It’s rare to find a student who doesn’t have an iPod these days. Apple revolutionized how we acquire and listen to music with its iTunes software and iPods. Gone are the days of having to buy an album whether or not you like all the songs on it; now you can buy whichever songs you wish, listen to them in whatever order you choose and all without going to a store. Is Apple seeking to create a similar revolution in the realm of textbooks, so that educators can customize books and students will no longer turn dog-eared pages muddled through by previous generations, but learn their geometry on iPad, with 3-D diagrams, videos, audio, colorful graphs and many more features?
At its Thursday New York City education-focused event, Apple indeed seems to have made supplanting print textbooks with digital ones (on the iPad) its next mission. Apple has released iBooks 2, a new section of its e-bookstore via which students can download iPad e-textbooks — iTextbooks – as well as iBooks Author, software for the Macintosh that makes it possible to create textbooks and other books and sell them through Apple’s e-bookstore. Apple also unveiled a revamped version of iTunes U, complete with an iPod/iPhone/iPad app and full integration with iBooks and made it possible for K-12 students to use.
Apple has signed agreements with three major US textbook publishers, Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, to create and sell electronic high school textbooks which will cost $15 or less. Some science and mathematics books are available, along with a free sample of one by famed scientist E.O. Wilson, Life on Earth. Those who saw a demo of the book (you can seen it via this video) were, as expected, awed.
Textbooks available in Apple’s iBooks store can only be used on Apple devices. But as many have pointed out, it is highly unlikely that most school districts can afford a $400-$500 iPad for every student. As the New York Times recalls, Amazon announced that its Kindle DX would revolutionize textbooks in 2009, only to see the plan by and large “fizzle” in pilot programs with college students who — unlike K – 12 public students — may be more likely to purchase an e-reader of some sort. Even if you could download one of the iBook textbooks onto a less expensive iPod, the size of the print (not to mention of diagrams, etc.) would be prohibitively small.
The Problem of Affordability and Access
Apple announced its electronic textbook initiative at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Whether Apple intended it or not, this choice of venue — a beautiful art museum in a major cultural capital of the world — symbolizes both the innovations and the limitations of Apple’s attempts to enter the $8 billion domestic textbook market.
First, e-textbooks on iPads are only available to those who can afford the devices.
Photo by BarbaraLN
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