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Apple set its sights on education this morning when it announced a slew of new apps and services for students and teachers.

Among them was iBooks 2, an updated version of the company’s iPad e-reading app that adds support for interactive textbooks. Apple promises that iBooks 2 is a complete reinvention of the textbook as we know it. From my hands-on time with the app this morning, I’m not sure Apple has completely obliterated the need for textbooks, but it’s certainly made some good first steps.

The free iBooks 2 app is available today, along with a few sample textbooks on the iBookstore. I chose the E.O. Wilson Foundation’s Life on Earth, being the science nerd that I am. The app took a few minutes to download and upon first launch it played a dramatic video featuring Wilson. The video, while a bit much, makes it feel like you’re exploring an episode of Planet Earth, instead of a dry science textbook.

As the video above shows, you’re presented with an attractive table of contents, which makes everything inside the book easily accessible. Navigating the e-book was incredibly fluid, and I loved finding new interactive elements on every page. Some pages featured videos, while others featured animations and interactive 3D models. The interactivity will certainly appeal to kids, but I can also see how it can help clarify concepts for high school and university students.

I have no doubt that Apple could build a truly next-gen textbook, but I still wonder about the logistics of reinventing textbooks. Students will need an iPad to use iBooks, and the company was conspicuously silent this morning on how it will help put iPads in the hands of more kids.


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