Apple revamps iBooks app in tandem with iPad mini launch

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Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is rolling out a refreshed version of its iBooks e-reading application in tandem with the introduction of its new iPad mini, a 7.9-inch tablet slated to reach retail early next month.

The free iBooks 3.0 connects the e-book platform with Apple's iCloud, syncing titles for access across multiple iOS devices and delivering free updates to purchased books (e.g., new chapters and corrections). The revamped app also brings continuous scrolling and integration with Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter, enabling users to tap a text passage to share it with their social graph.

iBooks 3.0 additionally introduces support for Korean, Chinese and Japanese, bringing the total number of languages available to users to 40. Apple Insider reports Apple is extending its iBookstore to 18 additional global markets including Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and New Zealand, expanding the digital storefront's reach to 50 countries worldwide.

Apple also said it will overhaul its iBooks Author self-publishing platform, which enables users to design their own graphics-rich e-books, like textbooks. The new version incorporates revised templates, tools to create portrait-only text layouts and other customization options.

In all, the iBookstore now boasts more than 1.5 million titles, with downloads in excess of 400 million, Apple CEO Tim Cook said Tuesday.

Apple will look to the iPad mini to combat smaller, more inexpensive tablets from rivals like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). Touting a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels, the same as the 9.7-inch iPad 2, the iPad also includes Apple's dual-core A5 processor, LTE, a FaceTime HD camera and the Lightning dock connector used in the iPhone 5. The iPad mini will start at $329 with Wi-Fi-only connectivity and 16 GB of storage--a 32 GB version will cost $429, with a 64 GB version priced at $529. The iPad mini with LTE will start at $459 with 16 GB of storage, $559 for the 32 GB version and $659 for the 64 GB model. Pre-orders for the Wi-Fi model will start Friday, with retail availability slated for Nov. 2. The cellular versions will begin shipping two weeks later.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) will offer the iPad mini in the United States. Sprint has not offered previous editions of the iPad.

Analyst reaction was largely negative. "When asked what the most they would pay for a smaller iPad was, our respondents on average said that they would pay $242 for a 7-inch iPad and $268 for an 8-inch iPad," Baird Equity Research analyst William Power told Reuters. "At $329, it won't draw people from [Amazon's] Kindles and [Barnes & Noble's] Nooks," University of Michigan professor Erik Gordon told Bloomberg, while Morningstar analyst Brian Colello said "From a profitability perspective, I think at $330 Apple is still getting adequate gross margins on the sales. But at that price point it may limit adoption and unit volumes."

Apple also introduced the fourth-generation version of the full-size 9.7-inch iPad, promising a faster processor, the A6X, which will double processing power and graphics performance. The device also features a Retina Display, LTE and the Lightning connector. Apple will additionally expand the number of LTE bands it is supporting. The 16 GB Wi-Fi-only new iPad will start at $499, and the 16 GB LTE model will start at $629. Verizon, AT&T and Sprint will offer the tablet.

Cook said there are now 275,000 iPad apps out of 700,000 total iOS apps--total downloads now eclipse 35 billion. Apple has also paid $6.5 billion to iOS developers.

Cook added that Apple counts 200 million devices running iOS 6, which the company released last month. "This is phenomenal," he said. "This is the fastest upgrade rate of any software in history that we're aware of." Consumers have also relayed 300 billion messages across Apple's iMessage system, introduced last year as an alternative to traditional SMS services--Cook added that users are currently sending 28,000 iMessages per second.

For more:
- read this CNet article
- read this AppleInsider article
- read this San Jose Mercury News article

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