On Thursday, Apple unveiled three new pieces of education software that would collectively kill the heavy, inefficient school textbook once and for all. The free applications -- iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U -- reinvent the way teachers can communicate with their students and revolutionize the way textbooks are written, published and delivered to students. While the e-textbooks look stunning on the iPad 2, there are numerous reasons why Apple has built this system for its next-gen iPad 3, which is believed to arrive in mere weeks for a February unveiling and a March release.
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Apple's senior VP of marketing Phil Schiller said at the unveiling that the iPad is the No. 1 item on teens' wish lists, but there's no denying the attractive power of Apple's supreme tablet across all age verticals. From senior citizens to senior management, and from young adults to young children, the iPad has an impressive reach due to its universal appeal for equal work and play. Other newcomers to the tablet market, like Amazon's Kindle Fire or Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet, have been praised for their achievements in design and pricing, but have not stacked up at all to the power, speed and intuitiveness of the iPad.
The alliance of Apple and education was a long time coming. The U.S. education system is in dire straits, and it desperately needs what Apple has brought to the table.
As Schiller pointed out during the presentation, books are somewhat portable, but carrying a few of them together quickly gets heavy. They're not durable, especially when other students dog ear the pages, highlight text or write comments in the margins. And books certainly aren't interactive, or easily searchable, or really current. New research for almost every subject, from math to science to economics, is constantly pouring in at a rate where book publishers can't possibly keep up.
This is where the iPad's solution, iBooks 2, truly succeeds. The iPad 2 is extremely portable and can carry a near-unlimited amount of books. It's highly durable, and students don't have to worry about highlighting or writing comments because the copies of those textbooks are forever theirs, thanks to Apple's purchasing system and iCloud. Of course, students get the same great content from the book, but they can get even more. With the ability to fluidly add in image galleries, Apple Keynote graphics and 3D images, iBooks 2 is the full realization of the textbook.
Unfortunately, the greatness of iBooks 2 is diminished, only slightly, by the hardware restrictions of the current model iPads. Apple's A5 chip performs at a high enough function to easily handle the navigation and searching done within iBooks, but the 1024-by-768 pixel resolution is only good for basic images and videos. In this way, iBooks 2 is not quite ready for university-level or graduate-level education. If an aspiring doctor can't get the high-quality detail he needs to study the human anatomy, and he can't zoom in to see the labels for every muscle and tissue in the body, the tool is not quite ready, even though the idea is there.
The release of the iPad 3 will solve most of the issues of iBooks 2, namely in presentation and pricing.
The iPad 3 will feature a QXGA display with a 2,048 x 1,536 pixel resolution, which is double the picture quality of the iPad 2. Apple reportedly resolved many issues with battery consumption and heat dissipation in the iPad 3's LED system, so the display will not only be brighter, but also last longer. The true HD display on the iPad 3 will also allow users to see more detailed images, from PDFs to X-rays to MRIs to 3D architectural renderings.
More importantly, the release of the iPad 3 will subsequently drop the prices of the other two iPad models still on the market. If Apple is consistent (which it is), the company will release its next tablet for the same price of the iPad 2 ($499), while the iPad 2 will likely drop to $299, and the original iPad to $199. A $199 iPad could work wonders for Apple, given that the original iPad is still considered leaps and bounds ahead of the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, which both hover around that same $199 price tag. Price is the only way competitors have bested Apple, but that will quickly end when the iPad 3 comes out.
Apple experimented with this pay system in November when it released the iPhone 4S for $199, and reduced the price of its best-selling iPhone 4 to $99, and then making its two-year-old iPhone 3GS model completely free with a two-year contract. A free iPhone was unprecedented, but given Apple's position as one of the most wealthy and valuable companies in the world, it can afford to give away its products.
Giving away cheap products to the masses is what the company's founders always wanted for Apple. Both co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak dreamed of giving away their technology inventions for free, but Jobs knew that he couldn't build a great company without making money. Now that Apple on the proverbial mountaintop, it has the financial freedom to release cheap high-end products like the iPhone and iPod, and intelligent software like iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U.
Jobs, in particular, felt compelled to bring sweeping changes to higher education for much of his life. When he left Apple and launched NeXT in 1986, Jobs wanted the company's first computer -- a distinctive all-black magnesium cube -- to be designed specifically for higher education establishments and what Jobs called "aggressive end users."
"What we realized was that higher ed wants a personal mainframe," Jobs said at the NeXT Computer launch in October 1988. "There has not been an advancement in the state of the art of printed book technology since Gutenberg."
Jobs's NeXT Computer was one of the very first computers to include Shakespeare's works, a dictionary, thesaurus, and the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, and the first to make all of these books searchable. It was this same NeXT platform that Tim Berners-Lee created the world's first server for the World Wide Web in 1991.
Before Jobs died on Oct. 5, 2011, he told his biographer Walter Isaacson that he still had desires to transform the textbook market.
"[Jobs] believed it was an $8 billion a year industry ripe for digital destruction," Isaacson wrote. "He was also struck by the fact that many schools, for security reasons, don't have lockers, so kids have to lug a heavy backpack around.
"'The iPad would solve that,' he said. His idea was to hire great textbook writers to create digital versions, and make them a feature of the iPad. In addition, he held meetings with the major publishers, such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple.
"'The process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt,' he said. 'But if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don't have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent the whole process and save money.'"
When the iPad 3 is finally released in early March, the chain reaction of price deductions, paired with the high resolution of the new tablet, will solidify iBooks's standing as the ultimate replacement to the textbook.