Apple took the stage at its New York City education event on Jan. 19 to show off several new products and services, including iBooks 2, iBooks Authors and a totally refreshed iTunes U.
As expected, the company said that its plans could very well transform how young people are educated in the United States and spent much of its time trying to sell parents and educators on the idea.
But as nice as the idea to improve education sounds, there are several major flaws in Apple’s strategy. The company has yet to say how it will attract public school systems that haven’t adopted iPads and doesn’t quite acknowledge the fact that there are already several higher education portals designed to do what iTunes U does. Interactive textbooks are great, but they can only go so far in appealing to the stakeholders that will be using them.
Simply put, Apple might not have enough technology and services to make its education push as strong as it could be. This could prove to be a real problem as it goes to market in the months ahead.
Read on to find out about some of the major issues affecting Apple’s education strategy:
1. The branding seems off
Apple has made the odd decision to stick with “iBooks” and “iTunes U” to market its new education services. Its textbook offering now goes under the heading of “iBooks 2 for iPad,” while iTunes U has been revamped as an education portal. Such branding might confuse consumers and ultimately hurt adoption of both services. Apple would have been smart to change both services’ names to something distinct.
2. How do we get iPads to students?
Making digital textbooks more available to students through the use of tablets is a fine idea. But Apple still hasn’t solved the problem of actually getting those slates in the hands of kids. Around the country today many families can’t afford iPads. What’s worse, if schools require them for digital textbooks, those kids will be left behind. Getting the hardware to the students is the first step in making iBooks 2 work, and Apple doesn’t seem to have adequately addressed that problem yet.
3. The public education system doesn’t require paying for textbooks
One of the hardest sells in Apple’s education strategy is forcing kids, kindergarten through grade 12, to pay for their textbooks. Currently, the vast majority of public school systems across the United States provide textbooks to kids free of charge. Unfortunately, in some areas, kids are forced to share books because the public schools can’t afford enough of them. Apple is ostensibly asking them to now pay for textbooks when they have heretofore not been required to do so. It’s an odd requirement that won’t please parents at all.
4. Colleges already have education portals
There’s nothing wrong withApple trying to roll out a new education portal in iTunes U, but the company should realize that there are several other services out there that colleges and universities have invested cash in. BlackBoard is arguably one of the top education portals in the higher-education arena, and for many schools, switching away from that just might not be financially feasible in the coming years.
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5. It’s all about the rollout
As Apple noted at its Jan. 19 event, several textbook makers have already rolled out titles on topics ranging from math to science. But a closer inspection of the available books reveals they have a long way to go to accommodate the sheer number and variety of textbooks schools require. Apple is at the mercy of textbook publishers to get titles into its iBookstore. And as history has shown, Apple doesn’t like being at the mercy of any stakeholder.
6. Education budgets are notoriously tight
Apple is putting an awful lot of faith in education budgets around the United States. Historically, those budgets have been extremely tight. Current estimates indicate that the average yearly cost of educating a student is about $16,000. Adding the cost of iPads and digital textbooks will other further bump up the costs beyond what is affordable in many districts. Apple might not be delivering as much value to schools as it thinks.
7. The textbooks are storage hogs
In order to make the textbooks as interactive and appealing as possible, publishers are bundling them with all kinds of multimedia content. The only trouble with that is that the book files are huge. In fact, some textbooks in Apple’s iBookstore are nearly 3GB in size. In other words, the 16GB iPad 2 might not even be suitable for students,only pushing the cost of ownership higher. That’s a problem.
8. Many private schools can’t afford it
There is some speculation that private high schools and middle schools might be forced to adopt Apple’s iBooks 2, since their parents typically pay for computers and, in some cases, textbooks. But that fails to recognize that private schools have even tighter budgets than public schools, and many are skating on the edge of financial failure. It’s unclear how either private or public schools could adopt Apple’s new iBooks without further straining their budgets.
9. Interactivity isn’t enough
Interactivity stands at the center of Apple’s plans. The textbooks include video, 3D images and all kinds of other features to make them more appealing than hard copy textbooks. But let’s not forget that teachers have been educating students a certain way for many years, and many of them will be loath to switch to another method. Plus, it’s hard to say it’ll actually improve learning. Interactivity is not enough of a sales pitch.
10. It presupposes expertise
Aside from requiring users to have iPads, Apple’s education strategy assumes both students and teachers have expertise using its tablet. Yes, the software is intuitive and it shouldn’t take too long for educated people to get used to it. But in the initial stages it could hold education back. Plus, if the textbooks don’t act the way they should, there’s no telling what kind of expense and trouble there would be going back to hard copy textbooks. iPad expertise cannot be assumed.