Apple iBooks 2: A Guide to the Free Textbook App

on January 20 2012 6:02 PM
Apple unveiled iBooks 2 on Thursday, which allows users to buy and read full school textbooks on their iPad. The free app is easy to navigate, search, take notes, and create study materials.
Apple unveiled iBooks 2 on Thursday, which allows users to buy and read full school textbooks on their iPad. The free app is easy to navigate, search, take notes, and create study materials. Courtesy

(NEW YORK) - Apple unveiled iBooks 2 on Thursday, a sequel to its popular book and PDF reading application that now accommodates textbooks on the iPad. The project has been in development for many months, but the idea had been kicked around in Steve Jobs's head for decades before his death in October. Here, we provide a guide to what you'll find in the new free app, and explain why iBooks 2 really is the future of textbooks.

Where The Textbook Fails, the iPad Succeeds

As Apple's senior VP of marketing Phil Schiller pointed out during Thursday's presentation, books are somewhat portable, but carrying multiple books for multiple subjects quickly gets cumbersome. Books are not very durable, especially when other students dog ear the pages, highlight text or write comments in the margins. They're not made to last; textbook production, which companies must do every few years to stay current, is not a very environmentally friendly endeavor. Hundreds of thousands of trees are chopped down each year for textbook paper. And books certainly aren't interactive, or easily searchable, or really current. New research for almost every subject, from math to science to economics, is constantly pouring in at a rate where book publishers can't possibly keep up.

This is where the iPad's solution, iBooks 2, truly succeeds. The iPad 2 is extremely portable and can carry a near-unlimited amount of books, which can be updated with new content wirelessly at any time. It's highly durable, and students don't have to worry about highlighting or writing comments because the copies of those textbooks are forever theirs, thanks to Apple's purchasing system and iCloud. Of course, students get the same great content from the book, but they can get even more. With the ability to fluidly add in image galleries, Apple Keynote graphics and 3D images, iBooks 2 is the full realization of the textbook.

More importantly, the iPad is much more attractive to students than a boring, heavy textbook. Apple's iPad is the No. 1 item on teens' wish lists, but Apple's supreme tablet really appeals to all age verticals. From senior citizens to senior businessmen, and from young adults to young children, the iPad has an impressive reach due to its universal appeals for working and playing. It's also flexible: The iPad can be a research tool, a presentation builder, a movie maker, and now, a trusted literary resource.

A Guide to the iBooks 2 App

iBooks 2 did not drastically change any of its book-reading features, but the app added an entirely new textbook experience for the iPad.

Presentation

The first on-stage demonstration of iBooks 2 showed what it's like to open a biology textbook. Textbook authors can choose to make a normal landing page or include a movie before the book actually starts, just to get the reader excited and primed for what they're going to read.

Images are much more interactive than a normal textbook. Using gestures popularized by the original iPhone and iPad, images, slideshows, animations and graphics can be enlarged just by pinching.

There are two ways to view your digital textbook in iBooks. In landscape mode, the pages are designed exactly as the authors intended them, with images and videos breaking up the paragraphs in a textbook-style view. When you rotate the iPad to portrait mode, however, iBooks 2 re-formats the layout so all of the text runs down the middle of the page, while all multimedia (images, videos, etc.) run along the left margin. In portrait mode, you can pinch out to get back to the table of contents, and then pinch in to get back to the page you just left.

Navigation

Within the digital textbooks in iBooks 2, images are large and beautiful, and thumbnails accompany the text. There's no crease down the middle of the page as you'd see in a book, so text and images are very easy to see and read.

Like a regular book, a textbook in iBooks 2 includes a table of contents, but the app also includes a bar at the bottom that shows thumbnails of each page from the chapter. It's easy to scroll along that bottom bar and find the page you're looking for. If you swipe from left to right above that bar, you can navigate from chapter to chapter. When you actually want to get into the book, just tap on any page thumbnail on that bottom row, and you're in the book. At that point, you can swipe from left to right to get to the next page.

Searching through an entire textbook is extremely easy in iBooks 2. earching easier, all users need to do is tap on a word and they go straight to the glossary or index sections in the back of the book.Navigating pages and searching is easy and fluid.

