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Apple launches e-textbook tools with new iBooks

image captionThe iBook Author program allows educators and authors to create their own e-textbooks

Apple aims to drive the use of electronic textbooks in the classroom by making it easier for publishers to create interactive titles.

The company has announced a range of new tools and services which it claims will "reinvent the textbook".

Leading names in educational resources are involved, including the world's biggest, UK-based Pearson Publishing.

Apple will compete with existing offerings from Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook device.

Roger Rosner, Apple's vice president of productivity applications, demonstrated the books, some of which are now available to download, at an event in New York.

Also on display was iBooks Author, a free program that will allow educators and authors to make their own interactive books for the iPad.

Apple has also said it has enhanced iTunes U - the educational section of its iTunes store - to allow a wider breadth of university level resources.

'Huge challenge'

The company's senior vice-president, Philip Schiller, said books aimed at high school students would be priced at $14.99 (£10) or below.

Louise Robinson, president of the Girls' Schools Association, said e-textbooks could bring education to life "in a way we've not had before".

"Having movies and videos embedded; being able to search; look up a glossary; write your own notes and then going to exam questions... just tying it all together on one device is a magical experience I think for the the children."

However, she warned that UK schools were still some way from being able to fully utilise such technologies.

"It's a huge challenge, it really is," she told the BBC.

"Most schools don't have wireless, and we have not as yet got to the point where every child has the ability to buy such a device.

"We currently have school systems where we take books from one year to another - whereas now we'll have to have a licence for each book for each child."

She added that keeping students disciplined while using devices offering the internet and games as well as textbooks could be hard work for teachers.

Existing competitors

Genevieve Shore, Pearson's director of digital strategy, said: "We're delighted with the results and we hope that readers, students, teachers and parents are too.

"We see enormous potential to create these kinds of programmes for more students, more stages of learning and more geographic markets."

Allen Weiner, research vice president for Gartner, warned that Apple had a battle on its hands against other existing competitors.

"They're competing with companies like Adobe head on - which is currently the product most people use to create books and magazines.

"Adobe has learned, particularly in the last six months or so, that there's a need for cross-platform publishing.

"Apple are taking the opposite approach - basically forcing people to have either Macs or iPads."

Mr Weiner pointed out that among Apple's competitors in the e-textbook market are some of the partners Apple announced on Thursday.

Along with four other publishers, Pearson Publishing own CourseSmart, the "world's largest" supplier of digital course materials.

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