Apple announced iBooks 2, with textbooks, today. They claimed at a press conference at the Guggenheim Museum that they’ve “reinvented the textbook,” and Apple’s press release claims they’ve created, “an entirely new kind of textbook that’s dynamic, engaging and truly interactive.” The app itself is perfectly fine, but, despite the fanfare always engendered by Apple announcing something new, it’s not actually earth-shattering. Inkling has been doing books quite a bit nicer for a couple of years, and Al Gore’s Our Choice was an utterly amazing precursor to that.
There are some good features done before (like community and sharing, and good navigation) that iBooks 2 doesn’t have, and there are some things iBooks is doing a good job of, like study cards. There are two new things, though, that are downright revolutionary–these are high school textbooks, and they’re selling for $14.99. The fact that Apple has convinced the three big publishers that provide 90% of U.S. high school textbooks to sell them on the iPad for $14.99 is a big deal. That’s what is worthy of congratulations–not the fairly average iBooks themselves.
Of course, whether it’s even worth paying $14.99 to replace the textbooks in classrooms with the one pictured here is a good question. It’s the same content as before, with the occasional video example in which a narrator works out a problem, reciting the same solution steps that are written in the “book.” And there is occasionally a video showing a “real-world” connection. In a problem comparing the height of the tallest redwood tree to the average redwood tree, you can watch a 26-second video that shows you what a redwood tree looks like.
I have an opposite opinion from this post at techcrunch.com, which expresses that kids ought to keep doing math with pencil and paper, not “externalizing knowledge” to calculators, computers, and iPads. I don’t at all fear that this has all gone too far now–rather, I see that iBooks 2 textbooks really have done nothing of significance other than provide a great price break for new purchasers. If you really want to claim “immersive, engaging, and interactive” math curriculum, though, you’ve got to provide different content with a different approach.