Apple's iPad Textbooks: Everything You Need To Know About iBooks 2

Steve Jobs wanted to do for education what he did for music, phones and tablet computers. Apple's new textbooks was his Next Big Thing (or one of them).

With their new iBooks 2 and iTunes U app's digital courses, Apple wants to change the way students access education material and help them learn and study. But have they succeeded?

Giz AU note: We can't actually see any textbooks in the AU iTunes store yet. It shouldn't be too long before we see something though, since Apple has made the splash page available to us.

Is it really an education revolution?

iBooks 2 is not a revolution, something that Schiller was careful to highlight at the beginning of his presentation. Apple thinks the education system needs a reset. But they think they can help, with iBooks 2 and iBooks Author -- a combination that they hope will replace physical books, which are too big and heavy, quickly obsolete and lack interactivity, a word that is often empty in this industry, but has true meaning in this case, as we will see later.

On this front they have succeeded. iBooks 2 is great, especially if you have the iPad 2 (on the iPad 1 they can get slow sometimes).

Apple's new iBooks are as impressive as they said in the presentation. They are beautifully crafted. Their use of videos, timelines, animations, embedded presentations, integrated review questions and quizzes and their highlighting and study card system are extremely good. They work and they are enjoyable.

Unfortunately, they are not perfect. The lack of sharing features is a major killer with actual school work, in which collaboration is a must.

Right now there's no way to share your highlighted text with others. You can only share your notes. I can't export it all to a file so I can work from my notes and highlighted text in the computer, something that would be useful to everyone, not only students. All my digital books are highlighted and have notes, so I really want to have this feature.

Apple's biggest strength in the whole iBooks 2 proposition is not the book themselves. It is how easily they are created using their iBook Author application. This development tool is free and it's so drag-and-drop easy that it can be used by anyone. It has the potential of truly democratizing the publication of advanced books which, in a way, act like applications.

Key Features

All the iBook 2 features are going to be available to every book, not just textbooks. This is probably the best news of this announcement. Here are the key features:

Thumbnail index: You're able to go through books using a visual index, with thumbnails marking the sections of the book, along with a text line-up.

This is not particularly necessary, but it's a good way to present content. You can easily go through chapters and sections sweeping with your finger on the main index page. I wish there was a more detailed index page, however (my guess is that more complex books will use them).

Built-in videos: The video support is straightforward. Click and play. Text flows around them as if they were images, completely integrated in the layout.

You only need to tap on them or pinch out to expand them into full screen. This is especially satisfying, as you zoom in and out of them as you would do with images in the photo album application.

Interactive animations: The new textbooks -- and any book made with iBook Author -- would be able to use interactive animations. In fact, these animations can be created on Keynote, which makes it incredibly easy to add this content.

These animations work like the videos and images: you can expand them easily by pinching out on them or just tapping on them. They are marked as animations as you tap on them the first time. On this image you can see how it looks as I pinched to zoom.

Study cards: This is another really neat feature, perhaps one of the best. The iBooks app will automatically turn your highlights and notes into study cards. The cards will also include must-learn words from the glossary.

They follow a paper metaphor, complete with a 3D effect (shown in the first image). Their objective is to make these cards feel like actual library cards.

Like real cards, you have a basic concept on the front and expanded notes on the back. Like every other element in the iBooks app, sweeping your finger will go through all of them. You can also flip them around easily, by clicking on the lower corner.

It's a good translation of the real world, a user experience that is both useful and looks elegant. It will also be useful for any kinds of research, if it's available for every book through the iBooks 2 application.

Custom glossary: They also include a feature similar to the current iBook's dictionary, in which you will access each textbook's custom glossary by highlighting words.

The glossary is always accessible from the top of the screen, one click away. It's well organised, very clean and without any adorns or clutter. You can navigate using the alphabet on the left side of the screen or just scrolling down. As you would expect, you can jump to any part of the book where the word is mentioned.

Quizzes and review questions: Another cool feature that I'm sure students will love are the instant quizzes built into the textbooks.

