Apple Unveils Digital Textbooks App to Boost iPad’s Use in Education

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has introduced a service to make digital versions of textbooks available on the iPad in an effort to boost the tablet’s popularity in the classroom. The new service — iBooks 2 — will make textbooks more interactive with videos, animations, and search features.

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More than 1.5 million iPads are already being used for educational purposes, Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of product marketing, said today at an event in New York where he introduced the new application. However, as of September, Apple had sold about 40 million iPads.

Apple’s new tools are intended to stimulate the nascent electronic-textbook business by enabling a broader range of authors to make material available to students in a digital format. In turn, Apple hopes to American will make the iPad its e-textbook reader of choice.

Pearson (NYSE:PSO) and McGraw-Hill (NYSE:MHP), which account for 90 percent of all textbook sales, are Apple’s partners in the new product. Most books will be priced at $14.99 or less.

The e-textbooks demonstrated at the Apple event today can be embedded with video and contain interactive pictures and features for highlighting texts and creating flash cards.

The program also introduces software tools — called iBooks Author — that allow users to create e-textbooks with videos and text imported from other document files.

In an extension of its iTunes U program, Apple also announced new features for teachers to publish curriculum for free. It will allow teachers to create complete online courses, with syllabi, e-textbooks, teacher notes or videos. “These enable anyone, anytime to take courses for free,” said Schiller.

The goal of the new application is to sell more devices, says said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research. “Sales will only go up as the amount of quality content increases.”

The new program may also help boost sales figures for digital textbooks, which were just 2.8 percent of all textbook sales in 2010, according to the National Association of College Stores.

“If you look at what iTunes has done for music, if iBooks 2 and iBooks Author can do that for publishing it’s a big deal,” said Epps.

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