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eBook Players Dump on iBooks 2: Not Open Enough

With the introduction of its new iBooks 2 app, Apple has taken the leap into the K-12 textbook market. The announcement has also sparked some interesting commentary from both the iPad maker's competition, as well as existing e-Textbook vendors. Here's what we're hearing so far.

Dan Leibu, chief technology officer for Kobo, said they are happy to hear that Apple is offering interactive elements to e-Textbooks, but like most others, finds the fact that iBooks will only work on Apple devices problematic. “We're excited that Apple is introducing these elements, and we will support most – if not all – of the interactivity that Apple is offering in iBooks 2," Leibu said.

"However, Kobo plans to do this via ePub 3, an open standard being run by a collaborative body.  At Kobo we believe that making content available through open standards allows authors to reach the most readers possible, regardless of their choice of technology platform, which provides great value to readers," Leibu added.

Kno, an education software company that sells college-level e-Textbooks, criticized Apple's new app, pointing to the fact that iBooks 2 is not device agnostic. That means classrooms with a mix of iPads and Android tablets could see some students able to access iBooks 2 and others that couldn't.

Mehdi Maghsoodnia, CEO of BookRenter, an online college textbook rental company, offered measured praise for Apple's move, saying that the problem for Apple is how it will get its e-textbooks into the hands of every student in a particular school. "It's good that Apple is jumping into this," Maghsoodnia said. "What it doesn’t solve is how you deploy these platforms into institutions that are fairly large and how you manage and control these platforms.

"Digital educational content and online learning is still in its infancy, and issues of cost and accessibility will continue to be key themes around the adoption of digital content for many years to come. In the end, we believe that an open and holistic approach to digital learning and content will be required," he added 

Jill Ambrose, chief marketing officer for CourseSmart, another college e-Textbook seller, said Apple's move will help bring more exposure to the e-Textbook market. Ambrose also pointed out that unlike other e-Textbook solutions, Apple's iBooks 2 textbooks don't appear to cover what are known as learning outcomes.

According to Ambrose, learning outcomes are automated feedback loops included in certain e-Textbooks that test students on what they just read in order to ensure they understand the content. "These have been developed by publishers that know how to organize products to make sure that learning outcomes have been achieved." Without such feedback loops, Ambrose explained, it is hard for teachers to gauge whether a student fully comprehends what they just read. Apple's iBooks do offer end-of-chapter quizzes, but in those we tested, the quiz results were only available to the students themselves, who could keep answering a question until they got it right.

Currently, iBooks 2 only offers e-Textbooks for students in grades K-12, but it seems it's only a matter of time before Apple steps up to the college e-Textbook market.