As we previously reported, Apple will be hosting a media event in the Big Apple later this week. Hardware Hungry consumers could care less, however, as the New York Times has confirmed that on Thursday, January 19, 2012, Apple will conduct a media event surrounding education. According to the NYT:
The event will showcase a new push by Apple into the digital textbook business, but will not feature any new devices, according to a person close to the company who did not want to be identified talking about it before it occurred.
It is surprising to me that there has been little coverage or anticipation for this event, and I believe the apparent lack of hardware is the reason. Over the past few years, the greedy consumer market has become ‘hardware hungry,’ and there is no better example than the iPhone 4S announcement, when Tim Cook stood on-stage in relative silence after the “heartbreaking” disappointment. No iPhone 5, the crowd sighs in disbelief.
As the public is only enticed by more and more advanced gadgetry, we easily forget the ability for software to revolutionize the way we use our devices. It is the synergy between hardware and software driving electronics to change the way we interact, make us more productive, and have fun while doing it. What if we were all still using iOS 3.1.3? To list a few features we would not be enjoying: Notification Center; Banner Notifications; Exchange Server access; wallpapers; iMessage; native Twitter integration; Multitasking; and, iCloud. Software, namely iOS 5, completely revolutionized the way we interact with iPhone and, consequently, each other.
Why it Matters
To simply dismiss the Education Announcement in New York is short-sighted. There are many ways Apple could positively manipulate the educational environment. Perhaps Apple will introduce a proprietary way for students to interact with teachers and professors in the classroom using iOS devices. Kids already use their computers, iPods, and iPhones in class. Why not develop a way to harness students’ desire to use technology into an positive instructional/interactive tool? Or, Apple could reinvent the iTunes U program, with easy ways for instructors to record and podcast their teachings in a standardize format.
As the event is in New York, the publishing capital of the world, the Education Announcement will most likely focus on textbooks. It is widely known that Apple had been researching the textbook industry for some time. The iBooks app does a good job of distributing books to iOS devices, but there is not a booming market for e-textbooks. Apple could effectively destroy campus retailers by releasing a lower cost electronic textbook for students. Most notably, an electronic textbook would be cheaper to produce and get into students’ hands. Without the printing and shipping costs, textbook companies could produce an electronic representation and upload it to the iBookstore.
A Hypothetical Example
Using electronic textbooks would change a college student’s life. Let’s walk through a hypothetical e-textbook scenario with Julia, the second semester Junior at the University of College:
Julia is attending the first day of classes for the semester, already knowing it is going to be a cake-walk. Syllabus day, she thinks to herself. Once ACCT 3065 class starts in TORG 1116, she notes that two Accounting books are needed for this class and suddenly her easy day is shot. Julia begrudgingly decides which of the three bookstores she will have to fight her way through to get a textbook. Suddenly, she remembers her iPad can now download textbooks through iBooks AND, thanks to the new iBooks app for OSX Lion, her bookmarks, notes, highlights, and progress will be saved across all of her platforms, even her iPhone.
Before the end of class, Julia downloads the textbooks electronically and it was automatically uploaded to her other compatible devices, “thanks, iCloud!” she exclaims. Because the professor has added the homework to the electronic textbook table of contents, she has the first chapter read while the rest of the class browses Facebook. Now, thanks to electronic textbooks, Julia only needs to throw her iPad or MacBook Pro in her bag when she bolts out the door to catch the Transit.
The electronic textbook provides a way for her classmates to: arrange a class-based social group with integrated class roster; plan study sessions utilizing iCal; swap notes; interact with the professor during class; and, compare chapter quiz scores for friendly competition. The best part of the electronic textbook is the pictures, graphs, charts, and formulas are all interactive. Simply tapping a picture removes the text, enlarges the photo, and plays a quick movie clip to further explain the image. Additionally, when traveling home for the weekend, Julia could use the audiobook feature and listen to Monday’s chapter, which leaves more time for hanging out with dear old Mom and Dad.
The electronic textbook would completely change classroom interaction and student cognitive and social behaviors. Although technology would be the central focus of the interactions, students could more easily interact during and after class. Ultimately, iBooks and other iterations (for OSX Lion and Windows, so everyone can be involved) could effectively assist students by creating a co-curricular exchange using technology.
Wrapping it Up
To you, the negative pessimist of software upgrades – the hardware hungry consumer: do not underestimate the ability for software to revolutionize as well. Hardware isn’t the only thing that improves our electronic lives. Software can not only change the way we interact with our devices, but also our interaction with each other. The classroom may forever change after Thursday’s announcement, and for the sake of college students everywhere, I hope my predictions are correct.
Thursday will bring some excellent progress to the area of textbooks… but could they be called textbooks after such an overhaul? “Text” and “book” will be the most rudimentary aspect to an electronic textbook.
What do you think might happen with the textbook industry this Friday and what would you call the new “textbook?” Comment below or tweet @jim_gresham.