Apple on Thursday lifted the veil on its plans to remake the educational landscape in a way that centers on its best-selling tablet computer, the iPad. “Education is deep in Apple’s DNA and iPad may be our most exciting education product yet,” Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing, said in a statement.
At a press conference in New York, the company announced three products that aim to get students and teachers to use the iPad’s touch-screen interface to read, write, plan classes and communicate with each other. First, a free app called iBooks Author lets anyone create a digital, interactive textbook. Second, an update to a piece of software called iTunes U lets teachers plan their curriculum and communicate with their students over the iPad. The new iTunes U, which also is free and available on Thursday, will “allow anyone, anywhere, at any time to take courses for free,” Schiller said, according to Fortune.com’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt, who was live blogging from the event. Fortune is a partner site of CNN.com.
“If you’re an educator at a university, college, or K-12 school, now you have an easy way to design and distribute complete courses featuring audio, video, books, and other content,” Apple’s website said Thursday. “And students and lifelong learners can experience your courses for free through a powerful new app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.”
Finally, a new textbook store called iBooks 2, also a free app, will feature digital e-books for schools. Apple said it is partnering with several major textbook companies — including Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who will make e-books for the store, according to Fortune. High school textbooks start at $14.99, the company said.
In another demo, Apple’s Roger Rosner showed off textbooks for the iPad that allow students to zoom in on pictures of cells, dissect digital frogs and make notes and highlights on the e-book pages.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a textbook that made it this easy to be a good student,” Rosner said, according to Fortune.
All of these moves are part of Apple’s larger strategy to remake the textbook industry. The company reportedly has been courting schools to make use of its popular tablet computer.
At the press conference, Schiller mocked paper textbooks, saying, “They’re not portable, not durable, not interactive, not searchable.” Books on the iPad are all of those things, he said, according to live blogs covering the event. Some educators seem to be excited about the changes.
“Apple has recognized that learning for students is not a one-way street,” Jed Macosko, an associate professor at Wake Forest University, said in a statement.
“Until now, most traditional e-textbooks have focused on linear content delivery, which is not the way people learn. Research shows that we learn by asking questions,” said Macosko, the author of an interactive biology textbook.
Others questioned whether the move could give Apple too much control over educational content.
“(It’s) not clear so far whether Apple’s new textbooks will be open formats (ePub etc.) or only in Apple format,” Mathew Ingram, a senior writer for the blog GigaOm, posted on Twitter after the event.
Or they mocked the fact that Apple is trying to take such a big role in education.
“For a small upcharge, Apple will put a huge logo on your school and tattoo an Apple on each (student’s) forearm,” user @irasocol wrote on Twitter.