Apple Did Not Revolutionize Education

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Recently, my fellow Fool Evan Niu wrote that Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iBooks 2 will revolutionize education. I, with all respect to Evan and his opinion, disagree. Once you look past the flashiness of the new technology and think about the realities of bringing iPads to the classroom, Apple's business model simply doesn't work.

Wasted potential
On the surface, iBooks 2 looks promising. As a former tutor, I would love to have had digital copies of my students' textbooks and the ability to make impromptu flashcards. I was also impressed that Apple secured the support of major content providers McGraw-Hill (NYSE: MHP  ) , Pearson (NYSE: PSO  ) , and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Unfortunately, slick features and publisher support aren't enough. You also have to consider the cost.

Normally, public-school students receive a copy of a textbook at the beginning of the year and return it at the end. Apple's system requires students to have an iPad -- which costs at least $500 -- and then to purchase digital copies of their books for $14.99 each.

Many families simply cannot afford to buy their kids new iPads every couple of years. This means that for teachers to take advantage of the benefits of the new technology, the school would have to keep a collection of iPads on hand to either lend out as necessary or issue to students as if they were textbooks.

Even if cash-strapped school systems managed to acquire enough iPads for all its students, because kids are kids, it's a pretty safe bet that at least a couple of the tablets wouldn't survive the school year. Odds are the school system will be forced to foot the bill, and I doubt many school systems have the ability to take on that extra expense to go digital.

Minimum passing grade
At the bare minimum, the technology that replaces textbooks must work across multiple platforms and be capable of running on the cheapest hardware. Anything short of that will just be another thing that only more prosperous parents can purchase in hopes of giving their children a leg up. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not a revolution.

Apple's plans to disrupt education may have fallen short, but that won't slow down the phenomenal growth of the mobile industry. The Motley Fool recently compiled a research report that details three hidden winners of the iPhone, iPad, and Android revolution. And better yet, we made it completely free for our readers. If you're interested in learning about one of the hottest industries for years to come, access your copy.

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Fool contributor Patrick Martin owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned here. You can follow him on Twitter, where he goes by @TMFpcmart03. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (18) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2012, at 6:59 PM, TMFNewCow wrote:

    Good and valid counter points. Should be interesting to see this one play out over the coming years.

    -- Evan

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2012, at 7:09 PM, H3D wrote:

    Why would kind need new iPads "every couple of years"

    I can still read iBooks on my 4 year old iPhone.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2012, at 7:56 PM, Rste1701 wrote:


    While I hear your points, a couple of counters spring to mind. Many students have iPads already, books can be accessed through iTunes and downloaded via a voucher system. Apple also operate a education discount for students to buy hardware at lower rates. Apple also have leasing, where schools can lease the equipment instead of buying and update every few years ! So while I hear what you say I can't help feeling your argument is the old one played out time after time - remember the "it's just a big iPod touch" or the everybody will still want to own a CD and look how they turned out! ;)

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2012, at 8:03 PM, Foolorama wrote:

    At some point, someone, somewhere will come up with a platform off of which textbooks will be digital.

    At this moment, it will be either an iPad, or some version of a reader - ala Kindle. Probably an Android knockoff that is cheap enough to make this work economically.

    But that requires that, whatever the hardware, it's really, really stable, and it has access to the broadest number of textbooks.

    So, really we're talking about Apple or Amazon, and possibly Google.

    Now don't know about you, but I own a Kindle and I'd love to own an iPad. My experience confirms that Amazon folks are not "product guys" as Jobs would have said. They're content guys. And that's vital.

    But building actual embedded system products, that work like toasters?

    Not Amazon. And not Google.

    So the real rub here is whether Apple can bring enough content muscle to the job. Remember, it's easy for them to compete against Amazon and Kindleland productwise. Drop the price of the iPad2. Strike of the pen and it's done.

    At which point, you have a product that students want, and can more easily afford - particularly in light of textbooks that sometimes cost $100 and more.

    And this doesn't really take the other uses an iPad may serve a student.

