Apple targets academia with iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U

Apple jumped back into the educational market today with three new applications that have the potential to turn the industry upside down, and make backpacks a whole lot lighter this fall.

Apple made a number of education-related announcements today in New York City that make it clear that the company is serious about dominating textbooks, like it did with music and apps.

iBooks 2.0 (PRiTunes, free) -- This major update of Apple's eBook reading app for iOS includes an entirely new category for textbooks. But not just any old textbooks. Apple completely reinvented textbooks by adding interactivity and making once flat books, dynamic and engaging.

iBooks textbooks can include animations, diagrams, photos, videos and amazing navigation. In addition, they allows readers to highlight passages, add notes and even test themselves with flashcards built from their own notes or from the index. Most educational titles on the iBookstore are priced at $14.99 (or less) and launch partners include textbook heavyweights Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and Pearson.

Unfortunately, iBooks is still iOS only, but more on that in another blog post.

iBooks Author (PR, iTunes, free) -- A free authoring tool for Mac OS that allows anyone with a Mac to create textbooks, cookbooks, history books, picture books and publish them directly to Apple’s iBookstore. Apple's Roger Rosner called it a combination of Pages and Keynote.

iBooks Author includes six gorgeous Apple-designed templates in several page layouts. Featuring an easy-to-use drag and drop interface, Author allows users to quickly build books with interactive photo galleries, movies, Keynote presentations, 3D objects and multi-touch widgets.

iTunes U (PRiTunes, free) -- Apple's third prong in its 2012 education strategy is an enhancement of iTunes U. Originally launched as a component of iTunes in 2007, iTunes has grown to over 700 million downloads to date. The new iTunes U is a native iOS app that works on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch that allows educators and students to teach and learn on Apple's mobile hardware.

The new iTunes U app allows educators to create and manage courses including lectures, assignments, books, quizzes and syllabuses and distribute them to over 250 million iOS devices. The iTunes U app gives users access to the world’s largest catalog of free academic content, including courseware from top universities like Cambridge, Duke, Harvard, Oxford and Stanford.

It's a compelling lineup and teachers and students will be able to use Apple's new tools to teach and learn in ways never before possible.

Did the iPad just replace the backpack?