Apple's new education products-including interactive textbooks for the iPad, created via an easy-to-use iBooks Author-could do many things: boost test scores, give school districts a new way to instruct students, and allow educators to piece together their own textbooks with the latest information.
And according to one analyst, they could also potentially pump up Apple's bottom line.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, who regularly covers the company, issued a Jan. 19 research note suggesting that Apple's announcements will "help to generate demand for iPads in schools" and give the company a first-mover advantage in that segment over other potential rivals.
That "could add upside to our iPad [estimate] of 66 [million units] in [calendar year 2013] and beyond as schools begin to adopt next-gen learning technology over the next 2-5 years," he wrote. "Apple's complete solution for digital learning tools on tablets positions the company to be a primary seller of software and hardware in this rapidly changing and growing market."
Apple unveiled its latest education initiative in a high-profile Jan. 19 event at New York City's Guggenheim Museum. "Education is deep in our DNA," Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, told the assembled media.
Apple's iBooks 2 is designed to bring a "new textbook experience" to the iPad, which the company views as an evolution beyond traditional, paper-bound textbooks. These interactive textbooks will feature not only multimedia such as video and touchable graphics, but also tools such as highlighting and search.
The company's other initiative, iBooks Author, lets authors and publishers create those interactive textbooks. The interface seems reminiscent of Apple's other productivity software; it offers the ability to add everything from text to graphics by drag-and-dropping, with text flowing automatically around each new added element.
Apple's third big education announcement, the revamped iTunes U, is a free app gives educators the ability to distribute course materials and video or audio lectures, as well as view presentations. As with iBooks Author, Apple is emphasizing the supposed ease-of-use in constructing a full course, via the iTunes U Course Manager.
Before his death, Apple CEO Steve Jobs long harbored an abiding interest in creating some sort of text-book related product. "He wanted to disrupt the textbook industry and save the spines of spavined students bearing backpacks by creating electronic texts and curriculum material for the iPad," read one passage in Jobs' recent biography by Walter Isaacson. At another point, Jobs "agreed" with News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch that "the paper textbook business would be blown away by digital learning materials."
Whether or not textbooks on iPad will noticeably change the tablet's adoption pattern over the next few years, they could bring Apple into fiercer competition with Amazon, which is also moving from book distributor to more of a book producer.