Apple announces iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and iTunes U app (all free)

Apple's media event this morning at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City was filled with announcements — and clearly indicated that Apple intends to shake up the textbook market and kick it into the future. The new iBooks 2 app offers fluid and fast navigation, a new iBookstore category features textbooks, the new iBooks Author app is free software for creating ebooks, and the new iTunes U app gives you access to complete courses from leading universities. Plus, Apple also released version 10.5.3 of iTunes, which enables textbook syncing with tne new iBooks 2 app. Wow, that's quite a lot of news — and in line with all of the rumors that had been circulating.

CNET has a good overview of today's event. Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller made it clear that Apple intends to reinvent the textbook. He lamented the current state of textbooks, pointing out that they aren't searchable, portable, current, or interactive. And Apple is going to fix all that. Apple's website has an introductory video as well as an overview of each of the new offerings. Let's take a brief look at each of the items announced. 

iBooks 2

Master your iPhone in one minute a day:

Sign up to iPhone Life's Tip of the Day Newsletter and we'll send you a tip each day to save time and get the most out of your iPhone or iPad.

This free app, just updated today to version 2.0, includes iBooks textbooks. These new textbooks have multitouch capability, interactive features, diagrams, photos, videos, 3-D objects, and more. You can highlight text with a swipe of your finger, use the Study Cards feature to help learn specific details, and tap glossary terms to see definitions. A free book titled Life on Earth is available to give you a taste of the potential of iBooks 2. The iBookstore already has a selection of math and science textbooks (for U.S. customers only) from Pearson and McGraw-Hill. Textbooks from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are coming soon. New high school textbooks will cost $14.99 or less.

iTunes U

This free app, just released today, gives you to complete courses from top universities and schools, as well as the world's largest catalog of free educational content — over 500,000 lectures, videos, books, and other resources on just about any subject you can imagine. You can use the app to take free courses, check off assignments as you complete them, take notes in the iBooks app and see these notes consolidated within the iTunes app, and access a wide range of materials, including audio, videos, books, documents, and presentations.

iBooks Author

This is a free software program for the Macintosh available in the Mac App store. You can use it to create an iBooks textbook or any other kind of book. It comes with templates that give you a variety of options regarding page layouts. You can add text and images via simple drag and drop. Specialized widgets help you add interactive photo galleries, movies, presentations, and 3D objects. Then you submit your iBook to the iBookstore. Note that the books you create may only be sold through the iBookstore.

I'm excited about all this. Clearly Apple has thought this through and has come up with yet one more elegant solution. The ease of creating iBooks, the features of the iBooks app, the integration with iTunes U, and the awesome amount of free content available — all of this puts Apple on the cutting edge. And, of course, Apple will now have its fingers in one more major market. More power to them. It's great to see that major publishers are already jiumping aboard. This, and the popularity of the iPad, almost certainly guarantees success.

Master your iPhone in one minute a day: Sign up here to get our FREE Tip of the Day delivered right to your inbox.

Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.