Apple Textbook App

Apple today announced an iTunes® U app, to enable teaching and publish entire courses. The all-new iTunes U app lets teachers create and manage courses.

Apple introduced three major products; iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U.

  • iBooks 2.0 (PR, iTunes, free). A major update of Apple’s eBook reading app for iOS. It displays ebooks with animations, diagrams, photos, videos and graphical navigation. Readers can highlight passages, add notes and even test themselves with flashcards. Most educational titles on the iBookstore are priced at $14.99 (or less).
  • iBooks Author (PR, iTunes, free). A free authoring tool for Mac OS that allows anyone with a Mac to create textbooks, cookbooks, history books, picture books and publish them directly to Apple’s iBookstore — but ONLY on Apple’s iBookstore.
  • iTunes U (PR, iTunes, free) — Apple’s third prong in its 2012 education strategy is an enhancement to an app originally launched as a component of iTunes in 2007. The iTunes U app allows educators to create and manage courses including lectures, assignments, books, quizzes and syllabuses and distribute them to over 250 million iOS devices.

The free iTunes U app gives students access to all the materials for a course in a single place. Right in the app, they can play video or audio lectures. Read books and view presentations. See a list of all the assignments for the course and check them off as they’re completed. And when you send a message or create a new assignment, students receive a push notification with the new information.

Educators can quickly and easily create, manage and share their courses, quizzes and handouts through a web-based tool and utilize content and links from the iTunes U app, the Internet, iBookstore or the App Store as part of their curriculum. They can also upload and distribute their own documents such as Keynote, Pages, Numbers or books made with iBooks Author.

Among the hundreds of colleges, universities, and elementary and high schools on iTunes U, you’ll find Stanford, Yale, MIT, Oxford, and UC Berkeley, along with other distinguished institutions such as MoMA, New York Public Library, and more.

iBooks Author is in the Mac App Store now. It’s free and requires Mac OS X 10.7.2 or later. The WYSIWYG editor is similar to Apple’s iWork product line, which includes Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. Text can be dragged directly from Pages or Microsoft Word into the editor; the app uses the document’s styles to automatically create sections, headers, and layout. Keynote presentations can also be automatically inserted into textbooks.

iBooks Author allows anyone to create beautiful Multi-Touch textbooks — and just about any other kind of book — for iPad – with galleries, video, interactive diagrams, 3D objects, and more. Users can drag Word files, images, video and widgets—including custom widgets—directly into the program. You can also export it in iBooks format to share on iTunes U or to give to anyone with an iPad.

The most compelling part of iBooks Author is the widgets feature, says Mashable. This allows users to insert dynamic elements into pages, including photo galleries, movies, full Keynote presentations, interactive images and 3D objects. Using various actions and layout options, other animations and pop-ups can also be customized in the app to offer a rich experience. Users can even code their own HTML widgets to display custom content.

With today’s launch of iBooks 2, Apple is attempting to reinvent the textbook. “Education is deep in our DNA, and it has been since the very beginning,” said Apple’s VP of Marketing, Phil Schiller at today’s event.

Apple’s Pages software (part of the iWork suite), has been the standard tool for creating an ebook on the Mac. It supports ePub export. But documents exported to ePub will look different than their Pages counterparts. The ePub-2 standard is more limited and testing your book requires a tedious process of exporting the book, then transferring it to an iOS device.

Epub3 has just recently been finalized as an eBook format. The Epub3 spec is based on HTML5, and makes use of the latest in interactive content, rich media (audio, video), and global language support. “EPUB has become the industry standard format for digital publications based on Web Standards that are structured, reliable, device-independent, and accessible,” said BIll McCoy, Executive Director, IDPF.

With an estimated 80+ new tablets coming to market this year, and close to half of those Android tablets, a cross platform publishing standard – like ePUB-3 – would of interest to both publishers and consumers.

Apple’s iPad and the Barnes and Noble Nook support the ePub standard, but Amazon does not. Yet. Apple’s new authoring app, iBooks Author, has elements of ePUB3, but is not likely to be directly compatible with ePub3. Application from Adobe and others that save output as cross-platform ePub3 are likely on their way.

Cross-platform Ebooks that incorporate embedded audio and video, magazine-quality font styles, formatting and layouts will soon impact more than textbooks. It will change publishing and media.

Currently there are over 500,000 pieces of audio and video material, which Apple says is the largest catalog of free educational content. Partner textbook publishers include Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. They will have textbooks available through the new iBookstore textbooks for $14.99 (or less). Compare that figure to textbooks from publishers like McGraw Hill that can sell for as high as $75. Publishers might hope to sell five new $15 eBooks instead of one $75 textbook every 5 years.

In addition to reading books, viewing presentations, lectures and assignment lists, the iTunes U app lets students receive push notifications so they always have the latest class information. It’s available now as a free download.

TechCrunch has further details about Apple’s textbook event and C/Net lists 6 things we don’t know about Apple’s e-textbooks strategy.

Former Apple developer Mike Matas demoed a full-length interactive book for the iPad using his companies publishing software, called Push Press. The book is “Our Choice,” Al Gore’s sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth”. Recently Push Pop Press was acquired by Facebook where he is now working.

Apple’s announcement today is huge. The ability to incorporate dynamic formatting, real control over typography, embedded video and motion graphics, and widget enhancements is big enough. To make it easy to use — and free — marks a real change in publishing.

Periodical publishers could use a tool like iBooks Author. If they could get access to Apple’s Newsstand, it would save expensive IOS app development. That’s the beauty of HTML-5. Maybe someday iBooks Author will have an output option to ePub-3. And maybe someday Amazon will support multi-media ePub-3 publications on Kindle devices — as well as Android 4.0 Tablets and mobile devices.

Until that day comes, Apple has created a powerful – even revolutionary – tool. Their free, simple and powerful authoring is hard to beat – even if you are stuck on Apple’s Store. The future of The Book has been defined. Authors and publishers have their rocketship. Buckle up.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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