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Apple to announce new digital textbook service?


At 10 a.m. ET on Thursday, Apple will kick off an "invitation-only education event" at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Naturally there's plenty of gossip regarding what might be announced during the event. Just what will Apple show off in the Big Apple?

One thing's for certain — mainly because Apple itself revealed it — and that's the main topic of the event: Education. Any information beyond that appears to rely on tips from anonymous sources who might be familiar with the matter and educated guesswork. (Sorry about that pun.)

Generally speaking though, this particular Apple event doesn't seem to have the usual cloud of leaks and speculation surrounding it. AllThingsD's Peter Kafka points out that part of the reason for this lack of information — and apparent interest — is likely connected to the main topic's lack of appeal. Education, while obviously an important aspect of life, is about as interesting to discuss as plain low-fat yogurt.

But that unfortunate reality is not the only reason for the disinterest, Kafka explains:

People who know things about Apple have made a point of tamping down expectations. For starters, note that it’s in New York, not Apple’s Bay Area backyard, where it puts on its really big shows. Also note that Apple media boss Eddy Cue is supposed to be front and center, not CEO Tim Cook.

Daring Fireball's John Gruber — who is frequently, and affectionately, considered an Apple know-it-all — probably chuckled as he pointed out that a spoiler for this Apple event may have been in front of our noses all along anyway. Deep within the pages of the Steve Jobs biography penned by Walter Isaacson, he explains, is a paragraph which tells us that Jobs "had his sights set on textbooks as the next business he wanted to transform." 

His idea was to hire great textbook writers to create digital versions, and make them a feature of the iPad. In addition, he held meetings with the major publishers, such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple. “The process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt,” he said. “But if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don’t have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money.”

A report by the Wall Street Journal's Jessica E. Vascellaro suggests that this observation is right on the dot. "According to people familiar with the matter, Mr. Rosner — Apple's vice president for productivity applications, in charge of its iWork document, spreadsheet and presentation software — is closely involved in developing the new digital textbook service," explains Vascellaro:

The announcement isn't expected to focus on textbooks that exist today, but rather around tools for building digital textbooks, according to these people. That service is expected to be a way for a broad range of schools, publishers and others to develop learning material in a digital format, these people said.

That's what's known — and speculated — about Apple's upcoming education event. Be sure to tune in around 10 a.m. ET as we discover whether the guesswork pans out and how — if at all — Apple adds a dash of flavor to a seemingly plain topic.

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