Apple Announces Digital Textbook Availability, iBooks Author Appby Andrew Cunningham on January 19, 2012 12:45 PM EST
Apple today announced that it would begin offering digital textbooks on the iPad via its iBooks app. The books, which currently focus on high school-level subjects but will later expand to cover the entire K-12 curriculum, can cost up to $14.99, and Apple is working with publishing companies such as Pearson, McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and DK Publishing to make it happen. The textbook store is available in iBooks 2.0, which requires iOS 5 and is currently available as an update to the original iBooks app.
The digital textbooks can include interactive elements like pictures, video, or 3D models, which will be displayed more prominently while the tablet is in landscape mode, while flipping it into portrait mode will display a text-centric view. Students can highlight text in multiple colors and take notes, and use the app to automatically display flash cards of their highlights and notes mixed in with glossary terms from the book. Glossary terms, usually displayed in bold, can be tapped to bring up definitions of the word both from the book and from the built-in dictionary, and the text is fully searchable.
Even so, to my mind there’s a sizable gap between what Apple announced today and something that could truly make digital textbooks ubiquitous: the cost of entry, i.e. either purchasing an iPad for each student’s use or mandating that students purchase iPads for school use, is fairly high, even if you figure for a conservative 3-4 year replacement cycle (and even with AppleCare, iPad warranties run out after two years, making a 2-3 year cycle more likely, especially once you factor in iPads that are dropped, spilled on, or otherwise destroyed). Over time, the reduced cost of the books may offset the cost of the iPads, but the upfront cost (along with the cost of supporting the devices) is likely to scare away cash-strapped public schools. The announcements made today are less likely to revolutionize education, and more likely to increase the usefulness of iPads in school systems that are already using them.
iBooks Author requires Lion and is currently available for free in the Mac App Store. iBooks 2.0 is available for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch as an upgrade for the original iBooks app, though digital textbooks are not available on the smaller devices.