Apple iBooks 2 hands on review

Is Apple's reinvention of the textbook in a class of its own? Or should it be consigned to the naughty corner? Stuff goes back to school to find out

What's new for iBooks 2?

Settle down at the back there, this is important. Apple's launch of iBooks 2 aims to transform school textbooks from dog-eared, out-of-date tomes full of naughty doodles into high-tech, multimedia experiences to make learning.... fun! (The features should also be coming to normal iBooks shortly).

iBooks 2 – store and availability

The range launches with just eight US schoolbooks covering maths, biology, chemisty and physics. Each opens with a video mashup of equations, effects and high energy pop that promises what's coming next isn't going to be just another boring old-fashioned textbook. They then continue as boring, old-fashioned textbooks.

New iBooks, old tricks?

Well, not quite. The text and layout may look little different from what's already in schoolkids' satchels, but there are some digital touches. Interactive items are sprinkled throughout the text. These include video clips and graphical sequences showing photosynthesis or digestion, interactive apps that let you test a theory of wave motion, a 3D rotation of a molecule or (most often) just a high res photo. Being able to control the action is a nice novelty but none is complex enough to be more than a momentary distraction from the text itself - which is probably the intention.

iBooks 2 – highlighting, notes, study cards and cheating

At the end of each section, most books have short, multiple-choice pop quizzes that let you test your knowledge from that chapter. Luckily, it's pretty easy to cheat and keep trying until you get the right answer. Naturally, you also have all the usual iBooks options, including highlighting in different colours, making notes and – a real bonus for school texts – dictionary and web searches from any tricky words. Probably the most useful feature is that any notes you make are automatically turned into 'study cards' you can then flick through when it comes to revision. You can also share them over email.

iBooks 2 – exam results

This may be iBooks 2, but it still feels like an early iteration for interactive education. The iBooks 2 app itself crashed several times during our test and one book could not be downloaded at all. Highlighted text cannot be turned into study cards or shared, there's no way to save or export test results, and when a book says, for example, write an essay on evolution, the book doesn't link out to Pages. Overall, a B- for effort, A- for presentation but please fix the bugs before the end of term exams, Apple.

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