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Apple Dives Into Textbook Game

University Business, March 2012

On January 19, Apple held a much-hyped education event at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City where the company revealed its move into the textbook distribution market with the release of the iBooks 2 and iBooks Author apps.

Notable for its higher ed implications, iBooks Author is available as a free download from the Mac App Store and lets anyone with a Mac create iBooks textbooks and publish them to Apple’s iBookstore. Education technology experts weigh in on how this could change how professors disseminate information.

Jody Forehand, vice president of product planning for Luidia, a provider of interactive eBeam technology used to capture and share content, says she foresees that, in the early stages of iBooks Author, the content produced will “sit more in the middle of the spectrum of the course materials that a professor currently produces and posts on a cloud-based service (like Blackboard) and a formal textbook.”

“I don’t see the content that’s produced by iBook Author replacing what folks are doing to create a textbook anytime soon,” Forehand adds.

Rey Junco, a professor in the Department of Academic Development and Counseling at Lock Haven University (Pa.) who researches social media and technology trends in higher ed, says many professors may be turned off by Apple’s End User License Agreement, which only allows the user to distribute content through the iBookstore. “I think the professors who are savvy enough to use it might actually be tempted to go with a more open solution,” he says.

Another issue is access.

“I’m really concerned about how this will affect students from lower socio-economic groups, as well as minority students,” he says, pointing to research that shows these groups use technology differently and may not have access to an iPad, with a cost starting at $499. “Unless the institution gives you the iPad, then I think you’re placed at a disadvantage if you’re from a low-income family.”

Apple also announced a new iTunes U app, designed to give educators and students everything they need on their iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch to teach and take entire courses. Among the offerings is the world’s largest catalogue of free educational content, along with over 20,000 education apps and hundreds of thousands of iBooks.