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macrumors 68040
Original poster
I used to think that Apple hadn't brought iBooks to the Mac because it just hadn't gotten around to it.

But then today, after watching the keynote, a conspiracy theory formed in my mind.

I could see that Tim Cook was really excited about iPads dominating the education market. And generally, I've heard more and more about iPads in schools. My mom is an elementary school art teacher and has been given a personal iPad and her school gets grants to buy iPads for students. But she thinks that they aren't that effectively used and is upset that the school district can no longer buy Macs (only PCs) and that the big emphasis is on iPads. (I honestly don't know any more than that on why she thinks they're not effectively used.)

I'm taking a developmental psychology course right now, and in the class my professor has been talking about the disparity in the quality of education between school districts since schools are locally run and largely locally funded. She specifically mentioned that she believes kids in poorer schools without iPads are at a disadvantage! This message about pumping schools full of iPads to solve problems seems to come up everywhere.

I'm personally not an iPad fan (I like traditional computers more), and so it's a bit hard for me to get my head around why iPads are so great for education. My best education was when I went to school in Sweden for one year as a child. Our school had an ice skating rink, a woodshop, a sewing room, a real gym with actual working showers, a forest and meadow to play in during recess, and a dining hall with real silverware! But I doubt it cost as much to build as many US schools. It was a series of very plain, wooden buildings that surrounded a courtyard. We didn't even use indoor lighting a lot of the time because there was plenty of sunlight. And when I think back on it, I actually remembered stuff I learned that year, and that was 21 years ago! I'm fluent in Swedish because of it, but I also learned quite a lot more. And there were no computers in the school then. I'm sure there are now . . .

Anyhow, I've started to realize that the idea that schools need iPads is becoming accepted. The second part of that is that Apple (or at least Tim Cook) believes that tablets and computers are different animals. Meaning that many customers need both. I question that belief (I do think traditional computers are a frequent necessity, not convinced that tablets are in addition to traditional computers).

But it made me start to wonder. If schools that already invested in those large-purchase MacBook programs for example wanted to get in on this iBooks textbook new deal, they will still need to buy iPads. But is it really any harder on your eyes to read a book on a MacBook's screen than an iPad 2's screen? Apple even thinks reading on an iPhone is a user experience they should go after rather than allowing you to read on a Mac.

And now, Macs are coming with crisp "Retina" displays that would be perfect for reading books.

I really cringed when Tim Cook read the following quote from a Texas principal (I cringe whenever he talks on stage because of his exaggerated tone, but this really went over the top):

"The iPad has been a real game changer in education. No technology has impacted the way teachers teach and students learn more quickly and more profoundly. With the iPad, the possibilities are endless."

I have so many qualms with that I don't know where to start. First, I think students should be thinking about inventions in ways commensurate with their actual historical significance. Giving a child an iPad and telling them it's the future would be like giving someone a VCR and telling them if they knew how to hit play they understood the future. I think students shouldn't be made to be so passive but allowed to be more creative. Think about their own inventions. Learn how to program. Using an iPad is not a competitive skill. When I was in school, I fought with our school's IT director to allow Macs. He said kids needed to learn Windows 95 because that's what they would need to know in the marketplace. I said to him (and this really got his attention): "Do you actually think it's preferable for students to only learn how to use one computing platform?" I made a point that we had no idea what would be a prevailing computing system 10 years down the road and that in any event, learning how to use any arbitrary system without instruction is a more valuable skill than being proficient in only one.

Anyhow, obviously with the iPad, the idea is less about how to use a device and more about the content. But is the content really "game-changing"? If there had never been computers or the Internet before the iPad, then yes, that would be game-changing. But the iPad is a computer, whether Tim Cook wants to admit it or not. It has a different UI. Big whoop. You use a finger, you use a mouse, whatever. It's not game-changing. The printed press was a game-changing technology for education. The Internet and WWW were game-changing for everyone. Word processing was game changing for how we write. Public education itself was game-changing. But I don't see how an iPad is game-changing. And the sentimentality about them, the gushing—it bothers me.

And what does it mean that the kids learn more quickly and more profoundly? Have they mastered the fine art of the aphorism like their principal? And of course the possibilities are limited (rather than endless)! Are you going to teach computer programming on an iPad? What about building iPad apps? Can you do that on an iPad? And don't get me started on art. The response time on the iPad isn't good enough for precise control, and yes I have seen the proofs of concept that you can make art on the iPad, but I have a secret: most of them are using the hush-hush stylus that Steve Jobs made verbotten.

