iTunes U on iPad will let teachers create courses and take your questions

iTunes U on an iPad Air

Right now, iTunes U on the iPad isn't a complete educational tool. You can read textbooks, but not much else -- you still need to use old-fashioned email to ask the teacher a question, for example. It's going to be much more useful on July 8th, when Apple releases a major overhaul to the app. The new iTunes U lets teachers create and manage courses entirely from the iPad, plucking source material from other apps and even the device's camera. Students, meanwhile, get some much-needed interaction -- you can now ask questions from the app, or join in class discussions.

The launch may be well-timed. iTunes U's upgrade is coming just as Samsung has unveiled a brand-new version of its School suite that has its own collaboration tools; teachers can push content to all their students at once, and students can participate in group projects. It also arrives just after Apple lost a lot of support from the Los Angeles school system, which is now diversifying its device mix beyond iPads. It's too soon to know whether or not the new iOS app will be strong enough to counter the fiercer competition, but it should at least be handy for classes that were already bent on using the iPad as a learning platform.