Apple unveils iBooks 2 for digital textbooks, self-pub app (live blog)

Company announces today iBooks 2, a "new textbook experience" for the iPad and Apple's attempt to bury traditional schoolbooks.

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Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
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Phil Schiller, an Apple senior VP, says traditional textbooks aren't portable, searchable, current, or interactive. Bridget Carey/CNET

Apple unveiled today iBooks 2, a "new textbook experience" for the iPad and the company's attempt to bury traditional schoolbooks.

"Clearly, no printed textbook can compete," Roger Rosner, an Apple vice president, said during a press event this morning at New York's Guggenheim Museum.

The company also announced iBooks Author, a free app for self-publishing e-books, and improvements to the iTunes U app that puts entire courses online and allows instructors to post syllabi and messages for students.

Before unveiling the plan, Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, noted the sad state of current textbooks. They aren't portable, searchable, current, or interactive, he said.

"We want to reinvent the textbook," Schiller said. He noted that more than 20,000 educational apps are already available for the iPad and that more than 1.5 million iPads are already in use in education.

Rosner showed off some of the potential improvements with digital textbooks: text with embedded movies..."rich, engaging" layouts...portrait/landscape mode switches for more or fewer graphics....the ability to tap on words for definitions...searching for keywords throughout a text...review questions with immediate feedback...highlighting with your finger...pop-up spaces for note taking...instant study cards.

Apple hopes to 'reinvent the textbook' via iPad (photos)

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iBooks 2 will offer "super-fast, super-fluid navigation," Rosner said.

A new textbook category is appearing in the iBooks store, he noted, and the iBooks 2 app can be downloaded to the iPad today.

Meanwhile, iBooks Author will let anyone create interactive books. To assist, Apple has built templates for books, including math and science books.

A lot of people already have great content written, Schiller said, and iBooks Author will enable them to quickly bring together word files, images, and videos. The app includes auto-wrap of images around text. And people who can write code in JavaScript and HTML can create interactive widgets.

If you've ever created an e-book before, Schiller said, you know this is a "total miracle" in terms of time savings.

Meanwhile, Schiller said, iBooks 2 will offer books for every subject, every grade level, and every student.

New high school textbooks will cost $14.99 or less.

Apple has worked with a number of publishers on this project, including Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The digital versions of two Pearson textbooks and five McGraw-Hill textbooks--already in use by millions of high school students--are in iBooks 2 as of today. The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation has a book called "Life on Earth," available today for free.

With iTunes U, students can stream lectures, read texts, watch videos online, and then tap to mark the assignment as completed. As of now, iTunes U is used at about 1,000 universities. Starting today, elementary schools through high schools can use it too. iTunes U is free and available in 123 countries, Apple said.

An edited transcript of the live blog starts here:

6:41 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: Hello, everyone! I'm Scott Stein, senior editor at CNET...Bridget Carey is heading into the Guggenheim. We'll both be covering this event this morning.

6:58-6:59 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: Lights dimming! Apple sure is punctual. And it begins. Phil Schiller (senior VP of worldwide marketing) takes the stage. Education is deep in our DNA, he says.

7:00-7:0 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: He says we're seeing students using the iPad more, whether it's high school or K-6 student with special needs. Lots of comments from parents and teachers. But there are challenges in education... Talking about challenges of education, graduation rates, rest of world is moving ahead of U.S., he says. Video about to play about conversations Apple has had with teachers and students about challenges they face.

7:03-7:04 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: Teachers talking about how kids need more these days, they are bored, classrooms don't have all the technology or textbooks they need to succeed. Sad music plays as they talk about kids who fall through the cracks. Phil says students get excited when they get their hands on an iPad. The iPad was No. 1 on teens' wish lists this holiday.

7:04-7:05 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: I know a lot of teachers who have been excited about using iPads. It's true, there are limitations thus far in implementation. One thing I think is a small challenge: making sure kids stay in their book and don't shift to Angry Birds.

7:05 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: Over 20,000 education apps on iPad. He's going through a few of them. There are now more than 1.5 million iPads in use in education institutions, he says. We want to reinvent the textbook.

7:06 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: Showing pics of kids with big backpacks. Showing worn out, scribbled on textbooks.

7:07 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: Folks, this could be the death of the Big Backpack...I like big backpacks. I was able to bring all my Star Wars toys.

7:07-7:09 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: Phil is going through a list of why books are not good. Not portable, not searchable, not current, not interactive. But can we get great content, he asks. I am proud to be the first to tell you about iBooks 2, he says. New textbook experience for iPad. Roger Rosner (an Apple VP) takes stage. Tapping on a book brings up epic intro movie.

7:10 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: Swiping to get to different pages, rich engaging layouts, he says, movies embedded into the textbook pages. "Clearly, no printed textbook can compete."

7:10 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: It makes sense. Lots of wonderful book apps on the App Store, and it's time for iBooks to evolve to that level. Most people have been expecting it.

7:11 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: Showing DNA animations now. Tapping and zooming within a chromosome. He's rotating images that are on the side of the text.

