Many say textbooks are ripe for digital destruction, and that’s exactly what companies like Kno and Apple are hoping will happen as a result of their latest products: the demise of the textbook. They may even seal the fate of all books in the process.
Kno is a digital textbook company offering an alternative to the five-pound book found in the backpacks of most students. Kno offers not only an app for the iPad, but also a web service to access the same material with Android and Windows 8 apps following suit.
On Jan. 18, Apple also released their version of the technology represented in Kno’s app, as well as myriad other services in hopes of reinventing the way students learn and the way teachers teach. The result of the late Steve Jobs’ pet project manifested itself in iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U.
Whether or not efforts of companies like Kno and Apple will really spell the end of textbooks is still yet to be known, but it is clear that the use of books in education will never be the same.
In the wake of Apple’s big education announcement, Kno also released some findings from a digital textbook pilot program they implemented during the fall 2011 semester in four different California schools. The pilot program included 384 students and 18 faculty members in 27 classes Kno’s digital textbooks in place of actual textbooks for the entire semester, and the response was astounding. 95 percent said they considered the Kno app very useful and would use it again, 61 percent said they preferred Kno over an actual book for convenience and mobility.
Apple’s supporters are likening their recent release announcement to a similar announcement 11 years ago when iTunes was released, and forever changed the music industry and the way people interact with music. Apple revealed three key products that they hope will create a unique digital ecosystem for textbooks and other educational books to exist online: iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U.
iBooks 2 is an update to Apple’s eReader software that adds additional functionality to the existing software. While still being able to read ebooks through iBooks 2, users can also read and interact with the new Apple digital textbooks.
iBooks Author is Apple’s new software program intended to allow publishers and individuals the ability to create their own books and publish them to the iBooks bookstore.
iTunes U, like iBooks 2, is a upgrade to an existing service offered by Apple. iTunes U offers 500,000 lectures, seminars and videos from major universities like Harvard, Yale, Stanford and many more for free. The new iTunes U app also offers a service very similar to UVU’s Canvas, offering students and teachers an online intermediary to communicate and see syllabi, homework and more.
The big draw toward digital textbooks and the reason they will likely change the way many learn is rooted in the platform they exist on. Both Apple and Kno offer these textbooks on the iPad, with Kno expanding to other platforms as well. This means the new programs will have Internet access, allowing convergence with video and many other learning tools. All of these capabilities being combined with these new digital textbooks are what sets them apart.
Imagine watching a video of a whale in a marine biology textbook, then engaging in a comment thread including thoughts and opinions of others studying the same material. It’s those functionalities, as well as many more, that give these new textbooks, or smartbooks, as some call them, so much potential.
Looking back at how iTunes changed an industry can help us look forward to imagine how these products might change another industry all the same. Healthy competition between companies like Apple and Kno will ensure healthy and speedy changes.
Kno CEO Osman Rashid said in an interview with Bloomberg News that Apple joining the digital textbooks market is “a good thing” because it will bring more attention to the market, spur innovation and show publishers the potential of the digital textbook platform, and that’s exactly what is happening. Although these products and services won’t mean the immediate digital destruction of books, they will be a large contribution to the slow, but inevitable decline of physical books as we know them.
Link for Osman Rashid interview @ Bloomberg News businessweek.com.
By Gibson Smiley