Apple hopes interactive e-textbooks will engage more students.

Apple's e-textbooks draw cautious enthusiasm

Apple adopts education focus with release of new apps.


Apple announced yesterday it will further expand its empire by entering the e-textbook market.

The technology titan released two new applications: iBooks Author and iBooks 2. iBooks Author will allow anyone to create their own interactive e-textbooks to be distributed through its iBooks 2 platform for iPhones and iPads.

Some e-textbooks by big publishers are already available for purchase, at highly reduced rates compared to their traditional paper counterparts.

While only elementary and secondary school textbooks are currently available, there is potential for college and university e-texts. Apple claims there are many benefits for students: e-texts are inexpensive (excluding the iPad 2 needed to view them), portable and interactive.

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Gregory Hanlon thinks there is still a place for traditional textbooks. Photo: Miles Kenyon

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Dal students talk about the pros and cons of e-textbooks


New Generation

Apple sold more than 15 million iPads before the release of the iPad 2 in 2011.

But professors are divided on whether they would use the software for their own academic works.

The view from the ivory tower

"I'm keen on textbooks that don't set the students back much money," says Gregory Hanlon, professor of Italian history at Dalhousie University, "but I'd be really peeved if some kid then multiplied electronic versions of this for all the people in the class."

Hanlon would like to know more about safeguards Apple has put in place to ensure that his hard work wouldn't be pirated. Apple currently uses a digital rights management (DRM) system to limit sharing of some purchased material in its iTunes store so that it can be played on up to five devices. Such sharing could mean only one-fifth of Hanlon's students would legitimately purchase an electronic copy of his textbook at a time.

Apple didn't mention digital rights management of iBooks 2 in its announcement, but many books in its existing store are protected by DRM.

Hanlon says he pays for trips abroad and other expenses for each of his textbooks out of his own pocket.

"Any of the royalties we get back from this (textbook) would just barely cover the cost of publishing the thing in the first place, not including the years taken to write it."

He remains sympathetic to the perspective of cash-strapped students but says buying texts is a matter of principle.

"I can understand why students would want things online always for free but it is a form of theft; that is, somebody has gone through a lot of trouble to produce something and there's no good reason why they should have it for free."

He is in talks with Macmillan Publishers to produce a second copy of one of his books but if they decide not to pick it up again, the book's copyrights would revert back to him.

While Halon's not entirely sold, should Apple ensure that he receives all funds entitled to him, he says "that would go a lot further" to encouraging him to publish it through Apple applications.

Dan Kelley, a Dalhousie oceanography professor who's currently writing his first textbook, says he's more likely to create and publish a book through Apple. His experience with a traditional publishing house has been positive, but maintains he wouldn't miss their input.

"The publisher does nothing, nothing. They advertise it and take 80 per cent of the (profits), " he quips.

He's also not concerned with students getting pirated copies of his book.

"As an academic, I'm not writing a book to make's ridiculous to think that money is even slightly a motivating factor." He says the push to publish a book is a "desire to pay back the community that has been so kind as to pay my salary through the years."

Unlike Hanlon, Kelley has received a grant to write his book and therefore has not invested any personal finances.

Kelley owns stock in Apple, but still has some concerns. He wonders if Apple downloads would be obsolete if the company declared bankruptcy.

But he ultimately thinks the electronic movement is positive, chiefly for connecting with students.

"I think interactivity can be good, especially in the sciences," he says.

This interactivity of Apple's e-textbooks is one of the most touted assets: readers can manipulate 3D models and access live glossaries.

"A student could read about climate change and actually examine the data and not just be told by a conservative not to worry and by a liberal to worry," says Kelley.

Why education?

Apple says they have always had a keen interest in education but feel traditional textbooks aren't suitable for today's tech-savvy youth.

During their unveiling of the new apps at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Apple pointed to low international educational rankings of American students as reason enough to take an innovative approach to teaching.  




A well-written, well-balanced article.

Posted by Janice Patterson | Jan 20, 2022 7:50 PM AT

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