Has Apple reinvented the Textbook?
Apple has unleashed iBooks Textbooks today, where they claim that they have “reinvented the school textbook.” Apparently, these books will be “an entirely new kind of textbook that’s dynamic, engaging and truly interactive.” I am somewhat sceptical.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Apple products as much as the next fanboy. While I ditched my iPhone for a HTC Desire, I love my iPad and my new Mac Book Air is the most beautiful laptop I have ever used.
As far as I can see, the new iBooks textbooks are going to provide students with a much more interactive textbook in that there will be animations, videos, slideshows and links to web sites. This is all good stuff. At least it’s better than text and diagrams.
The problem I have is that there isn’t real interactivity. By this I mean, the social side of interactivity. Wouldn’t it be great if students could share their own notes with their classmates and teachers? What if a student could add their own content such as videos or web links to a book? What about a forum so students could chat about particular parts of a book in real time? In Apple’s words, that would be “insanely awesome.”
Apple have had the clever idea to allow anyone with a Mac to make their own eBooks, which I intend to try out. While these will only be available in their full glory on Apple products, a more boring PDF can be exported to lesser machines.
If I were more sceptical, I would argue that this product is a sinister marketing tool to put pressure on users to buy iPads rather than cheaper Android and other tablet devices. It wouldn’t have been too difficult to have made the textbooks more open so that any tablet could use them. Rumour also has it that Apple have some sort of exclusivity thing going on so that companies can’t put their iBooks on other devices.
This new initiative hasn’t really revolutionised the textbook. Right now, all it is, is a fancy book. Even the Apple Web site can only think of two advantages – your book won’t get dog-eared and you’ll have a lighter school bag – which doesn’t really justify the term “reinvention” when most eBooks already do that. However, iBooks textbooks are probably going to do well and many of us are going to start publishing stuff on it then get addicted. I’d say a lot of schools will already have decided to spend a gross amount of money on iPads instead on other more useful devices too. The Apple machine continues to take over our lives and not necessarily for the better this time. If this is the “future of education”, as many of today’s headlines are reporting, education isn’t moving too far.