I'm not anti-iPad if you choose it and like it as a consumer. Wonderful!

What I am thinking about are the kids who have already purchased MacBooks and are going to be facing the proposition of having to buy an iPad now to get into the iBooks system. It seems crazy to me. I went through the same thing when I was in school with Texas Instruments. I had to buy a TI-83 my freshman year and a TI-89 my senior year. And they weren't cheap. I did an investigative report for our high school newspaper on why every student had to buy these things and interviewed the math teachers. It turned out that Texas Instruments hosted free conferences with room and board for teachers, along with free calculators and free overhead projectors to use with the calculators, along with providing a curriculum.

And that's how my teachers said they decided to use them. I asked about competition, and one teacher told me she had preferred HP's graphing calculators, but there had been no freebies. Anyhow, I was a muckraker even back then! And I tell you, you can't lay out a newspaper and write articles on an iPad! We used Pagemaker back then.

I think there should be some oversight regarding why iPads are needed in school. I completely agree that the printed textbook model is beyond outdated. It's overly expensive. It's not up-to-date. But there are much cheaper e-ink devices that could handle textbooks (and do). I know they don't have the same multimedia as iBooks, and non-interoperability between platforms of these multimedia textbooks is one thing, but non-inoperability between a company's own products to possibly spur more purchases is another. I don't know much about the money situation in general, but least at my mom's school it seems like they get grants for them.

It might be good for the kids if they put some windows in the schools instead! (I went to a school with no windows--it was built in the 70s, and that was a big thing back then apparently for environmental reasons, and that's where my mom teaches now.)

Anyhow, this ended up being much longer than I planned. Thank you for reading.


macrumors 68030
Oct 2, 2007
So, reading through this, and a lengthy read at that-but fine, I see your points.

I grew up with textbooks, many "out-dated" and some newer, maybe even one new that year. I can understand the idea that iPads/iBooks allows for textbooks to be updated more often and easier to reach out to students. Textbooks are static, chalkboards/whiteboards are boring; iPads are neat toys and toys that can get a student more involved and interacting with learning. Computers and mice are sit and stare, iPads are touch and close to the body making it feel more saturated in the learning experience.

That said, I would LOVE for iBooks to be available on Macs…even if rudimentarily via iCloud support at first to link it to iOS devices. To read a book/textbook on the Mac if working on homework or just to see it on a larger screen would be so nice. Especially with the Magic Mouse and how that mimics the iOS touch experience. Being able to read a book in multiple devices just like a movie seems so simple and linkable. BUT, seems Apple wants to really push the idea of people buying iPads/iPhone/iPods. It makes sense for them to want that, people update these devices more often than computers, they are selling more of these than computers, they are seen as toys and gobbled up, and less chance of obtaining a non-Apple approved/Apple 30% cut on books read that way (yes, you can find ibooks online and probably send to a device but that is a two part system since you cannot read them on the Mac).

Maybe one day when iPad sales start to slow down and if they are still making computers we might see the day iBooks come to Macs.
I remember Computer Labs at school growing up (way back when) and perhaps iPads would be a more lucrative deal for Apple…buy for each student, not a lab…and buy them each year for students (or perhaps on the leasing schedule to maintain an up-to-date version).

Night Spring

macrumors G5
Jul 17, 2008
I've tried some books made in the iBooks format, and frankly, I'm not impressed. My vision isn't perfect, so I like to be able to adjust font size, but you can only adjust font size in portrait but not landscape -- and then in portrait, you have to scroll, but in landscape you flip pages. The table of content system also works totally differently in landscape vs portrait. IMO, this is very disorienting, and not conductive to taking in the content at all.

I do, however, love reading regular epub books in iBooks. I find that illustrated books work very well in that format, especially now that you can switch between scrolling and paging in iBooks 3. And dedicated educational apps hold a lot of promise -- the best of them do make learning more interactive and fun.

I agree that just throwing iPads at students isn't going to improve anything, and that building schools with more windows and better environment is more important than giving each kid an iPad. But building windows is actually harder and more costly than buying iPads. And I believe iPads, if used properly, can enhance learning. At the very simplistic level, for instance, you could load the thousand most important books ever written, and carry it around in a compact and easily referenced format. Sure, you can do the same thing with a laptop, but personally, I find reading on a tablet to be much more comfortable than doing it on a laptop. I've tried reading books on laptops, and I wound up trying to find ways to get the keyboard out of the way. Reading on a desktop does work, but then you can't carry a desktop with you. So this is one thing a tablet does better than a regular computer -- use as an electronic reader.

