Apple announced a pair of education initiatives Thursday that the company hopes will take its iPad to the head of the class.
Speaking at a press event at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Apple executives showed off a new version of the iBooks e-reader app optimized for electronic textbooks as well as iBooks Author, a Mac program that can build those textbooks. In addition, Apple is taking its successful iTunes U lecture series and turning it into a mobile app aimed at including a complete set of course materials, not just lectures.
“We’re so proud to take part in anything that can help students learn and achieve greatness,” said Apple senior vice president of worldwide product marketing Phil Schiller, adding that education is “deep in Apple’s DNA.”
To that end, Apple outlined two initiatives on Thursday, aimed at reinventing both textbooks and curriculum. Not coincidentally, those initiatives center around Apple’s iOS devices, with particular attention paid to the iPad.
Apple has always enjoyed a strong foothold in the education market, dating back to the days of the Apple II. While the company’s education efforts took a hit in the 1990s as Apple struggled as a business, it’s regained its footing in recent years, with the iPad representing a new opportunity for Apple to bring its products into the classroom. During Thursday’s event, Schiller noted that there are more than 1.5 million iPads in use at educational institutions.
“There’s something really profound starting to happen at Apple,” Schiller told reporters. “We’re on the cusp of something really great.”
The way Apple sees it, iPads provide a way to get students excited about learning by delivering educational content in an engaging way. That’s the thinking behind Apple’s push to reinvent textbooks.
iBooks 2, which arrived on the iOS App Store Thursday, adds support for fullscreen textbooks with interactive animation, charts, photos, and videos. The app allows students and teachers to take full advantage of those textbooks with the iPad’s touch interface. (The features introduced Thursday do not appear to be available on the iPod touch or iPhone.)
And that gives the iPad an edge over traditional printed textbooks, according to Schiller. The iPad is more portable than a thick textbook; you can store multiple textbooks on a single device. What’s more, digital textbooks can be updated, easily searched, and include interactive multimedia that simply can’t translate to the printed page. “Kids are going to love to learn with textbooks in iBooks,” Schiller said.
In iBooks 2, readers can tap and zoom on any content, swipe between pages, browse thumbnails, and search for specific terms and page numbers via a dedicated search feature. The app also includes highlighting and notation capabilities, as well as a Study Card feature that converts highlighted text and notes into flash cards.
As part of the iBooks 2 update, Apple expanded its online iBookstore to include a textbooks section. As of Thursday morning, only eight books were available for download, but Apple expects that volume to increase.
Schiller says that Apple has gotten a “ton of advice” from educational publishers, including Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Those three companies account for about 90 percent of the textbooks sold in the U.S., according to Schiller.
Pearson and McGraw Hill are the most visible players in the iBookstore’s Textbooks section at launch. Pearson is currently selling books on biology and environmental science, with algebra and geometry offerings on the way. McGraw Hill’s available textbooks cover algebra, geometry, chemistry, biology, and physics. Schiller also promised books from DK Publishing aimed at elementary-school aged kids. Three DK books are currently available on the iBookstore, in a different section from the high-school textbooks.
Apple says that textbooks will sell for $15 or less in the iBookstore. It didn’t specify how it would split revenue with textbook publishers. In other areas of the company’s electronic retail empire, however, Apple takes a 30 percent cut of magazine subscriptions and apps sold through its App Store; publishers and developers keep the rest.
To encourage others to bring electronic textbooks to the iBookstore, Apple also introduced iBooks Author on Thursday. The free Mac app—available from Apple’s Mac App Store—is a WYSIWYG editor for creating digital textbooks with interactive elements (though Schiller pointed out Thursday that other publishers could take advantage of the app’s book creation tools, too).
Mirroring the interface of Apple’s iWork apps, iBooks Author lets users import text from Pages or Microsoft Word; they can also insert interactive Keynote presentations and movies into documents. Widgets assist in the creation of image galleries, and other tools can add glossaries or connections to Internet databases. A live preview option allows publishers to see what the final product looks like on an iPad.
