5 Reasons iBooks 2 Naysayers Are Wrong

Almost as soon as Apple finished announcing its new iBooks 2 initiative this week, critics began tearing it down. “It’s not open enough”; “iPads are too expensive”; “Other companies are already doing this.” The list goes on. Never mind the fact that most of these folks hadn’t even tried the new iBooks yet. Why try to appreciate what’s good about Apple’s admittedly grandiose ambitions when it’s so much easier to poke holes in the company’s plans? Here’s why Apple will succeed in transforming education and prove the naysayers wrong.

Complaint No. 1: It’s a walled garden.

One of the main criticisms Apple’s competitors have about iBooks 2 is that you can only use them on the iPad. That’s true, but this only applies to books created using iBooks Author. Nothing prevents a publisher from putting out a nearly identical interactive textbook using the more widely accepted EPUB format. And while there would certainly be work involved in outputting for different types of devices, I could easily envision an Adobe or someone else stepping in to make it easier for publishers to move toward a write-once, run-everywhere solution. I’m not a programming expert, but I imagine this process would be easier than writing apps for multiple platforms.

Complaint No. 2: iPads are too expensive (and fragile) for cash-strapped school districts.

At a time that schools continue to cut costs, the last thing they would seem to have funds for would be hundreds or thousands of iPads. Today, the iPad is quite expensive, at $499, but I expect Apple to keep the iPad 2 around and drop the price by at least $100. That’s still pricey, but it will certainly help get iBooks textbooks into more hands. And over time I’m sure Apple will debut an even lower-cost iPad to compete with the likes of the Amazon Kindle Fire.

For those school districts that are going to make a significant investment in technology over the next few years, where do you think they should put their money, in laptops or in the iPad, which has a more engaging, multitouch interface? Today’s kids don’t need physical keyboards. As to whether iPads are too brittle for kids to handle, a good protective case could go a long way toward making it easier for schools to protect their investments—and to make it easier to share the tablets among multiple students in those schools that can’t afford a 1:1 ratio.

Complaint No. 3: What Apple is doing has been done before.

As the Apple announcement drew near, pioneers in this area understandably trumpeted that they’ve been innovating in the e-textbook space for quite a while. Kno is one good example, which started out trying to market a dual-screen color tablet and then wisely changed course to developing an app. Today, the company offers over 100,000 textbooks, which are accessible on both the iPad and the Web. The problem is that no one really knows this company or any of other Apple’s competitors.  One can’t underestimate the marketing muscle Apple will put behind not only iBooks 2 but iTunes U, which provides students with their course materials through a separate but complementary app. It’s this kind of synergy—and Apple’s already huge presence on campuses—that will give the company a huge advantage.

Complaint No. 4: The books take up too much storage.

There’s no getting around the fact that the new iBooks are very large files. A single biology book download ate up 950 MB on our iPad. At just under 1GB, it wouldn’t take long to fill up a 16GB tablet, which could force school districts to consider purchasing even pricier 32GB or 64GB models. In addition, these files take a long while to download, which requires a high-speed connection. Perhaps in the short term, Apple could experiment with enabling downloads by chapter. But in the medium- to-long-term, Apple could leverage iCloud to stream parts of books or perhaps just audio and video. However, that would require schools to drastically improve their infrastructure. As an alternative, Apple could subsidize 4G connectivity for schools as Amazon has done with the 3G version of the Kindle as the iPad moves to next-generation mobile broadband.

Complaint No. 5: Teachers don’t have the time or energy to learn a new platform.

I know some teachers and education administrators, and I’m pretty sure that many don’t have the inclination to create their own books with iBooks Author. The biggest issue is that the program requires that you use a Mac. In order for Apple to make iBooks truly ubiquitous, it would need to make a version of iBooks Author for Windows, as well as Keynote, which is used to help power the software. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Where I do see a lot of potential is with iBooks 2 itself. It’s in teachers’ best interest to embrace touch-optimized and multimedia-friendly books to help engage their students in new ways. And I suspect that as the iPad takes on more content-creation capabilities, educators won’t need a computer at all to re-imagine learning materials for tomorrow’s digital students.

