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Apple announces new education products for iPad

The Guggenheim Museum in New York City was abuzz this morning with a live Apple event. Apple announced last week that the event would be education-related, which isn’t something to balk at considering the 20,000 educational apps already available for the iPad. Thanks to live blogging, those of us who couldn’t make it out to the event got a blow-by-blow account of what was being hyped as a product release that would be like the “GarageBand for e-books.”

Here’s a quick summary:

Apple’s original iBooks product was released for the iPad in 2010 (and for the iPhone and iPod touch later that year). It’s an e-book application that got its content from iBookstore, but would also read PDF and ePub files that users put on their devices. Today, Apple announced iBooks 2, a renovated e-book application for iPad. Specifically, it is supposed to change how textbooks are handled within the app.

The goal, said Phil Schiller (Apple VP of worldwide marketing), is to make textbooks interactive. Unlike a printed and bound textbook, an iBooks 2 textbook is “searchable, current, and interactive.” And what I consider to be its most important benefit, it’s a lot lighter. How is all this achieved? New, interactive textbooks have movies in-text, a search function, the ability to look up glossary terms, review question, immediate feedback, note-taking spaces on pages in the book, and flash cards made from simply highlighting what content to put on each side of the card.

The target audience for these textbooks? Not college, like some hypothesized before the event, but high schools. Books will only cost $14.99 or under. Despite the main demographic they’re trying to reach, Apple assured the audience that textbooks will be made and available for every subject at every level of education. Even though education might seem like a niche market, Schiller pointed out that there are over 1.5 million iPads in use in all kinds of schools.

Companies already on board with Apple’s new interactive textbook marketplace include: Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Each company has a few high school-level textbooks (seven books total) already on iBooks 2. One textbook called “Life on Earth” by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation is out today on iBooks 2 for free.

However, users reported that as great as iBooks might have been, it was too much of a hassle to upload original content as an author through iBookstore. Addressing that complaint, Apple also unveiled a new app called iBooks Author, which as a streamlined process for authors to upload their content to the iBookstore.

Unfortunately, iBooks Author won’t work all of the magic for uploaders. It will allow for pictures and movies to be embedded, but if authors want to add more dynamic widgets, they’ll have to script the Javascript and HTML themselves. But, Schiller promises it is still an exponentially easier process than it was before iBooks Author.

Finally, Apple revealed improvements to their iTunes U product. With these most recent updates, teachers can upload assignments, syllabi, announcements, and even videos of course lectures. iTunes U is already being used by 1,000 universities and is available in 123 countries. Beginning today, iTunes U is also going to be made available for classes in elementary though high school. Best of all, the app is free.

Even for non-students, this Apple event was an interesting milestone. Without Steve Jobs, the company has continued to innovate products and change the game of yet another industry. Although, was there ever any doubt? And underneath all of this Apple hype this morning? An app. Don’t underestimate your app; host it with NetHosting to make sure it’s supported by the best!