“It’s easy to use, powerful, feature-rich, and authors will love using it,” Schiller said of iBooks Author.
iBooks Author aids in the uploading of books to Apple’s website for submission to the iBookstore. Files are output in a special iBooks format that does not appear to be compatible with any other ebook reading platforms, and Apple’s licensing rules specify that the files created in iBooks Author can’t be sold anywhere but on the iBookstore.
While much of Thursday’s presentation centered on Apple’s push for interactive textbooks, the company also outlined goals for reinventing classroom curriculums. The driving force behind that will be iTunes U, a free service that Apple hosts which distributes lectures and other educational content. According to Apple senior vice present of Internet software and services Eddy Cue, more than 1000 universities use iTunes U to serve up lectures; the service has logged 700 million downloads since its launch four years ago.
Apple wants iTunes U to be about more than lectures, however; to that end, it launched a free iTunes U app aimed at managing other course material via an iOS device.
The iTunes U app offers full online courses, including the course syllabus, interactive material, reading material, and more. Students will be able to grab relevant texts from the iBookstore or download class videos to watch on their iPhone or iPad. It “lets teachers and students do everything they need with an app,” Cue said.
Teachers interested in distributing courses through iTunes U have several Web-based resources at their disposal courtesy of Apple. In addition to support forums, Apple offers the Web-based iTunes U Course Manager for step-by-step instructions on creating materials to be distributed via the iTunes U app.
At Thursday’s education event, Apple put glee into the heart of every ebook publisher when it unveiled iBooks Author, the company’s new ebook authoring tool. Between the WYSIWYG editing, Pages and Word import, and the free price tag, the app sounded too good to be true. While Apple showcased iBooks Author as part of its push to get more iPad-friendly textbooks onto its iBookstore, this ebook creator can be used by any publisher—Apple’s Phil Schiller specifically mentioned cookbooks and travel books among other publications when touting the app.
Naturally, after all my griping and wishes over such a tool, I had to take it for a spin: Here’s what I’ve discovered.
From appearances alone, iBooks Author fits in right alongside the company’s iWork suite—no surprises there, since it was reportedly developed under the watchful eye of Roger Rosen, vice president of productivity software at Apple. Like most of Apple’s content apps, Author greets you with a template chooser; you can choose one of six styles (Basic, Contemporary, Modern Type, Classic, Editorial, or Craft).
Templates are easily fiddled with—as with iWork, it’s simple to create and save your own styles. Template backgrounds can be unlocked and deleted, new additions made, all with little complication. Designers especially will love the freedom of the WYSIWYG tools: Images can be inline, floating, or anchored, and while Apple suggests you stick to iBooks-included fonts, it’s easy enough to spruce up the book in other ways.
As executives were outlining Apple’s education initiatives Thursday morning, the company also took care of a little housekeeping, in the form of an iTunes update that lets users sync newly available interactive textbooks between their computer and iPad.
Thursday’s introduction of iBooks 2 during Apple's education-centric press event introduced multimedia-rich books that feature images, databases, videos and 3D models alongside traditional text. Those books are now available from a new Textbooks section of Apple’s iBookstore.
iTunes 10.5.3, also released Thursday, allows users to download those books from the
iTunes Store on a Mac or directly from the iBookstore on an iPad, syncing them to the Apple tablet.
Ask people in educational publishing about Apple’s foray into e-textbooks, and you’ll hear a consistent message: It’s good for all of us—and good luck to Apple.
It’s good for e-textbooks in general because “Every time Apple enters a market, that market gets attention,” as Dan Rosensweig, CEO of textbook-rental firm Chegg, puts it. Widespread availability of e-textbooks on the iPad could help alert a lot of students, teachers, and parents who didn’t know otherwise that such things exist.
And authoring tools like the just-released iBooks Author could help raise expectations about what’s possible in such texts—things like interactivity, multimedia, and personalized content. “This could be where innovation in publishing comes from,” says Sarah Rotman Epps, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.
Epps points out that there’s no lack of digital content for schools; there are thousands of apps and e-texts available now. But much of that content wasn’t optimized for digital; it’s often the replica of a print original with a few digital enhancements. iBooks Author could help change that. In the process, it could also enable a new generation of developers who are currently locked out of the education publishing market.
“This democratizes production while it centralizes distribution,” Epps said.
