iBooks 2 brings textbooks to life (hands-on)

In an event this morning in New York, Apple introduced iBooks 2, an update to the popular e-reader for iOS devices that adds textbooks. Check out our hands-on look to see how the new features make textbooks interactive.

iBooks 2

The textbook section of the iBookstore launched today with eight textbook previews so people could see how they work on iOS devices.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

In an Apple event this morning in New York, Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, took the stage to introduce iBooks 2, an update to the popular e-reader for iOS devices that adds textbooks.

As Apple's flagship e-reader, iBooks is already a crisp-looking app and storefront that runs on iOS devices. But today, iBooks 2 moves into the world of education by adding interactive textbooks with the aim of keeping students' attention (and certainly adding yet another revenue stream for Apple).

We decided to download a free preview version of E.O. Wilson's "Life on Earth" textbook to get a feel for the features (the preview comes with only two chapters). Navigating through chapters and sections of a textbook works great on the iPad. You swipe to switch chapters, or touch sections or pages to get right into the content. We think this will be useful for students who need to jump around through chapters. Once you're looking at a page, you also have touch options, such as a pinch, which shrinks a page, and slide, which returns it to the navigation area on the bottom of the chapter screen.

iBooks 2 (screenshots)

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Looking at a textbook, you'll immediately see that visuals will play a major role in presenting the content in iBooks 2. Big, colorful images and other interactive media appear on every page. This could help some students better retain the information.

The book we used showed off several types of interactive media like movies, 3D diagrams, and step-by-step processes. You can watch movies within a page, or you can touch a button and watch full screen to get the complete experience. You can touch and swipe diagrams and 3D models to rotate, and you can pinch to zoom into still images on pages to get a closer look. There are also interactive diagrams that let you look at step-by-step changes in a process, and more free-flowing diagrams that only require you to swipe a slider to watch a complete transformation. It's clear that Apple wanted to showcase the many uses for interactive media in the first set of textbooks available at the iBookstore.

iBooks 2

At the end of our chosen textbook, interactive quizzes tested reading comprehension, with multiple-choice questions you can check on the spot.

As someone whose only option in college was traditional textbooks, I can see how the presentation in iBooks 2 brings the content to life in a way that a regular book can't.

In addition to all the types of interactive media in our chosen textbook, iBooks 2 also adds other features that will probably prove useful to students. Bold vocabulary words require a touch to view a quick glossary definition, and one more touch to view the full glossary. If you want even more information about a study term, you can touch Dictionary for the official definition or get options for viewing content via a Web search or by searching Wikipedia. One problem I noticed here was that searching Wikipedia and the Web brought us out of the book and into Safari, which then required a couple of steps to get back to my textbook. It's probably not a huge problem, but I think it might better serve students if it's even easier to get right back to work to avoid getting caught up surfing the Web.

iBooks 2

Other useful features like highlighting and underlining text and personal notes lets students zero in on the important material.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

You also have the option to highlight areas of important text with your preferred color by doing a double-tap on the text. You can underline words, sentences, and paragraphs and add your own personal notes that show up as a small icon to the right of the text, indicating where you left the note.

When I played with iBooks 2 for the first time, it was easy to see how it could be useful to students and how the interactivity would aid in learning. But many unanswered questions remain about how it might be implemented in schools. We'll have to wait and see over the next several months how iBooks 2 textbook features will affect the education experience in the real world.

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