January 19, 2012

My Thoughts: iBooks 2, iTunes U App & iBooks Author

According to Philip Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice-President of Worldwide Marketing and Eddy Cue, Apple’s Senior Vice-President of Internet Software and Services, there are:

    • over 1.5 million iPads in use in education institutions
    • over 1,000 one-to-one iPad deployments in K-12 schools
    • over 700 million downloads at iTunes U
    • over 500,000 audio or video offerings  available on iTunes U
    • over 1,000 universities and colleges around the world using iTunes U
    • over 20,000 ‘education and learning’ applications available for iPad

Today’s announcement by Apple launching iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U App had me thinking all along … we’ve come full circle.

If you think back to the late 80’s, through the 90’s and arguably at the onset of the new millennium, Apple was primarily an education technology company.

Yes, there were those through the years who clung to their Apple cult cards pining for the return of HyperCard and Clarisworks, but Apple really was (only) an education technology company.

Their market was K-12. Perhaps higher education too.

And of course the cult.

But, after the introduction of the now ubiquitous iPod, then iPhone, and later through some fancy iMac’s and Macbooks, along with the revolutionary iPad, the consumer (and soon corporate/consumerization of IT – see top 7 truths) market became Apple’s oyster.

I can imagine the meetings in Cupertino where Jobs, Ives et al discussed the inevitable shake-up of the education industry.

Perhaps, to come full circle.

So how did they do?

At first glance, there seem to be both pro’s and con’s to their latest offerings focused on the education vertical. The cons, much like the first white iPod click-wheel, ought to be mitigated in future releases and updates.

I’ll need more time to come to a final conclusion, but after a night of downloading, reading, creating, learning and playing, my thoughts are as follows:


iBooks 2

iBooks Author

iTunes U App

  • The main or most influential education publishing companies are onside and in the mix. Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin and my favourite DK Publishing.
  • It took about 90 minutes to figure out iBooks Author and publish a book I created on Collaboration to iBookstore. One video was also included. It really is that easy.
  • Tabular format of Info, Posts, Notes and Materials makes it easy to shift between course components.
  • Interactivity. Wow. I downloaded E.O. Wilson’s “Life on Earth”. I was met with a rich video overview introduction and it got better from there. Videos inserted throughout, a slide bar showcasing the difference in cell concentrations from 0% to 100%, full blown interaction with mitosis, and so on. What a treat.
  • It will take a lot longer to fully understand and be able to use the advanced features of this application, however, the basic features can get a book up and running in no time, if of course you have created the content in the first place. The level of interactivity you place in the book will determine how long it takes to publish.
  • Course Notes & Book Notes allow for me to make electronic highlights or remarks to myself. Akin to ‘writing in the margins’ of my textbooks or assignments.
  • Study Cards. These built-in glossary based study cards are pure genius. They can be shuffled, highlighted via notes in different colours,
  • Although it took me a while to find, Apple states it takes up to 2 weeks to publish the book live to the iBookstore. That’s still a lot better than 6 months with many other ‘classic’ publishers.
  • Easy way in which to check off (through actual check boxes) whether you’ve completed a video, reviewed an assignment, etc.
  • Glossary. Fabulous. Fast. Accessible. Love it.
  • Provides a numerical value of all assets (videos, documents, web links, etc.)


