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iBooks 2, and What Happens Next

Apple announced iBooks 2 today, with features that may revolutionize textbook publishing — as well as other publishing markets. The toolset is Apple-intuitive, and the free iBooks Author application will empower armies of educators and designers to create their own interactive books. Adobe Digital Publishing Suite Single Edition previously lowered the cost of platform-based app development. Apple has now made it even less expensive — and less complicated — by offering templated layouts, easy-to-use widgets and tremendous functionality. As much as we enjoyed Phil Schiller's keynote today — particularly the part where he singled out "Solar System for iPad" as one of his favorites — we couldn't help but cringe at his summary of iBooks 2:

"Anyone can create stunning, interactive books."

Anyone, that is, with access to stunning photography, illustration, video, 3D models and HTML widgets they can drop into their templates. Production is not the obstacle to app development; it is creativity and content. Along with those stunning, interactive books one should expect to see a slew of mediocre ones, along with a lot of clones. As publishers rush to stock the App Store with interactive versions of their titles, one hopes they'll do so with imagery, animation and programming that leverages iBooks Author as a starting point rather than an end game.

It will be interesting to see how Apple develops its burgeoning publishing platform, and what markets it will target next. There would be significant demand for turnkey catalogs with e-commerce tools; restaurant menus with point-of-sale capabilities; annual reports with widget-based charts and diagrams. Apple continues to change one industry after another. Hopefully the transformation of textbooks — and other industries — will be driven by visionaries who innovate beyond what Apple has provided.

iBooks 2 is free. Inspiration and imagination are priceless. Never confuse the two.

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