No, you can't teach kids how to write computer programs on an iPad, and if you want to do art, it's probably best to start with real crayon on paper. But a tool doesn't have to do everything to be useful, and an iPad is quite good at many things, and it's new so people are excited about trying to find how they can use it, so there's a bit of a hype and overenthusiasm and too much expectation about it right now. But eventually, things will settle down and it'll be one more tool that we use.

We shouldn't forget to build schools with windows, but that's such a difficult goal. In the meanwhile, if we can give each kid an iPad, we should. Of course, then, we'd need to find teachers who can properly use them as learning tools, which may be the hardest goal of all.


macrumors regular
Jul 31, 2010
Little Rock, AR
The comments made yesterday about education were pretty ridiculous. Talk about iBooks and then offer up a long quite from a superintendent with absolutely no substance to it (blah blah blah ... generalities about possibilities ... blah blah blah). The key to effective use of tech in the classroom is the teacher, not the tech itself. I sure haven't seen much of Apple trying to help teachers out other than ramming iBooks Author down their throats.


macrumors 6502a
Jul 30, 2010
When I was in school, I remember carrying heavy backpack daily with all the big thick outdated textbooks..

Had needed some "chiropractic adjustments" to realign the damage done from years of carrying those books on 1 shoulder lol (you are labelled with names when you use the backpacks properly with both straps).

I think the biggest benefit is less burden on kids growing up and the ability to read anywhere anytime on their personal device and that's going to help learning tremendously.

Besides, I find it easier to read on my iPad than read the book when in low-lightning environment.


macrumors 601
Aug 27, 2012
OF COURSE Apple wants every pupil to carry an iPad, think of the $$$.

Food for thought: there are some schools in California, and these are private, don't even apply if your parents don't make at least $250,000, have decided NO COMPUTERS in their classrooms. You have to think, are these weird West Coast Hippies or they know something?

School, any bureaucratic institution always look for that silver bullet. If only we can get whatever (technology) our problem will be solved. NOT.

Technology as a tool OK, but lots of schools... are like putting a kid in front of the TV so they don't have to watch him.


macrumors 68040
Original poster
You know there are some industries where the government has to goad technology companies along, like with HD television. And there are other areas here where private companies are making out like bandits in the public market (schools) in an area the government doesn't seem to have anticipated the future. It just makes me wonder whether there shouldn't be a national plan of some sort about tablet devices, curriculum, etc. I honestly don't even really know enough to make that assertion. It just seems a bit odd to me that the best thought educators seem to have on the future of education is the exact same thought Apple has. And again, I think e-textbooks make perfect sense. I just wonder if it should be less haphazard and a bit more organized with the government enforcing certain levels of interoperability in exchange for getting government money.

BTW: I read everyone's comments! Thank you for all of your thoughtful discussion!

Night Spring

macrumors G5
Jul 17, 2008
As I understand it, American schools are strongly decentralized and very much locally controlled. So I suspect any attempt to organize curriculum and equipment purchase decisions from the national level would meet with strong local resistance and wouldn't end well.

So there will be much chaos as each school district and even individual schools haggle over how to adopt tablets and ebooks, and they all do something a little different from each other. But Americans seem to prefer being independent and not really mind the chaos so much. I wouldn't stress over this so much. In the end, children will learn or not learn based on the dedication and commitment of their teachers, and whether or not their school spent too much or too little on tablets or other technology -- not really important in the long run!

Jessica Lares

macrumors G3
Oct 31, 2009
Near Dallas, Texas, USA
I say this from experience.

Not everyone learns the same way, and that's the really hard part about going to a public school with hundreds to a thousand of students in one single grade. There's very little time to ask questions in class, and there's very little time for getting help afterwards. Everyone from students to parents get frustrated, and obviously teachers too because they're given a textbook with answers and ways of explaining, some workbook material, and not much else. I can't tell you how many times I've had to explain the structure of a sentence, or the difference between a verb or adjective to my friends parents, and even my own.

When I went to private school, the classes were not only structured better, but we pretty much had a balance of textbook, lecture, and video in the classes that it mattered most, like history and science. The discussions really helped to reinforce the material and made great notes. I owe that kind of system to being able to graduate with actual knowledge, versus learning material for the sake of taking tests every week.

