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 – 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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10 Replies to “The iPad: Gateway Drug to Digital Learning?”

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong (someone doubtless will) but wasn’t there a significant test of the iPad on a number of campuses this past academic year? I believe the data showed students — some undergrad, some in professional schools — overwhelmingly did not like using the iPad as their textbook e-reader and note-taker. Evidently a large percentage quit the test anywhere from three to eight weeks into the semester and reverted to print textbooks and note-taking on their laptops. I have no idea what this means for the future of the iPad as a higher ed curriculum platform; probably just that Apple and Pearson will learn a few lessons and adapt as necessary. But I think it does indicate that the iPad, at least in its present iteration, is not automatically a magic bullet, killer app for the higher ed market, regardless of how cool it is for entertainment uses.

    Evan Reply:

    You are mixing up the Kindle DX test with the iPad.

  2. Jane is correct, my wife and I had a 2 hour discussion on how and why the current crop of kids is a lost cause. You should see some of the resumes that come across my desk. Unreal how some of them are even able to find their way home. I do like the take of the online book store to take on the kindle so I guess the conclusion can be reading digital media is still better than not reading at all. Pax et bonum

  3. I can’t really agree with what you said about ipad beeing a getaway drug, because even if it didn’t exist, kids still wouldn’t be reading books. Sadly, that’s the way things are these days :/

  4. I agree that the iPad is a great gateway “drug”. If the majority of kids think something is cool than they are going to be more prone to use it. And we all know that the iPad is the cool thing right now with a lot of people. This isn’t to say that next week, month, year something else won’t be out there that is cooler than the iPad. So hopefully this can be a catalyst to a new age of learning.

    As far as Apple not being a good partner in education, I don’t agree with that comment. My school had some of the first Apple computers in the state of Illinois, and I was lucky enough to be a part of that program. My daughter is now in the same school district and they have computer labs in every school full of Apple computers. The corporation has been a good partner with education in my area. Hopefully we are not the exception to the rule. As far as schools getting the iPads that doesn’t seem to likely in the near future with the sales going the way they are. It is always better to sell than donate.

  5. Not sure how else to submit this question to you, so I’m going to tag along with the Ipad comments.

    I watched the Cspan-2 broadcast over the weekend with you among a panel of others discussing electronic publishing. On the topic of (type of) edition bundling, you and one or two others repeated the idea of purchasing first a hardcopy then being able to add-on the download for a reduced price. In the software world, it’s more typical to purchase the download with a small add-on fee to receive a hardcopy by mail.

    My primary interest in e-reading is to reduce the amount of “stuff” I have to maintain, store and move from one place to another through my life. Of the titles I would purchase, I am far more likely to choose an e-publication first, and then only purchase hardcopy editions of the materials that I would find worthwhile (by my personal definition) to own in that form.

    I’d be interested to hear more about why the hardcopy-first method of bundling would be preferred, if indeed that is the case.


  6. Thanks for catching the glaring misunderstanding on my part – yes, the iWork isn’t free, each App is $9.99. The point still remains, though one now has to spend $30.

  7. Though I disagree with your “clues”, your conclusion is interesting.

    First off, you need to check your facts. Apple and iPad are not providing the suite of productivity tools freely. They are paid for apps, just like on any other OS, and their cost is substantially lower than commercial suites, and higher than free ones.

    Furthermore, as anyone who has used Apple’s productivity suite of tools knows, there is a huge amount lacking in them– namely the ability to move a file from your iPad to another device– or sync it in any way. Long way to go before it really is “productive.”

    Second, the iPad can certainly be used to access porn. And it’s done just like every other computer does it– through the browser. It’s all just a URL away. As you correctly point out, Steve is just trying to toss Android under the bus, along with Google, Adobe, Flash, Verizon, developers and a whole host of other people he’s spoken ill of publicly recently. Not very becoming for a CEO.

    One reason I believe there will be no large scale adoption of the iPad in Education markets is because folks in Education know they cannot count on Apple to be a good partner. Do you think Steve would accomodate their wishes? For instance, If they need the iPad to have a USB slot so kids can load their homework assignments? Nope. But, on the other hand you can be sure Android tablets will have such a feature.

    Another concern with Apple is the concept of a single source supplier. Apple can dictate pricing and usage plans with zero competition. But if an Android tablet is used, there will be HP, Asus, Dell and a host of other suppliers of the hardware, and the software will be much easier to write for and deliver, because it can be created in Flash or bunch of other HDE (High Level Development Environment) which allow developers to write apps faster and with less bugs. Unfortunately, Steve has limited the development of iPad apps to only his Objective-C toolkit– which is not an HDE. There are many more programmers available to program for Android than there will be for iPad.

    Google Apps on Android will be much better suited for education as all the data is stored in the cloud. And of course Kindle and Nook and the rest will also be on Android, along with a huge amount of Flash educational content which won’t play on iPads.

    So, in the end, I disagree with your hypothesis. Apple knows it cannot compete in education, and is not targeting it as a primary market for iPad.

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