Yesterday Apple announced their latest plans for the iBooks platform. The event focused on textbooks and education. There were three main takeaways. All of which have their pluses and minuses.
First, there is a new iBooks app for iOS devices. It looks slick with video, sound and other rich media embedded in the books. It’s inline with where ePub3 and HTML5 are going. But it’s still not available on the desktop, just iOS. I was dissappointed in this. I do have a few reference books that I like to look things up in. If I am working on the desktop it is sooooo much easier to just open the Kindle reader or Nook reader apps and find what I need, rather than having my iPad next to me. And isn’t this what textbooks are used for? Reference? Looking things up? Multi-tasking and note taking aren’t strong points of having a tablet. So rather than have the one device we’re back to two devices. Not cool.
Second, there is the partnership with textbook publishers coupled with the efforts to make textbooks available at the $15 price point. That sounds good to me. If anyone needs a price break, it’s students. My fear here is that it could be a “Netflix-like” situation, where if a publisher doesn’t like the revenue flow situation or wants to renegotiate terms and Apple digs its heels in… where does that leave all the students, their notes, school libraries, etc.? Which brings us to the third takeaway…
the new iBooks authoring tool. It sounds pretty easy to use and the seamless integration is cool, but there are so many other limits and ramifications. Liz Castro did a good list on the concerns around the authoring tool. My big concern is that whatever you make in this tool Apple will not let you sell anywhere else. I was so excited when Apple embraced the ePub format with the rest of the world. But now it seems they have taken a page from Amazon’s playbook (or maybe the iTunes .m4a strategy) and will start building their own walled .ibook garden. It’s a shame. Because these strategies are not about creating the best user experience (which I do believe has been a driving force at Apple), but it’s about controlling parts of the supply between content creation and the reader.