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A First Take on Apple’s New Education Tools

Apple Inc

Image by Phil Bradley via Flickr

Apple, as everyone connected to the Internet already knows by now, has just announced a new set of tools for creating educational content. I am still digesting the announcement, but some things are plain.

Look to the ecosystem, not the product.  While products naturally attract our attention, Internet companies look to the broader marketing environment. Thus iTunes launched to accompany the first iPod; it wasn’t a question of just creating a nifty device. Tech adoptions are always chicken-and-egg:  the platform needs the applications, the applications need a platform. So to think about the new authoring tools without reference to the rest of the marketing structure is to underestimate the sophistication of Apple’s thinking.

There will be countless free apps available for the iPad. This is the pump primer. The free apps get people to say, Why not go out and purchase an iPad? There will be more sophisticated apps later, and many of them will fetch a price, but the agenda for Apple is platform adoption and free content helps Apple achieve this. Let’s never forget that Apple is not in the same business as publishers.

Look for Apple’s sales force to try to sell huge numbers of iPads to schools. In the K-12 market, tablets are viewed as an inexpensive way to get computers into kids’ hands. Even an expensive iPad costs less than a Windows laptop. So we should expect that Apple’s sales people will be telling school district purchasing heads that they can get computers for all the kids for a low price, and guess what? They come with a huge number of free educational applications.

Adoption in higher education will take longer. This is because at most institutions, students, not the colleges, purchase hardware. A college instructor may want to use an app for the iPad for his or her class, but may be reluctant to ask the kids to purchase the tablet machine. On the other hand, there are segments of higher ed where the institutions are taking greater responsibility for the purchase of materials, including community colleges, for-profit institutions, and the less prestigious four-year colleges. Apple will be hitting those prospects hard.

The publishers’ dream of creating content once and having it run everywhere is just that, a dream. We will all be nostalgic for Microsoft soon, which for about a decade or two essentially developed and controlled a standard for all computing. Those days are gone. There will be some publishers who will develop products for all available platforms (at great expense) and others who will focus on one platform alone (giving up a big piece of the market). But these are difficult days for publishers because platform wars have come to the book business.

Will the textbook publishers that are supporting Apple’s new tools come to regret it?  Heh.

There will be much more to be said, and by many people, about Apple’s announcement in the days ahead. Stay tuned. Or as we may all be saying soon, stay i-Tuned.

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About Joseph Esposito

I am a management consultant working primarily in the world of digital media, software, and publishing. My clients include both for-profits and not-for-profits. A good deal of my activity concerns research publishing, especially when the matter at issue has to do with the migration to digital services from a print background. Prior to setting up my consulting business, I served as CEO of three companies (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Tribal Voice, and SRI Consulting), all of which I led to successful exits. Typically I work on strategy issues, advising CEOs and Boards of Directors on direction; I also have managed a number of sticky turnarounds. Among other things, I have been the recipient of grants from the Mellon, MacArthur, and Hewlett Foundations, all concerning research into new aspects of publishing.

Discussion

18 thoughts on “A First Take on Apple’s New Education Tools

  1. I don’t know, I get the sense that this makes vastly more sense for higher education (college and graduate school) than it does for K-12. School districts are strapped for funds, how are they going to come up with $500 to buy every single student an iPad, let alone support the IT infrastructure they’ll need to fully employ them? Right now they’re buying textbooks and re-using them year after year, sometimes even for decades. The same can’t be true for an iPad.

    But in college, students are buying their own textbooks, rather than using the ones freely supplied by the school district. Suddenly, the idea of spending $500 on an iPad and then $15 per textbook makes more sense when faced with the alternative of buying dozens of $150-plus textbooks.

    A few other points from our Twitter feed–
    Apple calls the book “not durable”, and that seems a bit confusing. When the school bus runs over your backpack, which is more likely to survive, your textbook or your iPad? I have textbooks from college that are (yikes) nearly 30 years old. I can still access the information in them, but this is not the case for the floppy discs and file formats I was using back then.

    Also, this TechCrunch article makes a good point about technology being more of a distraction than a boon to learning at early levels:

    http://techcrunch.com/2012/01/19/ipads-and-digital-textbooks-do-not-belong-in-classrooms-yet/

    Which gibes well with this recent article about how so many tech leaders send their children to schools that ban screens in the classroom:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html

    Posted by David Crotty | Jan 19, 2012, 3:04 pm
    • $15 per textbook? Hahahaha.

      Posted by Sceptic | Jan 19, 2012, 6:45 pm
      • Well, that’s the price point Apple announced today, and what they’re selling the initial textbooks for. We’ll see if it lasts.

        Posted by David Crotty | Jan 19, 2012, 6:54 pm
      • More on this here:

        http://allthingsd.com/20120119/apples-new-math-or-why-a-15-ebook-equals-a-75-paper-book/

        According to the article, the average text like those featured today sells for $75 and a district will use them for 5 years. Here you’re selling for $15 a piece, but you’ll need to buy a new copy for each student every year (5 years X $15 = $75).

        Note that the representative from McGraw Hill calls this “pilot pricing” whereas Apple states, “This isn’t pilot pricing,” he said. “All of our books will be $14.99.”

        We’ll see who blinks first.

        Posted by David Crotty | Jan 19, 2012, 9:14 pm
    • Surely, Apple will give significant discounts on bulk purchases of iPads for school districts. How low they will go with the price remains to be seen, but it won’t cost $500 per pupil.

      Posted by Sandy Thatcher | Jan 20, 2012, 12:14 pm
      • Even discounted, it’s still an additional expense. If the district buys a book for $75 and uses it for 5 years, the total cost is $75 for 5 years of classes. If a district buys an iPad for $X and it buys a new copy of the eBook each year for $15, then the cost at the end of 5 years is $75 plus $X.

        Factor in also upkeep, support, wifi, repair of damaged iPads, etc. That’s a big undertaking for a financially strapped school district.

        Posted by David Crotty | Jan 20, 2012, 12:36 pm
  2. Apple’s EULA apparently claims an exclusive right to all sales of any books made with the new authoring tools:

    http://venomousporridge.com/post/16126436616/ibooks-author-eula-audacity

    Posted by David Crotty | Jan 19, 2012, 5:27 pm

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