Apple says it's "reinventing the textbook" with iBooks 2 -- a revised, free edition of the ebook store for the iPad, available today. Designed to educate kids using Apple's tablet, it boasts a brand-new Textbook section. How much of this we can expect to see in the UK is unknown right now, but read on for everything you need to know.
Apple's Phil Schiller took to the stage at the Guggenheim Museum in New York today to talk about the new app, showing a video that highlighted challenges in education in the US, and stating that iPads were top of kids' Christmas lists last year. Combine the two, and what do you get? The next version of iBooks. Obviously.
Digital textbooks are obviously a darnsight more interactive than their papery predecessors. The stage demonstration featured the ability to pinch into photos and check out animated 3D models of biological structures and gross bugs. You can quickly find your way around the textbook by searching for page numbers or keywords.
Children can test their knowledge-acquisition powers with quizzes, and you can make notes on the virtual page too. "This is on the test" was the example used in the press conference. In a section called 'My Notes' you can view all your notes together, creating study cards.
These textbooks will be found using a new section in the iBook catalogue for textbooks, with high-school textbooks costing $14.99 or less, which is a little under a tenner in British coin. That's much cheaper than many physical textbooks, and of course they could be updated in the future. A downside is that kids would have to pay for the books themselves, rather than schools footing the bill. And they'll all need iPads, of course.
That said, perhaps Apple is planning to flog iPads in bulk to educational facilities, all assigned to a single school account, which would also get a bulk discount on book downloads.
So is an iPad in every rucksack the future of education? Possibly, though one potential issue is that these interactive textbooks will only be as good as developers can be bothered to make them.
Apple is combating that problem with a separate app called iBooks Author, a free Mac app for making iBooks. As well as crafting textbooks from scratch, impressively you'll be able to drag Word files into the App from Finder and iBooks Author will format the document automatically. Crafty.
You can also insert widgets for snazzier bits of interactive learning, such as a photo gallery. If you're up to the task of writing the code, you could make your own widgets. Once you're done you can preview your masterpiece, and publish it straight to the Store, though we suspect there could be a strict approval process in place before other people can download your efforts.
Textbooks are at a disadvantage in these frightening digital times. They're expensive, heavy, not interactive and you can't search through them. But on the other hand, iPads are extremely expensive and vulnerable to being thrown in schoolbags. We also know the anti-Apple among you will be seething at the idea of Apple gadgetry being thrust upon impressionable youngsters before they've had a chance to experience the glory of Android.
Finally, Apple has made a revision to its iTunes U university portal, and has created a dedicated app for it, which you can use to stream podcasts, check course materials, see posts from teachers, including to-do lists and assignments -- useful for diaries and deadlines -- and even enroll in courses.
Universities will have to set these things up themselves though, so if you're a student, see if your uni uses iTunes U. The app is free, and available in 123 countries.
Do you think iBooks 2 will change education? Would you be comfortable with Apple playing a big role in schools? Tell us in the comments or on our Facebook wall.