As expected, Apple's education event at the Guggenheim Museum brought forth new ways for students to read their classic texts in interactive, digital form. As usual, Apple also brought its own magic design skills to shake up the market with a new iBooks 2 and iBooks Author to help create a world of educational content.
Down With the Kids
As Apple's event kicked off there was lots of talk of children and students being given iPads as digital bookstores and learning tools. That's a lovely idea, but you can see the lines of bullies and muggers being almost as long as the line for people trying to get their free/subsidized iPad.
Apple made no hardware announcements at the event, but with iPad 3 not far off, getting iPads cheaply into schools is likely to be high on the company's to-do list. Anyway, Apple's Phil Schiller, senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, took the stage and talked about the engagement that an iPad can bring (there are some 1.5 million in schools right now) as well as the tens of thousands of educational apps already available.
Schiller said Apple wants to reinvent the textbook, which (according to him) suffer from lack of portability (how feeble is this guy?), search (ever heard of an index?) and interactivity (he's clearly never scribbled on the blank pages or done flick animations in the corners of pages).
Meet iBooks 2
To solve these problems, Apple launched iBooks 2, available from today for the iPad at no cost which offers access to a long-form version of the typical app with all kinds of interactivity possible through movie clips, graphics, puzzles, equations, exploding images, rotatable visuals and whatever content the publisher has. There's an extended marketing heavy video over at Apple's site.
iPads are the new textbooks according to Apple
In an educational format it looks really good, like the best how-to guides ever, as long as the content is of a suitable quality which requires a decent budget and design skills. Additional features include an in-line glossary, end-of-chapter check points and Apple's usual slick navigation. Students can also highlight important sections, take notes from their book and turn them into flash cards for talks or presentations.
Publishing the Future
The second part of Apple's presentation was about iBooks Author, another free App for Mac PCs, a content creation system to help make your own iBooks. Taking a template based approach, users can make any kind of book they like from ABC-type kid's books to cooking up to astrophysics.
UPDATE: A backlash is already beginning about the license agreement that means if you create a book and sell it on the store, you can't sell it elsewhere. That might mean you can't sell the book in another store in that specific format, or Apple could really have blundered. It states:
"If you charge a fee for any book or other work you generate using this software (a “Work”), you may only sell or distribute such Work through Apple (e.g., through the iBookstore) and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple."
Either way hostility is building and expect an Apple comment very soon.
To the Bookstore
There's a new section in the Apple Bookstore coming for these textbooks with content available for all levels of student with prices up to $14.99 (not sure if that's a mandatory limit or not). Initial content will come from the big names in education, including Pearson, Dorling Kindersley, McGraw Hill, Houghton and others.
While this won't turn the textbook market around overnight, Apple's news today means it could have a steady ripple effect that sees a lot more iPads sold in education establishments, a lot more content converted into iBooks format and more sales all round.Naturally there are some standout examples on the store, ready to go, but this is a longtail game for Apple.
School's Out on a Lot of Questions
The company is aiming this worldwide, but will have to solve issues like how does a school buy copies for all students and what the ownership and duplication rights are? That could get very complicated very quickly. Also begging for trouble will those States that don't like evolution or certain religions being mentioned in their schools - sorting that one out won't be fun!
Then there's the practical issues like keeping a class full of iPads charged and undamaged. Will there be some sub-industry of iPad education installers? Then, of course, there are the age old problems of copyright infringement and ripping off of others' works. Apple will need to answer these before any school gets too deeply invested in any project like this.
Apple also announced an app for iTunes U which allows universities and schools to put all its college programs, notes, courses, lectures and assignment notifications in one place. Lots of colleges have their own intranets or websites for this sort of thing, but Apple is putting it all in one place with space for interaction between students and lecturers.
In an age of podcasts and video lectures, it makes sense but could require a major rethink from lots of institutions, again this is a project with a long timeline but pressure from students could see schools reacting remarkably quickly.