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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bye Bye (Boring) Textbooks …

Textbooks are about to go — and am I in favor?


Carrying kilos of books, many often priced at $60 or so, means you need around $350 each year. And the books are soon behind the times. In fact, many of them are already behind the times when they are published. Next year it is another $300+ (plus more, if you think of inflation costs in the next few years). Also, think of the paper wasted when the book is published. And the storehouses required to keep the books before they are sold. And the postage, often.

Think, now, of an Application that allows you to have these 'Multi-Touch Books' made for your iPad. The app is here, nowAnd other companies will soon follow — as they always do when Apple leads the way!

Oh, I forgot to mention the textbooks and their damned weight!!! See how that feels against a 1.33 kilo iPad that's only about $500 … Just once! You can keep that going for a long, long time. Mine is the first version of the iPad and it is still going absolutely fine. I carry it with me on my trips and never miss my iMac which I use for some special applications that require the power.

These Multi-Touch Books — and you own them and don't have to return them at the end of the year, as some people may have to do — are available on your iPad all the time! Most importantly, your iBooks also get updated when something new comes out: A 'fact' that is no longer real (Atlases are a great example); An event that is current or is closer to your taste/environment. The latest results from tests and activities can also now be 'appended' to your books. Oh, so many things. And this happens right away! You don't have to wait for the next edition of a book that could even take years. Several years, in Pakistan.

Students have many additional advantages. Apart from an interactive book - not possible without a computer - they can write notes, save definitions, collect points and share them from the book, add presentations to go with it using Keynote/PowerPoint, add music, bring in voices, have movies (the iPad will do for that, too), and answer many questions in the iBooks provided. 

None of this needs any knowledge about programming ... but if they are into IT (or team with someone else who is) they can increase their efforts much further. So can teachers.

This Multi-Touch Book, let's not forget, adds to a zillion new things on your iPad. Apps to brilliant articles and whatever else you want from the Internet. Your email and social networking is also there for you. And Skype. And if you have an iPad 2 (or the new version coming out in March) you also have two cameras, with a great way to chat with your friends and colleagues. However, even an original iPad (without cameras) is great for iBooks. The students have, most likely, got a camera in their cellphones.

Are the books here? Yes! Two chapters of E. O. Wilson's Life on Earth are available on the Apple Store for free and that's really a great start for you to try. In fact Wilson called this whole thing 'a miracle'.

Other books exist already and some are being added every few days. Almost 90% of the textbooks created by several US Publishers will be online, soon. Other publishers will follow. Surely the Brits will be online as fast as you can imagine. OUP here better start on this, too.

If you are in Pakistan (or someone who is an expat Pakistani), are you looking for Urdu books? I just visited a company that was trying hard and making headway into getting Nastaleeq scripts to go into their first iBooks. Soon that'll be done — though we need a bit of help from Apple. (I am trying!)

OK ... so what about you? Can you write a Multi-Touch iBook? Apple's new and startlingly simple application, iBooks Author, allows you to make a whole new series of textbooks for the iPad, with two options:
   (1) If you want to charge for them (or even give them for free in the iBooks format), you can deliver them only via the Apple Store. It does need you to sign in and put together an account, but that's not too difficult.
   (2) If you want to use them as 'pdf' books, or want to pass them in any non-iBooks form (you can use the application to make the books), you can distribute them in any platform you like.

Much more than these books, here's something all teachers can do: Use the application to put together an interactive lesson plan for the day or the week or more. Turn it into a Multi-Touch book and show it on the projector. Of course, you could pass it on to students as a pdf file for free (though some of the stuff may be missing — but that can be shown in class). The process is not difficult at all ...

This is the best thing that has happened to textbooks and I am thrilled that someone has taken a major step forward. There will be further improvements soon, to this application and the new ones that follow.  When Steve Jobs said the iPad was the best thing he had done for years, he wasn't wrong. The man had all the things you can think of and a whole lot more!


If there were a bunch of teachers, from the same institution or different institutions, we could set up a program of this where we could run through a basic video of the introduction, show them a couple of iBooks, start them off on a small project to build a chapter of an iBook (or a Lesson Plan), show them the different things they can do and get them going. Longer sessions can be followed up later, if needed. Anyone ready?


By the way, until you get some iBooks downloaded on to your own iPad and your kids iPad, here is a lovely regular book plus a tremendous iPad App. Watch the videos.

Richard Dawkins

Quite apart from being one of the best books I have read for people from 12-'upwards' (I enjoyed a lot of it myself as I learnt a few new things), I have also downloaded the iPad version. The little animations and more lovely stuff are a treat, maximizing the impact of Dave McKean's artwork.

