The Hills Are Greener: Apple Locks In On Education

The Hills Are Greener: Apple Locks In On Education

Jan 23, 2012

It may not have been the sexiest announcement, but Android supporters – manufacturers and users alike – should not underestimate Apple’s education gambit. Their big push into education with iBooks 2 being optimized for textbooks (both the reading and selling thereof) and iTunes U offering deeper integration with college courses could be the necessary roots they have to lay down for long-term success at the expense of Android.

What they are doing is getting to impressionable minds, and trying to get into their lives. If students grow up using and being acclimated to Apple technology, this will surely make them more likely to buy Apple in the future, no? An entire generation of students acclimated to Macs, iPhones, and iPads. It’s any businessperson’s dream, and one that Microsoft has had the potential to pull off themselves, but failed to do.

Do I believe that there is a lot of benevolent intent here? Definitely. Education clearly needs disrupting, with the state of America’s schools getting worse. Why not do it with the powerful technology that kids want to use, in ways that could empower, engage, and enhance learning? But when Apple lays down in their iBooks Author EULA (app for Mac-only of course) that books meant to be sold can only be done through the iBooks Store, then I grow skeptical that there isn’t some ulterior motive to try and completely dominate the space.

It creates vendor lock-in, something I’ve railed about before – and if teachers are creating educational material that essentially require students to buy Apple products, this is not only devious, but potentially monopolistic. Although it may not be that the material created in the app itself is locked in to iBooks, it’s still a deterrent to selling elsewhere. Surely, the convenience of publishing directly from the app to iBooks is incentive enough?

Why did the textbook market get into bed with Apple, anyway? The textbook market was clearly in need of shakeup – as a former college student, I can tell you how bad the book buying experience was. Apple’s now going to be selling textbooks for $14.99 maximum in their stores? It could actually be cheaper for students to buy an iPad and all their class books digitally than to buy the physical versions. I’m talking about on a single semester basis, if not for an entire year.

Why wouldn’t the textbook publishers get into the digital market? Imagine the kind of money that they lose from the used book market – they are starting to include more single-use products in their books (such as codes to access digital supplemental materials) but they have been slow to adopt digital distribution of their books themselves. A move to widespread digital formats, will kill that secondary market that they so despise. Not to mention the potential that Apple mentioned of being able to create content that can evolve and change as information changes, to remain up to date. Books could link directly to their source information and to research, and provide interactive material right in the text. Information that needed to be on paper could easily be printed out, of course. There’s just little reason for this to not happen, especially as tablets increase in popularity.

The question is just this: why didn’t the major publishers spearhead the push to digital themselves? As soon as the iPad was announced, they should have been at least planning on digital textbooks. They could have seized the market for themselves, and pushed for ones that would work on multiple platforms, not just on Apple devices. They could have charged what they wanted, not the $14.99 maximum. Will some publishers hold out for a while? I bet they will. But, they’ll find sales numbers dwindling as students begin to demand digital and iPad versions of the textbooks, and then the professors begin to use them. They’ll give in to Apple eventually, as they’ll just be powerless to do so. Because Apple are the ones running where these books are sold, the publishers will lose their control.

Given the larger issues surrounding SOPA and the push to adopt it from the MPAA and RIAA as of late, it makes me curious as to why big media is so unwilling to innovate and evolve. Are they really so blind to technological innovation and how they could use and exploit as to potentially lose control, just because they held on to their business models for too long? Gaming is far more willing to accept digital distribution and not see it as a threat, but as an oppotunity. The consoles have been slower to adopt it because of their deep hooks into retail, but I wouldn’t be surprised if more day-and-date games begin to be released digitally starting next generation, especially with that industry’s own blowback against used sales. Ultimately, they will dictate the terms, and those publishers will be the ones who last. Hollywood’s long-term existence is threatened because those who are finding ways to innovate and exploit the digital space are doing so from outside the industry, and the money is going to those innovators, not to the media companies. If they provided the innovation, then they could be the ones who last.

So why are the textbook publishers so willing to commit these same mistakes?

This is all not even getting into the fact that Apple controlling the digital publishing market is obviously harmful to Android. Apple is all about promoting and supporting their own ecosystem, and using their products to help support and promote their brand and their other products. iPods help sell iPhones which help sell iPads which help sell Macs, all the way up and back down the line. If students have particular advantages to buy and use iOS devices, why would they go Android? Why buy the Android tablet when the iPad will carry all those books, and they can be purchased at a lesser price than physical books? This is why textbook sales being so localized to the iPad is such a bad thing for both the publishers and Android supporters – a young market that wants to spend money on new technology will have reasons to not buy Android. That should be feared, even by Apple fans. Competition is ultimately a good thing for the market as a whole, and moves like what Apple are doing have a definitive anti-competition bent.

Carter Dotson
Carter Dotson, editor of Android Rundown, has been covering Android since late 2010, and the mobile industry as a whole since 2009. Originally from Texas, he has recently moved to Chicago. He loves both iOS and Android for what they are - we can all get along!
Connect with Carter Dotson // email // www