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Apple vows iBooks 2 will 'reinvent' school textbooks

Royan Lee, a teacher at Beverley Acres Public School uses technology to create a more interactive, collaborative and social classroom. Here students learn how to use GarageBand for iPads on November 18, 2011.

jennifer roberts The Globe and Mail

Apple Inc. thinks it has a solution for a bulky, unsearchable, difficult to update and non-interactive relic of education: The textbook.

At an event at New York City's Guggenheim Museum the Cupertino, Calif., tech company outlined updates to its e-book reader (called iBooks 2) and announced new easier tools for educators to create e-books (iBooks Author) for the classroom, and for the company's own iPads. IBooks 2 will be able to display books with videos and other interactive features.

Marketing chief Phil Schiller said it was time to reinvent the textbook, adding that 1.5 million iPads are in use now in education.

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At the first Apple event first since the passing of founder Steve Jobs, Mr. Schiller said teachers need help and Apple is trying to figure out how it can do its part.

"In general, education is in the dark ages," he said, adding that education has challenges that are "pretty profound."

"It's hard not to see that the textbook is not always the ideal learning tool," Mr. Schiller said.

The consumer electronics giant has been working on digital textbooks with publishers Pearson PLC , McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt , a trio responsible for 90 per cent of textbooks sold in the United States.

Textbooks for high school students were added to the iBookstore Thursday (for U.S. residents only thus far), they will be priced at $14.99 or less, Mr. Schiller said. The store features textbooks on algebra, biology, chemistry, geometry, and physics from McGraw-Hill and Pearson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are "coming soon" according to a notice on iTunes.

Schools will be able to buy the books for students and issue redemption codes to them, he said.

Other media and technology companies have eyed the U.S. education market as ripe for some sort of upheaval. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp launched an education business two years ago and hired former New York City Education Chancellor Joel Klein to lead it. Inc. and other device makers have made inroads into an estimated $8-billion market for electronic textbooks.

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Major textbook publishers have been making electronic versions of their products for years. Until recently, there hasn't been any hardware suitable to display the books, so e-textbooks have had little impact. PCs are too expensive and cumbersome to be good e-book machines for students. Dedicated e-book readers like the Kindle have small screens and can't display color.

Tablet computers like the iPad, however, are both portable and capable of showing textbooks in vivid color.

It's not clear how Apple plans to get teacher-created textbooks in front of students, however, since learning aids are subject to lengthy approval processes by U.S. states. Also, few students have iPads, which start at $499.

The company also announced updates to iTunes U, a system that helps teachers distribute lectures, films and assists with other curriculum materials.

With files from Globe Staff, The Associated Press and Reuters

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