Apple digital textbooks: Can Apple reinvent another industry?

Apple digital textbooks promise to revolutionize education, just as the company revolutionized music. But is the model for Apple digital textbooks too costly to work?

Mark Lennihan/AP
Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, discusses Apple digital textbooks, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 in New York. IBooks 2 will be able to display books with videos and other interactive features.

Apple on Thursday promised to reinvent the textbook and offer a new experience for students and teachers by way of an update to its iBooks app for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.

The app update – which Apple is calling iBooks 2 and which is already released to the iOS App Store – will allow for textbooks to be sold through the popular app, which in the past sold novels, nonfiction and poetry, but not textbooks.

All textbooks sold through the free app, which is available only to Apple's mobile devices, will be priced at $14.99 or less _ a stark contrast to the high-priced paper books that fill college bookstores.

But the main allure might not be the price as much as the interactive features iBooks textbooks can offer.

Apple, which announced the iBooks update at a media event in New York at the Guggenheim Museum, said the iBooks textbook exceeds paper texts in terms of engagement, calling it a durable, quickly searchable book that offers easy highlighting and note-taking as well as interactive photo galleries, videos, and 3-D models and diagrams.

Digital textbooks can also offer immediate feedback with questionnaires at the end of chapters and automatically create flash cards of glossary terms for a student to study.

Apple said the move makes sense given that more that 1.5 million iPads are used in schools. "Now with iBooks 2 for iPad, students have a more dynamic, engaging and truly interactive way to read and learn, using the device they already love," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.

One thing not mentioned by Apple on Thursday was any sort of program that would offer iPads at a discount to students, teachers or schools.

Apple also said there are more than 20,000 education-focused apps available in the iOS App Store.

The tech giant has enlisted the heavyweights of textbook publishing _ Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt _ to sell textbooks through iBooks 2. Combined, the three companies make 90 percent of textbooks sold in the U.S. Smaller publishers such as DK and the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation will be publishing to iBooks 2 as well.

Just as iBooks does with other types of books, textbooks will offer a free preview of a few pages or even a chapter before a purchase is made.

E.O. Wilson is also publishing a new book through iBooks 2 called "Life on Earth." The first two chapters of the new title will be free with more chapters coming as they are written.

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