Apple keeps pushing education revolution with iPad Mini and new iBooks Author
Back in January when Apple unveiled iBooks 2 and the company's overall strategy for textbooks and education, we said that the move was on the verge of revolutionary, but had some problems. The announcement of the iPad Mini has solved at least one of those issues, and the addition of the updated iBooks Author app has helped to cover even more ground.
The simple fact is that tablets have a natural home in education. Printed textbooks are expensive, easily out-dated, and often don't offer much for students who are visual learners, and nothing as far as auditory learners. Tablets offer an interactive experience, and a multimedia experience, so it makes perfect sense that they make their way into the education system. Not surprisingly, Apple wants to be the one to sell those tablets to the schools.
Apple has a history with its products in the education system, and according to Tim Cook, in the last year iPads have made it into 2,500 schools in the US. That number obviously sounds good as it was presented, with no context, but the number is less impressive if you take into account that there are close to 140,000 schools in the US (~130,000 primary/secondary and ~6,700 post-secondary as of 2010 according to the National Center for Education Statistics). Still, it's a good start given what has been offered on the iPad up until now.
The iBooks Author update
Tim Cook also said that iBooks textbooks already cover 80% of the core high school curriculum, and we have to imagine that the last 20% that was missing is directly related to one of the updates announced yesterday that has gone a bit under the radar. The general consensus has been that the update to the iBooks Author tool was somewhat minor, but the one update that many people are overlooking is that books can now have mathematical expressions. Just think about that for a second. Mathematical expressions couldn't be added properly before, meaning huge limitations not only on any math textbooks, but also limiting a large amount of books in all sciences.
There's a reason why when Tim cook announced that feature, he had an aside where he said, "This is a big one". Mathematical expressions are a huge addition to a wide range of textbooks. Not only will that one update help to close out the rest of the core high school curriculum that hasn't been covered by iBooks yet, it will help Apple to push more into higher education.
The other key update to iBooks Author is that it is now much easier and faster to update books. One of the major issues we thought about with the iBooks textbook plan was the pricing of the books, which was aimed at being $14.99 or less. As you know if you've taken any college courses, traditional books can cost hundreds of dollars. Of course, the idea was that school bookstores buy one copy of a textbook every 5 years at $80 each, which is how Apple got to the $15 mark. The theory is that rather than school bookstores selling a book then buying it back, Apple will get the money, publishers get the money, and students get books that can be corrected and updated. It was a good plan, except for the updating of the books, which should now be fixed with the new tool.
The iPad mini
The cost issue was also one that we saw as a roadblock as far as schools adopting the hardware as well, but the iPad mini addresses that concern a little bit. Obviously, if you compare it to the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire, the price of an iPad mini is still pretty high, but two things should be considered. First, while Android does have textbooks, the best source of textbooks on Android is the Kindle app, and textbooks are far more expensive there, closer to traditional print textbooks. Second, the Kindle Fire obviously has the textbooks offered through Amazon, but the Kindle Fire is still a very limited platform in general because of the customizations done by Amazon.
At the end of the day, the cheaper textbooks alone could swing the issue towards Apple, but there's still no guarantee that the iBooks Store will have the textbooks. Of course, the Kindle app is also available on iOS, which should cover any blind spots in the iBooks catalog. This doesn't necessarily mean that Apple is the best option, just that the added initial cost of the iPad mini may be balanced out over the long haul, which is key for budget conscious schools. And, cost aside, Apple has also been working hard to build up the iTunesU offerings.
The revolution that Apple is pushing for is still a ways off, but Apple is putting in the groundwork to be successful in the endeavor. Amazon and Google still have time to catch up, and obviously the means to deliver with their inexpensive tablets. Unfortunately, even with the means to deliver, neither quite has the visibility of Apple, which can often go a long way in cases like this. Google is still a company that is more known for web services, like Search, Maps, Gmail, and YouTube. The Play Store is making great strides, but it still isn't as established in the public consciousness as iTunes. Amazon is more well known as the place you buy physical goods, and books, not necessarily textbooks and teaching tools.
Apple not only has the established content store in iTunes, and the place in the public consciousness (partially due to lazy traditional media that use iPad or iPhone to refer to all tablets or smartphones), but Apple also spends far more on marketing than either Google or Amazon (or possibly both combined, because Google really spends almost nothing on marketing). Combine that with the fact that Apple has been making deals with schools for at least 20 years, and Apple definitely has an advantage when it comes to getting products into classrooms. Apple has build the groundwork to be successful here, but education is a slow wheel to move, so adoption will likely continue to be sluggish, which is only trouble for Apple as the competition has time to catch up.