iPad, the new textbook

Apple recently announced plans to release what they are calling the new textbook iPad experience. Along with this new feature, they also plan on releasing an authoring tool for the iPad.

Apple has had a long history of working with schools and tailoring their product to the educational environment. It was this focus on education as a niche market that helped Apple survive during its break off from Microsoft. Now the company wants to focus once more on the educational market by bringing it to the iPad.

The first step to bring the iPad to classrooms is by releasing an app called iBook Author. This app will allow anyone to create interactive textbooks for the iPad. According to bloggers in the audience during the demonstration of the new app, an Apple spokesperson made an interactive e-book in about five minutes.

Will books become out of date? Photo illustration by Caitlin Lewis.

The next step in their plan to re-enter the education marketplace is an update to their existing software iTunes U. This update is intended to enable teachers to develop and plan their curriculum and contact their students via the iPad. This updated software will be free to download starting Jan. 26. The hope with this software is that it will allow consumers to experience lessons and classes for free, providing an open educational environment that will be available for everyone.

Their final step is to release a new iBooks app called iBooks 2. This app would allow users and schools to post and find e-textbooks. The app is free to download like the current iBooks app. Apple is partnering with a number of major textbook companies in the production of their renewed emphasis on education. Some of the companies they are partnering with are Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. These companies will begin producing e-books, which will be cheaper than standard textbooks.

While this attempt by Apple appears to be a serious one for the company as it targets K-12 in an attempt to change how students learn, there are a number of barriers in the way of the iPad becoming the new textbook. Cost is one of the major obstacles in iPads replacing textbooks in the public school system. It currently costs public schools about $75 per textbook purchased. While the e-books are cheaper, many of them being $15 or less, these e-books would have to be purchased every year for students, so in five years for five students the cost would still be around $75. The schools would also have to take out of their budgets to purchase iPads assuming they are not able to get grants for the tablet devices.

Many opponents to Apple’s plan to revolutionize how textbooks work claim that this nothing more than an attempt to begin selling Apple products to students earlier ages. Opponents point out that flooding schools with Apple products exposes young children to corporate influence in a very direct and personal way and that this refocusing on education may be an attempt by the company to secure future consumers.

No matter whether Apple manages to revolutionize how textbooks work or not, they do bring up a major consideration for schools and students alike. In this increasing age of technology, shouldn’t the way we learn change as much as the world we learn in? Textbooks have been a major part of learning, one that has remained stable and constant. It is about time textbooks catch up with the digital revolution, or they may be left behind as a learning aid altogether.