Apple Tries to Change Everything About Textbooks

19 01 2012

Today was the day of Apple’s huge education-related announcement that I mentioned a while back. As many had speculated, Apple is beginning a huge push to replace the traditional textbook with digital versions to be read on the iPad. Many of the big names in textbook publishing – like McGraw-Hill and Pearson – are on board and will be supplying content in the near future.

While I think we’re still a few years away from digital textbooks being the norm, this is a huge push in the right direction. A textbook on an iPad can be interactive and incorporate multimedia, should (and I emphasize should) be far less expensive than a traditional text, and (theoretically) can be updated at any time without going through a long textbook adoption process. And there’s no longer a need to figure out how to dispose of thousands of outdated texts when the new version becomes available.

Along with this initiative, Apple is rolling out a new version of iBooks, a new “learn on your own” app called iTunes U, and iBooks Author, a free application that allows anyone to create and publish an eBook. Here’s a video that runs down what this initiative is all about…

There are still a whole lot of questions to be asked. For example, what are companies like McGraw-Hill going to charge for a textbook? Textbook companies – especially at the college level – are notorious for charging through the nose for their products, and releasing revised editions every couple years to minimize the shelf life for used copies. Call me a cynic, but I really can’t imagine a major publishing company embracing a platform like this unless there were a built-in way for them to continue with the “obscenely high cover price” and “revise every couple years” business model.

Likewise, there’s the expense of the iPad itself. With the baseline model currently ringing up for $500, it would require a huge outlay of cash on an annual basis to equip every student. Colleges and private schools will most likely have an easier time with adoption, but on a public school level, it’s a monstrous task, both financially and logistically. And let’s not forget how quickly technology becomes obsolete or worn out. The lifespan of a typical smartphone is about two years, and a laptop more than about four years old is usually considered to be living on borrowed time. How long is an iPad being used and abused by a typical high school student going to last? Especially if they’re using it in every class during the day, then taking it home and doing homework, web surfing, Facebooking, and playing Angry Birds on it?

And what happens when schools do what they always do, especially in these days of slashed budgets? They’re going to look for cheaper alternatives, and that may mean a $200 Kindle Fire instead of an $500 iPad. Or it may mean a tablet by Toshiba or Sony or any number of other manufacturers. Is Apple going to provide content and software for other platforms the way they do with iTunes, or are educators out of luck if they don’t embrace the iPad?

Again, I’m just playing devil’s advocate here. I think this initiative has been a long time coming, and is absolutely the way of the future. But I don’t expect the future to happen overnight, and there are still a million unanswered questions.

For more information, check out Apple’s education site here:

Here’s another great article on the subject:




2 responses

19 01 2012

Excellent summary of the hopeful pros and the educational realities. We have a new STEM (science, tech, engineering, and math) school in our public school district that is issuing iPads to the students. Those with wi-fi at home LOVE it, those who don’t have had to get textbooks from the other HS and carry them home anyway. It’s been interesting. I think long-term, this IS where we are headed, especially as more is developed for the handicapped and differently-abled students.

19 01 2012

It will be interesting what happens with these. I’m still quite the antiquarian as I haven’t a tablet computer at all, so I’m a bit behind.
As an avid booklover though I almost feel the need to get a tablet with all of the advanced e-reader capabilities to fully be able to compare them with the paper versions.

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