    Just sayin'

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2012, at 8:27 PM, pmart wrote:

    Evan, on that I agree. I think Apple has shown us the promise, but still think we'll need a more open system for a full blown revolution.

    H3D, you're a responsible adult. You can probably keep a gadget in working order longer than the average second grader.

    Rste1701, Apple's education discounts are pretty small, especially when you consider that the current system is free for most parents. Leasing is likely also more costly than buying books, and still doesn't solve the problem of a student losing or breaking an iPad. Finally, I'm not arguing that textbooks won't go digital. I just don't think that Apple has found the right model.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2012, at 8:35 PM, pmart wrote:

    Foolorama, I'm talking abut K-12 where students usually don't have to pay for textbooks -- private schools are usually the exceptions. Sure the students want iPads, but many parents and school systems can only afford the low cost alternatives. If you truly want to revolutionize education, you have to take the entire socioeconomic spectrum into account. Apple can bring all the content it can, but it won't matter if parents and schools can't afford the hardware.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2012, at 8:40 PM, hiddenflem wrote:

    First off you don't need a new ipad every few years. Secondly even in low income areas a lot of money is spent on students: in Newark NJ $24,000 per pupil per year is spent. If an ipad not only does every thing that a book can do but also enables personalized education (watch the TED lecture about it from the Khan Academy if you want to learn more about this) then it could literally revolutionize the classroom. I think your argument is premature: just watch what this will do and learn.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2012, at 8:51 PM, jz1492 wrote:

    Apple has been revolutionizing education since the 70s. That's clearly not the question.

    The iPad is the latest example, succeeding where everyone else failed for decades.

    Textbooks are no different. The first studies are already here, with iPad equipped students outperforming those using traditional textbooks by up to 20 points.

    Note that eBooks are no Apple multimedia iBooks, so this numbers do not apply to students using eBooks on Kindles.

    Apple innovates; the others copy and try to undercut Apple.

    What is really interesting this time around, is that nobody has been able to substantially undercut Apple in the same category. The Kindle Fire is so below the prevailing level of functionality in the tablet market that any comparison would be misleading.

    For a device that will have a useful life of several years in a low budget education environment, and on top of that, will double as a main computer with available full fledged productivity software and the ability to print, $500 is really cheap.

    We are talking of sizable savings as compared to the traditional way, which become huge savings when you factor in the new-found gains in academic achievement.

    So the question is, really, why is The Motley Fool spreading so many lies regarding Apple as of late? At least twice today --I watched the video..

    Are you short on Apple? Are you trying to help your way in?

    I think we all need an explanation.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2012, at 9:12 PM, pmart wrote:

    jz1492, I have no positions in Apple. The Fool owns shares and has recommended buying them. Opinions that you disagree with are not by definition lies. There's no conspiracy.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2012, at 10:27 PM, S4Aero wrote:

    This is an interesting dialogue, to be sure.

    My inclination is that Evan is closer to right than Patrick. While the initial efforts may not answer all of the issues surrounding publication in education, several basic facts remains; printed matter is expensive (for students and/or school systems. It is often obsolete before it is delivered - especially in the sciences and social studies and, it is almost completely uni-directional.

    Apple's announcement is the first of much more to come. It's easy to see how both the timeliness and the creation of more channels of communication will be facilitated by this announcement.

    What's not as clear is how this can change the economics of cash strapped systems or reduce costs to students. In reality, I think this may be clear as well. If public school systems can reduce the cost of text materials (to the system) through an e-books scenario they can better survive budget pressures as tax revenues continue to decrease. If college students can better afford text materials, the system is open to more users.

    I don't see this (Apple) as the only alternative. The real value of the vast information system rests with the ability to make that information available in a timely, cost effective manner. This is one BIG step in that direction, and i certainly wouldn't bet against Apple's ability to be the BIG disruptor in this industry, too.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2012, at 2:38 AM, PTGuy22 wrote:

    One question/issue I have is whether Apple needs to be or can be the only winner here? With how standardized the school systems are with their testing/curriculum, can they allow schools and individual families to adopt different formats/products, when they all have to measure up to the same state standards? Depending on differences, we may see one format/product result in students with higher scores than those using another format/product.

