Apple's textbook plan's biggest flaw is that it's tied to the iPad

Apple may aim to reinvent the textbook market, but its efforts so far don't show that it wants to do so openly.
Written by Ricardo Bilton, Contributor

Revealed today, Apple's textbook ambitions are, conceptually, air tight: The company plans to inject itself directly between textbook publishers, schools, and students, acting as a middle man for a business model in dire need of updating.

But there are problems, too. ZDNet's Zack Whittaker notes that, while Apple, publishers, and rich schools are clearly the winners with the new developments, groups like poorer students and low-income school districts will clearly lose out.

Jason Kendrick points out another problem -- iPads and careless kids don't go together all that well. "They are simply too thin and fragile to handle the rigors of the school day," Kendrick says of the iPad. "I can easily imagine horrible cracking sounds emanating from backpacks as things are thrown on top of the tablets," he writes.

But there's another issue: Apple's interactive textbooks are tied directly to the iPad. This, granted, is unavoidable, as it's Apple that's done all the legwork to deal with publishers and develop the requisite creation tools. The goal is to tie textbook purchases to iPad purchases, after all. It's a savvy business decision, but Apple's closed ecosystem leaves out in the cold many potential users, especially those who would have a hard time shelling out the cash for a $500 device.

A better route would be the one followed by Amazon's Kindle app. While available on platforms as diverse as Windows, Android, and even iOS, the Kindle app is still tied to Amazon's own ecosystem. This vastly expands the number of potential users while still giving Amazon access to them.

But Apple isn't Amazon. As history as shown, Apple is far more interested in controlling the end-user experience, a possibility not afforded to it if users are reading textbooks on disparate devices like Android tablets and smartphones. Hence why it makes sense that Apple went the route it did.

But on matters of education, this approach is harder to swallow. While many school districts have money set aside for iPad purchases, far many more are dealing with budget cuts and teacher lay offs. If Apple is as serious about improving education as its publicity would lead you to believe, the best solution would be to open up the format to devices and platforms besides the iPad and iOS.

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