Thursday, January 19, 2012

Apple's education event: iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U app unveiled - all free and now available

Many years ago Apple launched a product called iWeb that some hoped would bring web development 'for the rest of us', but failed to make much of an impact due to its less-than-powerful capabilities. Today Apple has, with much more fanfare, launched a series of tools that the company hopes will revolutionize textbook creation, and education itself.
Apple's Phil Schiller, senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, took the place of the late Steve Jobs on stage at the Guggenheim in NYC and began by unveiling a new version of iBooks, Apple's eBook reading software for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

The demonstration for iBooks 2 showed books that were far more interactive, visual and animated than books previously available for iBooks or Kindle Editions. In fact, iBooks 2 is the bridge between previous digital books available for the Kindle or iBooks apps, and book "apps", such as Al Gore – Our Choice and books being produced by Joe Zeff Design.

To produce these books, Apple unveiled iBooks Author, a new application for the Mac. iBooks Author is iWeb, or is GarbageBand. The new program is free in the Mac App Store, and is the tool necessary, the company hopes, that will allow publishers and self-authors to create these revolutionary new textbooks.

Four screenshots from the new iBooks Author app for the Mac.

If iBooks Author ends up being iWeb millions of people will be disappointed. If iBooks Author is the equivalent of GarageBand, then a revolution in education (or at least textbooks) may be at hand. TNM is no position to come to a conclusion right now, but believe me, this appears at first blush to be an exciting development.

The Apple event had a "and one more thing" ending as Eddy Cue, Apple's Senior Vice President
Internet Software and Services, took the stage to introduce yet another new, and free, application: the iTunes U app.

The iTunes U app looks to be a far more powerful tool for teachers than what is currently available. The app promises to give teachers to create one place where they can provide documents, apps, books, a syllabus, teacher posts and iBooks notes. This new app is also free, but whether teachers and professors adopt the new application is, to me, an open question.

The one thing missing, which some live blogs picked up on, was any new program from Apple that would discount the iPad for schools. If Apple does introduce something like this, it wouldn't have been announced at this event, as Apple doesn't like to throw everything at the wall, so to speak, but prefers to make sure the focus is on just a short list of things. Today's event, with three new product roll outs, last almost exactly one hour, was sharp and concise.
Notably missing was Tim Cook, Apple's CEO. Cook will probably be seen next at the iPad 3 introduction, most likely to be scheduled in February or March.

Today's new products, especially iBooks Author, I would think would have a far bigger impact on the college textbook market, where individual professors and schools can select the books to be used in the classroom. I always believed that those who thought today's event was all about K-12 were all wet, and I think that has been proved to be correct.

That doesn't mean that today's iBooks 2 and iBooks Author rollouts won't be relevant to K-12 (in fact, they specifically highlighted high school textbooks at the event), but higher education is where there is more ability to tailor the teaching experience quicker and deeper.

I will be curious to see how many public schools will be able to transition to totally digital textbooks, they will certainly need help. But Apple knows that to accomplish this they will need content. McGraw-Hill and other big textbook publishers are supposedly on board with iBooks. But seeing Terry McGraw on the big screen brought a chuckle to me – I just can't see these big publishers being very enthusiastic about what the future may bring if Apple is successful. This may well be why, though, that McGraw-Hill has chosen to split itself into two companies, with the textbook division clearly separated from its financial services division.
Apple says that the books that are to be found in its new Textbooks are of iTunes (under Books) will priced at $14.99 and lower, and that buyers will be able to keep these books forever – that is, they really will own them.

While this is great news for students, I think the major textbook publishers will be hesitant to launch a flood of books at this price level – at least until they have no choice. We are talking, after all, about old media companies here.

iBooks Author lets you export your book to iBooks, PDF and Text, but not ePub.

Mark Gross, CEO of Data Conversion Laboratory, told TNM this morning that technology will certainly be the key to a successful conversion to digital.

"I don't quite agree that the $8-billion-a-year business was 'ripe for destruction'," said Gross, referring to the often quoted remark by Steve Jobs from the Walter Isaacson biography.

"The missing link is better technology to support the complexities of education publishing which is much more complex than epublishing a novel," said Gross.

Data Conversion Technology works with publishers to convert their books into ePub format for reading through iBooks, Kindles, etc.