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Apple's iBooks 2 and iBooks Author announcements raise questions about hardware, content

Apple's iBooks 2 and iBooks Author announcements raise questions about hardware, content


Apple launches an assault on the textbook status quo... but what about the hardware?

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Sitting on the floor of the Guggenheim Museum just following a big Apple event gives you a little time to think. And there was plenty of food for thought here.

The company today began its official upending of the textbook market by launching a suite of new software, including iBooks 2 for iPad and iPhone, iBooks Author, and a new version of iTunes U.

Apple also announced partnerships with major textbook publishers including Houghton Mifflin, Pearson, and McGraw Hill. Those three companies account for 90-percent of textbook production, according to Apple vice president Phil Schiller.

The new tools are impressive to say the least, particularly the new iBooks Author which will let just about anyone create a book and get it into the iBookstore. Think of it as a mash-up of HyperCard, Pages, and Keynote. One might wonder how the approval process will work considering not everyone is going to produce classroom-ready materials for the iBookstore, and we've been told that Apple will review material before it gets into reader's hands. Current publisher partners will have to stay within state guidelines, and Apple will not be part of that process.

But there was one thing missing from today's announcement. While Apple touted 1.5m iPads currently in classrooms, it made no mention of how it would go about getting hardware to the rest of the high school and college students who don't have access to the gear required to utilize all these flashy new learning tools.

The company had no announcements to make (and that sentiment didn't change when I pressed reps for comment), but it will be an interesting question to see answered in the coming months. If Apple wants school districts to buy an iPad for every student, it's going to take more than just a great presentation. When we spoke to Phil Schiller, he told us that he thinks the numbers work out favorably for school districts if you weigh the costs of textbooks and classroom computers against iBooks content and iPads. "It's affordable for schools," was the message.

The company did tell us that it works with districts to lease iPads on a four-year schedule — so that will potentially ease the strain on budgets.

Of course, if rumors that the current iPad 2 will sit alongside the obviously-forthcoming iPad 3 are accurate, then it's possible we'll see a price cut that makes iPads in the classroom (and in the hands of students) a more realistic future for some of the less affluent.