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Apple introduces new textbook apps

Apple today unveiled a new interactive book service and a companion publishing app, which they hope will revolutionize the dusty world of textbooks and change the learning experience for millions of students.

Although, e-readers and Apple’s iPad have made huge strides in changing the way people buy and interact with regular books and magazines, they have had less success with textbooks. Whether this has more to do with the cost of the necessary hardware or a resistance to the electronic format is open to question. However, Apple feels that by “reinventing the textbook” they are trying to make sure this critical sector of the book world doesn’t get left behind.

The service, which Apple has dubbed iBooks 2, is available as a free download through iTunes. As well as allowing readers to experience all the swipe and multi-touch features of the original iBooks app, iBooks 2 contains a host of new features specifically tailored towards students. For example, users will be able to see 3D images and rotate them to get a better feel for shape and functionality. Students can even mark-up titles and create customized study cards.

To illustrate the effectiveness of iBooks 2, Apple has also added a brand new Textbooks section to its iBookstore. There are currently 8 titles available, including E. O. Wilson’s Life on Earth and books on Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Environmental Science. Although Life on Earth is free, all the other textbooks cost $14.99, which Apple suggests will be the benchmark price for most textbooks going forward. Although iBooks 2 is compatible with the iPhone, iPod touch, and the iPad, the new multi-touch textbooks can only be viewed on an iPad running iOS 5.

Apple has already formed partnerships with multiple textbook publishers, including Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. To encourage the publication of more interactive textbooks, Apple has also launched a free Mac OS X developer application called iBooks Author. The application not only includes templates for creating books but drag-and-drop tools for text, images, and video.

Whether Apple’s initiatives can spur the adoption of multi-touch textbooks by schools depends to a large degree on whether school districts – or parents – have the funds to invest in iPads. With massive budget cuts affecting most school districts across the country, this may be one of those rare Apple initiatives that needs a few years – and a better economy – before we can all reap the benefits.

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