Apple rewrites the history books


— 7:00 AM on January 23, 2012

To be precise, Apple has not quite rewritten the history books. They have reformatted them. Taken the flat, lifeless pages of text and transformed them into flat, video-linked pages of text. At least until the iPad 3D hits. (What? You haven’t heard about the iPad 3D? My Chinese contacts made it very clear that the next iPad would be 3D. Of course, buying eyewear from China may not have been the best idea. Especially since I haven’t worn contacts for 10 years thanks to lasers. Comedy!) Anyway, Apple unveiled its new iBooks 2 and iBooks Author program last Thursday at an event so special it was actually held at 9 a.m. CST instead of the usual noon. For once, I didn’t have to keep Frito dust from contaminating my Moshi keyboard.

Truth be told, for a change, I had planned on ignoring this particular Apple event. While I’m all for educating the young masses about isotopes, Waterloo, and igneous rocks, I am no longer a member of said masses. I graduated college 18 years ago and have been hustling punks off my lawn ever since. (And if you’ve noticed that I make some punk-and-lawn joke in nearly every MacHole, it’s because I’m crotchety in a way even Blue Star Ointment can’t soothe.) So the prospect of listening to someone who’s not Steve Jobs talk about iAbacus or some such for an hour didn’t really appeal to me.

Then I saw a tweet from Engadget with a link to their live event blog. Hmmm, mess with income taxes or watch text periodically scroll down my screen that has nothing to do with Hoth? The choice was clear: Check out the third day of the latest woot-off and then hit up Engadget. I was about ten minutes late to the party when I finally decided against the Leak Frog and finally peeked in on what the Apple folks were up to. Fortunately, reading about a live event doesn’t take nearly as much time as actually sitting through it. It’s a bit like how I watch NASCAR races—record them on TiVo and watch at triple speed until an interesting pass, wreck or fistfight happens. Sadly, Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall rarely get down with the Marquess of Queensberry type of action. Although they could just be obeying the first two rules of Fight Club.

Regardless, what Phil and the gang were discussing was actually quite intriguing. Apple had signed on the four biggest publishers of high school and college textbooks to release their titles as interactive iBooks. Now, algebra would come to life just like that digital version of Grover’s “Monster at the End of this Book” I had downloaded over Christmas. Only in this case, the monster would be six more years of higher-level math courses culminating in the calculus of multiple variables probably not taught by Mr. Hooper. Because he died in 1982.

Having textbooks on an iPad is kind of a no-brainer. Except for the massive amount of effort it took to seal the deals with publishers and convert all of their titles. And add video and more interactive pictures. And clickable text. That sort of thing. And the pundits who write reviews of these things within minutes of their announcement (suck-ups) have already discussed the major impact on education this shift will probably bring—lower costs, more engagement, fewer redwoods harvested for Intro to Evil Human Consumption 101, and so on. And while that is all well and good, I also like to ponder the smaller shifts this move may engender. For example, now when a bully knocks some frosh’s books from his hands, said bully will be responsible for replacing an expensive electronic device. Now, only the rich can bully. I’m sure someone will occupy the in-school-suspension room over this. Now, college students can’t chalk up that $800 credit card charge to an OTB site to books. Although they might be able to hide the Beatles Anthology on their iTunes accounts, assuming their parents aren’t hip to the tech like me.

It will also be even easier to slack off while studying. Instead of having to set aside the 80-pound copy of “Janson’s History of Art” on it’s Doric column-style podium (sold separately) and then grabbing their iPads to LOL and OMG, students can just flip between the iBooks 2 app and Instafacesquarequora. Maybe a jailbreak app will even let users view a textbook on one side of the iPad 3’s Retina display and some backyard wrestling YouTube videos on the other. Dare to dream, people. Dare to dream. On a sadder note, students will no longer get the joy of perusing a used textbook and discovering the doodles of Calvin or Hobbes or Locke, assorted fraternity rallying cries, and dozens of assorted phalluses. I'm sensing another app opportunity.

Apple didn’t just leave textbook authors dangling in the wind when it comes to content creation. They also released the free iBooks Author program so you, yes you, Professor Roy F. Fox, Ph. D. of the University of Missouri, can create your very own whiz-bang iBook textbook, assuming you already have a stash of multimedia files handy or don’t mind yanking things off of Google image and video search. Cool. And not just for people like my uncle. I can make a book for my kids. Or a more interactive version of my ad portfolio. Or a really sweet interactive recreation of our future trek to Fantastic Caverns and the Precious Moments museum that will exploit the technology to its fullest and bring honor, glory and stalagmites to the memory of Steve Jobs.

Oh, and Apple also made some announcement about iTunes U upgrades or something, but I stopped reading the Engadget stream at that point. Had to see if there were any new Chuck Norris facts, dontchaknow.

Later,

Fox

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