Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Apple Unveils iPad Textbook Plan

Greetings! We’re here at New York’s iconic Guggenheim Museum, awaiting the start of Apple’s “Education Announcement.” The expectation is that we’ll hear about new publishing tools that allow educators and others to create their own iPad-friendly textbooks, but we should know soon enough. The event is slated to kick off at 10 am ET, but we’ll start chatting live now:

9:34 am: We’ve arrived. Here’s the scene outside the Guggenheim Museum.

9:43 am: As we wait for the event to get started, here are some “CliffsNotes” on what we might see from Apple today.

9:45 am: Hi there, from Peter! Lauren Goode and I, along with a couple hundred other people, are still stuck in the stairwell of the museum, waiting to be seated.

9:50 am: Line is moving slowly now.

9:52 am: Hello there. Apple has let us into the Guggenheim’s basement auditorium.

Just spotted McGraw-Hill CEO Terry McGraw in the audience. Not sure if he’s sitting with us, or will be popping up onstage.

9:54 am: Ah. I see that the American corporate mandate to play Adele at every event has continued into 2012. So we are still rolling in the deep.

We could have had it all, you know.

9:57 am: Lights down. Adele still belting.

9:58 am: First up: Apple marketing head Phil Schiller.

“Education is deep in our DNA, and it has been from the very beginning.”

Apple has a unique understanding of learning, student achievement. “We’re so proud to take part in anything we can do to help students learn.”

New change in schools via iPad is “profound and remarkable.”

Shot of toddler watching Dora on iPad, which looks very familiar.

But education has challenges, “which are pretty profound.”

Life is tough for high school kids in the U.S. Freshmen have a 70 percent chance of graduating. In “hard-hit urban areas,” that’s 60 percent.

Even if you do graduate, you probably won’t be prepared to compete internationally. List of poor showing by U.S. in world education rankings.

Now a video reel of teachers bemoaning the state of affairs, backed up by swelling music track.

Basic message: Schools are in lousy shape. “We need a reset. We need a way to find out what’s wrong, and fix it,” says last teacher, in a nice sweater.

Schiller is back. “No one person or company can try to fix it all.” But Apple can help. Specifically with “student engagement.”

Of course, kids like iPads, Schiller says. Extolls virtues of iPad, which we don’t need to tell you about here. “Affordable, not only for families but for schools.”

20,000+ education apps built specifically for iPad.

And lots of iBooks would work very nicely in schools, too.

1.5 million iPads in use in “education institutions.” We want to accelerate that. So we’re announcing two initiatives:

10:06 am: 1) “Reinventing textbooks.”

Books are awesome. They’ve transformed society and will always be with us. But they’re not an ideal learning tool for kids. Cumbersome, get dog-eared, “written-in, worn, just not the ideal teaching tool.” Image of badly-beaten book.

Books aren’t portable enough. Not durable enough. Not interactive. Not searchable. Can’t be updated. “The content is great,” though.

10:07 am: But the iPad? That’s awesome. It’s all of those things that a lowly book is not.

But “can you get amazing content turned into a new generation of digital books?”

10:08 am: So here is iBooks 2 — a “new textbook experience for the iPad.”

“These are beautiful books.” Here’s a demo, with Roger Rosner, who has helped build the new product.

Biologist E.O. Wilson introduces a new digital textbook, which features multitouch, video, navigation via thumbnails, etc. “These are gorgeous, gorgeous books. They’re really in a class by themselves.”

“Clearly, no printed textbook could compete with this.”

Lots of pinchy-zoomy. “Again, nothing like that on the printed page.”

So here I will point out that the most obvious issue is the same one that magazine publishers faced during the initial iPad launch — someone needs to figure out how to pay for a system where you can build all this new cool digital stuff, while you continue to publish your old paper-and-ink products. After some initial experiments, most magazine guys have retreated to more or less republishing the existing product, with a few bells and whistles.

Okay, back to Rosner, still demoing cool stuff like interactive text that lets you access a glossary by highlighting a word. “That is so much better than a paper glossary could ever hope to be.”

10:14 am: Hopefully, the pictures that Lauren Goode is taking give you a good idea of what Rosner is showing off. This stuff does look gorgeous, of course.

Half the crowd applauds.

10:15 am: Still demoing. Quizzes and review questions built into book. “The bottom line is immediate feedback.”

Can highlight text with finger, change color, etc. Add notes.