iBooks 2

iBooks Author

iTunes U App

  • Seriously? You had to disable (or not add) a copy function for pictures? Think about the kids of yesteryear who painfully photocopied pictures in textbooks to add to their print-based assignments. Give it up for them and enable it. You know they’ll simply ‘print screen’ it anyway, or better yet, have a friend take a photo of the iBook photo with their iPad and then send it back to them
  • If copying text from a previously written entry (Word, blog, Evernote, etc.) which contains embedded links in the text, they do not transfer over into iBooks Author.
  • File size. Sure, I ‘may’ be able to view videos via an iTunes stream, but when I want to download materials for class after class after class, it’s going to begin eating into my available iPad storage space. What happens, after I take 8 courses in my first year of university, and I max out the space on my iPad? How do I export the materials somewhere? Let’s say I’m a pack rat and like to keep all of my materials. How do I not blow all of my storage space, which, by the way, also includes my personal music, my photos, etc.? I believe iPad hard disk space is going to be an issue, even with iCloud in play.
  • After playing an embedded video, the player doesn’t remember where you left off if you in fact close it down prematurely. You will be forced to watch the video in its entirety again.
  • To preview a book you have to have an iPad connected to your Mac. Seriously? No time to build an emulator of any sort?
  • Oh Christian Thomas … did you not read my earlier post about iTunes? Learning is not an isolated event nor should it be done in isolation. Where’s the ‘social’ in iTunes U App? It’s completely missing. Discussions? Class micro-blogging? Ratings?
  • Pasting graphics from another site, document, program, etc. is also difficult. I found that if I inserted an object through the widget, via the gallery, and then pasted the graphic, it would show up. Otherwise it was hardwired into text or didn’t show up at all.
  • Assignment / project uploads are missing. There are oodles of PDF’s but I suppose I’m forced to print them out and complete the assignment or project with a pen … then hand it in to the professor. Couldn’t we get slightly more sophisticated in this day and age with some electronic submissions into the master iTunes U mother ship?
  • Grading. This could come in the future, I suppose, if we even need it, but for now, it’s non-existent.


Overall, I believe iTunes U misses the mark in a large way.

It’s a glorified indexing system that needs a lot more education and social polish before it will hit primetime. It feels like a remedial standalone LMS, and you know how I feel about those.

iBooks 2 is simply stunning. Aside from a few minor misses, this is what I was expecting from Apple, and by extension, the publishers that are onside. I look forward to seeing what additional creativity comes both from the publishers as well as the independent publishers via iBooks Author. I don’t know if its disruptive as of yet, but time will tell. (see below)

As for iBooks Author … wow. As stated above, it will take a significant amount of time (at least for me) to be 100% comfortable with all the fancy features, but give me about a week and I’ll be flying. It is truly a game changer. I can see this having so many positive benefits to K-12 and higher education spaces, let alone aspiring authors out there. (like me)

The one item that is grossly overlooked throughout the announcements is the fact Apple is the quintessential definition of a ‘walled garden’. There was no mention whatsoever of the $600+ price tag of an iPad itself where these textbooks (publisher issued or self-published) will be housed and read.

Apple is now worth more than Greece and it has $82 billion in stockpiled cash. Isn’t it time they gave back and assisted the K-12 and higher education institutions by driving either a leasing program of iPads or a significant discount option?

To come full circle.

8 Replies to “My Thoughts: iBooks 2, iTunes U App & iBooks Author”

  1. I really like your observation that ‘learning is not an isolated event nor should it be done in solation.’ I will use it to build that case that eLearning courses include pop-up windows for collaboration, updates on running discussions about a given course. Thanks.

  2. “It feels like a remedial standalone LMS […]”

    Exactly my thoughts as I was reading through the news these past couple of days. I had an extremely strong feeling that I would see those thoughts here. 🙂

  3. Great insights Dan, I too am very excited about playing with the new authoring tools. Thanks for posting your thoughts I enjoyed reading it.


  4. Great article. Denise sent me this way! I wish the new iBooks were available to look at in Canada. My biggest concern with this development is that Apple continues to be so “proprietary” (walled garden). For those with an iPad 2 and a new Mac this is great. For everyone else I am not so sure. Perhaps this will be followed soon with good imitations! I hope the publishers have not been forced to back one horse.

  5. Dan, the review is very nicely put in thoughts. Great work. Though I think, another major issue with “iBooks Author” is that the books created with it can only be read on an iPad only, which is a drawback for sure. We have Kindle eBooks for example, which allows you to read the same book not only on your kindle device but on other devices too. What is your opinion on it?

  6. @Kevin – well, I gotta be true to myself 😉

    @Jeremy – thanks for dropping by

    @Mike & @Lisa – if Apple really wants the cult following to remain loyal, particularly K-12 schools, in version two, they will sort out how additional formats can be published AND how their own format can be read on other devices.

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