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Apple’s Big Textbook Announcement: What Does It Mean For Education?

January 19, 2012

Earlier today, Apple held a media event in New York City that was focused entirely on its education market. As a current student this peaked my interest. Apple has innovated several different industries in the past (music, tablets, phones, personal computers, etc.), so the prospect of them focusing on education is an exciting one. This article will briefly summarize todays three major announcements, and touch on what each means for current and future students.

iBooks 2

The central focus of Apple’s announcement was the iPad, and an updated version of Apple’s iBooks app. The technology possible within the new iBooks app is pretty exciting (watch one of the event’s demo videos for an example). If you’ve played around with any current textbook offerings for the iPad some things will look familiar, but the new iBooks offers richer media offerings, pretty snazzy note taking functionality, and a new section in the iBooks store with competitively-priced textbook offerings.

iBooks Author

To complement the new version of iBooks, Apple also announced a program that they call iBooks Author. iBooks Author is a free Mac program that allows anyone to create and publish an ebook. Once the book is published, you can submit it to the iBooks Store, where you can either sell it or give it away for free. Apple seemed to emphasize the creation of textbooks with the iBooks Store, but technically the user can create any sort of book. The creation possibilities, however, are much more than just exporting a word document into the proper format. iBooks Author offers some pretty cray cool functionality, including support to gestures, multimedia, etc. The app is available via the Mac App Store.

iTunes U

iTunes U isn’t a new name in the world of Apple, as it’s existed for several years as a way to get free university lectures and content through iTunes. As of today, however, Apple has added several new features to iTunes U. Specifically, iTunes U now serves as a place to organize all the course content for a class, including files, videos, lectures, and apps. It can also be the distribution mechanism for the course syllabus, quizzes, etc. Anyone currently in college is probably familiar with web-based services like Blackboard or Canvas; the new iTunes U provides similar functionality to those services, and in addition it also serves as a “media hub” of sorts. Students use the iPhone or iPad app to access their iTunes U supported courses.


So will Apple change the face of education as we know it?

It’s a good question, and one that obviously cannot be answered today. Much of what Apple announced today is extremely exciting, but many questions still remain. The new iBooks is easily the most exciting part of today’s announcement; some of the functionality within iBooks 2 seems Jetsons-like. The only downside is that there are only a few textbooks available today, and the overall selection is entirely dependent upon the textbook publishers. Like many things tech-related, a high adoption rate is essential to success. These new iBooks textbooks do support the ability to download just one chapter of a textbook at a time, which can definitely save a ton of money. The iBooks Author application was great to see, and like many people I am excited to sit down and play with it. It’s exciting to think about teachers and professors sitting down and creating their own class textbooks, then distributing them over the air to their students. No more cheap photocopied packets; now that’s awesome. Though the revamped iTunes U service is probably the least flashy of the announcements made today, it actually was super exciting to me as a current college student. I absolutely despise Blackboard (and Canvas isn’t much better) so the having Apple introduce a viable alternative is incredible. I can only pray that iTunes U will see quick adoption as well.

Apple’s media event today, though maybe not as ground-breaking as some of their hardware announcements, is still a pretty incredible opportunity for the education industry. Many people believe that companies like Apple often “show us the future,” and that’s exactly how I felt as I watched Apple’s promotional video that highlights today’s announcements. As I said earlier, however, the success of everything announced depends upon educators actually using it, so only time will tell. I can’t wait to see what my kids use in college!

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