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Apple, which changed music with its iPod and mobile communications with the iPhone, said today it was offering software that would reinvent the school textbook. It was a project inspired by Apple’s late co-founder and CEO, Steve Jobs.

One thing we hear louder than all else and where we can help is in student engagement,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing chief, at an announcement at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Schiller and his Apple colleagues showed off two new applications to take the information in textbooks and put it, in interactive form, on iPads and computers. One is called iBooks 2, a free download for iPads, available from Apple’s app store starting today. The other, iBooks Author, is a tool he said authors and publishers — as well as students and others with an interest in education — can use on a computer to create interactive iPad lessons.
“The textbook is not always the ideal learning tool,” said Schiller. The new interactive books would cost $14.99, far less than most of today’s paper textbooks. They could be updated continually, said Apple. Students will be able to “mark up” their iPad books electronically, creating the digital equivalent of note cards as they go through lessons, said Apple. Schiller said Apple was forming partnerships with three of the biggest publishers of school texts: Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which are responsible for 90 percent of the textbooks used in the U.S. today. DK Publishing, which publishes vividly-colored books for younger kids, is joining in as well. “With the iPad, we’re making textbooks so much more engaging,” said Roger Rosner, the Apple executive who has led the project.

Additionally, Apple said it was expanding iTunes U, a project it has run for colleges several years, to include elementary and high schools. Professors use iTunes U to put their lectures online.

Gene Munster, a senior technology analyst for Piper Jaffray, said his firm surveyed school officials and found the major barrier to new technology was not the cost of new hardware such as iPads. Instead, he said in a phone interview with ABC News, it was control over where students went online when using school computers. If students are taking school iPads home instead of books, the schools worried that they may wander around online.

Apple’s initiative would broaden the number of people who can create online lessons, and some school systems may be wary.

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