In case you haven’t heard, Apple announced some pretty huge education-related news at a press conference in New York this Thursday. iBooks 2 was released to the iTunes App Store; it comes optimized for the new crop of textbooks that are starting to pop up in the iBookstore. Reading one of the iBookstore’s textbooks isn’t like reading a textbook off of any other e-reader. Publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have created interactive, dynamic digital versions of their textbooks to take advantage of the multi-touch capabilities of the iPad 2. The books contain content such as 3D objects that students can rotate by swiping their finger, charts, diagrams, HTML widgets, and videos. And there’s no need to worry about keeping up with the newest editions–you can download textbook updates for free.

To make these textbooks, publishers used the Mac iBooks Author app (also introduced at the press conference this Thursday). But the iBooks Author app isn’t just for textbook publishers– anyone can download the app for free from the Mac App Store and create their own book, complete with stunning text, images and interactive widgets.

So, what does this all mean for us college students? At the moment, I’d say not much, considering the textbook section in the iBookstore is filled with K-12 textbooks. It’s only a matter of time before Apple makes their move into higher education, though. No doubt university level textbooks are on their way. It’s unlikely that college textbooks will stay under the current $14.99 price cap set for high school iBookstore textbooks, but chances are the prices will still be significantly lower than the cost of physical textbooks.

When it comes to students’ device of choice for e-textbook reading, I’ve seen a pretty diverse mix of iPads, Kindles, Nooks… with the occasional appearance by a Sony Reader or a Kobo. The use of digital textbooks has exploded across campuses due to their convenience, portability and price. Until now, the digital textbook experience has consisted of text and images on a screen regardless of device. The iPad is the only device that offers the opportunity to experience Apple’s multi-touch technology as applied to textbooks. I think this fact alone will give Apple a leg up in its already strong foothold in the education market. Also, reading a textbook on an iPad sounds almost fun– another reason I see the iPad winning students over as the choice e-reader/tablet.

One of the obvious shortcomings of getting your textbooks through a digital bookstore is that you can’t always find every book you need. The iBook textbook publishing process is set up to help on this aspect. iBooks Author is so simple to use and free– anyone, not just big textbook companies, can publish and sell their books. Therefore, it follows that a larger book selection will be made available with less work and less time. Ultimately, with the iPad already having become such a hit amongst college students, I wouldn’t be surprised if these new education initiatives were met with the same enthusiasm.

What do you think about Apple’s new educational initiatives? Have you tried out iBooks 2 or iBooks Author? Will you start buying your textbooks from the iBookstore? Let us know in the comments!