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Apple Unveils Software To Reinvent the Textbook 416

Posted by Soulskill
from the appifying-the-printed-word dept.
redletterdave writes "At the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Apple announced on Thursday it would update its iBooks platform to include textbook capabilities and also added a new platform called iBooks Author, which lets anyone easily create and publish their own e-books. Apple's senior VP of marketing, Phil Schiller, introduced iBooks 2, which has a new textbook experience for the iPad. The books themselves display larger images, and searching content is made significantly easier: all users need to do is tap on a word and they are taken straight to an appropriate glossary or index section in the back of the book. Navigating pages and searching is also easy and fluid, and at the end of each chapter is a full review with questions and pictures. If you want the answers to the questions, all you need to do is tap the question to get instant feedback. Apple also launched the iBooks Author app, which lets anyone easily create any kind of textbook and publish it to the iBookstore, and the new iTunes U platform, which helps teachers and students communicate better, and even send each other materials and notes created with iBooks Author. All of the apps are free, and available for any and all students, from K-12 to major universities."
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Apple Unveils Software To Reinvent the Textbook

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  • Hype (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timeOday (582209) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @12:41PM (#38749022)
    "Reinvent" is a big word. But the most significant thing I see here is that the tools - including and especially the content development tools - are free (as in beer). But the next question is, what iBook tools will be available on other platforms?
  • Open format? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gmuslera (3436) * on Thursday January 19, 2012 @12:45PM (#38749086) Homepage Journal
    If is closed, propietary format then no matter if the app to use them in a specific hardware device is free. Those books (or us) don't have a future.
  • by Reverand Dave (1959652) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @12:48PM (#38749134)
    I would really hate to see textbooks and other such informational sources be controlled through the iTunes market place. Maybe if the documents were in a DRM free format and available across different platforms but apple is not known for playing nice and sharing its toys to the benefit of anyone but its self.
  • Re:Hype (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Microlith (54737) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @12:53PM (#38749184)

    The caveat is that it doesn't matter who is first, or even who comes later. It's who gets the school districts and universities to mandate their platform as the source of all textbooks for all students. They get a guaranteed stream of tax dollars, and long term customers who will be familiar with their platform.

    Personally, I would prefer DRM-free PDFs or interactive and cross platform HTML 5 "books" that didn't mandate a platform.

  • Re:Open format? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nahdude812 (88157) * on Thursday January 19, 2012 @12:53PM (#38749200) Homepage

    It's not like we need another freaking proprietary book format. Maybe their new format has support for things existing formats don't, but books created in this software should be exportable to other open book formats such as ePub. They're not, this is just Apple trying to control a new market and claim a 43% markup on all digital book sales.

    They're a bit late to this game, Amazon is pretty entrenched with Kindles already in most people's hands, and at prices which are far more approachable than iPads. It takes a lot of FREE (beer) books to make up the purchase cost of an iPad, and most books aren't free [beer].

  • by CaptBubba (696284) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @12:55PM (#38749222)

    I'm not really sold on the idea that we need interactive textbooks, I've never had a textbook that wasn't very sufficiently searchable using the contents and index, and I don't see how you can keep a straight face and make the argument that a $400+ iPad is more durable than a $30 textbook, especially in a school environment where some textbooks can last for a decade or more.

    Apple may want the iPad to be the standard with all their little monopolistic heart, but I just don't see it happening anywhere but in random charter or magnet schools who want to show everyone how hip they are with the new technology.

  • Re:Hype (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BasilBrush (643681) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:03PM (#38749308)

    Personally, I would prefer DRM-free PDFs or interactive and cross platform HTML 5 "books" that didn't mandate a platform.

    PDFs are a terrible medium for ebooks as the format is fixed at publication time. The text can't reflow to fit different sized devices (or windows). If you like text bigger than the average person, and zoom in to get it, then you end up having to scroll back and forth to read lines.

    HTML is OK for reflowing text on a page, but pages are set at publishing time, so you end up scrolling up and down a page.

    Neither is a good format for ebooks.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:03PM (#38749310)

    As opposed to the current system which is...a complete scam? Where you have to pay $150 for a new edition of a book that differs from the previous version by 2%?

  • by sdavid (556770) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:03PM (#38749312)
    As a university professor and a mac user, I'm the obvious target for software like this, and in many respects it looks very attractive. However, I can't, in good conscience, force my students onto a particular platform, and that's what using this for course materials would do. I suppose it would be good if the university required all students to buy and iPad (and that's probably Apple's goal here), but without that it's useless. Proprietary formats like iBooks or the Kindle are out, and I'll continue to distribute materials to my students as pdf files, despite the limitations of that format.
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:04PM (#38749326) Homepage Journal

    Will make it far easier to manipulate and censor the past, and thus control the future. E-books should be a convenient option to complement existing dead tree versions, not replace them.

