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Apple's January Media Event to Involve Digital Textbooks and Education?

Yesterday, AllThingsD reported that Apple is planning a late January media event in New York City that appeared to have something to do with Apple's publishing or advertising efforts rather than any hardware announcements. TechCrunch weighed in a few hours later with word that the event is indeed focused on publishing and the iBookstore.

At the time of our report on that information, we suggested that digital textbooks could be a possibility for the event given that Steve Jobs' biographer Walter Isaacson has indicated several times that one of Jobs' last goals had been to revolutionize textbooks. According to Isaacson:
His idea was to hire great textbook writers to create digital versions, and make them a feature of the iPad. In addition, he held meetings with major publishers, such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple.
Adding to the speculation about textbooks perhaps playing a role in the upcoming announcement is information we've received from a source indicating that Apple last month filmed a series of short interviews with textbook industry executives. The interviews are said to have been of the type that would be used in one of Apple's promotional overview videos for a new product or service.

Our source cautions us that there is no direct evidence tying the interviews to the upcoming media event and that Apple frequently films promotional video segments and commercials that never see the light of the day, but the timing of the filming seems to be in line with possible preparations for the media event.

Even more fuel for the idea that the event may carry an education focus comes from a new blog post from Clayton Morris of Fox News, who claims that the event will focus on iTunes U and perhaps textbooks.
Here is what I know from sources involved:

- This event will focus on iTunes University and Apple in education
- I learned of the event back in September when it was originally scheduled for late Fall in New York but it was eventually postponed.
- The event will be in New York rather than in the Silicon Valley because New York is more centrally located for textbook and publishing.
- This initiative has been in the making for years.
- The announcement will be small in size but large in scope: a big announcement in a demure space.
- I expect at least two large project announcements as they relate to Apple in education.
- Steve Jobs was intinimately [sic] involved with this project before his passing. He gave a hat tip to the textbook side of this project in the Isaacson biography.
- This will not be a hardware-related announcement.
Morris has a bit of a mixed track record, having weighed in just ahead of Apple's original iPad introduction in January 2010 to correctly predict the device's appearance (an easy guess) but miss with his predictions of discussion relating to iOS 4 and an update to iLife.

At the time of the iPad's debut in early 2010, Apple was said to have struck deals with textbook publishers to bring their content to the iPad, but Apple has so far been rather quiet on the topic of textbooks on the iPad and offerings have so far been limited.

Update: 9to5Mac also indicates that the iTunes team in on "lockdown mode" heading into the media event, suggesting that the announcement is indeed related to content of some sort.

Update 2: Ars Technica adds its voice to the rumors surrounding digital textbooks:
And based on information from our own sources, we believe the announcement could likely involve support for the EPUB 3 standard, which enables a wider variety of multimedia and interaction features. [...]

Incidentally, one source who has worked with Apple to integrate technology in education recently suggested that Apple may have important changes coming to its iBooks platform directed specifically toward the academic set. Digital textbooks represent another nascent market that Apple could potentially upend as it did with music and mobile apps.

Top Rated Comments

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92 months ago

This is stupid. Digital Textbooks are only good with E-ink displays, otherwise you're gonna cause eye strain.

It isn't like reading off an iPad or a computer screen for an extended period of time is anything new. And these digital textbooks would arguably do a lot in the way of lightening the load for college students to worry about carrying/selling later. I think it's something that can really change things for the better, even without e-ink.
Rating: 8 Votes
92 months ago

This is stupid. Digital Textbooks are only good with E-ink displays, otherwise you're gonna cause eye strain.

Interactive learning can be a very effective learning tool. List some data and a user/reader might remember it.

Let them interact with some data, and they can understand it on a more meaningful level.
Rating: 8 Votes
92 months ago

This is stupid. Digital Textbooks are only good with E-ink displays, otherwise you're gonna cause eye strain.

The level of interactivity and image quality they will likely add dissagrees.
Rating: 7 Votes
92 months ago

i cant study or read a book on my iPad. i always end up surfing the web or listening to music,

:rolleyes: That's not the iPad; that's ADD.
Rating: 7 Votes
92 months ago
Digital text books will be awesome on so many levels!

* Don't carry the weight of several books around!
* Books don't get damaged, pages torn.
* Fixes for typos or new information can be downloaded immediately.
* Imbedded animation and video demonstrations on a topic.
* The ability to search, look up the definition to words just by tapping them.
* Book store will not run out or you wont have to wait for the book store to get the books in after class starts.
* The list goes on and on!!!
Rating: 5 Votes
92 months ago

E-ink is not dead, it's great for reading and that's what Textbooks are about. Reading.