10:17 am: Turn notes into study cards. Can turn glossary terms into study cards. “No more ever having to make paper flash cards, right?”

More applause for card demo. “I don’t think there’s a textbook that’s ever made it this easy to be a good student.”

New textbook category in iBookstore.

10:20 am: Demo over, Schiller back up. Summarizes selling points.

10:20 am: Now on to creation. “That’s just as important.”

iBooks Author (i.e., what people have been calling “GarageBand for books”).

“Easy to use, feature-rich,” will work for any kind of book, not just textbooks. But “focused most of all” on textbooks.

10:21 am: Rosner back up. “Traditionally, creating electronic interactive books has been really hard.” We can fix that.

Uses some familiar iWork workflow. Drag and drop. Can type into editor or bring in Word files, etc.

More applause after program reformats and flows Word doc.

This looks very slick and easy. No surprise there.

Ah. I can now see that McGraw-Hill CEO Terry McGraw is in the audience, soaking it in with the rest of us.

Can integrate Keynote into text. More applause for that.

Rosner still demoing. If you’ve ever been involved in making e-books before, “you know that this is a total miracle in terms of time savings.”

More applause for fast turnaround between creation and working book showing up on iPad. “I just think that’s totally awesome, right? In just five minutes flat, we created a totally interactive book.”

More applause, and some excited hoots.

10:29 am: Schiller back. “Anyone can create stunning, interactive books.”

Authoring tools “often cost hundreds to thousands of dollars.” But we want to make sure that anyone can use this — even teachers. New iBooks Author will be free.

Available today on Mac App Store. More applause.

Reminder that iBookstore will have new textbooks category.

Partners (this is key part).

High school textbooks. Will launch at $14.99 or less.

Names of publishers? Have yet to hear from Schiller.

Here we go: “We have had some phenomenal companies really work with us”: Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “They have been great partners with us.”

McGraw-Hill, for instance, wil be providing algebra, biology, chemistry books, etc. “They are incredible.”

“Can’t overemphasize” how important it is for publishers to work with us.

Also working with DK Publishing. Four new kids’ books.

Another partner: E.O Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. “If you don’t know E.O. Wilson, you should.” More applause.

First chapters of “Life on Earth” are available now, for free. Future chapters will be available at low price.

And now, a video. “We couldn’t help ourselves … I hope you enjoy it.”

More hopeful teachers and music this time out.

So while video is rolling, let’s review: By far the most important announcement today is that Apple has partnered with three of the big textbook publishers. Don’t have details on that, but the fact that this isn’t a flat-out end run around the textbook industry is crucial. Obvious parallel here is iTunes music launch in 2003, when Apple worked with the big labels instead.

Eddy Cue, who many of us thought would be at event, shows up in video, instead.

And Terry McGraw is in the video, as well.

So is Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino.

John Deasy, superintendent for Los Angeles Unified School District.

10:44 am: Video over, more applause. Ah. Schiller has more. Here comes Eddy Cue.

10:45 am: As John Paczkowski noted early this month, Apple is overhauling iTunes U.

700 million downloads of iTunes U content in the last four years. So far, mostly used to download college lectures. (I’m responsible for one of them! A Robert Shiller talk I keep meaning to listen to.)

“We want to let teachers do a whole lot more.” Create entire classes online. Via all-new iTunes U app.

Jeff Robbin, VP of iTunes, for demo.

Not just books, but “new complete, online courses.” Here’s a chemistry course from Duke University.

Some of this is gunning at Blackboard, the college standard for online education software, which lots of people (users and would-be competitors) would like to disrupt.

Ability for teachers to post notes for students, download videos to iPad or stream, etc.

Demo over, more applause. Hard to explain/see how this will work unless you’re actively using it within the context of school, I think.

Cue rattles off list of colleges using iTunes U already. Six of them have used the new software — Duke, Stanford, Yale — and have created more than 100 courses already. “All of it for free.”

So far, mostly used for higher education. But now available for K-12. More applause.

10:54 am: Cue off, Schiller back.

Love of education “has been instilled in Apple since the very beginning. And it’s as true today as it ever was before.”

“We hope that educators will look back on today’s announcements just as fondly” as past Apple education initiatives.

“I hope you’re as excited about these announcements as we are.” Schiller finishes up, event over.

Thanks for tuning in. We’ll now get a chance to play with some of this stuff hands-on, and I’m going to talk to at least one of the publisher partners Apple talked about today. More in a bit.


Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik