Apple tries to redefine textbooks with iBooks 2

Apple also introduces iBooks Author for map to create digital textbooks

Apple has bought traditional textbooks to the digital age with the new iBooks 2, a tablet application that will bring in support for multimedia textbooks for a more interactive and engaging learning experience.

At an event held in New York, Apple pitched the digital textbooks as an alternative to traditional textbooks, which are heavy and one-dimensional. Apple hopes the interactive textbooks will make learning more interesting for students and improve reading, science and math skills in the U.S.

Apple used the rich layout features on the iPad to demonstrate a biology digital textbook. The digital textbook had multimedia features that allowed students to view 3D images, animations and video, and also other features designed to make learning more interactive. Students can zoom and pinch their way to access relevant content, and seamlessly move from one page to another.

The digital textbook also came with a built-in glossary and index, which removes the frustration of trying to look up subject matter in the back of the book. Another study tool is highlighting and note taking, in which a finger can be swiped over text to highlight. There are also interactive exams in which instant feedback on answers can be provided. Multiple options for layouts and question types were demonstrated.

No printed textbook could compete, said Roger Rosner, vice president of productivity software at Apple.

IBooks 2 is in the App Store, and it's available for free starting Thursday.

The company is starting with high schools textbooks, which will sell for US$14.99 or less. Textbooks from Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will be available, Apple said. McGraw-Hill has been working on textbooks for algebra, biology, chemistry, geometry and physics, all of which are available for free.

The textbooks can be created with iBooks Author, a Mac application to author digital textbooks. The application helps bring interactive elements to textbooks, and documents from Keynote presentation software or Word could be dragged and dropped into the software. The application is available for free from the Mac App store.

Apple also introduced the iTunes U app to help teachers deliver content to university students. The app helps deliver full courses with video, documents and books, and students are able to view the syllabus and all assignments. Students will also see teacher posts and updates.

The iTunes U app will work on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, and will give users access to the world's largest catalog of free educational content from top universities including Cambridge, Duke, Harvard, Oxford and Stanford.

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