Apple to take textbooks to the digital age with iBooks 2 and iBooks Author

Apple doesn’t think the textbook is going to be the ideal learning tool of tomorrow’s classrooms. The company believes today’s textbooks are heavy, that they are expensive and that they wear out.

“Yet,” company exec Phil Schiller said, “the content is amazing.”

He positioned the iPad as more portable and durable than paper and instantly updated, unlike today’s books. And he said Apple plans to take textbooks to the digital age.

Then he introduced two new free tools to try to help that happen:

iBooks 2 is a new free app that will be in Apple’s App Store. iBooks Author is another new free tool that users can use to create educational and books of any kind. Apple aims to make creating a book as any as creating a song in its “GarageBand” app. Users can choose templates to get started, looking kind of like the iWeb website creation tool, and add photos or video or even Keynote files (that turn into interactive widgets). You can then add text from within the app or even drop Pages or Word files down into it. It even comes with a glossary creation tool.

iTunes Author and iBooks 2 will hit the App Store today. Apple also introduced iTunes U, a new method of distributing educational content to students (more on that here)

“We wanted to make sure we could get the into the hands of not only every publisher and every author, but even every teacher,” Schiller said.

Schiller said pricing on professional created high school textbooks will be $14.99 or less, admitting that kids would be responsible to buy them but there will be no costs for updates or new versions. Apple has partnered with Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to create the textbooks. Algebra 1, Biology, Chemistry, Geometry and physics high school books will be available immediately. Others will soon follow.

DK Publishing is also launching four books today: Dinosaurs and Prehistoric life, Natural History Insects, Natural History Animals and my First ABC.

Wilson’s “Life on Earth” will have its first two chapters available today for free. Other chapters will be added when completed at what Apple called “a very aggressive price.”

So what’s an iBook like?

With the educational iBooks demonstrated, kids can pinch into a photo, or tap on it and get an animated 3D model of a biological structure.

“Clearly,” Schiller said, “no physical book can do this.”

In iBooks, students get real-time glossary definitions. They will tap on a word to get a definition and another tap leads to a full glossary. They are photos and videos. You can jump to a page with a tap. Apple even showed a demo where the iBook launched into a multiple choice chapter quiz.

The iBooks even allow students to create digital notes that can instantly be turned into virtual 3 by 5 study cards.

Why is Apple going into education full bore? Of course, there’s money in them there hills, but the company also seems genuinely concerned about the future of the U.S. student.

“Kids are getting smarter thanks to their tablets, whether they’re older and studying for finals or​ kids playing a Dora game,” Schiller said. “The truth is, if you’re a high school student in the US, it’s not easy. If you are one of the ones that are lucky enough to work hard and graduate, you may not be best prepared to compete in a global environment.”

Schiller noted that among among industrialized nations, the U.S. is falling behind, at No. 17 overall in reading, 21st iin math and 23rd in science worldwide.

“No one company can fix it all,” he said. “One place we think we can help is in student engagement.”

And so the grand experiment begins.

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