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The iPad: Gateway Drug to Digital Learning?

In my last post, What’s Next in Digital Reading I explored my notion that there are three kinds of reading; extractive: immersive, and pedagogic. Extractive reading works in digital form as finding and extracting data and information is optimized by the power of digital. Immersive reading struggled to flourish in digital form until the e-ink screen went mainstream with the release of the Kindle. Pedagogic reading, the kind done when learning from a textbook, has yet to take hold as there hasn’t been a device and/or business model for delivering lesson-based reading that has gained any traction. However, this is all about to change dramatically because of the iPad.

The iPad has been the center of a whirlwind of excitement, agitation, and the usual Apple marketing wizardry. There are plenty of folks who think it’s all hype — and plenty more who think the iPad changes everything. Personally, I think that the current version of the iPad is the ultimate personal entertainment device, but one that has been designed for an ulterior purpose.  I believe the iPad is destined to become the first device/platform to make significant headway in the education space — particularly in higher education.

Apple is determined to ensure that the education market, one that may very well be split between Google’s and Apple’s platforms, sees Apple as the safe and appropriate choice for students of all ages.

The first clue I had that this device is more than it seems to be today is the complete re-engineering for the iPad of iWork, Apple’s productivity software suite.  Why would Apple do all that work to seamlessly integrate a spreadsheet, presentation, and word processing software package in an entertainment device? I think the answer lies with the college student audience.

If you were building a device for college students, wouldn’t you want to be sure it could be used for entertainment and learning? College students don’t shop for education hardware, they shop for devices that are great for watching movies, gaming, listening to music, and accessing Facebook, etc. But for any such device to be seen by a parent as a reasonable education purchase, it must do all the required basics – word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and search as well as any PC. Put all of these features in a $500 – $1,000 device and you might just have created the world’s most popular device for college students.

The second clue is, of all things, porn. If you look at comments that Steve Jobs has made when talking about the Android platform of late, you will see that he seems hell bent on casting aspersions about Android because, as Steve puts it, “Folks who want porn can buy an Android phone.”  This is a double edged sword of a comment, as it is intended to deflect attention from criticism of Apple’s “closed” application development policies while exposing the potential problems found in Google’s more lax controls of applications in Android.  However, I don’t think Apple is taking a Disney-like approach to app’s because of any inherent moral/ethical/religious reason — I believe Apple is determined to ensure that the education market, one that may very well be split between Google’s and Apple’s platforms, sees Apple as the safe and appropriate choice for students of all ages.

The third clue to why this device is being groomed for the education market is the competing reader apps. The Kindle App, the Kobo App, the Nook App, etc., are all found on the iPad, and by all estimations have far better selection, tools, and install bases than iBookstore. My theory is that Apple does not see trade book reading as a huge component in the iPad’s success but rather sees it as a key entertainment form that must be included. Allowing owners to read their Kindle books on the iPad means that users like me, who aren’t interested in switching platforms or doing long stretches of reading on an LCD screen, see this device as complementing, not replacing the Kindle.

By putting the horse before the cart, Apple will have given students what they want first, only then following it with the education content they will need.

Furthermore, in developing iBookstore, Apple can establish business relationships with publishers, influence industry sales practices, and experiment with content access models. The last item is perhaps the most important as Apple must establish an education content platform if the device is destined for Education. Apple is learning from including trade books in iBookstore and by allowing competing trade book platforms.  When education content comes into play, Apple will be seasoned and experienced.

So why release the iPad now without education content? I think the answer can be found by looking at the proposition at the beginning of this post. Apple is creating the must have, killer device for entertainment. If this strategy works, most college students will have or want to have an iPad. When and if this happens it solves the greatest hurdle for introducing a dedicated education device – widespread device adoption.

By putting the horse before the cart, Apple will have given students what they want first, only then following it with the education content they will need.  In other words, if the iPad can achieve the market penetration of the iPhone/iPod Touch, Apple will have a legion of students on campuses a year or two from now who will be ready to buy and read their textbooks on the iPad. No education hardware selling needed — just release the content and watch it work.

There are very, very few companies that could pull off a strategy of selling consumers what they want and delivering much more — what consumers really need. This plan will meet with many challenges, as there are strong products out on the market that are running Android and are focused 100% on the U.S. student market, such as the Entourage eDGe.  These devices will theoretically have all the same features as the iPad — but can they capture the hearts and minds of the student marketplace in the way that Apple can? My hunch is that the initial shipment figure of 1 million iPads in 28 days goes a long way toward answering that question.

Next up on BlackPlasticGlasses.com – I walk through how I see the future of textbook selling via iBookstore by comparing today’s typical $150 textbook with a disaggregated iPad version selling  $2.99 chapters!

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