Apple's Next Breakthrough Product

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This Thursday at New York's Guggenheim museum, Apple (NAS: AAPL) is scheduled to make a major product announcement. The famously secretive company hasn't revealed details yet, but it's widely expected to concern Apple's foray into the digital education-publishing business. Here's what we know, and some thoughts on what it could mean for Apple.

Transforming yet another industry
Founder Steve Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that he wanted to transform the textbook industry by creating specifically digital versions of textbooks that would be available on the iPad. According to Isaacson's book, Jobs believed all textbooks should be "digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time." To this end, Jobs had reportedly been meeting with publishers such as McGraw-Hill (NYS: MHP) , Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Pearson (NYS: PSO) .

Best known in the business community for publishing Financial Times, Pearson is better known overall as an education publisher, and when it comes to digital publishing the company is quite progressive and on its game. As of mid-2011, Pearson's digital education platform-and-service registrations were up 15%.

McGraw-Hill, the other big public company in the education-publishing sector, has reportedly been working with Apple on its announcement since June, so it's probably safe to say that the publisher will be present at the Apple event this Thursday and will play a significant role in whatever Apple does going forward.

Apple gets the jump in a critical sector
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that while only about 6% of education-textbook sales will be digital this year, by 2020 that number will grow to be more than 50%. Apple has already made a push into publishing with its iBookstore, and the company has long been active in the education sector, providing lectures, lessons, and other educational content through iTunes U.

Apple and digital education are a natural fit; the company is as familiar and expert with digital as anyone out there, if not more so. Amazon.com (NAS: AMZN) , however, could give Apple a real run for its money in this space. Amazon is already, in fact, pursuing the market. Digital textbooks on Amazon's Kindle are as easy to imagine as on the iPad. And the more attractive price point of the Kindle could give it an edge with struggling college students and their parents.

But for the moment, with this announcement at the Guggenheim, it looks like Apple has gotten the jump on the competition, grabbed the spotlight, and is poised to become a leader in an ever-more-important sector of the digital marketplace.

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At the time this article was published Fool contributorJohn Grgurichjust enjoys saying the word Guggenheim over and over, but he owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned in this column. The Motley Fool, however, owns shares of Amazon.com and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a scintillatingdisclosure policy.

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