You Can't Afford Apple's Education Revolution

Is what Apple showed us today future of education? The future we'd all been imagining for decades, no less. Harry Potter stuff.

Let's start with the good. There's a lot of it. Fifteen US bucks for an interactive textbook is an amazing price; they'd normally cost a hundred new, about half that gently used. The features that Apple's introducing -- particularly those instant flash cards that might have gotten me through Chemistry unscathed -- are indisputably an improvement over stale highlighters and multi-coloured Post-Its.

All of this represents the best kind of progress, a paradigm shift in education. That is, if you can afford it.

I've argued before that iPads are cheap for what they are. And that's true, assuming that what they are is a secondary device on which people with healthy disposable income can watch their YouTubes and send some emails and play Sword and Sworcery for hours and hours. But while iBooks are very affordable textbooks, the iPad makes for one insanely expensive backpack.

Under the best case scenario, you're a teenager in a district that has bought iPads for every single student. It's free for you, which is great! But even with a healthy discount, all those tablets carve a multimillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded chunk out of the education budget. Money that could be going to dozens of other in-classroom aids, teacher salaries, healthy lunches, etc. They'll come from somewhere, at the expense of something else.

Which would be fine if that iPad were a standalone device that could accommodate four years of curricula. It's not. Not even close.

Standalone? Try writing a 20-page term paper on an iPad. Or better yet, try telling every student they need to buy a $US70 wireless keyboard. Oh, and it's going to be spending a lot of time in your backpack, so better tack on a $US40 Smart Cover. The reality is that no matter how far Apple has pushed into the cloud, iPads still need laptops to complement them. And those accessories, those laptops? Whether it's the student or the schools, someone's paying for them.

Which might even be worth it if the iPad could disappear textbooks from your life altogether. But it can't, not remotely. While Apple's got three major textbook partners lined up, at the moment the selection is treacherously limited. Which means that for now, and potentially for a long time, backpacks across the country are going to be loaded down with hefty Pre-Calculus and AP Physics tomes.

You can argue that they only cost $US15 a pop, and that savings alone make them worth it. Which would be true, if publishers hated money. But publishers are businesses, and the business model in this place is clear: instead of selling an updated textbook every 5-10 years for $100, update and sell every year for $15. And it'll work; it's not like you can hand down an iBook from year to year. In fact, you expressly can't.

And then consider this: these iPad textbooks are every bit as big as their dead tree counterparts, and you need a lot of digital storage to lug them around. The eight books on display in the iTunes App Store today average out to about 1.5GB each; a full year's course load would quickly fill up a 16GB iPad, which means either schools/students will have to shell out for the more expensive 32GB version, or students are responsible for their own external storage options. My wallet hurts.

What all this adds up to is a education revolution for the landed gentry. Or even worse, schools that can't afford it chasing after a wave that's years away from cresting. Millions of dollars spent on a supplementary learning tool. A distant horizon mistaken for the here and now.

Let's be clear, though; this is indisputably the future. What we saw today is what our classrooms will look like once iPads are far cheaper, once digital textbooks can be handed down as easily as physical ones, once teachers of every subject have several digital textbooks to choose among. For now though, it's important to remember that "new" and "different" always come at a premium. One that the vast majority of us can't afford.



    This is stupid. really, really stupid. MOST textbooks (particularly uni and later school ones) are updated YEARLY, and you only need it for a year, or even a semester, and these books still cost in excess of $100.

    The apple model looks very promising, and I am very excited about the prospect of being able to bring my text books to class (something which isnt possible with a 5 kg chem book..).

    I just paid over 1 grand for textbooks for a year 12 student... this is so so much a cheaper option..... right now. the only thing lacking , content.. this will come like a tidal wave in the next 1-2 years!

      your year 12 student will use less than $250 of those books. just saying.

      I also have a year 12 student (in NSW) and the textbooks were issued free by the school.

        Yeah, I've never had to pay for a textbook in my life. Neither at school or uni.

          explains everything now :) LOL

    further more, most textbooks you can't sell, as they change year to year... so again, this model is way cheaper!

      IF you own an iPad...

        no 1000 bucks for textbooks... vs 500 bucks for an iPad and 100 bucks for the textbooks.. saves 400 bucks.... plus the iPad would last a few years.. so over a 3 year period you would save 1000's... simple maths really!

