When Apple announced its textbook initiative, there was a rush of excitement among educators. Textbooks from major publishers, which can cost $40 to $75 dollars in print, would be available as interactive e-books for $15 or less.
The new iBooks Author application could turn anyone into a publisher, with its simple interactive e-book creation tools.
But then there was the small print: In order to buy and read these textbooks, each student will have to own an Apple iPad. No computer, off-brand tablet, or even iPhone or iPod touch will work. Books made with the new iBooks Author application are only viewable on iPads in the iBooks 2 app, can only be sold through Apple’s iBookstore (where the company takes its customary 30 percent of the sales cost), and cannot be exported as ePubs, the standard open format for all e-book files.
For the schools that can afford iPads, Apple’s new apps and partnerships are brimming with potential.
“We looked at each other after the announcement, and said ‘Apple must have been reading our minds. This is exactly what we’ve been talking about,’” said Eric Spross, director of technology at the private Menlo School in Atherton, Calif.
Menlo School’s iPad pilot program has been in place for more than a year. All eighth and tenth graders are given an iPad for the school year, and though the school owns the tablets, the kids have full custody and can take them home.
“We felt that laptops and desktops focus students too much on the technology and not enough on the content or communication with another human,” said Spross. “We choose iPads because they’re lightweight, portable, have a long battery life, and are self-service. They’re easier to support.”