Apple announced the launch of iBooks 2 in New York City today. As expected, the update to Apple’s e-reader software is aimed squarely at textbooks. Textbooks in iBooks 2 include an amazing array of interactive features, including videos, interactive 3D models, and built-in glossaries. iBooks 2 also includes a wide array of highlighting and note taking options, as well as instant feedback on students’ answers to exercises contained in the text.
Apple also announced iBooks Author, a Mac app that lets users create ebooks that include the full range of iBooks 2’s interactive features. It includes the ability to import videos, Keynote presentations, HTML or Java code, and create widgets like those found on the OS X dashboard. The software also makes it easy to create glossaries for ebooks. Clicking on a word creates a glossary entry for it, and allows the user to enter a definition.
Also part of the announcement was a new project called Life On Earth, an “attempt to recreate the biology textbook” by E.O. Wilson, professor emeritus of biology at Harvard University. The book will be available in the iBookstore chapter by chapter. The first two chapters are available now for free, while other “aggressively priced” chapters will be coming later.
Textbooks in the iBooks store are aimed at the high school market to begin with, and will be selling for $14.99 or less. Apple also announced partnerships with Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which account for roughly 90% of the textbook market. Each company is starting with a range of basic textbooks available in the iBookstore
Apple also announced an app for iTunes U, its program for making university-level curriculum freely available. The service is currently used primarily for delivering lectures. The new app is meant to turn iTunes U into an entire course management platform. The iTunes U app allows users to track assignments, watch or listen to lectures, take notes, and read assigned materials. Six schools, including Duke, Stanford, MIT, and Yale, have had early access to the new iTunes U and used it to create over 100 online courses. What’s more, while iTunes U has, as the name suggests, been primarily focused on higher education, it is now available for K-12 schools as well.
All three apps - iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U are live in the App Store right now, and all three are free. iBooks Author is a Mac app, while iTunes U is a universal iOS app. iBooks 2 is also a universal app, just as it has always been, but the textbook features showcased today are only available on the iPad.