The quizzes and review questions are built right into each book, at the end of each chapter. They are pretty straightforward questions with multiple-choice answers. Pick the one you think it's correct and click on the reveal answer button to see if you were right. There is no scoring, however. It would be neat to have some scoring system on more complex quizzes and built-in exams, set by the teacher.

There are already eight free books on the store, but the ones coming from the big publishing companies will be $16 "or less" each. They are working with Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, DK publishing -- which is starting with four kids' books -- and the E.O Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. The latter has made available the first chapters of Life on Earth for free, and they will be adding new chapters for "a low price".

How to make them

Apple is also releasing a new application for Mac OS X called iBooks Author. This is an app that anyone can use to create iBooks compatible with the new iBooks 2, not just big companies.

It works like the Apple iWorks applications -- which is not a surprise, knowing that iWork's chief Roger Rosner is in charge of this. It basically gets any content that iWork would admit, which includes text, shapes, graphics, video and even entire Keynote presentations, which are fully animated. The app is compatible with Word too, which is a must in a world dominated by Office.

This seems like it could be a winner for everyone, not only big publishing companies. The app will be free, and it's available today at the Mac App Store.

If these new books take off, it will be because of iBook Author, not just because of the books themselves. This tool will have deep consequences for anyone who wants to publish a book that goes beyond the classic electronic book. It actually opens an opportunity for people who are not developers, to create book "apps" without writing a single line of code and using off-the-shelf apps like Write, Keynote, Word, iMovie or Photoshop. Unfortunately, it's available for Lion only.

A great first version that is not perfect

iBooks 2 -- or Apple-media-rich-books-1.0 -- is good. Very good. iBooks Author will be an awesome tool to make great textbooks, easy to update and at a good price. And normal books too. I just wish they had more collaborative features, something that is crucial for both learning and research. Sharing highlights and notes in in a social network is a must. I hope Apple gets it right for iBooks 2.5 or 3, but looking at their Ping flustercuck and complete lack of social networking savvy, I'm not holding my breath.


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    Does the image at the top say "Apple's new Textbooks 101" or "Apple's new Textbooks lol"

    I'm going with lol,

    OK, great selling story, but what about the really imporant stuff, like what can the books be accessed on, iPad's only! If this is true then see this as a major proprietary push to own a market. It has nothing to do with education.
    Apple want money every time a kid goes to school. Kids will have to take their parents credit cards with them and sign up to Apple on their first day of school. Get used to paying Apple for the rest of their lives..
    Atrocious product and should be called out for what it is.

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

    Calm yourself Geoff. There are other options such as the app Kno which is accessible from a PC, Android, and iOS, and Kno has been out for a while already.

    As long as the app is on mac, pc, and android tabs as well, i think it is great

    i think the best use would be for providing a uniform and simple framework to distribute university course materials, online lectures, etc that are included in a course.

    Of course all this stuff must be printable as electronic doesn't cut it sometimes.

    the amount of schools or people will save in textbook costs next to a cost of an iPad and the 15 bucks for text books, its a NO BRAINER! iPad wins! textbooks dead, amazon dead. in 2 years this will be just like having songs on iTunes.. no ones going to buy hard copy text books by 2015! Bye bye Amazon textbooks... you are now history!

      the pretex of cheaper study is good and all

      but what about the fact that its solely built on a locked down single branded device....
      at least you can buy textbooks everywhere with COMPETITION.

      this is gunna ruin innovation like all iProducts

      Everyone is gunna flock to it and praise apple for saving us. forgetting that if apple decides to lock out features like sharing highlighting and whatnot. We wont be able to do it.

      Any developer who releases a software similar to this and does have the feature will be screwed because they wont have the same uptake or market dominance that the ibooks2 will have...effectively killing innovation

      Are the books even on an open universal/standardised format?

