TECH TALK

Apple taking on textbooks is a good thing


Published: Sunday, January 29, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 11:21 p.m.

Rewrite the book on the computer industry — check.

Revolutionize the way music is heard, produced and sold — check.

Replace the modern camera and multiply its users exponentially — check.

So, is there much doubt that Apple will make good on its recent initiative of flipping the textbook business on its head?

Sure there will be doubters, as with every other conquest. However, this ancient business model should go down as easy as an injured gazelle to the ferocious Apple lion.

Lugging around a 30-pound bag of books might be the last bastion of exercise for our kids, but let's face it, the modern textbook is not much different from the ancient textbook. Heavy, bulky, expensive, hard to find and boring are just a few common descriptions.

Enter the iPad, iBooks 2, iBook Author, world-class marketing and a history of devouring its competition and you have the recipe for an overhaul not just in textbooks, but potentially in education itself.

The major roadblock, of course, is the fact that it's a $500 device. Touché.

However, you can bet Apple will have a solution for that. This is a company that's already been pushing its products inside schools for years and with healthy discounts.

As with any habit, even tech, it's good to get them hooked at a young age. Both sides have a great deal of incentive to make this work.

As teased in their latest white background video, Apple shows exactly why this will work. It takes a boring device and learning model and makes it fun and exciting.

It's not just the wonders of multi-touch, but being able to interact with the book through audio, video, three-dimensional models and photos and a new notetaking system that should have the folks who peddle highlight markers shaking in their boots.

Let's face it, kids live and thrive in a high-tech environment, yet we ask them to learn in the same fashion our grandparents did. Why just read when you can immerse yourself? When I first handed my 8-year-old an iPad 2, he adapted to it like a new appendage.

We haven't even gotten to higher education.

While the initial announcement dealt more with high school textbooks, the fact they were all under $15 should perk up the ears of most college students.

This is a world where professors call for books that cost more than a hundred dollars just to rent for a semester. Apple is clearly out to break this monopoly.

Their real genius in the entire process comes from the ability to design and publish your own books using iBook Author. For years, professors have padded their own wallets by writing books, study guides and anything else they can get students to buy.

Now, using the usual magic Apple "sauce" software, iBook Author will allow anyone to produce a 21st-century digital textbook with video, photo galleries, text and audio in a slickly designed program. You can even link it with the Keynote presentation application for more cohesive lectures.

These home-cooked textbooks can then be sold and downloaded via the iBookstore or the new iTunes U. Guess who gets a healthy share of the profits?

Apple has employed the same gameplan with all the thrones of its kingdom: Create a must-have device with a ton of buzz and employ a new and cheaper way of doing an important task that was dominated by another industry. They cut out the middleman, which includes the publishers, printers and bookstores.

Certainly that is what is at play here. While the Apple takeover is concerning on many levels, common sense says that the world will be a better place with cheaper books that kids cannot wait to interact with and learn in a way they never have.

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