    It's one thing when people are buying music, apps and casual reading books, but can that be allowed for a standardized K-12 school system . . . some using itunes/iPads and others to using Amazon/Kindles, etc. with different multimedia power and formats?

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2012, at 7:27 AM, hiddenflem wrote:

    Also regarding durability of tablets in general so far I have found my touchpad to be extremely durable--to the extent that I let my 4 year olds carry it around the house and play with it. we'll see how long it holds up (for $99 it is true that it is a different price point than an ipad), but I am really impressed by how quickly they learned how to get into the PBS games and play them by themselves.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2012, at 7:46 AM, jdmeck wrote:

    Very short sighted thinking. There will be a special designed and priced iPad for the lower level classrooms. The college students will still get a bargain even if the price does not come down, which it will. The big draw here is the ability for teachers and others to design and publish their own textbooks. This is just the beginning, it will be huge and not just Apple.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2012, at 8:55 AM, Tomohawk52 wrote:

    I look around me and see more stratification than ever in society. Obesity is up but so are people who are really fit and healthy. The lives of the rich are better than ever, the poor not so much (to say the least). You get rich, well-educated, very health-conscious people who marry like-minded partners and produce children who have all the advantages. To me, they are almost a totally different species from the Walmart cashier who eats Doritos in his sweats while watching NASCAR and smoking a pack a day. The introduction of this sort of technology seems to me to be yet another example of how divergent our society is and will continue to be. I do think in 20 years there will be lots of people using these sorts of products daily and lots of people who will have never touched one. I don't have an opinion on this other than that it is fascinating.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2012, at 1:02 PM, Foolorama wrote:

    Like any product introduction, you need to appeal to a core constituency first, and then most to expand your market.

    My guess is that the Apple program in this area is similar: create a beachhead in higher education, creating and expanding the infrastructure, product line, publishing relationships, etc. The cost of all of these things come down over time.

    Then create a lower cost product through lower function (though probably not necessary given how quickly technology moves forward) and unique purchasing / financing options that bring the price down to striking distance for K-12.

    This is a winner for Apple. The right time. The right concept. And all at a moment when we are having to re-examine core educational priorities and make optimizations that improve the ability to have better results at lower cost.

    No one else is in better position for this, right now.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2012, at 11:49 PM, lukascranac wrote:

    Does anyone talk numbers here? I did a little searching on textbooks prices.

    I found two numbers.

    For college students the average cost is $900/year.

    For K-12 the numbers I found are usually for rental. And that is about $150-$200/year and they say they keep a book for 5 years. That would put the cost around $700-$800.

    I don't see why an iPad can not last as long as a book therefor rented out the same way.

    And finally one thing has to be understood. Everyone - and I mean everyone will have a tablet computer in 3 years. There will be a time when very few students will need assistance for getting a tablet because their families will have them anyways.

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2012, at 11:36 AM, Tomohawk52 wrote:

    Everyone will have a tablet computer in three years? Really? I think only about 90% of people have PCs and those have been around quite a while. I am curious what makes you think this. Disclaimer: I don't own a tablet or a cellphone for that matter.

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2012, at 9:46 PM, jljohnson7 wrote:

    I'm a teacher/intern at a school that is in year four of school improvement under NCLB. Clearly, our budget has been cut because of this, but we are in the process of issuing iPads to all of our students. All teachers already have one.

    Our current model is to issue iPads to students for an insurance fee of $25 a semester. I imagine this is how most schools would implement this.

    The biggest problem we've had so far is access to online textbooks. This should change over the next couple of years as we retire old textbooks and purchase new ones with digital versions. It has also been a problem that some students simply can't afford to pay the $25 for the iPad. Some teachers just teach with them anyway and leave those students out, but I don't feel right about penalizing a student because they couldn't afford the $25, especially since we have a high population of low-income students.

    So far, the benefits of the iPads have been minimal, but it's still too early to make a decision on their usefulness. I can say that the kids like to play Words with Friends during lunch and in between classes on them.

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