Apple hopes its foray into digital textbooks for the iPad will impress educators and corner a huge, lucrative K-12 book market. But the high costs of the plan and the challenges of mobile technology could ensure that hardback books remain a classroom mainstay.
Will Apple create an all-iPad classroom and realize Steve Jobs' vision to transform the multibillion-dollar textbook industry? In January, the Cupertino company announced iBook 2, a digital textbook service in partnership with three big publishers that dominate the K-12 market. The electronic books will sell for $14.99.
It sounds like an irresistible deal for the dazzling, interactive books that Apple touts. But it would require a huge investment in technology at a time of shriveling school budgets. Teacher training and teacher resistance also pose a challenge. Publishers will issue iBooks for new, not existing, curriculum -- but to save money California has suspended adoption of new textbooks until 2015. And then there's the question of making Facebook and YouTube accessible to every student who's supposed to be researching Troy or looking up differential equations.
While iPads and other mobile devices ultimately may send textbooks the way of the slate, whether Apple's textbook service will become what iTunes is to music is another question. What puts educators off is not just the $499 sticker price -- $475 if purchased in batches of 10 -- for the basic iPad (add $35 for a case).