No, the charts and illustrations are essential.
Rating: 5 Votes
92 months ago

Apple needs to make an eInk Kindle-like device pronto. Wrap it in aluminium and get people to pay the Apple tax - you can't read for very long on an iPad.

Using a text book is not the same as reading a novel.

I find it odd that people can browse the web for hours on an iPad, but then claim that they can't read a book on it.

Do people remember what computer monitors were like 20 years ago? Yet, people used them.
Rating: 5 Votes
92 months ago

Image (

I have a BS in MechEngr (decades ago).

Show me an animation of a mechanism with force vectors...
Now change the link parameters...
Change the forces acting on the links...

How about an animation of heat transfer through a solid?
through two solids...
add a 2 mil airgap...

How about airflow around an object?

These are basic enhancements that redefine etextbooks. E-ink isn't capable of this.

Which is a better educational tool?
Rating: 5 Votes
92 months ago

For images and multimedia, it's not really a textbook, now is it? I think Apple should wait until E-ink catches up so that it can be multitouch and faster. It would be a better textbook alternative than an iPad right now.

I believe e-ink is better for textbooks than LCD

e-ink is great for studying at night in bright sunlight (which I’m sure happens sometimes) or when your classroom has no roof or shade in sunny weather. Backlit, on the other hand, is better at night or in a dim room, and is just fine the rest of the time too. Both types of device have their place, when it comes to plain-old passive reading, and a tiny lightweight e-ink Kindle is a cool gadget for sure. But I do most of my reading on iPad these days (via the Kindle app since my library lends that way) and it’s great.

A real tablet (not e-ink) with color, animation, multitouch and processing power, can do so much more for learning than e-ink can. Active learning—not as mindless fun to hold attention spans, but as new ways to make people think and retain. Just like a passive textbook can’t replicate a complex, interactive classroom activity, it also can’t replicate the best of interactive tablet learning.

If the rumor is true (and others will do it if Apple doesn’t) this is isn’t about distributing the “old” (passive black and white text) but about doing more and better. If you say it’s no longer called a “textbook” then, so be it. The name "textbook” isn’t the goal, it’s just a habit. The goal is education.

For those who say Amazon is better than iBooks but can’t articulate why, take comfort: an iPad gives you both! All the selection of Kindle PLUS iBooks, and all the apps and performance of a real iPad.
Rating: 4 Votes
92 months ago
Ask The Students!

As a chemistry prof and tech enthusiast I am always on the look out for the next great thing and while this may be Apple's next great thing it will need something special to attract students.

There are already a number of electronic options out there, including regular ebooks, and none of them really offer anything compelling for someone who is happy with a paper book.

I just received a Kindle Touch for Christmas and have bought some Kindle books for it that were on sale, or I needed for my classes (I have been asked to give a presentation on how to study to the incoming first year students). In many cases, the books I looked at on the Kindle were more expensive than their paper counterparts. This is even more true on my iPad where the books were almost always more expensive.

This is a problem! While publishers say that there is more to a book than paper, it makes no sense that a digital edition would be more expensive than an electronic edition. From a student's perspective, this is a deal breaker because they have to buy the device and then pay more for the book, and if the system is not supporting all their classes they will still need to carry books.

An even bigger deal breaker is that students will not be able to re-sell the book once their classes are over. A typical New First Year Chemistry Textbook, and associated required "stuff," runs around $220 with a 35% bookstore markup. The required stuff, such as online codes and course notes are usually available separately but at such a premium there is little money saved by buying the text used or on Amazon (about $170) and the "stuff" on campus. However, students can sell that book back for around $50-100 if their timing is right. For courses without "stuff" the purchase of used and Amazon texts can amount to huge savings when you consider the ability to resell a book for $50-100.

This market does not exist in the digital world. Students "rent" books from the publisher at a small discount over the paper book, or can buy the book for an even smaller discount, and they currently get a poorly produced PDF (particularly with the CourseSmart group) that they cannot share and cannot view without logging in. This means the student's device must be on a network if they are to look at their book. This is a total crock. Inkling and kno are starting to develop a nice model where they take an existing textbook and make it more interactive. The problem is that the selection of texts is very limited on Inkling and the prices are not looking good. Kno charges $114 for students to RENT the book (Silberberg, 6th Ed) for six months. That barely covers two semesters and then it is GONE! They charge $146 for students to buy the book, while the hard copy from Amazon comes in at $172, Kindle eBook comes in at $130 although it does not actually work on the hardware kindle (only iPad and Computer). OR, you can buy new/used starting at $9 on Amazon.

For students who have limited amounts of cash, they are looking at cost for their required classes and not the technology cool factor.

As we know, if anyone can bring order to the chaos it will be Apple. Problem is that there are a lot of people who refuse to drink the Cool Aid and refuse to use anything Apple related. That is another potential problem.
Rating: 4 Votes

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