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Will Textbooks Be The Killer iPad App?

by Sean P. Aune | February 5, 2010February 5, 2010 8:12 am PDT

While everyone seems focused on the entertainment possibilities of Apple’s iPad, it could be the potential uses of this device in classrooms that could make it one of the biggest successes Apple has ever seen.

ipad350Since the debut of Amazon’s Kindle, pundits have been speculating that the device could be a potential replacement for textbooks in classrooms everywhere, and especially in universities where students have to purchase their own textbooks.  Who really wants to carry around a backpack full of heavy, expensive textbooks when you could just walk into class carrying something light like a Kindle?  Pilot programs were announced after the launch of the Kindle DX at Arizona State University, Princeton, Reed College, UVA Darden School of Business, and Case Western Reserve University.  At least two schools that were added later, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University, ended up rejecting the potential replacement citing the lack of a suitable feature set.

The problems for the Kindle DX stemmed from its text-to-speech feature coming under fire from the Author’s Guild, wherein authors didn’t not feel they were being suitably compensated for this feature reading their works.  Eventually the Author’s Guild won its case, and the feature was disabled, which in turn meant that visually or cognitively impaired students would not be able to use the device as easily.

There was also some questions of how well the device would work since it lacked a color screen for displaying charts, graphs, pictures and so on properly.  There is only so much a screen with 16 shades of gray can properly represent.

And now here are with the full-color iPad featuring a 9.7-inch screen that could properly display a text book just about any way you want.  It was rather odd that at the iPad announcement event, while deals with major book publishers were announced, not one word was said about the possible educational applications of the newest device.  According to sources that spoke to The Wall Street Journal recently, textbooks were a definite consideration in the development of the iPad, Apple just hadn’t completely formulated its plan as of yet.

However, it appears that textbook publishers aren’t waiting for Apple to formulate a plan, and are instead working with application developers to get their books on to the iPad as soon as possible.  Apparently several companies have already struck deals with ScrollMotion Inc to develop applications that would allow students to play video, highlight text, record lectures, take printed notes, search the text and participate in interactive quizzes on the device.

What is missing from this equation is the potential for the disabled students to access the texts.  This hurdle might be circumvented though by the iPad textbooks simply being an alternative to schools officially adopting them as textbook replacements.  If it is not a device chosen by the school, then such considerations don’t need to be made, but if a student has an option of purchasing a physical book, or an iPad version, than that is choice left up to each student to choose the solution that best suits their needs.

The iPad isn’t the only device digital textbooks are being developed for, but it sure seems like this idea could be something that would drive sales of the newest Apple gadget.  You could purchase a $499 version and it could potentially carry you through all four years of college, making up the purchase price of the device in the savings of buying virtual textbooks compared to their physical counterparts.  There is also the factor that Apple offers discounts to students already, and also has pre-existing deals with some schools for even better deals.

If enough text books show up on the iPad to make it attractive to students, this device could take off like a rocket as students flock to purchase one and stop carrying around all of those excessively heavy textbooks.

What do you think, would you flock to the iPad if it meant you could carry textbooks around in a device only .5-inches thick and weighs 1.5 lbs?


Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...

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