So I Like iBooks 2 But I Can't Afford an iPad. What Now?

Carrie Schmelkin : Gossip from the Hallways
Carrie Schmelkin
Web Editor, TMC

So I Like iBooks 2 But I Can't Afford an iPad. What Now?

When I think back on high school, some of my fondest memories include being able to take electives like Creative Writing and Introduction to Psychology, enjoying “Senior Beach Day” (which marked the start of second semester), attending basketball games decked out in school colors and, of course, making lifelong friendships. One memory I would rather forget – the back pains associated with four years of carrying around up to five textbooks a day (which was only exacerbated in college).

Fortunately for current students out there, Apple has your back (literally) as the tablet empire today unveiled iBooks 2, a platform that “reinvents the textbook.”

“The textbook is not always the ideal learning tool," Philip Schiller, Apple's vice president of marketing, explained to audience members at New York City’s Guggenheim Museum in New York City this morning. Textbooks are too cumbersome, worn out, scribbled on and not portable, he noted. "They're just not the ideal modern teaching tool."

With iBooks 2, kids can trade in the scuffed up, passed down textbook for a new iPad experience which allows them to enjoy interactive features like 3D models, videos within chapters, and manipulatable elements throughout the books. For example, when the book is rotated vertically, users can enjoy a reflowed layout that emphasizes text. Conversely, when the book is held horizontally, the emphasis is on images and interaction.

Some of the neatest features of iBooks 2 include the fact that it allows kids to view 3D images of the frog they dissect, swipe their finger to get to the next page, tap words that they don’t know to connect with the book’s glossary and get feedback if they were right or wrong with how they answered questions at the end of a chapter quiz.

The app is available via download toady through the iBookstore and textbooks can be purchased immediately at $14.99 or less. Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have already made their books available through the app. While the platform will eventually include all grade levels, for now Apple is concentrating obtaining high school level textbooks.

Among all the hoopla and kudos thrown around at today’s event, one very crucial question became evident. What is a kid or school supposed to if it can’t afford an iPad?

Let’s argue that you are a college student, for example, who has to buy five textbooks for a semester, all of which are now available through iBooks 2. Here’s some math for you: Say your average college textbook costs $100. Well, $100 a book multiplied by five books a semester comes to $500, the exact price of a low-end iPad. So, in theory, you could rationalize that if you spend $500 for the iPad and buy your five books at $14.99 through the iBookstore, that will come to $574.75. And after that initial upfront investment for the iPad, you will essentially pay yourself back for the iPad over your next four years in college because you never have to buy expensive textbooks again. But, this equation (and maybe Apple’s marketing team) is not taking into the account that after every semester you can sell your books back, you can share a book with a classmate to defray costs, or you can find the material online used for much cheaper.

Either way you slice it, to enjoy iBooks 2, you have to be willing to fork over a large amount of money. I feel comfortable speaking for the 20-somethings when I say that vast the majority of us do not have tablets, as we are constantly grappling with whether we want a big chunk of our hard earned money going to a device that in some ways is no different than a laptop. I can only imagine that a college student, who has limited if no income, might feel even more strongly.

Now, for high school and middle school students, I would assume Apple is ready to make some sort of discounted deal with districts who agree to purchase X amount of iPads for students and textbooks through iBooks 2. Apple might even argue that this in some way will be cheaper for the school than paying for new hardcover books each year. But, in a time in which districts are facing the pressure to keep their budgets low so towns don’t have to raise taxes, I don’t know how well that will go over.

And for the district that says the onus is on the parents to make this innovation possible, I bet the vast majority of parents do not want their kids begging them for any more expensive technology.

So, is Apple going to consider reducing the price of the iPad to make their latest offering more desirable? Will Apple give schools discounts to buy iPads in bulk? And will textbook distributors still remain on board when they start to see their revenue take a toll?

I don’t think the Magic Eight Ball has a clear answer just yet.



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