Thursday’s iBooks 2 update delivered interactive textbooks to the iPad. These books incorporate video clips, moving diagrams, audio commentary, and other new features that exploit the iPad’s touch interface. With a handful of such books already available for purchase from the new Textbooks section in the iBookstore, I decided to take the updated iBooks out for a test drive. What I found were books that feature stunning images and impressive graphics that make traditional printed textbooks feel out-of-date.
What’s available now?
iBooks textbooks are geared for the K-12 grade levels at this point; as of Thursday, the books available in the iBookstore are specifically aimed at high schoolers. Apple says it’s working closely with major textbook publishers Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to bring widely used textbooks to life through this new format. Those three publishers account for about 90 percent of textbooks sold in the U.S., according to Apple senior vice president of worldwide product marketing Phil Schiller.
Pearson has two titles available for purchase (covering biology and environmental science, respectively), while McGraw Hill has five—for physics, chemistry, algebra, geometry, and biology. For elementary-school aged kids, DK Publishing has three textbooks available. These companies already have more textbooks in the works.
While the iTunes U app provides access to the content that’s available in the iTunes U section of the iTunes Store, it also offers a means for teacher and student interaction. The opening interface looks a lot like Apple’s iBooks app, with a bookshelf that hosts icons representing your courses. Tap on a course, and you’ll see a list of topics on the left, such as Overview, Instructor, and Outline. These topics can be customized with additional topics. Teachers can post a syllabus, notes, and assignments to the class, and students receive notifications when new posts are available. With the assignment lists in the iTunes U app, students can mark off when an assignment is done.
The iTunes U app also allows for interoperability with other media. A teacher can tell students to read certain texts, with links that send the student to the iBookstore or another source. Or a teacher can assign videos for students to watch; the student can watch a video stream, or download the videos to the iOS device for viewing at a later time.
The Notes tab in the iTunes U app is a place where notes from all your textbooks and courses are gathered together. It's similar to the Notes view in the new iBooks 2 app, announced earlier Thursday.
Before introducing the app, which is now available from the iOS App Store, Schiller outlined the problems with modern textbooks: They aren’t portable, durable, interactive, searchable, or updatable. In his words, “The iPad stacks up better.”
More specifically, it stacks up better with iBooks 2, which brings fullscreen textbooks with interactive animations, diagrams, photos, and videos to students and teachers. Apple vice president of productivity software Roger Rosner took to the stage to demonstrate the app’s new features for textbooks, which include a revised index for easier search, page thumbnails, virtual study cards, interactive multiple choice questions for section and book quizzes, and new portrait and landscape views.
Apple on Thursday launched iBooks Author, a free Mac app designed to let authors and publishers easily create multimedia-rich e-textbooks for the company's updated iBooks 2 app for the iPad.
Although digitial textbooks were the focus of Thursday’s Apple event, Phil Schiller, the company’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, noted that iBooks Author could be used to create other media-intensive offerings, such as cookbooks and travel guides, for Apple’s iPad. (Currently, iBooks Author does not work for creating iBooks for the iPhone or iPod touch.)
The app itself is a WYSIWYG editor with a user interface 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, giving the final document more interactivity than a traditional publication.
Images can also be dragged into the text; iBooks Author uses live alignment guides to flow text around the picture as it is placed in the correct spot. A Multi-Touch widgets feature allows users to create image galleries that can also be dragged into the book, then easily resized; the widgets also let users add movies and 3D objects to the pages. The app can also connect to Internet databases to present numerical information without cutting-and-pasting.
Never before has an announcement about textbooks been the subject of so much conversation. But that’s what happens when Apple holds a media event: People talk, even if the subject might otherwise seem obscure or uninteresting.
Apple’s one-hour event Thursday seemed fairly simple: There were three major announcements, iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and a new iTunes U app. But the ramifications of what Apple announced may go a lot further than simply changing the way we educate children. (What, was the future of the human race not enough for you?)
Why iBooks Author exists
One of the biggest misconceptions I run into is the assumption that developing iOS apps is easy. It’s not. It’s hard, and good iOS developers are extremely hard to find. Especially (take it from me) if you’re a publishing company with little or no experience with (or focus on) app development. The bottom line is, finding talented iOS developers is hard and developing iOS apps is expensive.
