By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
January 19, 2012

New tools and platforms for replacing today’s paper textbooks with iPads

Apple (AAPL) on Thursday introduced three new inititatives by which it hopes to “reinvent the textbook” around the iPad:

  • iBooks 2, a new iPad app and reading tool offering searchable, interactive, updatable  textbooks filled with as many videos, photo galleries, glossaries and study guides as publishers choose to throw in
  • iTunes author, a Mac app with an array of tools for creating these interactive textbooks
  • iTunes U app for the iPad, a way to publish entire curriculums online, now available for K-12. In its previous incarnation, it resided on iTunes; now it has its own app.
  • A price cap of $14.99 above which no publisher can charge if it wants to sell its textbooks through Apple’s iBookstore.

Although the tools fell somewhat short of the widely expected “GarageBand for e-books” — there was no “magic guitar” for turning out javascript widgets, for example — the overall message was clear: it’s going to be a lot easier in the future for publishers and educators to create a new generation of interactive textbooks … as long as they do it the Apple way.

At least a dozen iPad textbooks are already available from such major educational publishers as Pearson and McGraw Hill for $14.99 or less. That’s a price that could prove disruptive in an industry where textbooks often start at $60 apiece. It remains to be seen whether publishers will find it worth their while for $15 (or less, if Apple takes its usual 30% cut) to add all those interactive bells and whistles.

Apple’s press releases on the new initiatives are available here and here. One of the videos shown at the event can be viewed here. Video of the entire event is available here.

Apple’s shares, which hit a new intraday high of $431.37 before the event began, soon gave up most of their gains

Below the fold: Our live blog of the event.

9:59: Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior VP for marketing, takes the stage. Talks about Apple’s long-time commitment to education. “Something remarkable happing” … students using iPads in schools. But there are challenges. The percentage of students who actually graduate college is falling. Trots out familiar stats of how low U.S. students rank in reading, math and science compared with the rest of the industrialized world.

Runs video of teachers talking about how education is in the dark ages.

10:03. What can Apple do? Improve “student engagement” i.e. with the iPad. Extols the virtues of the device — fun, engaging and “affordable.”

Claims there are now 20,000 apps for education on the iPad. Names The Elements, Wolfram Physics and the usual suspects.

Also iBooks like The Great Gatsby.

Now 1.5 million iPads in use in educational insitutions and more than 1,000 in one-to-one settings.

Announcing two initiatives:

1. Reinventing the textbook. We love books. They will always be with us. But heavy, expensive.

Problems: Not that portable, not durable, not interactive, not searchable, not always current. But have great content.

iPad: Portable, durable, interactive, searchable, current. But can we get amazing content? Turn into a new generation of interactive book.

Leads to… iBooks 2.

Introduces Roger Rosner, who will head this project.

10:09: Rosner does demo. Taps on Biology book. E.O. Wilson does intro movie. Uses multitouch to see thumbnails. Swipe to next chapter. Tap on a page thumbnail to begin. Swipe to next page. Pinches to zoom into animated 3-d models of stuctures within a cell. DNA animations. Compares sizes of DNA structures to chromosomes. “Authors have total freedom to make interactive pages.”

More demo. Insect body plan.

Sometimes you just want to read the text (imagine!) Turns the iPad sidewise, and the text takes over, putting the graphic elements in a small row on the left.

“By far the coolest, most engaging textbooks ever done.”

Glossary by tapping on a term. Index links back into the book. Searching. See every place in the book where a term occurs. “So much better than a paper index.” Also jump to a page number. “Super fast, super smooth.”

Galleries of images. Pauses for applause.

Review questions at the end of the chapter. Summary in text. Asks questions with pictures. Which of the four pictures is a savanna? Matching exercise with drag and drop.

Add highlighting. Notes. “This is one the test” (chuckles from audience).

Notes review collects all the notes and highlights in one place. Can also turn them into study cards. Glossary terms also automatically turned into flashcards. (More applause.)

How do I get these awsome textbooks? Takes us back to the iBookstore. Added new textbook category. Free sample. One-click purchasing. Can redownload from the cloud if you need to.

10:19 Schiller returns. Summarizes the key points, just like a chapter review!

That’s the iBook 2. Available today. And its free (although not the books).

What does it take to create these books?

2. iBooks Author. A Mac application. Can be used for any kind of interactive book. Roger comes back to demo.

10:21: Roger returns for demo.

Comes with Apple-designed templates. Toolbar and format bar, like iWorks apps.

Let’s build a book…

Has materials in a folder. Drags in cover image. Drags in intro movie. Drags in page 1. Drags a word file in. Creates sections and headers and lays out pages of the book. (Applause.)

Drags in a single image. Using image gallery tool, drags in a bunch of images. Drags in 3-D model (how was that created???). Drags in Keynote file. (Applause). What about more interactive stuff? If you can write javascript, you can write anything you want. Drags one of those in.

Glossary: “World’s best” glossary creation tool. Add terms one at a time, write definition, drag in image.

Text focused portrait view created automatically (more applause).

Click publish to “start publishing process.” You can also do preview and see book on a virtual iPad on the Mac.

10:31: Schiller. iBooks Author available today, for free.

Apple focusing at high school textbooks, priced at $14.99 or less. (That is very cheap.) Not clear who has created these textbooks.

Apple’s partners: Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Responsible for 90% of textbooks worldwide.

Pearson: Algrebra 1, Bio, Env. Science, Geometry. Used by more than 4 million students. Bio and Environmental Science available today.

McGraw Hill: Algebra 1, Bio, Chemistry, Geometry, Physics. Used by 3 million students. Available today.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt?

Also: DK Publishing: Dinosaurs, Insects, Mammals, ABC.

E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. (Big applause). Project to “reinvent” bio textbook. His Life on Earth is what Rosner demoed. Exclusive to iBooks. First two chapters only available today for free. Rest coming “at a very aggressive price.”

Goes to video.

Applause. Whoops. (Presumable from Apple staffers planted in audience)

10:45:  Eddy Cue takes the stage. Talks about iTunes U.

1,000 Universities already using. Distributing over 500,00o lectures etc., billions of downloads. Shows an MIT professor demonstrating a life-threatening pendulum exercise.

Announcing iTunes U app. Allows teachers to create curriculum on iPad.

Jeff Robin to do demo. Complete online courses. Topics on left. Overview, Instructor, Outline (syllibus), Office Hours, ext.

Tabs: Info, Posts, Notes, Materials.

New assignments, messages sent as notifications to students. Click on assignment, the book opens automatically at the right spot. When done, mark assignment complete.

Assignment could be to watch a video. Mark that complete.

Notes: Gather all the notes from books and courses in one place.

Materials: shows all materials — audio, video, docs, apps — in one place. Missing materials can be purchased on the spot.

At least 13 courses available now on iTunes U app today.

Six universities have created over 100 courses so far. Starting today, available to high schools as well.

iTunes U available today, for free.

10:55 Back to Phil Schiller. Quotes Jobs on Apple at intersection of technology and liberal arts. Ticks off Apple projects from the past:  Kids can’t wait, ACOT, Wheels for the Mind.

Now: iBooks, iBooks Author, iTunes U. “Allow anyone, anywhere, at any time to take courses for free.”

Invites attendees to second floor  to see books and try out authoring tools.

10:58. And that’s a wrap.

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