Apple iPad: Is iBooks enough to get Apple back into education?

Not yet. And maybe it never will be, but I think the more interesting question in education is what changes it will force in the textbook market this year.

Not yet. And maybe it never will be, but I'm not quite as willing to write off the iPad announced Wednesday as I was last week. I'm also not as convinced that my midnight snack tonight should consist of too much crow, either. Like most pundits, I was completely underwhelmed by the device, surprised by its price, and dubious about what it brings to the table. I think the more interesting question in education, though, is what it will force to the table in the next year.

iBooks is what really has me wondering. Wednesday, Apple announced partnerships with Penguin, Harper-Collins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and the Hachette Book Group. Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, of course, is one heck of a big textbook publisher and the iPad just happens to be the first multitouch color e-reader(-like) device that can go with interactive textbooks where the Kindle, Sony Reader, and Nook never could.

The iPad, however, has less than a 10" screen, no keyboard, and no stylus (I know, there are accessories and who wants a stylus, right?). What this means is that it's a nice, if small, platform for viewing textbooks, but taking notes via keyboard or handwriting is out. Apple, however, did a couple big favors for education, whether or not any of us embrace the iPad. First, they standardized to EPUB for their iBooks application. EPUB documents can be read on an awful lot of devices, can be implemented with or without DRM, and EPUB is an extensible standard that will grow as ebooks mature.

The second and arguably more important gift that Apple gave us was to partner with a textbook publisher, push them towards interactive book development, and drag them to the EPUB party. Given Macmillan's size, it isn't a significant stretch to expect other publishers to follow a model that lets them get in on the game.

That game, although centered around iBooks and its iTunes-like store for e-books, will ultimately make a lot more interactive (or simply electronic) content available in a format that is highly usable on netbooks, laptops, and desktops. In fact, one could argue that, despite the lack of multitouch, netbooks with their generally larger screens, built-in keyboards, and lower prices might make better e-textbook readers than the iPad. Without the iPad, though, how long would it have taken publishers to jump on the bandwagon?

That being said, there are a few missing links. Although Jobs mentioned textbooks today, I saw a lot of leisure reading and the New York Times. No revolutionary interaction with texts. It's early though, and I'm more than happy to give this time.

The second is price. $499 was shockingly low. Kudos to Apple on that one. Greedy public educator that I am, though, I want more (or actually, less). We haven't seen if Apple will offer an educational discount, but even $50 would bring the iPad in line with Intel's convertible Classmates (which have built-in EPUB reader software, keyboards, styli, and touch capabilities, but aren't nearly as pretty).

The iPad is, as Jason Perlow puts it, most likely a "game changer". In education, though, I think it will change the e-textbook market far more than it will make most of us want to run 1:1 programs with iPads. Anyway it goes, I'm glad the game is finally changing.