  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:04PM (#38749332) Homepage Journal
    While this all sounds good...I dunno if it would have helped me back in school, or even now (although I would try it).

    I found back in HS and college...that with dead tree books...I often would do like I did on my notes in a separate note book....I'd scribble notes, and make doodles in the margins.

    I found that by doing this...when taking tests, I could close my eyes, and mentally turn the pages of my notes and even my books and 'see' the pages in my head and find the answers.

    Even today...while search and all is great with digital media, I find that to actually quickly remember and be able to recall importing things I'm reading...the act of my physically writing down quotes and notes, seems to chisel it in my brain for quick recall later. Just reading and searching on a screen doesn't seem to do it for me as well.

    Maybe it is just me tho....

  • by LandDolphin (1202876) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:08PM (#38749398)
    You are not alone. People learn and recall information in different ways. That's why there isn't a single solution. A teacher using this technology needs to also require note taking and assignments outside of the iPad-Textbook system to reach everyone.
  • Re:Hype (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bonch (38532) * on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:15PM (#38749492)

    Reinventing a market isn't about who entered it first. Example: iPod.

    In fact the term "reinvention" implies that the market already exists.

  • Re:Hype (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:15PM (#38749496) Homepage Journal

    Personally, I would prefer DRM-free PDFs or interactive and cross platform HTML 5 "books" that didn't mandate a platform.

    The epub format (which iBooks uses, I'm not sure about iBooks2, we'll have to see) is HTML5.

    And trust me, you don't want PDF for e-books. I have a couple PDF books alongside epub e-books on my iPad and gosh does PDF suck. It doesn't re-flow when I change from portrait to landscape, and it doesn't re-scale text, only zooms on a page level.

  • by Tom (822) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:21PM (#38749610) Homepage Journal

    What the hell does an iPad do that cheaper full fledged computers haven't been able to do for ages?

    It can sit on your desk alongside your books, papers, pencils and not take up all the space. You can carry it around, and it has a great form-factor for using it as a tool.

    Typical geek error: You think this is about technological capabilities, specs - it isn't. It is about design, about integration into the workflow, about everything around the device as much as the device itself.

    if I had an iPad to play with in class in school, I don't think much learning would have happened.

    That absolutely is the #1 argument against an iPad or any other multi-purpose electronic gadget. Then again, if pupils want to play, they will. Back in my days, we played on paper. Worked, too.

    And come on, it's Apple and we all know Apple can do no wrong.

    They've done plenty of wrong. The reason you don't hear much about it is that unlike MS they don't keep their mistakes around for ages, spending billions on them until either they are so dead that they have to bury them because they start to smell (Zune), or the sheer amount of money and exclusivity-deals and other niceties that money can buy make it into a viable thing (xbox).

    Apple buries its mistakes and moves on. Doesn't mean they don't make plenty of mistakes.

  • by HockeyPuck (141947) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:22PM (#38749624)

    Publishers and authors of textbooks hate used books because they don't get any additional revenue. Which is why you'll see your standard freshman class books change every other year. How does Calc 101 change every year? The author changes one example replacing X with Y, and then can rev the book and get another $45 in revenue.

    With an eBook with DRM, they'll make it so while the book might not cost $45, every student will be forced to buy it 'new' every year.

  • by Neil_Brown (1568845) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:27PM (#38749694) Homepage

    With an eBook with DRM, they'll make it so while the book might not cost $45, every student will be forced to buy it 'new' every year.

    Or else you could pay once, and always have the latest version on release, since the incremental costs are much lower in redistributing an updated electronic copy than shipping updated editions of physical books.

    I'd certainly be willing to pay more up front if I could have each updated version as it became available, perhaps a small "upgrade" fee for major revisions, just as with the software world. By increasing the ease of digital publishing, I would have thought we would see an increase in innovative models and approaches — the control of the current publishing industry is diminished.

  • Re:Innovation. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BasilBrush (643681) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:28PM (#38749714)

    Text book updates are free, much as iOS App updates are.

    And they are working WITH the publishers, not excluding them. Much as they worked with the record labels rather than trying to exclude them.

  • by jc42 (318812) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:29PM (#38749728) Homepage Journal

    While this all sounds good...I dunno if it would have helped me back in school, or even now (although I would try it). I found back in HS and college...that with dead tree books...I often would do like I did on my notes in a separate note book....I'd scribble notes, and make doodles in the margins.

