Apple has done it again. This time it's education, text books and the creation of ebooks.
Make no mistake, this will be as big as for publishing and educations as the iPod was for music. Or the iPhone was for mobile computing. Or the iPad was for ... so many things.
Where to begin? From where I sit, in the middle of creating an iPad app based on hundreds of posts from the GoFISHn site, iBooks Author is the missing link. We're designing a book, but the only option was to design an app because our book was not very iBook like. Until now, creating a content based app or iPad was not super hard but it wasn't easy either. You had to design in Adobe's InDesign (they must be REALLY worried) and then run the file through a bunch of tools and so on. I described the process in a Quora post the other day. Now much of that appears to be redundant. I'm good with that. As Nathan Ingraham's post on the Nieman Journalism Lab points out, iBooks Author is going to unleash all kinds of new ideas about ebooks everywhere from newsrooms, to the university, to fishing sites.
On the education front, we just witnessed the birth of the digital text book, and a far better and affordable textbook it should be. Who know how this will play out for incumbents else, whether it's the upstarts like Kno or the big text book companies. But Apple just stepped to the front of them all.
And to make thing even more interesting, there is iTunes U. now anyone can build and distribute a course app through iTunes U, and the course integrates with textbooks built in iBooks Author. Thinkabout. All the content of the course, for test to assigned reading to lectures to notes in one seamlessly interactive experience. When you combine this capability with initiatives like MITx and Khan Academy, the possibilities are head spinning.
Here is how this will play out. I hope. The higher education industry is just as broken as the music industry was a few years ago. Students (or their families) pay astronomical sums to send their children to one school (more or less) where they are confined to the courses and professors available in any given semester to cover their core requirments or fulfill their major. As a parent paying out a huge chunk of my life savings, I can tell you the system is deplorable because the quality of the courses and the teachers is wildly uneven. But there is no customer sastisfaction imperative, no returns policy. Just be glad you got your credits.
What apple unveiled today will speed the end of that broken system. More students will be educated more quickly and far more economically, and they will be educated by the top professors, regardless of their institution. They may not be live and in the classroom, but for the first time it's possible to take the best professors and the best materials and scale their genius to reach an unlimited number of students (well, at least those with access to an iPad). That is really, really huge. The university system as we know it will change radically for the better, and far more people will have access to the best educators anywhere, regardless of institutions.
This may well be bigger than the iPod or iPhone. And the social impact is bound to be greatly for the good.