooks include full-screen views, integration with Apple’s Keynote presentation software, and the ability to aggregate notes on virtual study cards.

iBooks 2 and iBooks Author will be available today from the App Store.

Apple also announced a new standalone iTunes U app, redesigned to serve as a digital companion to a course, enabling posts and updates from teachers, and a syllabus and interactive list of assignments for the class. It’s also available for free starting today.

If embraced by schools, the move could lead to further adoption of the iPad in education. Apple’s new products have competitive implications for companies across the industry, notably Amazon with its Kindle Fire and Kindle e-readers, and Microsoft with its Windows tablets.

Engadget, CNet, and The Verge are among sites with live blogs from the scene.

Updated at 8:25 a.m. to correct the name of the iBooks creation tool.

Update, 8:46 a.m.: Here’s the link to iBooks Author in the Mac App Store.

  • Anonymous

    A few observations about this announcement:
    1. I couldn’t find it anywhere in the announcement but I doubt that iBooks Create will publish  e-books in an open format so the observation that the books will “belong to the students” should probably be qualified with the statement “as long as students have an Apple device on which to read them”.
    2. This announcement almost certainly kills the cottage industry of creating apps for individual book titles.
    3. I also didn’t see anything announced about connecting one’s books to one’s social network. If Apple’s effort to do this with music (Ping) is any indication, then this is an area that is still open for innovation among startups.

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Thanks, Evan, good observations. Particularly on the first point, I’ll see what I can find out.

      Just an fyi, I initially had the name of the creation tool incorrect in the post — it’s iBooks Author. I’ve had my coffee now and updated the post, and noted the correction. Apologies for leading you or anyone else astray on that one.

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Here’s the fine print from the iBooks Author download page.

      “Submit your book to the iBookstore for sale or free download with a few simple steps*• Export your book in iBooks format to share on iTunes U or to give to others• Create a version of your book as a PDF file
      * Books may only be sold through the iBookstore; additional terms and conditions apply.”

  • Guest

    Congratulations to Apple on this big announcement! Bringing affordable textbooks to the masses is a noble goal.

    • AppleFUD

      yeah. . . if you have an ipad and you can only sell your work via iBooks if you use apple tools.

      yeah, that’s bringing it to the “masses” = 0.06% of the population. 

      • Guest

        Apple will sell 55 million iPads and 116 million iPhones this summer. On top of the 200 million iOS devices already in use, we estimate that more than 5% of the world already owns an Apple device that can read iBooks. And that’s before iBooks for Mac OS X comes out, which will enable even more readers to read iBooks.

        • Anonymous

          Question: How many of these owners are in school?

          • Guest

            All of them.

            School never ends. I learn something new every day and I encourage all of my followers never to stop learning.

    • Anonymous

      Affordable if you don’t count the price of an iPad or Apple device… The “masses” would be served by something that was platform agnostic me thinks

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      I suggest you read Audrey Watters’ excellent analysis of this announcement on Hack Education. The “affordable” part may not be, if you consider how often schools now buy textbooks (every six or seven years to be reused by different students, versus once every year for each student), and the whole issue of vendor lock:
      http://hackeducation.com/2012/01/19/apple-and-the-textbook-counter-revolution/ 

      For those of us who know something about the education market in K-12 and colleges, this is more of a mild evolution than a disruptive revolution, even if welcome.

      The only exception might be the ability for teachers and college instructors to quickly create a cool and useful eTextbook, but then they’re restricted to putting it in the iBookstore and only having it available for iPads.

  • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

    The devil will be in the implementation details and the eventual quantity of popular, current textbook titles available. What Apple has announced here doesn’t appear to be cutting-edge: if the reports are accurate, it’s single platform reading (iOS on iPad) and not social, at a time when other platform players entering the e-textbook market (with some of the very same large textbook publisher partners) have a greater feature set. 

    Apple could differentiate on price and its broad ability to force distribution through its platform, as it appears to be doing, if all the textbooks to be offered are full course, current editions. But at first glance, this appears to be Cupertino playing catch-up and hoping to popularize what others are already doing, albeit in its usual spectacular way.

    • AppleFUD

      I agree with you. Nothing new here that hasn’t been around for a while and major ebook providers have been pushing toward platform neutrality not lockin like apple is attempting here.

      This is nothing more than apple trying to raise their garden walls around ebooks, nothing more.

  • http://twitter.com/JoshMullineaux JoshMullineaux

    It is wonderful to have a large company such as Apple step into a market that needs to be disrupted. You could make the argument that nothing is as important as education. Making textbooks more beautiful and engaging is great, however, if you speak to school district officials and department heads at universities, and other stakeholders in educational resources, their budgets are shrinking in size not increasing. Saving schools and students money is the real issue we need to be tackling. Making education more reachable is the goal. Platform and device agnosticism is key here as well as coming up with a completely different publishing model.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

      Agreed that “platform and device agnosticism” are key. The K-12 and higher ed administrators and instructors I’ve talked with and have heard speak want content to be open (not necessarily free, but open) so it can be used on various devices, chunked and mixed-and-matched as the course of study requires. I don’t see any of that reflected, as of yet, in the Apple e-textbook announcement.