A major update to Apple’s iBooks app was announced today.  The native e-reading program that comes standard with the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad has been updated to version 1.3 and some of the changes are quite profound.

Of course, no update is complete without the normal bug fixes and performance enhancements, both of which this update includes.  However, of slightly more consequence is a basic modification to bring a more efficient cataloging mechanism to the app.  The most groundbreaking improvement, however, is likely to be the read-aloud function for children’s books.  Some books even offer the option to have the book read aloud with the authors’ voice.

Now these smart devices will be able to read children’s books aloud and some books even offer the option to highlight words as they are read aloud.  This latter feature could change the status of i-devices from game packs and communication devices to early education tools for many families.  To use the new feature, one simply selects “enhanced eBooks” and this will play video and audio content included in the ebook automatically.

iBooks got its start with the release of the iPad.  Since then, Apple’s ebook selection has been growing steadily and now contains more than 100 color picture books for children.  Random House, a major publisher, finally accepted the Apple business model and now has titles in the iBookstore.

Watch for the read-aloud function coming to other ebooks soon.