iBooks 2 and the Future of Textbooks

Well, if anyone is going to succeed in reinventing the textbook, betting on Apple to do so is a fairly safe bet.

The newly-released iBooks 2 is good, and has the potential to be great.

It’s worth noting that iBooks 2 is for all kinds of ebooks, not just textbooks, although the potential for educational content is very exciting and has deservedly been getting much of the attention thus far. As mentioned earlier, this could be the sort of thing that the digital textbook market needs to really get going.

For starters, ArsTechnica has a solid rundown of iBooks 2 (“Apple announces iBooks 2, iBooks Author to ‘reinvent textbooks’”) —

“Books created for iBooks 2 can have all manner of media attached, complete with multitouch capabilities. The company listed numerous ways in which iBooks 2 authors can create engaging content for students, including multiple-choice questions with immediate feedback within the text, the ability to make notes and highlights that can be found in a single location as note cards or sprinkled throughout the text, ways to explore embedded graphics and 3D animations, full-motion movies, and more.

iBooks 2 itself is an app for the iPad, but books for the application can be found within the already existing iBookstore under a new “textbook” category, with free samples available to those who want to try out the books first. Students can use codes to redeem them for books and can re-download them whenever they need to.”

Gizmodo goes even more in-depth with an excellent review of iBooks 2 (“Apple’s iPad Textbooks: Everything You Need to Know About iBooks 2”), and takes a closer look at some of the key features to expect in Apple’s new iBooks 2 textbooks (features which include: Thumbnail index, Built-in videos, Interactive animations, Custom glossary, Quizzes and review questions).

Textbooks really need to be collaborative, if they’re going to be used in the most optimal way in a classroom of students. Maybe that’s something for the textbook publishers to sort out amongst themselves. But for now:

“Apple’s new iBooks are as impressive as they said in the presentation. They are beautifully crafted. Their use of videos, timelines, animations, embedded presentations, integrated review questions and quizzes and their highlighting and study card system are extremely good. They work and they are enjoyable.

Unfortunately, they are not perfect. The lack of sharing features is a major killer with actual school work, in which collaboration is a must.

Right now there’s no way to share your highlighted text with others. You can only share your notes. I can’t export it all to a file so I can work from my notes and highlighted text in the computer, something that would be useful to everyone, not only students. All my digital books are highlighted and have notes, so I really want to have this feature.”

Speaking of the textbook publishers, Apple’s done an impressive job of lining up content providers, as CNET notes: (“Apple launches iBooks 2 digital textbooks”)

“Apple has already formed partnerships with a host of major textbook makers, including Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. That’s important. According to Apple, those companies are responsible for 90 percent of all textbooks in the U.S.

By the way, there’s one feature of iBooks 2 which hasn’t been getting as much attention, but I for one love it: instant notecards (Gizmodo: “iBooks 2’s Instant Flash Cards Are Pure Apple Magic”). Heck, it’s cool enough to have given me an I-wish-I’d-had-that-in-school moment.


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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