Apple Inc has unveiled a new digital textbook service called iBooks 2, aiming to revitalise the US education market and hasten the adoption of its market-leading iPad in that sector.
The consumer electronics giant has been working on digital textbooks with publishers Pearson PLC, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a trio responsible for 90 per cent of textbooks sold in the United States.
The move pits the makers of the iPod and iPhone against Amazon.com Inc and other content and device makers that have made inroads into the estimated $8 billion market with their electronic textbook offerings.
At an event at New York's Guggenheim Museum, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller introduced tools to craft digital textbooks and demonstrated how authors and even teachers can create books for students.
The "value of the app is directly proportional to students having iPads," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with industry research firm Gartner. "But this will lead to more schools adopting as a requirement."
Reinventing the textbook
Mr Schiller said it was time to reinvent the textbook, adding that 1.5 million iPads are in use now in education.
"It's hard not to see that the textbook is not always the ideal learning tool," he said. "It's a bit cumbersome."
IBooks 2 will be available as a free app on the iPad, starting Thursday. High school textbooks will be priced at $US14.99 or less, Mr Schiller said.
"You'll see textbooks for every subject for every level," he added.
At the event, the first since the passing of Apple founder Steve Jobs, Mr Schiller said teachers need help and Apple is trying to figure out how it can do its part.
"In general, education is in the dark ages," he said, adding that education has challenges that are "pretty profound."
Other media and technology companies have eyed the US education market as ripe for some sort of upheaval. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp launched an education business two years ago and hired former New York City Education Chancellor Joel Klein to lead it.
According to Mr Jobs' biography by Walter Isaacson, Mr Murdoch met with Mr Jobs last year and discussed the possibility of Apple's entrance into a market that the Apple founder estimated at $US8 billion a year and believed was ripe for disruption.