Apple – Tools for Textbooks  

First music, then movies and books. Apple continues to pressure old school media distribution models into the digital age. While eBooks are not new, they are really only now emerging from a relatively experimental phase. Images have more recently accompanied text in ebooks for Kindle and iBooks and the case for digital novels has been strong, yet the beautifully crafted paper and ink objects we know and love for deeply stimulating our senses have not nearly seen strong digital analogs. Barnes and Noble is still a wonderful experience, mostly because we are assaulted by rich color, detailed art and palpable variations in weight, size and texture.

The richest learning experiences for the very young are still centered around print media, however, the iPad has begun to change that, being a device that every three year old can learn to use as quickly as a book. The only limitations are price, parents unwillingness to risk an expensive device in the hands of a toddler, and the relative lack of children’s books available in electronic format. Today there are more iPads in homes than in schools, therefore more opportunities for exposure and adoption.

School children, college students and educators have no choice though. Although alternative audiovisual learning media has become more accessible and easier to produce, textbooks remain the core. Publishers and the print industry are heavily invested in keeping textbooks as they are, dense, heavy, expensive and sleep inducing. Today’s toddlers are going to expect something different tomorrow.

Apple made tools available today to tip the book printing industry even more, perhaps enough to create a sea change similar to the recent evolution of music distribution. Only one more step towards a future that has been imagined for decades by many and tried by some, yet is big and may be successful this time in the light of unprecedented popularity of the iPad.

Seymour Papert, an advocate for computers in education since the 60’s, frequently related computers to pencils and suggested that, to be effective tools in education, computers, like pencils, need to be ubiquitous and easy to use.

We’re getting closer.

January 19th, 2012