Thursday, January 19, 2012

Apple is reinventing the textbook.

By Edward C. Baig, USA TODAY

Published: 1/19/2012 10:55:20 AM

At New York's Guggenheim Museum, Apple's senior vice president for worldwide marketing Phil Schiller unveiled iBooks 2, an interactive, full-screen digital textbooks experience that makes liberal use of video and animations and the swiping and pinching gestures familiar to anyone who has an iPad. Students can purchase the new digital textbooks starting today right from Apple's iBookstore.

Apple also announced iBooks Author, a free tool for Macintosh computers with custom templates to help authors create and publish their own digital textbooks. Schiller says teachers could even take advantage of iBooks Author to create lesson plans.

And Apple is also broadening its iTunes U program with a new app that lets professors create full online courses. The company is also letting K-12 institutions participate.

"Education is deep in our DNA and has been from the very beginning," Schiller says, pointing to how the U.S. has sagged in education — ranking 17th, 23rd and 31st around the world in reading, science and math, respectively.

The company's hope is that students will find the new textbooks engaging. Students studying high school biology, for example, can view 3-D animated models of structures within a cell. They can tap a word or a glossary definition, pinch to return to the table of contents, and drag their finger to highlight a passage. The books can automatically turn student notes into study cards.

Though Apple is targeting the new textbooks at any age or grade level, the early emphasis is on high-school textbooks. Books will be priced at $14.99 or less. Early publishing partners include Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who collectively control 90% of the market, with some of the titles available immediately. Apple is also working with DK Publishing on titles that cover dinosaurs, insects, mammals and the ABCs.

"Life on Earth" from noted biologist E.O. Wilson is also being made available; the first two chapters are free. Additional chapters will be available at "very aggressive prices," Schiller says.

Still, there are questions about how quickly this will all be adopted. During his presentation, Schiller did not mention how many books will be available. Also, few students have iPads, which start at $499.

And as NPD analyst Ross Rubin tweeted, "Much as with other printed content, textbook publishers will have to justify investment to add all this multimedia in Apple textbooks."

Contributing: Associated Press

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