Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

Summary: Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller announced on Tuesday iBooks 2, an attempt to unify online databases and the printed word into a single, powerful educational tool.


In a special press conference in New York on Tuesday, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller announced the free iBooks 2 app, an attempt to unify online databases and the printed word into a single educational tool.

With rich, engaging content and powerful annotation capabilities, digital textbooks will help American students better compete with peers abroad, Schiller said.

Though many teachers have embraced the company's iPad and thousands of education apps available for it, adoption has been limited in scope, Schiller said. A formal platform to obtain this kind of content will accelerate adoption.


On the presentation side, a digital textbook can be compelling. Schiller demonstrated how a portrait layout can help the student focus on text, while a landscape layout can help him or her focus on multimedia content, such as interactive photos or animations.

See a term you don't understand? You can click on it for more information, just like you can on an e-book reader. That's something physical textbooks don't allow for, Schiller said. (Ditto the ability to highlight passages and instantly make digital flash cards from your own notes, both of which he demonstrated.)

A new "textbooks" category in iBooks is the seed for Apple's new venture. Best of all, students can own the book forever, and download it any time from the cloud. (No word on how updates -- long the moneymaker for the industry -- will be priced.) And it goes without saying that a digital textbook won't weigh a ton.


As for content creators, a new, free iBooks Author app allows you to create interactive e-books. The application has a drag-and-drop, WYSIWYG interface and default templates (math, science) so it's easy to get existing content into the cloud. It also has a one-click glossary function.

More technically savvy publishers can use Javascript to create their own widgets and HTML 5 for layout, and thus, experience. (Cue the beginning of the publisher-as-developer era for the textbook industry. Welcome, folks! Us newsies have been here for about two decades now.)


But perhaps the biggest shift in the industry will be around pricing and distribution. Schiller said new high school textbooks would be priced at $14.99 or less -- and they're always up-to-date. (No word on college-level and above.)

Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Dorling Kindersley are among Apple's publishing partners, and their products (Algebra 1, Environmental Science, etc.) are available in the store today.

Which begs the question: will high school students now have to pay for their textbooks? Or does Apple envision a future where school-provided iPads, preloaded with e-textbooks, are deployed?


Finally, Apple's iTunes U service -- a neat offering of university lectures-as-podcasts buried in the iTunes Store -- will get a leg up. Through an update, the iTunes U app will offer a spot for a syllabus, course material, office hours info and more within a single iOS app. It even allows for professor-to-student messaging.

In other words: a complete digital course resource -- no more Microsoft Word attachments via e-mail, and no more web-based solutions like Blackboard. (Which begs yet another question: Apple may have a leg up on mobile here, but are universities really willing to let go of their existing platforms?)

For now it comes down to adoption. Yale, MIT, Duke, Stanford and others are already on iTunes U; it remains to be seen whether other universities (and K-12 institutions, for that matter) will follow suit, given the new capabilities.


In the end, this all depends on adoption of the iPad. Institutions and individuals alike already love them. Will these new tools make them love them enough to replace, rather than augment, their current setups?


Topic: Apple

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • RE: Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

    So, where can one find an e-book reader with a nominal 10-inch display and color support? And will digital textbooks be available to other platforms beyond the iOS-based iPad?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Idon't see why not? And I want to go on record that "IF"

      @Rabid Howler Monkey ... Apple tries to lock out alternative formats it Apple should be stopped. After all Pages allows one to save in MS Word format and I as well as a couple other formats as well. So there is not technical reason that a digital text book could be created in Pages and saved to alternative formats to be used on "other" tablets. I had the same issue with MS back in the day when like every other year they changed to format of their documents so competitors could not make their products work with MS Office. I won't change my tune simply because this time around it is Apple at the plate.

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
      • RE: Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

        @James Quinn
        I know that iBooks Author uses the e-pub standard, so I don't think Apple is locking anyone out of anything. Besides, any author would be free to assemble books using their source materials with any other e-publishing tools, it's just that Apple seems to be the first to offer an e-pub tool that cheap and easy.
      • Apple has been cornered ...

        @James Quinn ... into allowing Kindle and Nook applications into the App Store and the Android Market place has welcomed them. Ultimately, it is the publishers who are going to play-ball (or not). So far, the textbook publishers have developed their own proprietary solutions in partnership with universities in order to protect their own interests. For now, this means Windows and Macintosh-based e-readers only. This is why Apple is "running scared". They want a piece of the pie. Whether or not the publishers "go along" with Apple remains to be seen.
        M Wagner
      • RE: Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

        @mwagner@... Apple was cornered into letting them on? Their running scared? What fantasy land do you live in?
    • RE: Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

      @Rabid Howler Monkey The apple recently release iBook 2 it is looking great check there:
    • In most cases, a 7" display will do ...

      @Rabid Howler Monkey ... but much smaller than that and it is just too small.
      M Wagner
    • RE: Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

      @Rabid Howler Monkey

      Not even close to first. Kno has been developing this app for a few years:
      • RE: Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

        They said "reinvent" not invent.
      • RE: Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

        Kno is not available outside the USA. At least not in Denmark.
  • RE: Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

    For serious study, one needs to have multiple text open at the same time, and multiple sections within a book available. Study is not linear, which is the paradigm of the the iPad and most other tablets. The desktop with multiple monitors is the only thing I've found which fits this bill.
    • RE: Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

      @dstarke1 You make a VERY valid point. Apple's solution for this problem? Use multiple iPads. ;)
      Bruce Lang
      • Cheaper solution

        @Bruce Lang: Use multiple bookmarks within the different books, just like you do now.
      • RE: Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

        @Bruce Lang, Yes @dstarke1 is correct. The solution IS to use multiple devices. I do that now with e-pub books. I can read them on all devices. I carry three with me.
      • If only I had that kind of money

        @Bruce Lang Well multiple iPads sounds nice for Apple and its profit. But how is that better? Sounds like the child putting a round peg in a square hole. Are we doing this just to be different? Or is it better?
    • RE: Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

      @dstarke1 Welcome to the tablet world... desktops are soo 1990's..
      • This is a classic conflict ...

        @Hasam1991 ... between accessiblility and portability. No matter how you shake it, carrying a tablet with multiple text books on it is more convenient than carrying multiple text books. BUT ... having multiple textbooks open at once, spread across a dining room table has it's advantages as well. There are always trade-offs.
        M Wagner
      • 10-inch small screen takes us to 1960's

        Desktop's 24-inch screen draws circles around tablets when it comes user experience.
      • RE: Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

        @LBiege Of course it does but at the same time the 10 inch screen tablet RUNS circles around the 24 inch desktop in portability so what is your point?
      • RE: Apple: We want to reinvent the textbook

        @LBiege desktops offer a better user experience untill you try to pick them up...