          Drop a bag full of text books and drop an ipad. One you pick up and continue using the other you throw away.

          Also the whole thing smacks of Apple trying to find another revenue source by destroying an existing working model.

          An iPad last a few years?
          You're nuts.
          Who do you know has an iPad more than say even one year old?
          Maybe one or two people with one a couple of years old. That's about it.
          Besides. If you drop a book, pick it up and keep going.
          Drop an iPad.............

            just like a cassette tape is more robust than a CD, the 1980's is calling you

              That's not true at all. Put a cassette in your pocket next to your phone and the EM field will erase it over time. Leave a CD in there as long as you like and it will be fine. (Assuming both are in their cases, of course.) Both buckle in the sun but I've never had a CD wind itself around a capstan because I didn't clean the mechanism. Most importantly, the data on a CD never changes, a cassette's audio quality degrades markedly over time.

            Well, 6 of my mates all have iPads. One of them has three ipads. They have all lasted for at least a year and a half now. I have an iPad 2 so ive only had it for around 6 months, and I have a 3 dollar screen cover and a 7 dollar plastic back cover so it physically does not have a single scratch, and i think it'll last a good 3 years.

            What makes you think iPads don't even last an year. Oh and I've dropped it thrice.

    My mum works at a school in WA. The school was provided laptop/computer grants by the Govt. They decided to put these grants towards iPad’s.

    Students and teachers can now loan or buy (monthly instalments) iPad’s that are heavily subsidised by both the Govt and Apple education program.

    I’m hoping more schools will follow.

      I've got a friend works IT at a high school in NSW.

      They toyed with the idea of iPads for students, then threw it out after a trial - as with the laptops, kids were just using them for games and browsing.

      Whilst I love the idea of the digital textbook and learning platform, unless you can lock the device to only certain things, they're just another distraction.

        Also, the government should not be subsidising iPads or any personal use IT equipment. If you deem it to be cheaper/better/whatever to use an ebook on a tablet than buying paper books then that is a personal decision for you to make.

    $400 worth of textbooks a semester is not that unheard of. So yeah.

    Speaking as someone who fixes laptops for schools for a living; giving students ipads is a bad idea, they will get destroyed.

      iPads are pretty sturdy, mine have been dropped so many times, everytime it happens I cringe expecting the worse, only to find a small dint/scratch, they just add character to it.
      My iPad 1, has the entire corner dented in, the rubber surround is hanging out, but the screen remains intact.

        Coming from someone who used to fix mobile phones I've gotta say, I think you're probably underestimating the damage people somehow do to portable devices. Seriously it is amazing when you look at a device and the only explanation you can come up with for the damage is that they must of held it against a grinder for a while o.0
        If they're free then they'll probably be treated worse too.

          yeah gotta agree with the free part, my year got macbooks for free and people treated them like absoloute shite.

    Kindle Fire
    Transformer / Prime

    Amazon can create an equivalent application for Android - someone could probably even make one that's 100% compatible with Apple's iBook 2 format.

      FTR I don't think they're suitable for schools, just because kids destroy things. Rather, I'd look for uni students to use them.

    Not sure I like the idea of Apple controlling the books that kids use in school! Fair enough if they can be used on all equivalent devices, I just don't trust Apple. I know that may sound paranoid, but Apple aren't the fine upstanding paragons of society they make themselves out to be. I like the idea, I think it's great, but the content has to be able to be used on any compatible device!

      And that compatible device will be anything running IOS in any color available
      Or it will be a patent infringement.
      This is Apple trying to monopolize the education industry.

    @Timmahh agreed.
    Whilst I applaud Apple for pushing this initiative, I really hope they focus on making the interactive textbooks an open format.

    The general concept is great:
    * keep only relevant information
    * reduce adverse physical strain on developing bodies (I hated the days when I had Math Methods, Specialist Maths, Physics and English and 20Kg of books on my back - and my back hated it too!)
    * enable more tailored and fun/interesting learning (we all do better at the things we enjoy, wouldn't it be great if everyone enjoyed learning from a younger age??)
    * students getting used tools and technology that are actually used in business (has anyone ever used one of those super magic $200 Ti-83 calcs at work?? be honest!)

    I'd say the technology platform would be best to have an open standard for material (don't know enough about iBooks to tell you if it is an open standard or not).

