Apple hopes to kill the textbook with its new iPad app iBooks 2, and since its release on Jan. 19, the company is off to a great start. In its first three days of release, users have downloaded more than 350,000 e-textbooks from the new platform, and more than 90,000 users have downloaded the authoring tool to make those e-textbooks, called iBooks Author.
The numbers come from Global Equities Research, a research firm based in Redwood Shores, Calif., which observes and measures Apple iBook sales through its own proprietary tracking service.
This is a recipe for Apple's success in the textbook industry, said Trip Chowdhry, an analyst at Global Equities Research.
Apple officially launched the new Textbook category on its iBookstore with a slew of textbooks made by a handful of publishing partners, including Pearson Education, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Books made available on Thursday included biology and environmental science textbooks from Pearson, five school textbooks from McGraw-Hill, and two children's books from Dorling Kinidersley, all of which were priced under $14.99. Apple also released E.O. Wilson's Life on Earth for free.
Apple's senior VP of marketing Phil Schiller said that in order to get textbooks in the hands of more students, iBooks 2 would be a free app. In addition, the iBooks Author app would also be free, so more people can take their textbooks and start publishing them to Apple's new Textbook section of the iBookstore, in order to fill up their digital library more quickly.
Apple has not released any of its own figures on the success of iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, but the company is expected to deliver its first quarter 2012 earnings on Tuesday. Apple CEO Tim Cook will likely talk iPhone and iPad sales, but there's a small chance Steve Jobs' replacement will release some figures on iBooks 2 and iBooks Author to fuel the hype machine for Apple's educational apps.
Why So Many Downloads?
It makes sense that Apple's iBooks 2 platform is taking off so quickly; there is very little merit to the physical textbook, and the education industry has been waiting for a viable solution like this for some time.
Yes, textbooks are technically portable, but carrying multiple books for multiple subjects, which is a must for high schoolers, quickly gets cumbersome. Books aren't very durable, especially when previous students doodle and highlight over the text and dog-ear the pages, which is most often the case in poorer school districts that cannot afford to replace them as often. Another problem with textbooks is that they age quickly, and cannot update themselves; the publishers must release new textbooks every few years to stay current, which is not a very environmentally friendly endeavor. And when you consider that books are not very interactive or easily searchable, it's incredible that nobody had attempted to digitize textbooks before. They're inefficient in almost every way.
Now that there's a device that can trump the textbook in every way -- the iPad -- it's possible for us to enjoy textbooks the way they were meant to be: extremely portable, updatable, durable, searchable and interactive. With the iPad and iCloud, students can carry around many textbooks at any given time, and it's okay to mark up the pages because each copy of the e-textbook belongs to that student. Plus, the iPad can do so much more than a physical paper textbook, particularly in multimedia content like images, slideshows and even movies. Simply put, the iPad blows the doors off the textbook in almost every single way.
Most importantly, however, the iPad makes learning fun. From seniors to youngsters, from geniuses to learning-disabled children, the Apple's tablet has demonstrated incredible universal appeal, which makes it the perfect platform for educational purposes like iBooks 2.
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. At Apple's New York event last week, Schiller played a video featuring interviews with teachers across America. Here's what some of them had to say:
In general, I have to say education is in the dark ages, said one teacher. No fundamental changes have occurred in 150 years.
You can't expect them to go from a world where they've got constant access to a laptop at home or a smartphone in their pocket or a computer on their desk, and then come into school and have all of that disappear, said another teacher.
Providing cheap, quality products to the masses is what Apple's founders always wanted for their company. While Steve Wozniak dreamed of giving away their technology inventions for free, Steve Jobs knew that he couldn't build a great company without making money. Now that Apple has climbed the proverbial mountaintop, it has the financial freedom to release inexpensive high-end products like the iPhone and iPod, and intelligent software like iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U.
Jobs, more so than Wozniak, wanted to bring sweeping changes to higher education. When he launched NeXT in 1986, Jobs wanted the company's first computer -- a distinctive all-black cube, which would later form the basis for the iMac -- to be designed specifically for higher education establishments.
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 a dictionary, a thesaurus, Shakespeare's works, and the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, and the first to make all of those books searchable. It was on 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 aspired 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.'
Jobs drastically revolutionized major industries in his lifetime, including computers, music, animated films, retail stores, music players, smartphones, and yes, tablets. Now that Apple has finally gotten behind digital textbooks, Jobs can hopefully add one more all-important industry to his already-impressive list: Education. With 350,000 downloads in three days, so far, so good.