Apple announces iBooks2, a new textbook program for iPad

Apple's new textbooks for iPad will let students zoom and rotate images, watch movies, and even complete tasks like dissecting frogs

Mark Lennihan/STF/AP
Apple's new textbook service for the iPad makes it 'easy to be a good student,' said Apple’s Roger Rosner.

Textbooks just got a whole lot cooler.

At its anticipated education event at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Apple announced iBooks2, a digital textbook service for the iPad.

"I don't think there's ever been a textbook that made it this easy to be a good student," Apple’s Roger Rosner said at the event.

At the very least, these digital textbooks would capture the attention of the most distracted students – and make the rest of us want to return to school. The textbooks demonstrated at the event were fully interactive, allowing students to zoom and rotate 3D images to more fully explore the structure of DNA, for instance, or a plant cell. The digital books might also be used to dissect digital frogs, conduct genetic experiments on plants, or explore elements on the periodic table. Students raised in the YouTube and Facebook era won’t be disappointed: users of these digital textbooks can even view movies within textbook chapters.

Apple’s Phil Schiller took the opportunity to take a jab at traditional, dead tree books. “They're not portable, not durable, not interactive, not searchable,” he said at the press conference

Still, for all the digital bells and whistles, iBooks2 also took a page out of traditional textbooks. As with dead tree books, students can highlight and mark up the digital texts. They can also use those highlights and notes to create virtual 3-by-5-inch study cards similar to flash cards. 

Other highlights include fairly standard iPad features like the ability to swipe across the display to open textbook pages, switch to landscape or portrait mode, and pinch and tap to zoom in or out.

To spur digital content, Apple also unveiled iBooks Author, a new platform that lets anyone create interactive e-books or digital textbooks for the iPad.

“In like five minutes flat, we created an e-book and deployed it to the iPad,” said Schiller at the New York event. “I hope you find that as inspiring and empowering as I do.”

Starting Thursday, the books are available through a free app called iBooks2 that users can download from the App Store. The textbooks are priced at $14.99 or less, according to Apple, and once purchased, can be redownloaded at no additional charge.

The launch is part of Apple’s strategy to revamp the textbook industry, say experts. Apple has already partnered with a number of major textbook publishers, including Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, together responsible for about 90 percent of all textbooks in the US.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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