Apple unveils interactive textbooks, revamped iTunes U

The iBooks 2 app is available for free.

Apple might make the heavy backpack an endangered species.

There won’t be much students can’t do with a few taps and swipes of their Apple iPads after the tech giant’s introduction of iBooks 2–a book store that now includes interactive textbooks–and an iTunes University app that could create a comprehensive school experience inside the popular computer tablet.

Apple officials confirmed Jan. 19 weeklong speculation that the company would jump into the textbook market during a press event at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, where Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing, introduced the next iteration of the iBooks app, which for the first time will offer textbooks that start at $14.99 or less for high school students.

The iBooks 2 app is available for free in Apple’s Apps Store. Pricing for college textbooks wasn’t immediately available. Apple’s iBooks 2 will be stocked by publishing giants Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt, which make up 90 percent of the U.S. textbook market.

Textbooks available on the iPad through the iBooks 2 app will have interactive photos, videos, and diagrams, along with 3D images that can be manipulated and rotated with a touch of the screen. Students can highlight sections of a digital book with the swipe of a finger and create digital index cards inside the book without leaving their current page.

Authors of iBooks 2 textbooks can continually update their content. Students, once they’ve purchased the digital book for their iPad, can view the updated versions with no charge, and can keep the book in their library indefinitely.

“It’s certainly something we’ve been dreaming about for a couple years,” said Bill Rankin, director of educational innovation at Abilene Christian University (ACU) in Texas, one of higher education’s most prominent users of Apple products. “It’s equivalent to the democratization that happened under Gutenberg. Digitized books are much different than digital books. [Apple] isn’t just offering digitized versions of print material. This is a new generation media object.”

The Apple announcement also introduced educators and textbook publishers to a free authoring tool for anyone who wants to create a textbook. Using Apple’s operating system, authors can create books with templates according to what kind of book they’re writing and publishing.