As the parent of a 3-year old, I've found myself increasingly thinking about her future education as her intellect and willpower continue to develop with breathtaking speed. This parental perspective really drives my appreciation for Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) announcement today on how the iPad will revolutionize the very foundations of education.
It may not be as exciting as an iPhone or iPad launch, but its societal implications are arguably deeper and more profound than the shiniest new gadget with the latest tech specs. I'd wager that any parent out there would hands-down agree that the significance of their child's education easily trumps getting an iPhone with more processing cores or featuring a camera with more megapixels.
A new level of engagement
Despite the fact that Apple's unveiling today was an easy prediction, seeing it in action still tugs at your heartstrings nonetheless, in typical Apple fashion. Cupertino is rolling out an update to its iOS iBooks app, called iBooks 2, which is already available in its App Store.
By going digital, the material has the potential to engage students in ways that aren't possible with static pages. Apple featured interviews with teachers who expressed that difficulty in engaging students is one of the biggest challenges of their jobs, whereas they described the feeling of elation when they see something click in a student's eyes.
Utilizing interactive content through fluid diagrams and animations addresses challenges that traditional textbooks could never overcome. Not only does content quickly become outdated, but some information is so complex and dynamic that fixed images don't do it justice, like a cell membrane for example.
iBooks 2 will also include note-taking capabilities, study cards, and quizzes that provide immediate feedback.
Bonus winners: trees and spines
An iPad weighs 1.33 pounds. I remember lugging between 20 and 30 pounds of textbooks to and from classes when I was in high school and college. We're talking about a lot of weight in paper just for a handful of classes, much less the number of curriculum courses students take throughout their educational career.
Transitioning to digital textbooks is long overdue, and we'll cumulatively be able to cut down on enormous paper usage, while saving students' spines from having to tote around a mass of paper on a daily basis.
You be the author
Taking it to the next level, Apple is providing a free new iBooks Author app for the Mac that allows anyone to create their own interactive e-book. It's not limited to textbooks; anyone can create any type of book to publish to the iBookstore, which rivals Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN ) own Kindle Direct self-publishing tools.
Teachers will be able to create their own customized material for their classes, complete with Multi-Touch interactivity. Anything submitted directly to Apple's iBookstore would go through an approval process similar to its other content stores before being made available.
Major content publishers McGraw-Hill (NYSE: MHP ) , Pearson (NYSE: PSO ) , and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are already on board, which represent about 90% of textbook sales in the United States. Digital textbooks only comprised about 3% of the market last year, and that figure is expected to double to 6% this year and soar to more than half of all textbooks by 2020.
McGraw-Hill CEO Terry McGraw said, "Digitization of education is going to be the opportunity of the century," adding that it "brings the curriculum alive." Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino similarly echoed this sentiment, saying, "We need to engage children; we need to live in the world they live in."
Through the cost savings and alternative distribution model provided by digitization, textbook e-book prices will be $15 or less, far cheaper than current paper offerings that go for around $75. Instead of selling textbook editions directly to public schools that use them for an average of five years before updating, publishers will sell updated books directly to students each year.
The future of education
Digitization is the future of education, and Apple and Amazon will be competing to lead the way. The educational market will be another driver for iPad sales in the coming years, while publishers and educators alike will be able to reach students in a more meaningful way.
One key distinction with Apple's and Amazon's current approaches is that most of Amazon's educational e-books are offered through the Kindle, which doesn't offer the same level of interactivity as the iPad does. This could easily change if Amazon were to expand into its Kindle Fire, not to mention its rumored Kindle Fire 2, but for the time being Apple has an advantage here.
As a parent, beyond giving me another excuse to eventually buy my daughter an iPad, it's exciting to consider how digital textbooks will help unlock her intellectual potential.