Prior to today’s announcement, there were rumblings that Apple would announce “Garageband for Textbooks”, which is pretty much what we got today with the release of iBooks Author. The free app makes it relatively easy for anyone, including educators, to create interactive iBooks. With the capabilities of the iPad, this new breed of textbook will usher in a new and exciting way to learn. Textbooks from iBooks will feature vivid imagery, videos, updated content and interactive features such as “pinch to zoom”. With textbooks priced at just $14.99, much less than a bulky print textbook that could cost upwards of $75. This all sounds great, but let’s not forget the entry cost of iPad hardware and the numerous roadblocks to this being anywhere near the success that Apple had reinventing the music industry.
Watching books come alive with videos, 3D and interaction makes textbooks look flat-out prehistoric. One version costs $15 and the other could be almost 4-5 times as much. The cost of entry into this new era of textbooks is $500, which is the price of an entry-level iPad 2. Let’s say $450, if Apple pushes educational discounts which would certainly make sense. Some would argue that over time, going the route of expensive hardware combined with less expensive iBooks would still cost less than traditional textbooks. There is however a huge outlay of dollars for an iPad. How would middle and low-income families find $450 for an iPad that would also require yearly textbooks. During my K-12 education, our public school footed the bill for textbooks. College was a much different story, as is the value proposition given the excessive costs associated with those textbooks. Those students also have the means to find part-time jobs to fund the purchase an iPad. Apple’s push today seems focused on K-12, which seems like a tough sell given the cash strapped budgets of educational institutions.
What Apple did today was provide a vision of learning in 2012, a glimpse into the modern classroom. If kids can avoid the Angry Birds trap, they’ll have the tools to receive an education that doesn’t look like it’s from fifties. Of course, dropping that old textbook won’t be met with a $299 replacement cost. With teachers and students on board, the iPad would help remove all the cumbersome task associated with handing out a curriculum, keeping the focus on learning. The idea that homework would be handed out virtually via the iPad with links to educational videos, associated iBooks is what Apple would term magical and I’d agree.
Apple’s reinvention of the textbook will be a success, but not to the extent they reshaped the entire music industry. Consumers ultimately hold the purse strings on whether they buy a CD or an MP3 from iTunes. With textbooks, students will be forced to play ball in an outdated system. Teachers, schools, publishers, students and parents. They all need to buy in to this system. Is it even possible to have some kids using iPads, while some are carrying back-breaking textbooks. Not likely. It’s either all in or all out. A good number of schools will never come close to adopting iBooks. I suspect Apple will fund some pilot programs and there are always going to be some school districts that have the means to move in a new direction. Those students will ultimately benefit from the updated, interactive content not available in today’s textbooks.
Everyone wants the best when it comes to educating the next generation of students. As a new parent, I cannot help but get excited by how this is transformative technology for students. Apple has done a great job in providing the tools needed to further the cause, but the cost of entry is a roadblock that will hinder adoption. If Apple can find a way to remove the hurdles and cost of entry, then we’d truly be on the verge of something magical.