Apple has spent the last decade successfully reinventing content distribution models in the music, TV and film industries, and is now focusing on the education market.
Although it has probably taken longer than Apple would have liked, publishers such as Pearson, McGraw Hill and DK Publishing have released interactive books on the iPad, which can be accessed via iBooks 2. At present the textbooks are only available in the US market, but we've managed to get a sneak peek at the apps courtesy of our colleagues over the pond.
Our first port of call was the Life on Earth book, which is available for free and aims to showcase the benefits that the tablet form factor can bring. Upon opening the book you are greeted by a fantastic video introduction by the author E Wilson. Although relatively short, it has extremely high production values and gives a taste of things to come.
Everything about iBooks scream high-quality and the presentation makes you want to continue reading the book. The 50-page textbook we looked at was very easy to navigate and aside from the nclusion of multimedia content, we saw many other benefits over the traditional book. Tapping near the top of the screen at any time will bring up options to go back to your Library, access the contents or glossary, bring up study cards, adjust brightness, search the book and bookmark pages.
Text is usually wrapped around pictures, animations or videos. All transitions are instantaneous, so whether you're swiping between pages or activating a video, the performance is as smooth as can be. Almost all non-textual content is interactive and a tap usually expands pictures to full size (see below). After you have viewed the image, you can then pinch it to return to the original page.
Pinching any page will bring up a preview of chapters and pages. You can highlight text and add notes throughout the book.
It is also possible to add notes to your iBook. When a note has been added, a little symbol will appear next to the text and you can expand it whenever you require. This will no doubt be used as a useful revision tool.
iBooks are viewable in both portrait and landscape mode. We prefer the latter as each page is viewable in its entirety and you can swipe away to the next page. When using portrait mode the iBooks simulate traditional books. Text takes priority and videos and images are shown up as thumbnails along the left hand side. At present, it is not possible to change the font, but this could change in future additions.
Books typically cost around $14.99, but it is possible to download a free sample, usually in the form of a chapter, before buying. Considering the wealth of interactive content included, the price point is more than reasonable.
There is a limited amount of content, with around a dozen or so books available at present. But we expect the App Store to be populated very quickly, especially as Apple allows anyone to create a book via the iBooks Author app.
The only concern that we have is the size of books. The larger textbooks are around 3GB each so storing around three or four will fill up a 16GB entry-level iPad rather quickly.
From what we have seen so far, iBooks have plenty to offer and it looks like they are on course to replace the traditional textbook.
The format also looks to be highly transferable from the classroom to the business environment. Interactive books could be used by businesses to create guides for employees and customers - and we are likely to see them packaged with existing products instead of traditional user manuals.
We look forward to the interactive books being available in the UK.
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