Somewhere along the way, I think Apple got a little blinded by the sheer flashiness of some of the earliest media apps for the iPad. On the magazine side, it was Popular Mechanics. On the book side, amazing books-as-apps like The Elements. There are some really remarkable book and magazine apps out there, ones that are truly a merging of world-class content with innovative, cutting-edge software development.
Against my better judgment, I let myself get swept up by the wave of e-publishing rumors in the days leading up to Apple’s education-themed announcement. Apple could do it, I thought to myself. The company had both the resources to build a great tool, and the reasons to do so.
The application Apple did release, iBooks Author, is impressive in some ways. It’s free. Textbook publishers, teachers, comic artists, and others seeking an easy way to make rich, fixed-format iPad books should be thrilled. As Macworld editorial director Jason Snell points out, it will save a lot of people from having to create a dedicated app just to serve beautiful versions of their content.
But there are perhaps just as many caveats and concerns with Apple’s new application. The iBooks Author end user licensing agreement is vague and worrisome. Like every program that came before iBooks Author, you can’t edit ePubs directly; unlike programs such as Scrivener, Pages, and InDesign, however, this app’s only purpose is to make books. And to top it all off, it won’t even export the open ePub format Apple has long championed; instead, it makes proprietary .ibooks files.
Sure, iBooks Author is only version 1.0—and seeing as how I’ve defended Apple in the past for features missing from its 1.0 software, I probably should withhold my judgement for the time being. But I can’t help but be disappointed.
The iPad has begun a quiet revolution in education. All over the world, schools are putting ambitious plans in place to adopt Apple’s tablet at large scale.
When parents, teachers and administrators are surveyed, converting textbooks into electronic publications is often one of the main purposes that respondents imagine an iPad in school could be used for. It’s usually the parents and school administrators who are most enthusiastic about this—students and teachers often have more imagination!
The state of ebooks in schools
Before Thursday’s announcements, the situation for using ebooks in schools was dire. Neither of the Big Two ebook systems—iBooks and Kindle—had any mechanism for a school to build an “ebook library.” Unfortunately, we still don’t.
iBooks Author is an intriguing app and a a big deal for publishers. But while the app is obviously very new, some aspects of the software give me pause. Here are my questions for Apple about the iBooks Author. (And yes, I’ve sent them all Apple’s way, though I haven’t heard back just yet.)
Why the tough license terms?
If you want to sell the iBooks Author-created books you build, your only option to do so is through the iBookstore. You retain the right to freely give away your books elsewhere, but the End-User License Agreement (EULA) says that if you want to sell iBooks Author-created ebooks, you must go through Apple—and thus cut Apple in on any money you make selling your works.
I’d like Apple to explain its justification for this policy. I understand the argument that Apple is giving away the app for free, and thus deserves to find a way to profit from it. But Apple gives away GarageBand with every new Mac, and doesn’t require that you only sell the songs you create with that app through the iTunes Music Store. I’ve written a book in Apple’s $20 Pages app and didn’t need to cut Cupertino a check for a single cent of my advance or royalties. Could I pay Apple $20 for iBooks Author and then have permission to sell my book wherever I’d like?
When I was a snot-nosed kid in 1981 with my fancy Ohio Scientific C1P, educational software vendors were already hawking textbook complements for the Apple II, Commodore PET, and TRS-80. Today, the object is to replace textbooks altogether while enhancing them beyond what paper can manage. As a grizzled and cynical technology veteran, I ask: What’s been learned in 30 years? Apparently, that you can make the same arguments and believe that they’ve never been made before.
From the dawn of the concept of multimedia, firms that cater to the education market have been pushing the notion that adding animation, audio, and video (as each form of media became more readily embeddable) would engage students further, and improve achievement. Printed books are boring. They just sit there! That’s one of their advantages, too.
At Apple’s press event on Thursday, senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller went down the same tired path. “One thing we hear louder than anything else is student engagement, inspiring kids to want to discover and learn,” he said. Kids are bored. The iPad is fun and engaging, Schiller explained. This is the same contention made for decades, and I challenge readers to find any longitudinal studies tracking students who have used or are using packaged multimedia-enhanced instruction showed measured and consistent improvement over control groups.