The advantage of e-books on iTunes U is that they can be made to work with the iBooks app, which can render media-rich e-books. Not only can you read the book and have nice colour pictures (unlike with many e-readers), you can have a nice colour movie clip embedded, or sounds, or a chart of data which you can re-sort and re-jig to get exactly the output you need.
|iBooks on the iPad - the little photo could have been a little movie. Photo by shiftstigma on Flickr|
The difficulty here is that this kind of e-book is not very open. My understanding is that these e-books are multimedia-rich epub documents. You can view an epub on a variety of devices and on any computer operating system, but iBooks are Apple-only. They require the iBooks app. I have used iBooks on my iPad and it's an extremely beautiful thing. I had trouble using iBooks on my iPod Touch. Presumably I can go to the new App Store and try iBooks on a Mac computer; I haven't done this yet. Have you tried this? If so, please leave a comment --- any good? How about iBooks on an iPhone?
Up until now, Apple seems to have made sure that files coming down through iTunes U can be viewed/listened to on Windows computers at no extra cost. iBooks e-books seems to be a diversion from this strategy -- so far. iBooks for Windows -- will it come to pass?
Learning Technologist, SCORE Fellow, and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo