Apple eyes interactive textbooks revolution

New York

Channelling the grand ambition, the razzmatazz and the hyperbole typical of the late Steve Jobs, Apple promised to revolutionise classroom learning with a new interactive textbook for its iPad tablet computer.

The company's marketing chief, Phil Schiller, fronted the first major product launch from the company since Mr Jobs, its founder, died in October.

Mr Schiller revealed a new platform called iBooks Author that will make it simple for academics, authors, publishers and teachers to create interactive textbooks. And he said Apple was updating its book-reading software, iBooks, to make it easier for people to add notes to textbooks and to take tests on the material.

"There is no reason that kids today should use the same tools they did in 1950," Mr Schiller said. "The [physical] textbook is not always the ideal learning tool. It's a bit cumbersome." Mr Schiller declared that the company would be a major force for change: "In general, education is in the dark ages."

Apple is not alone in having alighted on the education market as ripe for disruption. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation hired Joel Klein, the former head of the New York schools system, last year to examine new business opportunities.

Apple devices are already widely used in schools and colleges. Education institutions use 1.5 million iPads, it claimed yesterday, and as that number increases, so too might the switchover from physical textbooks to electronic books. Last year, digital accounted for 3 per cent of textbook sales, but that number is forecast to double in 2012.

Major education publishers such as London-listed Pearson and McGraw-Hill face potential disruption to their business because of the digital switchover, but both decided yesterday to embrace Apple's new iBooks 2 platform. Their textbooks will be available digitally immediately in the US, priced $14.99, well below the cost of physical books.

Pearson's Financial Times division has had a tense relationship with Apple over sharing of user data from downloads, which prompted the FT to launch its own web-based service outside Apple's digital store. But Pearson's other divisions, including Penguin and education, have maintained links with the company.

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