Bottom Line

Apple faces plenty of obstacles with its new iBooks platform, and I don’t expect those to be overcome this year or even next year. But I’m glad Apple is trying to do more with tablets than double as a universal remote control or stand up to splashes by the pool. Trying to change the way children learn is a laudable goal, and I’m optimistic that iBooks will make that happen. And if Apple forces competitors in this small-but-growing market to pull all-nighters just to keep up, that’s a great thing for everyone.




AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Bill Says:

    Is this writer a shill for Apple? Analysis of Apple’s EULA by other, more sophisticated writers show that Apple can refuse to “publish” a text if, at Apple’s sole discretion, chooses to do so. Why on earth would anyone sane consent to this control over text (aka paper+ink) publishing? At the bottom of it all: Apple doesn’t have the physical platform aka “tablet” to support the sophisticated texts that students use. Their puny little excuse that they call a tablet doesn’t even begin to approximate the visual and esthetic feel of a book. This is just plain disgusting, just awful. I hate it. I hate reading about it. I hate blogging about it. But I’ve got to do it to protect us. The time has arrived. Apple gets its well-deserved smackdown.

  2. MarcXW Says:

    iBooks is a disaster waiting to happen. The price of the iPad may go down, sure, but have you considered the price of replacing the iPad that you dropped, it’s much higher than the price of picking up the book that you dropped . The locked-down experience is way too controlled to enable rational, creative, progressive teaching,… Can you also imagine the distraction that it would be to have a tablet as a textbook?? You use it to watch videos, play games,… This is probably the worst thing to have happened to education since the middle ages. The education system is already getting worse and worse especially in some countries, like the US. Apple’s political and almost religious influence shouldn’t even come near anything having to do with education. This project, to get back to education,… is nothing more than a pathetic excuse to get children, teenagers,… used and addicted to Apple products from a young age, therefore often creating a user base for life. It’s outrageous, disgusting and plain immoral.

  3. Jason Says:

    Seems to me this article is quite biased. As well, a lot of the arguments are just speculation.

    About the iBook not being open enough, well its true. But look at the history of Apple products, when have they ever been open? Never (flash support), and will continue to be so for awhile.

    As for price, ALL apple products are too expensive compared to the competition, yet people still buy it. However, schools would rather save a couple bucks and buy something like the Kindle that can do the same job for much cheaper. And a price drop still seems unlikely, maybe years down the road, when they become obsolete that is. Look at current iProducts, ALL over priced.

    “What Apple is doing has been done before”, yes that’s true, and for much cheaper and much more open. That is why Apple will not succeed.

    Storage is definitively a must, but why pay the premium when you can get a much cheaper tablet with free online storage? Or even swap SD cards (which Apple lacks) loaded with different textbooks?

    As for teachers having to learn a new platform? Yes it is true, but seriously, which public school system do you know can afford a much more expensive Apple platform? Especially when more than 90% of the world uses Windows, I don’t see why schools would pay extra for teachers to learn a new platform.

    This article is extremely biased, and only based on speculation. If you want to persuade people, there has to be cold hard facts, not one’s speculation.

    In the end, Apple will still sell their products to their loyal consumers who make up the 10% of the market at a hefty price.

    PS. You do know that your hyperlink for “splashes by the pool” leads to a page about the Pantech Element tablet, an Android OS tablet right? No where in the article does it mention Apple.

  4. Jinser Says:

    I nearly vomited reading this article. I’m sure that Apple will be reduced to almost nothingness in the coming years thanks to Android.

    This can’t come soon enough.

    Also… the iPhone 4S is a complete joke as I’m sure the iPad 2S will be.

  5. Mike S Says:

    Jason,

    Both links point to other tablets. That’s the point trying to be made. That Apple is trying to innovate beyond just home entertainment connectivity and protective casing, as illustrated by some of its competitors. “SPOONFED” on Laptopmag.com has always been an editorial device. In editorials, you may see from time to time people put forth opinions with which you disagree, and those opinions may not be buttressed with bibliographic references up the wazoo. See: NY Times, Washington Post, Wall St Journal, etc.

    Regards,
    Mike

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