      Sorry but I just can't see why publishers would decide to sell a digital copy of a textbook for $15 if the hard copy retails for $150+

        cause no one buys 150 textbooks but schools or rich people, if students buy a book at 15 everyone buys them... just like people buy games at 1 dollar rather than 50 bucks... aggressive pricing.... mass volume

    I still think it isn't healthy for people (especially children) to stare at a screen all day.

      based upon what study do you base this on? thats like saying looking at textbooks all day is bad for you....

    Don't get me wrong, the idea is great, the issue is about how the "new" format is consumed. If it can only be consumed in the Apple ecosystem then very, very bad.
    If it is open, well it's Apple, that's not their game.

      Apple would hope other manufacturers would jump on board for this protocol. It's always the same, someone brings something awesome out that I think everyone should have. Then just because some guy made it for his platform with a more glossy feel, or the ability to share to facebook, half the population get's divided... If they'd just agree that some things apple does, should be applied to all these devices, then we can all just have one evolving format, rather then 100 evolving formats.... It's the only way to stop people complaining about it... But... As there will always be competition, it'll always slow things down in the long run.

    Has anyone ever actually read anything on an iPad. I mean READ, not just glance and websites and catch up on the news? after half an hour your eyes are BURNING. now think about how much time you spent buried in text books while are uni, 20-30 hours per week? they'll all be blind by graduation.
    and while the concept is great, we don't need apple screwing publishers over like the did to musicians

      OH RUBBISH!!!! what a bunch of poppy cock... this is like saying reading textbooks all day sends you blind.... I think the flat earth society is calling.... Geez

        I'm taking that as a no then Commander Sheep, I'm speaking from experience. and while reading textbooks does strain your eyes, not nearly as much as a back-lit one does.

      Hopefully the expected resolution upgrade with the ipad 3 will help this a little. I'd also love to see apple try some other things to make reading on a screen a bit easier as well....perhaps lighting the screen with ambient light for reading, and then normal lcd backlight for everything else...I don't expect we'll see this any time soon, but if tablets are the future of schools and reading in general, it would be nice to see this happen eventually.

    Didn't Microsoft tried to start something similar to this years back????

      This is apple. Completely different idea cause you know they invented everything...

      They tried but they weren't successful. Just like they weren't in tablet PCs, windows phones and MP3 players.

    Wow... this stuff is exactly like those "multimedia" education packages that were so popular in the 90s on CD roms. Funny to see the same old stuff returning.
    If you're looking for normal e-book textbooks, there are already apparently a lot on Kindle and the other e-book systems already out there.

    Are we getting a bit of that old reality distortion thing again where comonplace stuff is seen as new and game-changing?

    How is this different from any half-decent PDF reader? A well made PDF has great navigation, making it dead easy to get around. You can highlight text, create sticky notes, etc., so why would anyone bother with this krap? In fact, web-pages make a great substitute for physical textbooks and cost almost nothing, just ask Encyclopeadia Britannica. Even Encarta is dead, replaced by the web. This is the Apple snake oil sales folk working overtime to convince sheeple they need something they already have.

      I'm hoping this falls dead in the water. I'm going to guess that over here, universities are less likely to go all iPad on us (which is a good thing) so we should be saved from it.

      My uni uses Blackboard, and while it's not a great system, it has a mobile app (from the company, not my uni) so I can access PDF content that my lecturers have uploaded on my Android phone or tablet. Most of my units haven't had textbooks thankfully, but I was given a PDF of one last year. It was basically the final copy of the book before it was sent to print, so when we were told to go to page 200 of the book, if I typed 200 it would bring up the file's page 200. Apart from that, it was so much easier than having a physical textbook.

      I'm in my last year of uni now (barring any further studies) so any of these developments will barely relate to me, but I'm glad the systems in place now at least let you choose how you want to access your information.

    No offense to anyone intended, but I have tried to read books on the iPad 2 and it does cause eye strain, a new kindle it seems does not?
    Maybe if Apple produced an iPad with eink colored screen, it may solve this problem. Also apple need to resolve the share issue or borrow issue before they start putting this into practice, that's my two cents.

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