Apples Educational Annoucement in NYC:Update

There is a 2 in 5 chance of this. If CEO Time Cook does not do the announcement at today’s conference then the odds plummet down to 1 in 100. But it would be a brilliant “one more thing”, certainly fit the educational move Apple is making and gain for Tim Cook a large measure of the Steve Job’s magic if Tim, just before the end of the conference,  announced “just one more thing”,  an aspect of the upcoming iPad 3 – perhaps the retina display and how it is geared for the new Apple iPad educational future. If ye Editor is right remember I have a patent on the idea.

Well Marketing VP Paul Schiller showed up and the 99% won this time – no iPad3 news, no Tim Cook finesse.


Now for the substance. Apple announced a new textbook format and a new iBook 2 app for viewing them and a free Mac iBook Author program for creating the iBooks.  The buzz on the iBook Author App is that it is easy to use for putting together a textbook using prepared text [avoid iBook Author text editing is the word here], images, videos, but of course no Flash animations, JavaFX or Gif animations. Instead users will have to resort to more sophisticated JavaScript, HTML5, etc. No word on PDF resources. Also the iBook2 format only displays in iPad not iPhone nor iPod Touch. and not Android. As well iBook Author works only in Mac OS – so iBooks is quite proprietary.

iBooks Author – free tool for creating iBooks on Macs
Nonetheless, no can argue that the goal of interactivity is good; but with some of the best interactive animation tools thrown to the sidelines [no GIF animations, no Flash, no Java or JavaFX] users will have to see what finally filters through beyond HTML5  SVG/Canvas animations or  jQuery and JavaScript+CSS3  animations. Maybe one of these technologies currently languishing will take off with the help of iBooks

For these textbooks Apple takes its 30% cut from authors but free textbooks are allowed. But all textbooks, free or maximum of $14.99, must be approved by Apple before they can appear in the iBookStore. Given the huge prices for textbooks and the many scholars looking for income, this is a big low hanging fruit opportunity for Apple to again do some lucrative “Creative Destruction”. Here is a good summary of the trade-offs spelled out at iLounge:

There are only four hitches—for now. The first is device compatibility. While iBooks 2 runs on all iOS 4.2 or newer devices, the new interactive textbooks are only supported by iPads—iPhones and iPod touches will sync and display the books in their libraries, but will refuse to run them. Second is publisher support: this new textbook initiative is currently backed by several large and small publishers, but a big one—Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—has nothing in the store now. The third issue is regional: these digital textbooks are only being offered to U.S. customers as of now. Fourth and finally, these new books can be large. The smallest one we’ve seen clocks in at 349MB, with the largest at 2.77GB, so huge that 16GB iPads might struggle to hold a full semester worth of books at once. Based on history, we’re confident that Apple is already taking steps to address all of these issues now, with future updates planned to remedy them.

Missing from this list of cautions are two other caveats. First, iBook 2 ability to incorporate other media and objects like Photoshop PSD with layers, Microsoft XLS, PPT, and WMP; AutoCAD and other 3D formats – are all a mystery. Second, will a next generation of of iBook2 or iPad3 and iPhone 5 be required such that in a 4 year college term users will have to update their software, books, and/or iDevices to make them all work? Apple is infamously Creatively Destructive – just ask Mac Motorola 68000, Mac Power, Mac Intel users[lusting for full touchscreen capabilities] and Mac Flash users/authors – and sometimes very unfairly so.

So the reaction in the Tech Press was surprisingly wide:

Engadget - Apple’s iBooks 2 e-textbooks pack tons of info, take up tons of your iPad’s memory
Gizmodo – You Can’t Afford Apple’s Education Revolution
NYTimes – portrays the business opportunity vis a vis high cost textbooks and support in some universities and educational districts
TechRadar - ” app is obviously free but individual textbooks will cost a bit. Oh, and there’s the added of cost of an iPad – so we’re guessing this is one education for the middle class and privileged.”
theVerge  - iBooks Author restricts all sales to iBookstore, wraps for-pay books in DRM
ZDNet – Ed Bott is really disturbed by the iBook Author EULA  and other aspects of the iBook ecosystem

Ye Editor tends to agree with some of the above. The worry about the size of the textbooks [as big as 2.5GB] can be dealt with by means of a USB/Thunderbolt port on iPad or just expansion of to new, faster 64 and 128GB modules which Apples investment Flash Bit manufacturer should provide. As for the 500-600 cost of the iPad – that may come down dramatically with the annoucement of the iPad 3 in 2 possible way. A 7″inch screen iPad at $300-350 or the new lower price for the iPad 2. The real problem is the continuing trend towards Apple proprietary – IBook Author for Mac only. The limited set of media and other imports into iBooks Author. iBook 2 only runs in iOS and only on iPad so far. It is a continuing proprietary trend by Apple that may just go away as iBook matures. And then again, it may not.