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Electronic textbooks, mobile check depositing come to Apple's iPhone

A small bank will to allow its customers to deposit checks with an iPhone application, while an electronic publisher has made more than 7,000 textbooks available for viewing on the platform.

e-texbooks from CourseSmart

CourseSmart, a subscription e-textbook service, released its App Store software last week. The program, entitled "eTextbooks for the iPhone," offers 7,000 different textbooks for college students from 12 different publishers. It is free for subscribers, and the company states that students save an average of 50 percent on books.

In an interview The Wall Street Journal Monday, CourseSmart Executive Vice President Frank Lyman said the application is more of an asset than a textbook replacement.

"Nobody is going to use their iPhone to do their homework, but this does provide real mobile learning," he said. "If you're in a study group and you have a question, you can immediately access your text."

The service, created in 2007, is a collaboration between six higher-education publishers. The subscription model allows students to rent textbooks, typically for 180 days. When the subscription expires, students lose access to their e-texbooks.

Amazon has attempted to break into the digital textbook realm with its larger e-book reader, the Kindle DX. The books available on the iPhone are not on the Kindle. Earlier this year, Amazon released its iPhone-optimized Kindle store, which allowed users to read books on the go. Similarly, the Barnes & Noble eReader also debuted on the platform this year.

As software makers vie for a share of the e-reader market, Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst with Forrester Research, told the Journal that the CourseSmart offering could be a breakthrough for e-textbooks.

"Textbooks are the missing link in the e-reader content base," she said. "The problem so far is that college students haven't really been interested in reading on their laptops. The iPhone will help create excitement and generate awareness of e-textbooks."

USAA to offer remote check depositing

This week, USAA, a small bank that serves mostly military personnel, plans to update its iPhone application to allow customers the ability to deposit checks remotely. The feature will work by having customers photograph both sides of the check using the iPhone's camera.

Revealed in a story in Monday's New York Times, the new feature highlights the company's efforts to reach its customers all over the world. Currently, USAA has only one branch in San Antonio, Tex., and is just shy of the top 20 sized banks in the U.S.

"We’re essentially taking an image of the check, and once you hit the send button, that image is going into our deposit-taking system as any other check would," USAA Executive Vice President Wayne Peacock said.

The bank has 7.2 million customers, and estimates that about 1 million use their cell phones to access their account. The Times cites a report from comScore that states more than 15 million people in the U.S. use their smartphone to access their bank account. The firm's senior director credits the iPhone with the explosive popularity of mobile banking.

"It’s the iPhone that really propelled things to the forefront," he said.