    And as far as pricing goes, I've long believed that education to a secondary level should be completely free - no I'm not saying give every student in the country free ipads - at my school if families couldn't afford their own textbooks, ti-83s or even stationary the school (or district) would provide loaners.

    (and now for the rile up!!)
    The death of the classroom is well overdue - time to strap in and ride the lightning!

    over a gig for an ebook? This is the start of the bullshit right there.

      Well mymaths textbook PDF was like 750 megs. I say it's pretty reasonableness be over a gig with all the interactive stuff.

    Part of the Uni ritual was buying books second hand and selling them on at the end of the year. Even if you had to buy new there was always something you could get back. If you were really lucky there were some good notes in there too.
    I don't think the line about text's changing ever year holds much water. For most subjects the material is pretty static. Look for some kick backs going on at that sort of institution.
    The deal appeals most to the authors (get more money each sale) and publishers (get annual sales not just every few years). Not a great deal for public education or the students really (locked into buying an Apple probuct).

    Why is he equating Text books on an iPad with the need to actually be typing on the iPad or using a Laptop at the same time? Pens and paper still exist, an iPad with a text book benefits me by not having to cart around 14kgs worth of Text Books and Study Guides.

    The idea is sound however it needs to be an open format as there are people who do not wish to have Apple products in their home for various reasons. My primary concern is the education department pushing a monopoly in a commercial sense if this is brought in as a standard.

      Like Msoft is now right?

    I think this would be amazing if One Laptop Per Child came up with this idea. If I had a child, I would not want them taking an ipad to school. I would rather they take something sturdy, cheap and durable. Plus the purpose of OLPC is to provide technology and knowledge to children who cant normally access or afford such facilites. Apple just "innovate" to make more money.

    Don't universities have libraries any more? I got most of my books from the library for free and I always got a lot more work done there than in my room. This whole thing is just Apple colluding with text book publishers to wring even more money out of parents and governments. It is wicked and should be decried everywhere. If anyone was serious, textbooks would be made available as PDF files for anyone to use on any device they choose.

    As a university lecturer I see there are some benefits to what Apple is doing with iBooks, but the economic argument just doesn't stack up for me. Every text book that I recommend for the units I teach is available through the university library website as a digital edition and can be used by any number of students at any time for free. And you can use it regardless of which type of computer you are using, rather than being locked into a particular manufacturer or OS environment.


    If I purchased all the recommended text books for my Uni courses I was typically looking at about $500AU or so a semester. In that regard, this is about even and after a year I'd be up. Two years and I'm singing. Thats also not taking into account that I'd have wanted to have an iPad anyway.

    But yeah, depeneding how you approach things it can be expensive. While the above holds true, I also quickly cottoned onto the fact after about a year that each course while recommending two or three texts, generally was based 90% off one and the others were companion books. Of those core books a few were good between different courses (generally the non specialised books such as the Ritchie C text or a book on SQL) and would get reused, and thus worth buying, while the more specialised ones could be had at the library which given the 2 or 3 month rental term got me through a semester renewing the thing once.

    After the first year I never purchased ore than a handful of texts.

      I should add, I commuted over an hour to and from uni each day, generally 3 to 5 days a week depending on my load. An iPad is about 10x lighter than the book load I often had with me, especially if I was using a laptop too at the time. I'd regularly have several KGs on my back so there are other benefits to the iPad besides cost and interactive features.

    So will the ebooks Apple sell be unlimited in Life, for use on multiple devices, I think not.

    When I buy a book, I have it as a reference for years... If it is not useful in the future there is no point buying it (though often the Uni courses are tailored for a particular edition of the book, and one year plus or minus makes a big difference.... For single use of the book the library is there for that, or the PDF versions from the library for download... More and more lecturers are using their own notes, to avoid he students having to buy several books per subject.

    Also having physical books for studying is easier to cross reference....

    Exams with open book allowance, don't allow web connected devices to be used.... how to police it with this technology as the norm?? Mayaswell allow the students to use Google and Wikipedia in exams.

    I'm sure the business model will be that the use the book you are only getting a licence for one device for a limited time... (like one year, when the physical book is there for the extension subjects, where the same book is useful.)

    Talk about a throw away society....
    PS, I do use electronic versions of solutions manuals, and some books but I can open them on any computer.

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