We just downloaded our copy of iBooks 2 so we can dig into Life on Earth and give you our first impressions. iBooks 2 installs easily and doesn't have any changes on the surface — but when you flip over to the book store, you're presented with Life on Earth as book of the week and a large banner highlighting the new textbooks store. For now, there's only seven textbooks for $14.99 each as well as the free download of Life on Earth. The books range in size from about 750MB to nearly 3GB for the Biology textbook — a full set would take up most of a 16GB iPad's storage.
As for Life on Earth itself, it runs extremely well even on the original iPad we tested it on. Movies load quickly, page turns are smooth, and embedded animations work without a hitch. Images are particularly engaging, as most go full-screen with a tap, and also contain a number of other related images to swipe through as well. The download process was slightly painful, but that could be due to a large number of people hitting Apple's servers all at once.
Each chapter begins with a large image, an overview of each section, and thumbnails of each page for quick access. In the menu bar, there's quick and easy access to the glossary, table of contents, and a new button that takes you directly to your notes, highlighted passages, and the "study cards" section. Unfortunately, due to the way textbooks are laid out, font size appears to be unchangable (unlike the books previously available in the iBookstore).
LIfe on Earth worked well in both portrait and landscape mode, though each provided a different view of the information — landscape was laid out like a traditional book, with each screen as a virtual "page," but portrait was a different affair altogether. Images and video were thumbnails on the left side of the screen, text was presented in the center, and instead of turning pages, you scroll top to bottom like a web page. Overall, the closest comparisons to the new textbooks are probably some of the magazines in Apple's Newsstand app, like Wired, that have sprung up in the last few years — the same embedded media, portrait- and landscape-optimized views, and simple navigation tools exist in both. What remains to be seen is whether the same high-quality experience will be replicated in the future textbooks built and released through iBooks Author.