7:12 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: This is really about folding this type of book experience into a formal, dedicated store. Reminded of Elements and the Solar System book/apps currently available.

7:12 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: He taps on an insect, parts of body are explained. Very interactive. But what if you want to focus on reading text? Going into portrait mode changes layout.

7:13 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: The portrait/landscape mode switches are a brilliant idea.

7:13-7:17 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: Glossary term you don't understand, just tap on glossary terms, shows on side. Also index links let you just tap to jump to book page. Searching on toolbar lets you find keywords and every place in the book the word occurs. With a little preview, so you can see the context of the word on the page. Of course you can also jump to a page number. "Super fast, super fluid navigation," he says. They have review questions, too, to help test you after a chapter. "The bottom line is immediate feedback." Highlighting and note taking-- your finger is always ready as a highlighter. Can change colors, too. Also take notes on a page. Not written notes, but rather a notepad space pops up when you highlight text.

7:17 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: That's a big, big deal.

7:17-7:18 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: Showing off a study cards button. All notes and highlights are turned into study cards. It looks like old-fashioned study index cards with lines. "No more having to create paper flashcards." He also shuffles them in random order.

7:18 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: Study cards from notes: very smart. That's the missing part from the Kindle experience, and from current interactive e-books.

7:19 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: In the iBooks store, there's a new textbook category.

7:19 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: If those cards could link back to the books...that would be incredibly useful.

7:19-7:21 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: Screenshots are in textbooks, much like the sample screenshots you see when you buy an app, before you buy. You own the book forever. And can re-download it anytime from the cloud. Phil is back on stage. iBooks 2 is an app you download from app store to iPad. It's free. iBooks 2 available today. But how do you create these books? He says there's a new application called iBooks Author.

7:21 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: So a publishing app emerges.

7:21-7:22 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: You can create any type of interactive book with this, cookbook or kids book. Now we get a demo of how it works. There are templates, like math or science books.

7:22 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: This is fascinating. Like a next-gen version of iWeb with a publishing bent.

7:23-7:24 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: You can just drag images into the template image placeholders. Or drag movies, too. This is really fast. We know a lot of people have great content already written, he says, so you can drag word files into the system, it scans through, looks at styles, and fills out pages from book. Super fast.

7:24a.m. PT: Scott Stein: If educators can get into making books and course materials using iBooks Author...Apple will own the education space. For a long time.

7:24 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: Dragging an image in will have text auto wrap around it. Now showing tools to create a slideshow in the place of one image--an interactive image gallery. What you see is what you get. What if I want to do something custom? Wouldn't it be good if we combined Keynote and iBooks 2?

7:25a.m. PT: Scott Stein: I imagine these books could be locally shared or distributed, in the case of an author making materials for a single class? At least, I hope. This could replace PowerPoint/Keynote.

7:26-7:28 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: Dragging a Keynote file in, and it just appears in the book. If you can write code in JavaScript and HTML, you can create your own interactive widgets. Glossary creation tool now being reviewed. If you highlight a word, you click button that says add term, then it goes to the glossary.

7:28 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: Interesting how this software seems to be oriented for both entry-level and software-coding-savvy people.

7:28-7:32 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: If you've ever done an e-book before, you know this is a total miracle in terms of time savings, he says. More advanced developers use HTML5, but you really don't need to know programming. It's free. Phil says, we think there should be an area just for textbooks in the store. You'll see every subject, every grade level, for every student. Starting with high school textbooks. You'll see new high school textbooks. Priced at $14.99 or less.

7:32 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: iBooks Author being free is basically a huge sales pitch for schools to acquire iPads.

7:32 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: Students keep textbooks forever. Apple turned to many partners to make it great, he says. Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Pearson has worked on Algebra 1, biology, environmental science, geometry, used already by 4 million students. Two already in store today. McGraw-Hill has made Algebra 1, biology, chemistry, geometry, physics, all five books on today. These books are already used by 3 million students. Also working with DK Publishing. Books like "My First ABC," a dinosaur book, and an insect book.

7:36 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: Still not sure how school deployment works for this, or whether books will be individually purchased by students. And how will that be handled...

7:37 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation has book called "Life on Earth," available today for free. Now we get a video...Teachers talking about downsides of textbooks. Stuck with outdated material, heavy...

7:39 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: This would need universal deployment in a school to work, of course...for some schools that will be a challenge.

7:39-7:45 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: "With the iPad, we're making textbooks so much more engaging." Commercial video: This will help students, teachers, and publishers. The textbook is more dynamic because it brings the curriculum alive. Video showing an LA school that adopted iPads in classrooms. More teacher praise in the video. It will create opportunities for students. "They're going to want to go to school. They're going to want to learn." Oh there's another thing!

7:45 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: I think the biggest questions I have now: 1) who pays for the textbooks in K-12, and 2) can these books and/or notes be shared seamlessly with PCs and/or Macs.

