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McGraw-Hill CEO Credits Steve Jobs' Digital Textbook Vision Amid Evidence of Pre-iPad Interest

AllThingsD share some thoughts from McGraw-Hill CEO Terry McGraw, who during a Q&A session following yesterday's iBooks Textbooks media event described how the development was part of Steve Jobs' vision for what textbooks should be like.
Sitting and listening to all of this, I wish Steve Jobs was here. I was with him in June this past year, and we were talking about some of the benchmarks, and some of the things that we were trying to do together. He should be here. He probably is [gesturing up and around]. This was his vision, this was his idea, and it all had to do with the iPad.
Jobs' interest in textbooks is of course now well-known, with Jobs himself being quoted in Walter Isaacson's authorized biography as wanting to revolutionize the textbook industry and as having had conversations with publishers such as Pearson about the possibilities.

Part of Peters' 2008 iContest presentation on digital textbooks

One other interesting tidbit on the history of digital textbooks at Apple was shared yesterday by a former Apple intern. As related to The Wirecutter, former intern Joseph Peters proposed the idea of digital textbooks back in 2008 as part of an "iContest" in which Apple interns gathered to pitch ideas to mid-level executives for feedback. The textbook ideas suggested by Peters and his group were well-received by Apple's judges, with the team being awarded a free MacBook Air and a meeting with higher-level management to discuss the ideas.
Anyway, we presented and answered the Q&A pretty flawlessly. I mean they said they really liked it and every other presentation received mostly sarcastic remarks.

I remember answering a handful of questions and getting the impression that the exec's were totally on board. It was a pretty awesome feeling. [...]

At the end, they announced that we won, they gave us all a MacBook Air and it was great (for interns anyway). I was more excited about the opportunity to talk to more people about the idea. They scheduled a meeting with John Couch, head of Education a few days later. We met John and a few the people on his team in a small board room and we just gave the same pitch as before.
Peters does not suggest that his group's idea was the genesis of Apple's textbook plans, but it does provide interesting insight into a bit of the intern experience at Apple and reveals that Apple was indeed interested in the textbook idea as far back as 2008, more than a year before the debut of the iPad.

Top Rated Comments

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34 months ago
That's one of the reasons Jobs was so successful. You can tell that he spent years thinking about things like digital textbooks before he started thinking about the iPad.

Most of us weren't sure what an iPad was for when we first saw it. But Steve had already been dreaming up answers to that for many, many years.
Rating: 29 Votes
34 months ago
iTextbooks. The happiest winner: trees.
Rating: 15 Votes
34 months ago
Yep, it's part of what has made Apple successful over the last decade. They understood the purpose of a device and the content before the device. A lot of the "me too" device manufacturers only create/copy a device without regard or concern about what happens after the sale. I don't think it's as simple as Apple's ecosystem vs everyone else but Apple's focus on usage and content rather than specs and customization. In other words, Apple has a purpose in mind for the devices they create. Many of the other companies out there have no purpose in mind for the devices they make other than to sell them.
Rating: 15 Votes
34 months ago

iTextbooks. The happiest winner: trees.

yeah, but those iTrees in the iForest are screwed. ;)
Rating: 12 Votes
34 months ago
I really think we are just beginning to see the actual capabilities of the ipad or any tablet for the matter.
Rating: 11 Votes
34 months ago

Sorry - but I disagree. The idea of digital books and interactive media are no brainers. And well before the iPad came out or was even thought of - such ideas were written about in books, shown in movies and on TV.

I'm happy to give credit where credit is due - but not to your extent on this matter.

Lots of people have great ideas, but not everyone has what it takes to follow through and execute on those ideas.
Rating: 10 Votes
34 months ago

Sorry - but I disagree. The idea of digital books and interactive media are no brainers. And well before the iPad came out or was even thought of - such ideas were written about in books, shown in movies and on TV.

I'm happy to give credit where credit is due - but not to your extent on this matter.

Execution matters more.

Or do you think one of those Windows 98 tablets is better than the iPad just because it came first?

No, the iPad is currently the best touch-tablet because of the software design. It's nice that Captain Kirk had something similar in the 60's, but it doesn't really count until someone designs it right.

And likewise, there have been many digital books kind of like what we saw yesterday, but I'm not aware of any that take it as far as Apple is.

Ideas are easy. Execution is hard.

What was shown yesterday was an extension of Encarta. Which has been around for a couple of decades. The only thing different is how it's displayed.

"How it's displayed" is the whole point!

It's crazy that we can say "this is great because of x" and you say "what's the big deal? The only thing new here is x."

Well, yeah!
Rating: 10 Votes
34 months ago
After the euphoria dies down, I hope that a lot of school boards consider that:
[*]it's a proprietary solution
[*]there's one vendor for both hardware and software
[*]that vendor isn't known for commodity pricing
[*]that vendor isn't known for sharing roadmaps and warning of changes in direction
[*]all of the hardware is foreign-made (This isn't meant to be a jingoist comment - just pointing out a concern if foreign nations have a pressure point on the US school system.)

If Apple had announced an open specification, authoring tools and clients for other systems (Android, Windows, Linux), and a minimum hardware specification it would be a lot easier to swallow.

Instead, Apple seems to want to surround schools with its walled garden.

Didn't we learn anything from the Windows monoculture?
Rating: 9 Votes
34 months ago

EPUB format (

Try harder.

That very link says:

The only notable device lacking integrated support for the EPUB format is the Amazon Kindle

Which was exactly my point. I'm not clear what I'm supposed to be trying harder at.
Rating: 8 Votes
34 months ago

And their iBooks Author software is dead on arrival by definition: Its license locks the authors exclusively into the iBooks store, even if Apple decides to NOT publish the work, the authors will not be allowed to publish it anywhere else. Those terms are completely unacceptable, especially since the iBooks Store is not nearly as attractive as Amazon's Kindle Store and only reaches a fraction of the audience. That software is a desperate and unethical attempt at catching authors that don't read the fine print.

So iBook's proprietary format will fail because everyone who hates proprietary formats will rush on over to use Amazon's proprietary format.

Right. Makes total sense.
Rating: 8 Votes

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