Yes, I followed the live blogging. And I watched the beautiful videos Apple put out. And I too, was really impressed…to a point.

But, here’s why iBooks won’t change everything.

1) Heavy Reading on an LCD Screen Sucks
In all of today’s demos, I saw a maximum of 40 words per page next to a 3D-interactive model or video. Using your finger to manipulate a cell. Learning physics through equations coming out of a skateboarder’s body. But, these are textbooks we’re talking about. 80,000 words. And you’re going to read all of that on an LCD backlit screen?

For you Kindle e-ink’ers, you may have forgotten what it’s like. And some people have no problem reading on an LCD screen. But for many, it’s not going to happen. The iPad is NOT a great reading tool.

While iBooks can magically bring interactivity and multimedia to traditional textbooks, I don’t see how they can “replace” them, unless we completely change what a textbook is – and take out a majority of the text…

2) Real Game Changers are Device-Agnostic
How many kids have iPads? How many kids have MACs at home?

As a company, it’s clear that Apple wants to outright own the device space. But pragmatically, this isn’t going to happen. They’re going to share it. So, by encouraging content development via an iBook app, native only to Apple, this is really a short-term and narrow solution.

Whereas, HTML5 books via Scribd are device-agnostic. And responsive web design best practices could make the book usable whether the student has an iPad, a laptop PC or a low-end smart phone.


We took a step forward yesterday. But, more in the direction of Apple than in the direction of mainstreaming the technological evolution of education.

Here’s where you tell me why I’m wrong.

About the Author
Eric Olsen is the Web Content Manger for Lewis University, a mid-sized Catholic and Lasallian
University near Chicago, IL.
Follow Eric on Twitter.


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  • Bruce Floyd

    The idea might be that you wouldn’t have a standard 80,000 word textbook on an iPad. I believe this launch will make publishers…er…. “think different” about the way they develop content, which means less words and more interactivity, which improves retention.

    I do agree with your notion regarding reading on the iPad, although I don’t expect a standard textbook to be assigned all at once, but in chapters/chunks, which is more plausible. I use my iPad + Instapaper as a means of reading and (hopefully) learning and I think the same can be done with a textbook if done correctly.

  • Todd Sanders

    Apple is in business to make money, not save the world. We can’t make the evolution of education their problem to solve.

    Government invented the Internet, if they wanted to, they could save the world. But I’m sure they’ve studied the effects of a highly educated world populous and have come to the conclusion that we’d just end up destroying the very world they had set out to save.

    I must go now… they’re coming….

  • isaacson

    i don’t know if this will be a game changer but i’m pretty sure the reasons you mentioned won’t really stand in the way. 

    1) I think Apple’s goal is to have people rework what a textbook is. So, no, no one will be reading 80,000 words, but that’s because textbooks will change. 2) How many kids have ipods at home? Lots. I think Apple has proved that people don’t mind being locked in to a proprietary platform if they get exactly what they want cheaply and easily. 
    It kinds shocks me to write this because I am an ardent Apple opponent, but I think what they’re doing here will be a boon to education. 

  • Anonymous

    As some other commenters have pointed out, I don’t think #1 will be in the way in the long run, as we’re shifting to completely rethink digital textbooks entirely. I would suspect the long term will show us things more along the lines of Studio by Purdue’s Jet Pack, which condenses smaller segments of information and features multiple formats of media in an easily consumable package.

    #2 is the one that scares me. The truth is real game changers don’t have to be device agnostic. Look at the iPod. Sure, it spurred adoption and the evolution of other media devices, but it was the iPod alone that changed the game, not general MP3 recorders. 

    The bottom line, though, is real game changers SHOULD be device agnostic. So have we made a huge mistake in letting Apple take the lead, or do we need their innovation to push us forward?

    • Eric Olsen

      Really appreciate the comments. And I agree with most of them. I guess my lone disappointment lies in the fact that, if our end-game goal as higher ed advocates is “highest quality education for all” at “lowest possible price”, then a closed iBooks platform doesn’t solve either the accessibility or cost issues – and may even prolong us from getting there, because we’re busy learning how to develop in a system that I’d prefer we just skip right over.

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