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.