Is Apple set to "digitally destroy" the textbook market?
Apple will be holding a publishing-related event at the Guggenheim Museum in New York on Thursday, Jan. 19 -- but in typical fashion, it has revealed few details, saying only that it would be an “education announcement.” This falls in line with the ongoing consensus -- no new gadgets will be announced this time around, though a new report on Ars Technica says the company will be "destroying" the printed textbook market.
A personal focus of former CEO Steve Jobs for many years, the education market and digital textbooks will almost certainly be the main foray of Apple's upcoming event. Here’s what the web expects from Thursday’s special media event.
Steve’s personal project
According to various reports, former CEO Steve Jobs had been working on something to revolutionize the textbook market for years -- with an exceptional amount of personal attention.
Talk of such a move by Apple has been bubbling since a biography of Apple’s late chief executive, Steve Jobs, came out in October. In that book by Walter Isaacson, Mr. Jobs told him that he wanted to transform the textbook market by hiring prominent textbook writers to create electronic versions of them for the iPad. Mr. Jobs told the author that he believed Apple could get around state certification processes for textbooks by making them free.
Citing sources close to his efforts Jobs’ personal involvement was perhaps more significant that even his biography purports. Jobs worked on this project for several years, and our understanding is that the final outcome was slated to be announced in October 2011 in conjunction with the iPhone 4S. Those plans were postponed at the last minute, perhaps due to Jobs’ imminent death.
No New Gadgets
Those hoping for an early iPad 3 or a surprise iPhone 5 announcement will be sorely disappointed.
While we don’t think it’s even remotely likely, this could be just the event to unveil, say, an “education-only iPad” -- a cheaper, student-focused, 8GB edition with a price meant to target Amazon’s successful Kindle Fire tablet.
In fact, though, we probably won’t see any hardware at next week’s event. While Apple has in the past offered some models specifically for the education market, such as the eMac, or low-end versions of the iMac and MacBook, those days seem to be long gone. If anything, the company would probably be best served by deepening the discounts it offers on its existing product lines, and forging deals that make it more affordable for educational institutions to outfit their students and faculty with Apple devices.
New e-book publishing platform
There's been much buzz about a new e-book platform that could upend publishing incumbents, which seems to be a mix of hope and hype. Apple's GarageBand software for creating music has been brought up as a comparison, but whether that analogy is apt remains to be seen.
Authoring standards-compliant e-books (despite some promises to the contrary) is not as simple as running a Word document of a manuscript through a filter. The current state of software tools continues to frustrate authors and publishers alike, with several authors telling Ars that they wish Apple or some other vendor would make a simple app that makes the process as easy as creating a song in GarageBand. Our sources say Apple will announce such a tool on Thursday.
iBooks and iTunes University
Any new content system will need a distribution platform, and iBooks and iTunes provide a natural gateway where schools could manage their content for download. Schools like Yale, Stanford, and MIT already have systems in place.
The event is expected to focus on enhancements to the iBooks platform with respect to education and digital textbook publishing. Rumors have suggested the event will highlight iTunes U, a free service Apple provides that gives access to educational content, and other education-oriented topics.
Sources close to the company tell AllThingsD that the event will involve an initiative related to iBooks in education, presumably with some sort of tie-in to iTunes U.
Get ready for change
Whatever happens, Apple has always had the uncanny ability to shake things up -- and education should be no different.
Bill Goodwyn, chief executive of Discovery Communications' education unit, noted the digital textbook is one of the fastest-growing areas at Discovery, and he expects Apple's education push to accelerate the market.
"Apple is a very disruptive force, and in education, that's a good thing," Mr. Goodwyn added.