Apple announced the release of iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U application today in New York.
Apple's announcement has the potential to disrupt the textbook industry, current educational software use and may change the fabric of how K-12 students and above learn both in the classroom and outside of it.
How could the new applications potentially affect students and academic institutions?
There are over 200,000 educational apps available on the iPad, and more than 1.5 million iPads are reported as in use by academic institutions. Apple wishes to 'reinvent the textbook', and therefore, this will have repercussions on the current -- perhaps outdated -- publishing industry.
The software giant is already working with McGraw-Hill and DK Publishing to offer a selection in the digital textbook store -- books such as My First ABC and Life on Earth are available, with more to come.
The new iBooks 2 app can be downloaded from the App Store for free. It offers a number of new features for students that can offer a more interactive and organised learning experience, including a more interactive 'digital material' system. iBooks Author allows self-publishers to create this kind of interactive digital content.
The iBooks 2 application itself is focused around students being able to engage with up-to-date curriculum content. Several features announced today include:
- A quicker means of study being able to swipe to different pages and links;
- Rich, engaging layouts that make books far more engaging than print media;
- The ability to embed movies into textbook pages;
- An additional dictionary component. If a student does not understand a word on a page, they are able to bring up a glossary definition immediately;
- Toolbar search facilities;
- Review questions to help students test their knowledge on a book chapter or film;
- A portrait and landscape mode switch feature;
- Users 'own' the book for life, enabling them to re-download texts at any point from the cloud.
The iBooks 2 app is designed not only to make learning more engaging for a generation who have grown up with iProducts, but to make revision and immediate feedback more easily achieved, through one Apple product.
A constant request of students is a way in which to more easily annotate digital textbooks. The iBooks 2 update makes students able to highlight portions of text, and from this, convert their notes in to flashcards.
This is currently missing from other eReader devices, and is likely to become an invaluable tool for K-12 students and above. As a former student, I would have killed for this feature -- especially for university students, when exams beckon, this feature will be a great time saver.
Apple sees textbooks as a non-portable, inflexible means of study. Students having to carry oversized backpacks is a scenario most of us can relate to -- and Apple wishes to change this. Mobile devices such as an iPhone and iPad are obviously far more portable means of carrying large volumes of information.
However, textbooks used through the app are going to be 1GB, so it seems predictable that users will have to invest in 64GB iPad 2's or iPad 3's if they wish to use this application on a frequent basis. The books on offer will be priced at $14.99 or less. Apple hopes that self-publishers, organisations and academic institutions will use the new services to create a wide variety of digital books and expand the popularity of iBooks.
Phil Schiller, Apple's vice-president of worldwide marketing, said at the event:
"We think there should be an area just for textbooks in the store. You'll see every subject, every grade level, for every student."
As a new tool, is it required?
Students already have a plethora of tools available at their disposal, whether sharing and storing services like Dropbox
and Google Docs, or applications tailored to make schedules, take notes or summarizing articles in order to make studies quicker and more efficient.
Google Scholar is also a popular service available to students, offering an immediate avenue to find links to content that they can utilize in their studies. It does not, however, enable students to create or publish content.
The advances Apple have revealed could potentially cause a transition from simply searching for content, to creating and distributing it.
Will academic institutions want to explore this technology?
Apple's announcement means that the company view textbooks as an outdated means of learning. However, in order for the apps to truly have an affect within academic institutions, schools would have to universally implement the software.
Mobile device use and increased technology dependence is beginning to slowly creep in to classrooms at a younger stage. For example, K-12 learners studying at the Burris Laboratory School have been using iPads as a learning tool since last year -- both the school's kindergarten through to fifth grade students and their teachers have been equipped with their own iPads through an educational grant.
At the announcement, teacher interviews were conducted and released on video. One comment stood out by a teacher who was impressed by the interactive levels of the application:
"They're going to want to go to school, they're going to want to learn."
Perhaps by offering more engaging methods of learning, it may improve student performance and enjoyment.
It is likely many schools will find this a challenge, due to a lack of technical knowledge and budget constraints. Perhaps if Apple introduces large-scale academic pricing agreements with schools for hardware, then it will increase the rate of institutions adopting the practice and change in learning methods.
If educators become enthusiastic about creating books and course materials using iBooks Author, and distributing it through the new iTunes U app and iBooks 2, then Apple will almost certainly eventually own a dominant share in educational space.
The digital publishing industry is one in which different parties are still feeling their way around, and various companies are jostling each other for market share percentages. Adding new levels of interactivity aimed at school learners has the potential to change the game irrevocably -- as well as potentially creating brand loyalty at a young age.
E-book purchases are not always suitable for students. What is available online as an e-book is not necessarily the required edition for classes at university, but budgeting students may choose to take the cheaper option. However, if educators decide to implement this technology and make materials for a particular class, this could end up replacing current software like PowerPoint or Keynote, and allow for better distribution of relevant learning material.
The new Apple apps could make the learning experience from K-12 to university more relevant and engaging. Not only that, it could mean that students can annotate and contribute on digital content together to improve the overall quality of material available to students coming after them.