    This is a major problem in other areas beside schools. For example, I've seen a few attempts to provide musicians in bands and orchestras with computerized displays on their stands. This also sounds good at first, and it does give them very quick access to all the music in the system's library. But in the first rehearsal with the electronic gadgets, the musicians quickly discover that they have no practical way to scribble notes on the music. There is no second rehearsal with the electronics; the musicians simply state that they've gone back to paper and won't discuss the topic any more.

    Similarly, I've had a "smart phone" since the late 1990s (not unusual for a software developer), and I've tried out all their calendar apps. I continue to buy a new paper pocket calendar every year. Using the phones' input methods are just too clumsy, and they never allow a lot of the things that I scribble on the paper. Of course, this is partly because in last year's pocket calendar, I find entries written in Cyrillic, Hebrew and Chinese characters. You'd think the calendar makers would like to sell to Serbian, Israeli, and Chinese customers, so that shouldn't be a problem, right? Try finding a smart-phone in the US with a calendar app that accepts non-English characters. Even people who speak Spanish or French complain about this.

    Paper still has one strong advantage: You can scribble anything you like on it, and it holds the image until you (laboriously ;-) erase it. The tablet makers will have to match this capability if they're serious about replacing paper in a lot of environments.

    Actually, I've seen, and occasionally used, some prototype software that let users scribble random junk on a "document". Such things existed back in the 1990s. But they don't seem to be available on commercial products. Or rather, they are available, but the apps only let you scribble on their own "documents", not on the documents used by other apps. If I can't scribble on, say, a PDF or PNG or SVG music score, but only on the scribble app's blank pages, it isn't of much use to me when I'm working on a piece of music.

  • by WilyCoder (736280) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:36PM (#38749838)

    Hurray for anti-intellectualism!

  • Re:Pricing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alen (225700) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:52PM (#38750092)

    those $100 books the schools buy can be used by 100 kids per day for years. now with kids buying $15 books per semester or per year i bet the publishers are going to make a lot more money.

    30 books at $100 each is $3000 before the sales drone commissions.
    30 students per class/6 classes per teacher is 180 kids buying their own book at $15. $2700 before apple's commission.

    but now every kid will have to buy the book since the books won't be shared over the years. and how much you want to be they will introduce the college scam of updating the books a little every year or dumbing them down so that every grade needs a fresh set of books

  • by Gavin Scott (15916) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @02:20PM (#38750546)

    "You're gonna need a bigger boat."

    Or at least I hope the iPad 3 comes in a 256GB version, because the first 51 pages of "Life on Earth" weigh in at about 1GB. A fully interactive AND full-length textbook at 19MB/page is going to end up being something like 16GB per book. And the authoring costs for something like this produced through a traditional author/publisher process are going to make the things cost way more than a traditional textbook to produce, so will publishers really be on board to charge people less than the typical $120 or so that they want for the much simpler dead-tree edition?

    But this technology looks like it holds great hope for community developed collaborative works, though it's not clear if there's a mechanism for collaboration, or whether the sort of people who would be involved in such a collaboration are going to be willing to buy into a proprietary platform-locked technology. Hopefully Apple's efforts will at least inspire the community to come up with similar capabilities.

    G.

  • by killfixx (148785) * on Thursday January 19, 2012 @03:51PM (#38752052) Journal

    Please, Mod parent up!
    It's all well and good to have über-books, but like the parent said, (paraphrased) the production costs will go from hefty to astronomical. Also, like video games, movies, etc...books that DON'T have high production value will begin to be dismissed as "not worth the money". Because of this, authors (the actual creators of the book) will have to spend significantly more time and effort to create the book, while the publishers effort decreases significantly. No longer having to bind and ship books?!!? That'll be a godsend --for the publisher.

    Who exactly will be paying for these textbooks? The prices Apple quoted, $14.99US, is ridiculously low for a college level textbook. Average cost of Kno textbooks is $63US (as of Dec 2010).

    So, these textbooks will most likely be for primary (elementary) and high school students. Single books, at this level of education, are reused for many years before needing to be repurchased. Even if textbooks were $100US, they would still be a better cost proposition than $15/student/year.

    Shenanigans. More money for the publisher. More for the author too, but the author had to spend significantly more to get there, whereas the publisher didn't.

    Shenanigans.

  • Re:Pricing (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 19, 2012 @04:17PM (#38752332)

    And don't forget they'll have to buy the book every year.

    My bigger concern: I'm an engineer. I use ALL of the books I took for my engineering courses. How long will those books remain in updated, usable formats? How long will my license be for? Will it only apply when someone is a student, and they'll have to purchase the book again after graduation?

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