Thoughts on Apple’s Education Event

Really this could just be Thoughts on Apple’s Education Strategy in general because it has come into focus more than just a little bit. You can find some links to information about the specific announcements here.

I’ll split it up into the individual announcements first and then an overall closing about the whole thing together. I don’t have much to go on, but I’ll do what I can to get my thoughts in order.

iBooks 2 and iBooks Textbooks

They are one in the same because textbooks are the big thing announced for the iPad with iBooks 2. I’m sure there are other, smaller updates to the software, but iBooks Textbooks for iPad is the BIG THING.

They look good, and the proof will always be in how they are used and received, but it seems like a huge step forward for the education community on a number of fronts.

  • Here is a large corporation really saying “we are going to be putting effort into education”
  • They offer not just the software, but actual devices to use the software with

Apple is taking the guesswork out of this right now. It is going to be an extremely hard sell to cash-strapped schools, but it is also going to be a compelling package for those who have the money and are looking to really push things in a different direction. I haven’t used an electronic textbook, so I have no opinion on how appropriate what they showed at the event is for learning environments.

The drop in the price of textbooks from traditional publishers should be tempered with the knowledge that the books are tied to an individual account, and the idea is that they are not reusable but tied to the student (I think that was stated). What they lose in absolute price they gain in volume. Will a school or district put into the budget having to purchase all new electronic textbooks every year? Probably not, but this is just the beginning so we will have to see how it pans out.

iBooks Author

The first real piece of software made exclusively for authoring media-rich electronic books that I am aware of is exciting because it is the first. Also, it is the first, so there are going to be issues. It looks easy to use and very iWork-ish, so keep that in mind.

Here are some things to be aware of:

  • It runs only on the Mac
  • The files it produces can only be read in iBooks 2 on the iPad
  • They are not ePubs
  • They are decidedly for Apple ecosystem only
  • They can only be sold (for money) through the iBooks

We’ll see how long the restrictions last and if they add a generic ePub export option, but I think, more importantly, it opens up the media rich electronic book world to millions of people who otherwise wouldn’t know where to start. That can be powerful.

It can also push other companies to come along and release competing software.

iTunes U

Maybe the most interesting part of this whole event, iTunes U is now an application for the iPhone and iPad that branches out from just supplying media material (like it has been within iTunes) and into a sort of Learning Management System Lite of sorts. Not you can take whole classes from the application along with download new material.

It’s an interesting concept and they have some big name colleges and universities signed up already to supply classes. It will be interesting to see if this pushes other LMS companies to try and “appify” their offerings or if iTunes U even competes in that realm.

They also opened it up to K-12, which opens up a new set of possibilities for home schooling and the like. It would also be cool to be able to download the material your child misses while sick or on vacation so that they can keep up.

Closing Thoughts

This isn’t going to change things overnight, and Apple is probably not going to be the one to own this market. All of these announcements make the iPad a more compelling device for the education market, and I think it is safe to say that the iPad is Apple’s best shot at becoming a large player in that market again.

Some more general thoughts have come up though and it revolves around lowering the bar for publishing textbooks.

  • Will it lower the price of materials, thus allowing schools to have better access to more up-to-date texts for students
  • Will it usher in an era of specialized texts being used in more subjects because experts can publish their own texts on specific subjects
  • There is an underserved market of home schooled students who might now have access to high-quality textbooks at reasonable prices (great for the family)

Those are just the general ones. If prices on electronic textbooks goes down, will this also allow more schools to have mandatory personal technology in the classroom? What will we change to accommodate these new devices? How about the opportunity for better disability learning in classrooms as well?

As with any announcement, there is going to be a lot of crud being written about the specifics and you can ignore almost all of it. This is a much larger topic than most will talk about and it will take a long time for things to work themselves out. The fun part is that it seems like Apple is coming along for the ride and maybe they can push the right buttons to bring the rest of the industry along with them like they did with the original iPhone.