© MacWorld 2012

Apple today announced a new strategy for its educational market:

  •  iBooks 2, a new, upgraded version of its iBook application,  featuring iBooks textbooks.  ‘iBooks textbooks offer iPad users gorgeous, fullscreen textbooks with interactive animations, diagrams, photos, videos, unrivaled navigation and much more.’
  • agreements with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and Pearson that will deliver educational titles on the iBookstore with most priced at $14.99 or less. Apple claims that these three publishers have 90% of the US textbook market.
  • iBooks Author ‘is also available today as a free download from the Mac App Store and lets anyone with a Mac create stunning iBooks textbooks, cookbooks, history books, picture books and more, and publish them to Apple’s iBookstore.’
  • an all-new iTunes U app. ‘With the new iTunes U app, students using iPads have access to the world’s largest catalog of free educational content, along with over 20,000 education apps at their fingertips and hundreds of thousands of books in the iBookstore that can be used in their school curriculum.’

You can see a promotional video here.

Comments and questions

The good news

In principle this is a distinct move forward. ANYTHING that will bring textbooks down to a reasonable price (and $15 is reasonable) is worthwhile.

Second, this is the obvious route for textbook publishing. Last year I tried very hard to find an easy way to create an interactive, web-friendly book, but going through a traditional publisher was still at that time the easiest route to publish a ‘serious’ book. Yes, I did look at open publishing but what I lacked as an author were the tools to create a digital book – iBooks Author promises to remove that barrier.

Third, it is good to have a wide range of digital textbooks available through major publishers, and the more digital materials and applications that are created for education, the better.

The bad news

So far, this is a U.S. story.

I tried to download iBooks 2 and iBooks Author today but unsuccessfully. Canadian Reviewer claims they are available in Canada, but only for OS X Lion, and there are only four books available for iBooks 2 in the Canadian app store. I also couldn’t find iBooks 2 in the Canadian App Store on my iPad. Nor could I find any information if or when iBooks Author will be available in Canada for anyone using a Mac without Lion (I’m using Leopard and am trying to avoid another upgrade until I get a new computer – am I the only person on the planet like this?). In any case saying that ‘anyone with a Mac can create stunning iBooks’ is so far just not true, at least in Canada. However, this is likely to be a short-term frustration, but yes, I am definitely frustrated, having spent several hours trying to crack this. Anyone who can update me on any of this, please do so.

Second, although I am a Mac user and generally support Apple products, I am concerned about the creation of a monopoly on educational services and products. Choice is really important. Will iBook textbooks stay at $15 or will the price go up if this is the only place to get digital textbooks? Will all schools have to have Apple products to get cheap textbooks?

On the other hand, without standardization, we will need to have multiple devices. I already have to have both a laptop and an iPad and an iPhone, I’ve got a Kobo book reader, and maybe I should get a Kindle. This is getting silly. If a school wants to have textbooks from both Amazon and Apple, will students have to have two devices?

Third, iPads are expensive, especially for schools. This is going to cause a great deal of angst for school boards, school principals, and teachers, especially in schools with children from low income families. There was nothing in the announcement about a partnership between Apple and schools. So basically the education system or parents will have to suck up the costs of the hardware. There needs to be more work and thought given as to how education systems can work with IT companies such as Apple and Amazon so that it’s a win-win for both sides.

Lastly, I don’t think this will get rid of traditional publishers. Creating a digital textbook that really exploits the features requires good design, appropriate graphical design as well as content knowledge, etc. Good quality textbooks are more likely to be created by a team, and the team will need to use good project management to keep costs down. Traditional publishers that can work out how to do this will still survive, but it will be a very different business model from the current one.


It’s still premature to come to definite conclusions yet. We need more information from Apple about availability outside the USA. Teachers and students need to get their hands on the products and services and start using them. I need to get my hands on them!

However, I do think this will be a big step forward for e-learning, and could bring considerable benefits. Because of the cost of devices, it may be easier to integrate these products and services at the post-secondary level, but I can see that many schools in the United States could move in this direction quite quickly. I think Canadian k-12 schools (as always) will be more cautious, because many won’t want to get locked into a single commercial supplier.

Yes, there are lots of potential problems but none that I see that can’t be resolved. And you have to admire Apple – it keeps moving, and makes us all keep on our toes (or thumbs).

You can find an interesting graphic on how Apple Can Save Education from Onlineeducation.net


  1. Well contrary to the above comment I was able to update to iBooks 2 and download iBooks Author in the UK within a couple of hours of the announcement. I was also able to update to the latest version of iTunes to service some of this.

    I concur tho that this is Lion only.

  2. Digital textbooks at reasonable prices are a god idea, but forcing everyone to use a specific, expensive device that operates on a closed ecology is not. This is about Apple making a fortune, not about improving education. Have you seem the terms of use?


    Do we really want to put an important part of our education systems in the hands of a company that goes to extreme lengths in trying to close access to resources and information and make the most money out of it?

  3. iBooks 2 isn’t a new app, its just an update to the current iBooks. Even though they call it iBooks 2 its really just version 2.0. Update your apps and you should get it.


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