7:45-7:49 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: (Apple exec) Eddy Cue is on stage. Talking about iTunes U. 1,000 universities already using iTunes U. Already 700 million downloads in iTunes U. Showing example video of lecture. We want teachers to do a lot more. Syllabus, all material, now on iTunes U app, lets teachers do all they need right from the iPad. Now getting demo of iTunes U app. New complete online courses. We pull up one from Duke. All new courses start out with topics on left, like overview, instructor info, outline, office hours...

7:49 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: Sharing syllabi on iTunes U will also be a huge boon for those who want to educate themselves from home...continuing education and the "audit" crowd, if it's freely accessible.

7:50 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: Teachers can post messages to all students, like assignments. And you get a notification when there's a new message. Can tap a book shortcut from iTunes U, and once you read the chapter, you can mark the assignment complete. You can tap to stream the lectures.

7:50 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: Basically, a university portal. How many courses and schools will comply versus using their own Web access?

7:51-7:54 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: When you're done with the video, then mark it complete that you watched the video. Also notes, course materials have PDFs, apps, Web links, audio, video, books. Students can even rate the courses--much like an app--and when you're ready to take it, just click to download it. So to review, you get full courses with video, documents, apps, books, share syllabus and assignments, and integrated with iBooks. Six universities already had access to iTunes U, created more than 100 courses. And K thru 12 schools can also sign up for iTunes U now.

7:54 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: Curious how much of the new iTunes U will be freely accessible for those who want to audit, or if there will be a log-in.

7:54-7:58 a.m. PT: Bridget Carey: iTunes U is free and available today in 123 countries. Phil takes the stage once again. Summing up how Apple is tied to education. And it's over. iBooks, iBooks Author, and iTunes U.

7:59 a.m. PT: Scott Stein: Apple's attempts to integrate tools with its textbook initiative is a bold move, and the most fascinating part of this event to me. Could be the App Store of education and publishing.

The original preview story published January 18 is below.

Apple takes the wraps off its education-related announcement this morning. But what exactly will we get as the big reveal?

Today's event kicks off at 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT. Apple is not providing a live stream of the proceedings, though could offer one after the fact as it's done for previous news announcements. In any case, CNET will be there to bring you the news via live blog.

Perhaps kudos are in order for this being one of the first Apple events in recent memory for which all the details are not out in the wild a day ahead of time...or are they?

Apple's iBooks app running on an iPad.
Apple's iBooks app running on an iPad. Apple

CNET's rounded up a slew of rumored tidbits from all over the Web to try to piece together a vision of what we'll know today. Some could be spot on, while others could be wildly inaccurate.

One thing's for sure: CNET will be there live, on the scene from the Guggenheim Museum in New York, to bring you the news as it's announced. More information on how to follow along can be found at the bottom of this post. In the meantime, let's jump in.

Digital textbooks (for students)
Digital textbooks could be announced, capping off expectations set by Walter Isaacson's authorized biography of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. In it, Isaacson noted that Jobs had "set his sights on textbooks," seeing the $8 billion a year business as something that was "ripe for destruction."

That "destruction" wasn't getting rid of text books though. Jobs' "idea was to hire great textbook writers to create digital versions, and make them a feature of the iPad," Isaacson wrote in the book. "In addition he held meetings with the major publishers such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple."

The Wall Street Journal weighed in on the matter earlier this week, suggesting we'll see the addition of textbooks created specifically to work with Apple's publisher tablet, alongside a handful of partnerships with textbook publishers who are offering digital versions of their catalog for sale through Apple's iBookstore.

Presumably these books would not be limited to just one device type if sold on Apple's iBookstore. However Apple could have developed new features in iBooks, or a companion application that gives textbooks new tricks.

New software (for publishers)
A report in Ars Technica earlier this week suggested Apple's using its event to launch new tools for creating and publishing digital textbooks. That includes software that helps authors and publishers produce textbooks, akin in overall simplicity to what the outlet compared to as Apple's Garageband audio software.

Apple's iTunes U page on iTunes.
Apple's iTunes U page on iTunes. Apple

The Ars report also suggested Apple was adopting support for ePub 3, the free and open e-book standard that Apple supports an earlier version of.

Adding to that, The Wall Street Journal followed up Wednesday, saying that Roger Rosner, Apple's vice president for productivity applications, has been "closely involved" in the project being announced Thursday, and that it is--in fact--about tools to create digital text books. The Journal suggested that Rosner's involvement would make sense given that he's the one heading up the company's Mac and iOS productivity software including Pages, Keynote and Numbers.

No new hardware (for you)
Looking for a new iPad today? Don't hold your breath.

The rumor mill has overwhelmingly pegged March as the month of the iPad 3's arrival, with a report Wednesday suggesting we'll see it introduced next month. More importantly, the venue is New York, and the last major Apple hardware announcement made there was the CDMA iPhone for Verizon, which--to put it bluntly--was a mid-cycle refresh of the iPhone 4.

One thing we could see though are additional deals that put the iPad in more schools. If not that, expect to see Apple give an update on how many institutions have programs in place, including K-8 and higher education.

Editor's note: The original, pre-event version of this story was posted January 18 at 4:00 a.m. PT. In addition, the story was continually updated during the live blog on January 19.