UPDATE: Our notions on this took a definite uptick this morning on reports pointing out that eBooks are now the second-biggest category on the App Store, just after games.

With a solid one-in-four (27.3 per cent) of computers going into schools and other educational institutions across Europe being Apple-made, it’s no surprise that education’s a key market for the company. 

Apple isn’t just the largest in Europe.  Apple passed Dell last year to become the biggest supplier to education in the US in portables sales as well.  With Amazon’s Kindle DX aiming square at the education textbook market we don’t see Apple handing this market over to Amazon.  We think an Apple tablet will at least partially be aimed at that market.

Strike one today comes on news that e-textbook provider, CourseSmart, intends releasing all its 7,000 titles in a format that’s accessible on an iPhone or iPod touch. And it’s no stretch of sanity to think the true target here is to make this content available on the heavily rumored media-centric Apple tablet.  Just like the larger Kindle DX tablet is aimed at Textbooks, a tablet Mac would be a big player in this area more so than a smaller iPod touch or iPhone ever could ever be.

The new applications, free for subscribers, will let students access their full electronic textbooks, read their digital notes and search for specific words and phrases.

"Nobody is going to use their iPhone to do their homework, but this does provide real mobile learning," said Frank Lyman, CourseSmart’s executive vice president. "If you’re in a study group and you have a question, you can immediately access your text."

CourseSmart aren’t the only people working to get their materials onto Apple’s burgeoning mobile platform. We spoke with ScrollMotion (who presented at WWDC), who are developing Iceberg Reader 3.0 to offer iPhone/iPod touch support.

“With the release of the iPhone OS 3.0 this summer, Iceberg will offer powerful, new functionality that will give readers improved ways to enjoy their favorite books, magazines and newspapers. And we look forward to announcing more features in the months to come,” the developers explain.

While the company is reticent to discuss any features, we can imagine they could include improvements in the existing capacity to annotate texts on your mobile device…just a shame the devices are so small and awkward for full book reading…if only these e-books were sold at higher resolution for use on other devices running the same essential OS. Like a Mac, for example, or, erm, an Apple tablet, maybe?

ScrollMotion currently offer over 500 best-selling books in the App Store, and will soon be bringing over a million books, as well as more than 50 major magazines and over 170 daily newspapers to the iPhone. (Publishers include the big names: Harper Colllins, Random House, Pearson, Simon and Schuster, etc…)

Look, it may seem strange to shift from books to e-books, but for school districts there’s real savings which hopefully can be passed into other sectors (assuming budget making chiefs don’t simply claw that book money back). But we’re dealing with a new generation of kids today, already immersed in use of technology in the home, from computers to catch up TV shows to the Nintendo DS and more, we have a new generation of “digital natives”.

Apple has a host of one-on-one deals with education districts on a global level, indeed, the company frequently says education is “in its DNA”.

We’re also moving away from software-based solutions to solutions based on content already available online, perhaps even to the eventual disappearance of the OS, some argue (pointing at the MSFT v GOOGLE v AAPL affair)…

Simplicity counts – and what could be simpler for children in class than to be able to access their e-Books on a nice big touch-driven display, which also offers them access to the multimedia existence they’re used to? It’s an education tool in the day, a gaming machine at night, a music machine in the evening and last thing at night they can throw in their assignements, also made on the device.

Sure, we could equally well be talking about the Mac, but we’ve moved into a new platform paradigm here, and Apple isn’t about to give up its Unibody-led ascendancy in the sales of laptops. It’s simply going to change the category, or at least, attempt to.

If our theorising’s correct, apart from making toast of Kindle , the new tablet device isn’t a product looking for a market, but a solutions-led affair that will fit snugly in lots of markets.

When it comes to the education markets, Apple already knows the score. “We teach teachers not just about Apple solutions, but also how to create content that’s suitable for digital learning,” Apple’s director of EMEA education markets, Herve Marchet, told Macworld UK. "If you want to play in the education market, you need to be a solutions provider. You aren’t just bringing in the machine, you must also offer appropriate software, content and models for best practise in content creation.”

"Apple’s technology gives students access to things that excite and interest them," Brit School head Nick Williams says, conceding that the best way to help children learn is to give them tools they like, software they enjoy and are familar with, making them receptive by ensuring the medium and the message are in sublime convocation. Apple’s tablet (if it ever appears) is a child of its times, matching the cybernetic, loop-inspired vision of Marshall McCluhan.

We’d love to sign an NDA and play with one of these. We suspect at least one veteran Wall Street Journal writer already has…well, on previous form, it’s likely.

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