Some Key Subtle Details From Apple’s Textbook Event

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iPads And Digital Textbooks Do Not Belong In Classrooms Yet

Today at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, Apple held an event to talk about two key things: “Reinventing textbooks” and “Reinventing curriculum”. But perhaps lost amid the tentpole announcements (iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and the all-new iTunes U) were some subtleties of those products and Apple’s plans for the education space.

Among them:

  • “Education is deep in our DNA,” Apple SVP Phil Schiller said shortly after taking the stage. He then rattled off some starting statistics: high school students in the U.S. that enter as freshman have only a 70 percent chance of graduating. In urban areas, the statistic drops closer to 60 percent.
  • Among industrialized nations, the U.S. is 17th in reading, 31st in math, and 23rd in science. “We all want to do better than this,” Schiller said.
  • The number one items on teens’ wish lists for the holiday season this past year was the iPad, Schiller said.
  • Over 20,000 education and learning applications have been built specifically for the iPad already.
  • The iBookstore already contains “hundreds of thousands” of books, according to Schiller
  • There are over 1.5 million iPads in use in education instituions, Schiller said.
  • Schiller praised the invention of the book in the mid 1400s, but noted that while one is still quite portable, kids often now are forced to carry around 3 or 4 or 5 of them. In that regard, they’re not portable, he said — naturally setting up the iPad, which is quite portable by comparison.
  • Textbooks are also not durable, not interactive, not searchable, and not current, Schiller pointed out. “But they do have great content,” he said — setting up a partnership with publishers.
  • There’s a big focus on glossary terms for textbooks in iBooks 2.
  • An emphasis was also placed on being able to quickly jump to a page number via search — how often have you heard a teacher say “please open your book to page X”? This is a nice solution.
  • Textbooks have page numbers when held horizontally, but vertically, they infinitely scroll. (But jumping to a “page” still works.)
  • Textbooks can feature inline quizzes — “The bottom line is immediate feedback,” Apple VP of productivity software Roger Rosner said.
  • Highlighting has been improved over the original iBooks. It’s faster not and easier to trigger.
  • There’s also now an ability to underline text as well as highlight it in several different colors (which you could do in the old iBooks).
  • All highlighted passages and any notes attached to those are automatically turned into “study cards” — think: flash cards. “No more ever having to make paper flash cards,” Rosner joked.
  • Study Cards can be sorted/filtered by highlight color.
  • Glossary terms are also automatically made into Study Cards (but can also be filtered out).
  • The iBookstore is getting a categories view.
  • The reason is to highlight the new textbook area of the store.
  • You can download free samples of all textbooks (as you can with regular books).
  • You can buy any textbook with one-click via your iTunes account, or you can use a redemption code. Look for Apple and schools to play up this feature quite a bit. Imagine a teacher giving each student in their class a personalized redemption code for a textbook so they don’t have to buy it.
  • Once you buy a textbook from the iBookstore, you own it forever and can re-download it to future devices. In other words, there’s no more giving back the book at the end of the terms. And there’s no more concern about students taking notes in books that need to be passed down.
  • Like the original iBooks, iBooks 2 will need to be downloaded (it won’t come pre-installed on iPads), but it’s a free download.
  • Though not stated, textbook content presumably will only work on the iPad, not iPhones or iPod touches.
  • Also not stated, but textbook content should work on the original iPad as well as the iPad 2.
  • iBooks Author only works on Macs.
  • “Creating books has been really hard, we think we changed that,” Rosner said.
  • It’s similar to Pages, and plays nicely with Keynote presentations for embeds.
  • Interactive widgets can also be embedded in iBooks via Author, and anyone who knows HTML and Javascript can write one.
  • With that in mind, these widgets are technically the same as OS X Dashboard widgets.
  • Support for orientation switching is added automatically in iBooks Author. “This is a total miracle in terms of time saving,” Rosner said.
  • Any iBook created with Author can be previewed immediately on an iPad if you connect it to your Mac. I saw this in action, it works very well.
  • While Apple noted that you can “publish right to iBookstore” in their presentation, it appears to be more complicated than that. When you hit the “Publish” button, it actually just saves the file to your desktop. This is the file you then presumably submit to Apple for inclusion in iBookstore. In other words, no, you can’t just publish right to the store. There is still a process — including, undoubtedly, a review process.
  • On the other hand, because you save these files to your desktop, you can share them with others who can load them on their iPads. For example, you could email the file to someone and if they open it on their iPad it will work.
  • Books are not technically in the EPUB format, but they borrow from it (likely EPUB 3). Certain interactive elements of the books require the files to be done in the slightly different iBooks format, Apple says.
  • “Authoring tools often cost hundreds to thousands of dollars,” Schiller said before pleasantly announcing that iBooks Author would be free.
  • While the focus of the event was on textbooks, it’s clear that any author can use iBooks Publisher to write and publish their books to the iBookstore. There’s no word yet on how they can price such books, etc.
  • The initial focus is on high school textbooks, implying that college textbooks will be the next step.
  • Apple is committed to a $14.99 or less price point, and apparently have their publisher partners on board with that. Peter Kafka has a good explanation as to why publishers would agree to such a price cut (long story short, they’ll do just fine financially thanks to boosted volume).
  • Textbooks in iBooks can be constantly updated.
  • Big time publishers Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are on board right off the bat. In the U.S., these three account for over 90 percent of (presumably high school) textbook sales, Schiller noted.
  • Apple is also working with DK Publishing for their educational books.
  • Schiller was particularly excited about announcing a partnership with the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, saying they aim to “reinvent the biology textbook”.
  • The first E.O. Wilson title, Life on Earth, will be exclusive to iBooks — “take that, Amazon,” Schiller failed to say.
  • While it wasn’t explicitly stated, it seems there will be in-app purchasing available for iBooks. Life on Earth, for example, will have more chapters available down the line “at an aggressive price,” Schiller said.
  • The first two chapters of Life on Earth will be available for free for everyone to download — aka, the first taste is free.
  •  The key line from one of the videos Apple showed: “Instead of carrying 30 pounds of books in a backpack, you just need one iPad.”
  • The video also highlighted the three key points of textbooks on the iPad: 1) really fast, fluid navigation 2) beautiful graphics 3) better, easier way to take notes and use those notes.
  • Apple SVP Eddy Cue took the stage to show off the new iTunes U.
  • He said that over 1,000 universities and colleges around the world are using iTunes U now.
  • There are over 500,000 pieces of audio and video material available through iTunes U right now, which is the largest catalog of free educational content in one place, Cue said.
  • There have been over 700 million iTunes U downloads, he also said.
  • The new iTunes U is all accessible via a stand-alone app for the first time.
  • iTunes U integrates tightly with iBooks — curriculum links to iBooks textbooks will not only open the book on the iPad, but they’ll open to the right page.
  • Videos linked to within iTunes U can be downloaded or streamed
  • iTunes U can also link to apps available in the App Store. You can buy/download them right from within the app.
  • As professors add items to curriculums, tasks not completed are badged within the app (so if you have 3 incomplete tasks, you’ll see a “3″ on that course within iTunes U).
  • Duke, Yale, and Stanford are among the first schools to create content for this new iTunes U.
  • For the first time, K-12 schools can sign up to use iTunes U as well.
  • iTunes U is free and available in 123 countries, Cue said.
  • Schiller closed by repeating a line that Steve Jobs used to love to use to describe his company: “Apple exists at the intersection of liberal arts and technology.”