The New Personal Textbook

Most textbooks include review guides at the end of each chapter, and in iBooks 2, taking a review test is easier and much more intuitive with interactive review questions and tests. Taking a test in a physical textbook requires searching for the answers on a separate page, and sometimes even upside down; in iBooks 2, you simply click your answer to get immediately find out if you were right or wrong.

Note-taking directly through iBooks is incredibly easy. Apple now lets you highlight any text on the page using only your finger. Then, iBooks 2 automatically takes your highlighted notes, organizes them onto a separate page, and even turns them into flash cards for later studying.

The book is theirs, Schiller said. [Students] can mark it up and not worry.

Buying The Books

The iBookstore added a category for textbooks, which can be bought through Apple's one-click purchasing system. Schiller said that most of the books will sell for under $15, which is an extremely competitive figure for any physical textbook maker.

Starting Thursday, Apple made a handful of textbooks available to download for iBooks 2's release from its three major partners: Pearson Education, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Pearson will be selling textbooks for algebra, biology, environmental science and geometry; the biology and environmental science e-textbooks are available now. McGraw-Hill also released books for algebra, biology, chemistry, geometry and physics, all of which are available now, too. Dorling Kindersley (DK) Publishing also launched books for kids, including Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life, and My First ABC. The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation also is offering its biology textbook Life on Earth now.

If you don't have enough room for all your books, or if you look to buy a new iPad in the future, you can always download any pre-purchased books from iCloud.

Legacy: Steve Jobs and iBooks 2

The alliance of Apple and education was a long time coming. The U.S. education system is in dire straits, and it desperately needs what Apple has brought to the table. At Apple's New York event, Schiller played a video featuring interviews with teachers across America. Here's partly what they had to say:

In general, I have to say education is in the dark ages, said one teacher. No fundamental changes have occurred in 150 years.

There's been studies that've been done of classroom walkthroughs in classrooms across our country, said another teacher. There's very low levels of engagement. Kids are just bored.

You can't expect them to go from a world where they've got constant access to a laptop at home or a smartphone in their pocket or a computer on their desk, and then come into school and have all of that disappear, said another teacher.

Providing cheap, quality products to the masses is what Apple's founders always wanted for their company. While Steve Wozniak dreamed of giving away their technology inventions for free, Steve Jobs knew that he couldn't build a great company without making money. Now that Apple has climbed the proverbial mountaintop, it has the financial freedom to release inexpensive high-end products like the iPhone and iPod, and intelligent software like iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U.

Jobs, more so than Wozniak, felt compelled to bring major changes to higher education. When he left Apple and launched NeXT in 1986, Jobs wanted the company's first computer -- a distinctive all-black magnesium cube -- to be designed specifically for higher education establishments and what Jobs called aggressive end users.

What we realized was that higher ed wants a personal mainframe, Jobs said at the NeXT Computer launch in October 1988. There has not been an advancement in the state of the art of printed book technology since Gutenberg.

Jobs's NeXT Computer was one of the very first computers to include Shakespeare's works, a dictionary, thesaurus, and the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, and the first to make all of these books searchable. It was this same NeXT platform that Tim Berners-Lee created the world's first server for the World Wide Web in 1991.

Before Jobs died on Oct. 5, 2011, he told his biographer Walter Isaacson that he still had desires to transform the textbook market.

[Jobs] believed it was an $8 billion a year industry ripe for digital destruction, Isaacson wrote. He was also struck by the fact that many schools, for security reasons, don't have lockers, so kids have to lug a heavy backpack around.

'The iPad would solve that,' he said. His idea was to hire great textbook writers to create digital versions, and make them a feature of the iPad. In addition, he held meetings with the major publishers, such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple.

'The process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt,' he said. 'But if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don't have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent the whole process and save money.'

Jobs drastically revolutionized major industries in his lifetime, including computers, music, animated films, retail stores, music players, smartphones, and yes, tablets. Now that Apple has finally gotten behind digital textbooks, Jobs can add one more all-important industry to his already-impressive list: Education.