There might be snow on the roof, and my oldest daughter might be going off to college this fall, but I clearly remember my collegiate experience and how ridiculously expensive all my classroom textbooks were. It was nearly criminal. Even today, textbooks for pre-med or pre-law students, for example, can cost more than the class that require them.
Post-course markets for textbooks have been historically dismal. If the university was willing to buy back your textbooks after the semester ended, you had to be careful. It typically offered only a fraction of the amount you paid for them. Timing also was important, as there was usually only a very small window of opportunity to sell the books back.
Apple has just turned that market upside down with the release of iBooks 2.0, iTunes 10.5.3, and iBooks Author.
iTunes 10.5.3 and iBooks 2.0 let students and professors use textbooks and course materials on iPads. iBooks Author is a Mac desktop app that works much like a desktop publishing app. Fellow BYTE technologist Todd Ogasawara has a complete breakdown of the new app and the process necessary to create an electronic iBook. To learn more about the dollars-and-cents practicality of becoming an iBooks Author publisher, be sure to read InformationWeek's Thomas Claburn's Apple's iBooks Author Software: Just Say No.
Textbooks will cost $14.99 and, once purchased, will belong to the student and not a school district, like traditional textbooks do today. Textbook publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Pearson, and McGraw Hill, representing nearly 90% of the textbook publishing market, are on board. Additional partners include DK Publishing and E.O. Wilson, both of whom introduced new textbooks Thursday.
Obviously, all of these books are optimized for Apple's iPad. So, now that textbooks are clearly a part of Apple's iOS ecosystem, you really have to wonder: What will Google's Android tablet makers do to compensate and compete? A better question might be will they be able to compete?
Google's fragmented ecosystem--with fragmented OS implementations, a wide variety of tablets from entry level to high end, and from complete unknown to well-respected brands ranging in price from $99 to $499--does not inspire a lot of confidence in its ability to provide an equivalent experience. There's so much diversity here that I see it doing little to nothing to help Google capture share in the educational market. Google also has a great deal of work to do to create the publishing tools as well as nurture the content partnerships necessary to compete.
The iPad 2 is already a good study tool. With the right connectivity, students can make course-level presentations, buy all of their course materials, take notes, and create study tools. Teachers and professors can administer exams via Apple's revised, now-standalone iTunes U application. Apple has scaled its existing product to meet the needs of a new market--with minimal expense on its part.
The final specs on the iPad 3, anticipated sometime in March 2012, are still unknown, but one of the rumored improvements is an HD screen. This will make text, photos, illustrations and embedded videos in textbooks even easier to read.