I bought my book in Mumbai some months ago. In Pakistan you can buy it for Rs. 1795 at Liberty Books - great price, since it is almost the same at ($18). The iPad App is around $14. Give your child (and the whole family, really!) the book at the next opportunity … but if you have an iPad, get the interactive item right away!

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Anonymous Sabeen Mahmud said...

Thanks for this roundup. It's only a matter of time and it's a great opportunity for PK entrepreneurs and organizations that work in the education space to kickstart local initiatives. We have the tools, the platform, and the customers. Plotting and scheming ...

16 February, 2012 14:38

Blogger Zakintosh said...

Waiting …

18 February, 2012 05:50

Blogger nuclearbattery said...

wonderful. I can't wait for the day that my entire backpack worth of books gets replaced by a single device..

along the same lines, I have a professor who has done away with blackboards/whiteboards. he puts up a projector hooked on to his iPad, solves all problems on his iPad-projector set up and then proceeds to email everyone pdf files of the the day's lecture.

02 March, 2012 08:12

Anonymous Nabeel said...

If the benefit is in the technology and not the brand, why is the focus of this post only on one brand? I realize that I might be speaking to the wrong person but as a solution to the 'textbook problem' (let's call it that in the interests of time and space), why not mention Android tablets, or (the forthcoming) Windows 8 tablets?

With the higher-end Android tablets, they are lighter, cheaper, more powerful and customizable, and just as easy to use.

Even if you do not agree with that argument, is it not in the interests of fairness to at least mention that there are options other than iPads out there?

14 March, 2012 08:48

Blogger Zakintosh said...


You've got your ideas slightly wrong.

Quite apart from my personal love of Apple (though I do have to use the dastardly Windows in a few of my talks in Schools/Colleges/Universities), the objective of this article WAS to talk about the wonderful iBooks Author Package that, so far, only Apple has brought out.

Similar questions regarding other packages on Windows have been asked in many magazines and, so far, apart from one rather measly app - that is to be bought and is not at all easy to use - and it won't combine with PowerPoint, for example, no one has really made it. Yet!

Of course, they soon will have apps appear and, hopefully, keep improving them until they become as good as this one from Apple. Maybe even better. Who knows, today, what people can make. Microsoft could do wonders, since they have the Office Products that are a great entry points into such an application.

I wrote specially about THIS package not only because it is uniquely new and wonderful, it also brings out about 90% of the text books by other publishers into its support. (It also is a wonderful package to do small scripted things for the teachers, where Macs are used.)

Surely, as it happens to many Apple products, Windows and other OS's will copy the idea and bring out new tablet- and phone-based applications that will make similar software (supported by the major book publishers, too, I would imagine) available to many other users. But it will take a little time.

As an educator I am not bothered too much about why one chooses Windows over Mac. That's a personal choice 'of sorts'. The extra money saved, plus the amazing free-ish pirated software in some countries is another great idea, if you like pirated stuff (though the wonderful guide-books for teachers will be missing. But some people find a few on 'torrents', anyway.)

Of course, people do miss some advantages - but not something many of them really care about - so its ok. In our country (and in India, for example) people by the 'latest version' of Word and continue to use the same 10% of it that they used on Word 1 ... so that's fine, I guess!

More people will be able to use this stuff when the Apps come out for Windows to use on Tablets by other manufacturers. Let's face it, many Tablets now do nearly similar things that they saw and copied from the Apple products or got into licensing rights.

It would be a great job to have these text-books available on all Tablets and, possibly. Apple users will use the app on their Parallel software (which makes them run Windows, too, on their Macs) if they want to put their stuff out on other markets.

The article did not mention others, like Android or Windows, for the total lack of software in this area. Once they do have it going, you should write about your experiences with it. Blogs are blogs. No one will tell you why you 'forgot the iPad', I assure you. Good luck!

15 March, 2012 02:09

Anonymous Nabeel said...

Clearly I misunderstood your post - mea culpa:)

I was thinking more about the implications of this technology and the changes it will enable. I know of a few classrooms, as I'm sure you do too, that have almost entirely stopped using textbooks and instead provide students with iPads. So when I read your post I was envisioning textbooks placed on the cloud, available to students on tablets in class and on their desktops at home (I still think they provide the best home experience).

I haven't used any e-textbook app but I'm sure iBooks Author is one of the best out there (though CourseSmart seems to be a competitor,and at least according to GigaOm,it's been in the interactive e-textbook business before Apple got there).

In any case,I just read your post through the perspective of announcing a game-changer for textbooks, so found the focus on Apple strange - but now you've clarified that the post is about the new app, it makes sense.

By the way, I don't see this as an Apple vs Microsoft battle - Windows hasn't even launched a tablet version yet as far as I know.

15 March, 2012 11:03


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