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iPad Killer App

February 4th, 2010

Textbooks. At least, that’ll be just one killer app, for anyone in higher education.

Right now, the students at my school hate the whole textbook game, and I bet they’re not alone by a long shot–I remember the same thing back when I was getting my degree, and got another taste recently with a few online courses that required expensive textbooks. $100 for a single text is often the low end.

But prices are just one of two major complaints. The other is the weight and bulk of the books. More and more you see students who use travel cases on rollers, like carry-ons for airplanes, because backpacks are just getting too heavy for them. My school has lockers, but not enough; everyone wants to store their textbooks in them. Sometimes they’ll even store texts in classrooms, stashing them away around the room. They even refuse to bring in their laptops, as they just add to the weight.

What they need is something like this:

ScrollMotion takes digital files provided by publishers for the iPad, adapts them to fit on the device, and then adds enhancements such as a search function, dictionaries, glossaries, interactive quizzes and page numbers.

The features of its iPad deal with publishers include applications to let students play video, highlight text, record lectures, take printed notes, search the text, and participate in interactive quizzes to test how much they’ve learned and where they may need more work.

If my students could get access to those textbooks and use them on the iPad, I think a lot would go for that deal. Even if textbooks were priced identically to physical copies, a lot would want it–but if there were a discount on the texts, it would likely be a very hot item. If, for example, they could save enough over the course of a year to pay for the iPad, then it would be a no-brainer. And there are several ways they could save–no physical printing of the texts, no shipping to Japan, and the potential for buying chapters instead of whole textbooks all are possibilities for savings. The built-in dictionary, ability to search text, and multimedia add-ons would all be features they currently either lack or have poor substitutes for, and would be extra enticements. Add a cool touchscreen computer with all of its abilities and a planned school-wide Wi-Fi network… you get the idea.

The Wall Street Journal reports that McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Pearson Education, and Kaplan Inc. have all signed on, and one would guess that whomever is left will buy in later on. Just the ones announced today would account for most textbooks in my school, I believe.

My own question: will desk copies for instructors still be part of the new paradigm? Gotta find out about that.

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  1. Troy
    February 4th, 2010 at 06:25 | #1

    It’s really an exciting future. I was bummed that Apple couldn’t get a demo of this at the event. The stupid shooting aliens game could have been bumped for this, no????

    Don’t forget highlighting, too.

    You could even put quizzes in the texts!

    Textbook publishers are deathly afraid of copying, natch. From experience, college kids would napster books if they could (in my Mandarin class last year we were passing around the $50 CD set to help each other out).

    Apple has demonstrated its pro-biz creds with the iTMS.

    The iPad should become Apple’s core patform, almost.

    I bought a Mac Pro in late 2006, and it’s still state of the art, or will be if & when somebody deigns to make a mac-compatible ATI Radeon 58XX video card for it.

    The iMac I bought in early 2006 is still doing fine as a front-line machine. I gave it to my mom only because I wanted to go 24″ from a MBP.

    The PC is dead. i’m not fully on-board with the new no mouse pointer / no windowing GUI, but for all but pro, “work” stuff, the iPad is good enough if not even more suitable than a laptop or desktop.

  2. K. Engels
    February 5th, 2010 at 23:59 | #2


    “Textbook publishers are deathly afraid of copying, natch. From experience, college kids would napster books if they could (in my Mandarin class last year we were passing around the $50 CD set to help each other out).”

    I’d like to point out that a massive number of overpriced university level text books (especially in the maths and sciences) are already available via file sharing. Some are the pdf versions that are included on CD with the books, and some are high quality homemade scans. So it isn’t a matter of “would” but a matter of already are.

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