Head of marketing Phil Schiller took the stage in New York to announced the new system, saying textbooks have great content, but are heavy, wear out, become outdated, and are not searchable - problems a device such as the iPad can solve.
"It's hard not to see that the textbook is not always the ideal learning tool," he said. "It's a bit cumbersome."
An iBooks textbook: Searchable, interative, and can include movies and animation within pages. Click here to see video examples of iBooks textbooks.
The free iBooks 2 app, which Schiller said was available from the App Store now, will let publishers include interactive animations and videos. Students can highlight sections, take notes, test their knowledge with quizzes and make study cards, as well as search the book.
Released alongside the ereader app is iBooks Author, a tool to make it easier to create digital textbooks. The drag and drop tool lets publishers easily add text and photos, while "widgets" add interactivity with movies and Keynote presentations.
Apple also unveiled an app for iTunes U, letting teachers offer lectures, assignments, books and quizzes via the system - which handily offers push notifications for homework reminders. The platform is no longer limited to universities, but will also be made available to schools as well.
The apps are available now and are free to download; Apple said it wanted iBooks Author to be available to teachers as well as writers and publishers.
Apple suggested digital textbooks would cost less than their paper counterparts, saying high school editions would start from US$14.99.
However, Apple noted that the system could see students buying their own books, rather than schools - not to mention the tablet itself. Schiller said 1.5 million iPads are already in use in education.
File sizes could also be a problem for owners of the lower-end iPads. Two chapters of one of the free sample books, E O Wilson's Life on Earth, consumes almost 1GB of disk space; others take more than 2.5GB.
Textbooks have been slower to move into the ebook market than other books, not least because of higher prices and stronger margins for publishers.
Sriram Peruvemba, chief marketing officer of E Ink, told us that the average price for a textbook in the US is $83, saying the main reason many textbooks haven't yet gone digital in the US and Europe "is publishers make a lot of money".
This article originally appeared at pcpro.co.uk