Hands on with iBooks 2’s textbooks

Apple (s aapl) unveiled its new interactive textbooks in iBooks 2 Thursday at its media event in NYC. Here’s a look at how those textbooks work on the iPad. Early impressions? I wish I could go back to high school.
Apple’s new textbook experience feels familiar; from navigation to the way interactive elements work, the whole thing reminds me a lot of Al Gore’s collaboration with Push Pop Press on Our Choice. If you read my review, you know that’s not a bad thing.
E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth was a particular favorite, thanks to the exciting introduction video that truly increased my interest in the content. I’m not a callous 16-year old, of course, but it must stand a better chance of inspiring some emotion than a plain old hardcover.
What’s inside the book is more exciting too; in landscape mode, titles display information in manageable, bite-sized chunks, dynamically laid out with interspersed graphics. Flipping the iPad to portrait mode organizes information in a more linear fashion, which is easier to digest during crunch sessions, and lays out all graphics in thumbnail mode in a column along the left-hand side.

The search, highlight, notes and bookmark functions all serve to make keeping track of what you’re reading much easier than with print books. You can even use different colored highlights or underline sections to keep track of different things. For the studious type¬†with a complex note-taking system, this will definitely come in handy.
The lesson assignments at the ends of chapters are great, since they provide a quick and easy way to instantly test knowledge retention, with feedback available on-demand. But I did have a problem with other elements.
In both the Life on Earth and Pearson titles I tested, sometimes interactive content didn’t seem clearly flagged. Often I’d tap things that weren’t interactive, assuming they were, and sometimes I’d miss elements that were in fact movies or dynamic graphics. Our Choice did a better job of marking where touching something would produce a result, but that deficiency could be accounted for by early growing pains, since these are the first titles out to use the format.
One thing’s clear: at a maximum of $15 a pop and with the backing of all the major U.S. educational publishers, these new digital textbooks definitely stand ready to gain some traction.