Apple expected to release tool for interactive textbooks at NYC event on Thursday

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As Apple's education-related media event on Thursday approaches, multiple reports are claiming that the company could announce an initiative to help textbook makers produce interactive ebooks for the iPad, with some sources calling the initiative "Garageband for e-books."

Reports of an Apple event in New York City set to take place later this month emerged several weeks ago. The company then sent out invitations for the gathering last week, noting that it would entail an "education announcement in the Big Apple."

ArsTechnica reported on Monday that its sources are claiming Apple will release a simple app that makes standards-compliant e-book publishing as easy as recording a song in GarageBand. The tool is believed to be much-needed, as several authors told the publication that they are frustrated by the current state of the industry.

According to the report, some industry executives are also confident that Apple will likely unveil a textbook publishing tool this week. Inkling CEO Matt MacInnis, who worked on education projects at Apple before leaving to focus on interactive e-books, voiced his belief that a textbook app from Apple is in the works.

"When you think about what Apple is doing... they are selling tens of thousands of iPads into K-12 institutions," MacInnis said. "What are they doing with those iPads? They don't really replace textbooks, because there's not very much content on offer."

The executive clarified that he doesn't believe the content will come directly from Apple. The Cupertino, Calif., company will instead likely provide content production tools, similar to its own Logic or Final Cut Pro software, the report noted.

"Publishing something to ePub is very similar to publishing web content. Remember iWeb? That iWeb code didn't just get flushed down the toilet—I think you'll see some of [that code] repurposed," MacInnis said.

Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had intimated to biographer Walter Isaacson that he wanted to revolutionize textbooks ArsTechnica's sources said Jobs had worked on the project for years. The plans were reportedly set to be announced last October, but they were postponed at the last minute because of Jobs' failing health.

The Wall Street Journal corroborated on Tuesday some of ArsTechnica's claims, but it didn't go into specifics.

"The company is expected to unveil textbooks optimized for the iPad and that feature ways to interact with the content, as well as partnerships with publishers," the report read.

A person familiar with the matter told the Journal that Apple had been working with publisher McGraw-Hill on the announcement since June. Cengage Learning, a textbook publisher that has partnered with Apple before, will also be in attendance on Thursday, but the company declined to reveal what part it will play in the event.

"Apple today clearly has a strong position in hardware, and companies like Cengage Learning have a very strong position on the content side," Bill Rieders, Cengage's executive vice president of global strategy and business development. "To the extent there's a combination there, that could be exciting."

Earlier reports characterized Apple's plans for Thursday as "publishing industry-oriented" news, noting that major consumer-related announcements from the company are not expected.