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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.

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