Apple has not revolutionized the textbook. They have revolutionized the textbook distribution model.
The company's new iBooks 2 softwareallows digital textbooks to be distributed through iTunes for iPad and other iOS mobile devices. The digital textbooks are cool, to be sure, but we have seen interactive textbooks before in the age of CD-ROMs.
Textbooks sold in the iBookstore are interactive in that they have embedded videos, animated 3D model images, and pinch-to-zoom on all images. They also have quick reference to the glossary and the ability to annotate and note-take in the margin of books. The software takes glossary and reader notes and turns them into notecards for quick study guides.
Again, these are tools we have seen before. My pricy college textbooks had accompanying CDs with similar tools. But they were packaged with heavy expensive books. This is a new distribution portal that gets rid of the book.
What Apple wants to do with textbooks, they have already done with the mobile application, or apps, as the company has come to jargonize the term. Mobile applications existed before the iTunes Appstore but who really used them? Not many people. Apple figured out how to get users using apps with the Appstore.
Will the same happen with textbooks now that the major textbook publishers are on board? It's likely. Pearson , McGraw-Hilland Houghton Mifflin are all creating digital versions of their textbooks for distribution through iBooks 2.
But hang on! Not all students have iPads! So how is this going to take off unless we give out the expensive device to every student in the country? Apple's Phil Schiller says that 1.5 million iPads are in use in educational institutions but there are a lot more students than that enrolled in school. Apple did not announce an iPad distribution model. This is a textbook distribution model.
The way this will likely work is a student will get a code to download the books from their institution. What is unclear is whether that book will disappear from a student's iBooks library once the school year ends. Also unclear is whether or not a student can keep his or her notes from the text, which students will likely want to do for subsequent courses.
Apple's Mac Appstore could be a way to let more students access books through iBooks 2 but that was not this announcement. iTunes could also allow access to this content - after all it is a free piece of software - but that also was not this announcement. So for now, we can applaud this announcement for those students lucky enough to have iPads either from their parents or from their schools, and the rest of them will have to wait.
Natali Morris is a technology contributor to CNBC. Previously she was the technology contributor to The CBS Early Show and a technology news anchor and reporter for CNET TV. She has covered technology since 2008. She is born and bred in the Silicon Valley but reports from the New York City area.