Today, Apple held its eagerly awaited “education” press event, where they announced that they have decided to reinvent the textbook. To this end, they have launched iBooks 2, an app for interactive e-books that allows textbooks to have interactive graphics, quizzes with real-time feedback, highlighting and note-taking functions, and fluid navigation. To catalyze creation of content for iBooks2, they have also released an iBooks authoring tool. Three major publishers have already released textbooks in iBooks2.
A few things to note: the textbooks in iBooks2 are all, amazingly, $14.99 or less–the author/publisher gets to set the price, as long as it’s under $15–and Apple keeps 30% of that, and retains exclusivity rights for that book. So if an author puts his or her book in iBooks2, that book can only be sold in the iBookstore and can only be used on an iPad. (Authors can give their textbooks away for free through their own websites if they want—they just can’t sell them.) To use the interactive textbooks, schools would need to purchase iPads for their students (or require that they buy their own), and then instead of keeping a textbook for five years, they would have to buy another copy for every student every year. They can’t reuse the book for another student, because each student redeems their book using their own Apple ID and retains ownership.
This is a perfect example of control vs. open source. Apple ensures that all their products and stores work seamlessly together, but in return users give up some degree of flexibility and choice. So which is the future: control or open source? Currently, it seems like both can flourish separately. But when schools requires students to use an iPad and get an Apple ID for buying textbooks…well, you can see why Apple wants to get into the textbook business.