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Apple opens a new book on education


I guess you could say Apple has been responsible for a lot of education. Apple's approach to design has certainly educated people to at least try and make better looking computers, smartphones and other things, for a start.

Apple's approach to apps for iOS certainly educated Google on how to work that business.

Less broadly speaking, though, Apple has always had a strong input into education. Educators almost immediately realised that Apple made a computer students could benefit from, thanks to unified design, approachable interfaces and handy software tools - and this was even before the Mac. Education was one of the substantial buying sectors back in the early days of Apple's computers and the Mac.

In other ways, Apple worked to keep the appeal. There were education discounts that were, once, notably generous. Now the education discount has dropped to around four per cent, if you're lucky. That said, the overall price of Mac computers has dropped considerably over the years, and at least the education discounts on software are a lot more generous - Microsoft Office and Adobe CS in particular. (Neither being Apple, of course).

Despite that, sales of Apple laptops to students and, increasingly, iPads, has always been a strong suit, and some wealthier US campuses and schools have equipped all students with Apple-badged products.

Even here in New Zealand, well-heeled schools like St Cuthbert's have had Apple laptops as mandatory stationery items, and Bucklands Beach Intermediate (just a state school) introduced an iPad program late last year.

Five years ago there were nearly 700 either wholly or partly Apple-using schools, and whole programs in universities were (and still are) Apple based.

Renaissance, the NZ company which had the exclusive license to sell Macs here, used to act like Apple by proxy. Renaissance had an entire division devoted to education (RED), with full time staff assigned to AUT and Auckland University.

Every year, Renaissance ran a bus tour around Mac-using schools to keep educators up to date. (Then Apple clamped down on branding, took the exclusivity away, and Renaissance has since devolved its direct education interests to third party agencies often involving former Renaissance staff.)

For a while, Apple even made education editions of Macs, tailored to the market. The most notable was the eMac, a frosted white all-in-one CRT-based iMac, which continued selling for a while even after the CRT-based iMac it was based on was replaced by the LCD iMac with a totally different design and specification.

After the eMac disappeared, for a little while there were LCD iMacs that were available to education markets in some countries, but no LCD eMacs as such.

But Apple has hardly let the sector lapse. Today, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Apple unveiled iBooks 2, aimed at the education market. iBooks 2 hosts multi-touch books and textbooks designed specifically for iPads, with interactive features, diagrams, photos, and videos.

Executives Phil Schiller, who said "education is deep in Apple's DNA", and Roger Rosen introduced iBooks 2 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. At the event, Schiller outlined the problems with modern textbooks: They aren't portable, durable, interactive, searchable, or updatable. He reckoned (of course) "The iPad stacks up better."

Mac fan site Cult of Mac has posted a video.

After the event, Apple released information saying images can now have interactive captions, 3D objects can rotate, and iBook 2 offerings support swipe-through image galleries, full-screen videos and more.

They support Study Cards to help memorise important highlights, notes, and glossary terms, and glossary terms let students see definitions of key topics and concepts without leaving the page.

Someone at the event has described what the new iBooks 2 experience is like.

For developers and publishers, as long as they're equipped with Macs, can start with Apple-designed templates that feature a wide variety of page layouts. Change out the text and images with your own via drag-and-drop, use Multi-Touch widgets to include interactive photo galleries, movies, Keynote presentations, 3D objects, and preview your book on your iPad as you go.

You then submit your finished work to the iBookstore with a few simple steps, and before you know it, you're a published author.

I can vouch for that - I boosted one of my books into the iBook Store a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, you can't buy proper iBooks here in New Zealand yet, so you can buy my riveting work on what car companies did in wartime in the last century in Sweden, Holland, America, Australia ... but not here.

But if you are interested in authoring the new platform, visit the iBooks Author website for more information.

iBooks Author can be downloaded free from the Mac App Store.

The latest version of Book Proofer is now available in the Deliver Your Content module; Book Proofer 1.0.1 offers compatibility with iBooks 2. (That's if you are already signed up as a content developer.)

iTunes Producer 2.5.1 is required to deliver Multi-Touch books or textbooks created using iBooks Author.

The conditions of use have also changed slightly: "An updated version of the eBook Agency/Commissionaire Distribution Agreement is available. A Legal user for your account must go to the Contracts, Tax & Banking module to view the update and agree to the new terms."

At the same time, there;s an iTunes update that wasn't available in New Zealand when I checked. iTunes 10.5.3 (I'm still on 10.5.2) will allow you to sync interactive iBooks textbooks to iPads. These Multi-Touch textbooks are available for purchase from the iTunes Store on your Mac or from the iBookstore included with iBooks 2 on your iPad - but no word on whether we will actually get this facility in New Zealand. As I said earlier, we don't have proper iBook support yet.

But try 'Check for Updates' in the iTunes menu when iTunes is open.
All in all, it's not an earth shattering announcement, but it's interesting. I guess at the end all I can say is 'watch this space' as Amazon, with Kindle, and other book-reader tablets, react.

- Mark Webster

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