Being able to take an iPad home, and not only have a textbook, but material to watch, quiz yourself over, among other things is going to really help those in public school. And it's really going to help teachers because they have huge amounts of video they can reference and make use of in these iBooks. Making the textbook easier to understand is another key point, dumbing down really helps and again, not make you just remember the text for the sake of a test/exam.


macrumors 68040
Original poster
Out of curiosity tonight, I thought I would take a look into which textbooks are available in the iTunes Store in the iBooks section for iPads. Oh God, what is Apple doing? I guess you don't have to look in iTunes if you're on an iPad, but I don't have one. I'm taking a developmental psychology course, and I was curious to see if it was available as an iBook.

First off, I had forgotten how horrible the iTunes Store is. It's horrible! It's like Apple doesn't know about the Internet and how nice Web-sites work. Anyhow, once I got over to the Books section then found the tiny link to Textbooks, I got to the layout where I saw a random assortment of books, some advertised as made with iBooks Author, other ones apparently not. I looked under Social Sciences to find the psychology textbooks. There is one psychology textbook (it's free, which is nice), and it's for people studying psychometry. It's not a book I imagine gets assigned too often to students. From the screenshots, it looks like nothing more than a black and white PDF, but is only compatible with iPads.

I thought maybe psychology books were under some other section. Nothing. In fact, while iTunes doesn't tell you how many results there are per page, the number of textbooks total in ALL categories couldn't be much more than a couple hundred. And it's hard for me to conceive that many of them would be approved textbooks. And this is why every child in the US needs an iPad?

While I was there, I saw a list of recommended "required" reading, including Crime and Punishment for 99 cents. Other Dostoyevsky books were up to $10. These are all in the public domain.

I went to Amazon to compare. All Dostoyevsky Kindle books are free. And work on almost any device.

I then looked at psychology books.

For one thing, Amazon recognizes the advancements of the Web. When you navigate the site, you can see a hierarchy of where you've been. You can see the number of search results. You can organize search results. In iTunes when there are multiple pages, it's not clear at all. There's a tiny > character, and if you click it, it moves you forward to a new set of results. It never tells you how many result pages there are. And again, no way to sort them.

Anyhow, Amazon has 8,926 psychology textbooks available in Kindle format. And they're REAL textbooks! The ones that teachers would use and that professors assign! When I searched for psychology as a general term in iTunes (which doesn't let you drill down to just textbooks), the types of books that came up were homemade ones like "How to End Porn Addiction for Christians," the cover of the book looking like it was designed with a Microsoft Word template.

What is Apple doing? How do the have people convinced that iPads and iBooks are the future of education? I just don't get it. It's such a closed system that it's closed off from Apple's own computers (Macs), and the selection is beyond paltry. I understand how and why the iPod took off as a closed system. That made sense. But why are iPads and iBooks so compelling? Are schools actually buying iBooks textbooks? I can see that there are a few ones that have good production values, but they are very few, like basic biology. And are they being accepted by school boards? If not, what are they using iPads for?

Thank you for letting me rant.

Night Spring

macrumors G5
Jul 17, 2008
What is Apple doing? How do the have people convinced that iPads and iBooks are the future of education? I just don't get it. It's such a closed system that it's closed off from Apple's own computers (Macs), and the selection is beyond paltry. I understand how and why the iPod took off as a closed system. That made sense. But why are iPads and iBooks so compelling? Are schools actually buying iBooks textbooks? I can see that there are a few ones that have good production values, but they are very few, like basic biology. And are they being accepted by school boards? If not, what are they using iPads for?

Well, iBooks *is* rather horrible, though searching for books on the iPad itself is a better experience than doing it through iTunes. And I'm not sure Apple has anyone convinced that *iBooks* is the future of education, though they are trying to sell it that way. A better experience than trying to find textbooks through iBooks are the iTunes University courses. There are great lectures by respected professors from well-known universityies avaiable in a variety of formats, some audio only, some video, and some with supplementary course material, all of which can be organized and accessed with the iTunes University app.

Plus, the 8,926 psyhcology textbooks you found on Amazon can all be read using the Kindle app on the iPad.

Then there are the educational apps. Psychology probably doesn't lend itself too well to apps, but there are anatomy apps, astronomy apps, apps for exploring the elements in chemistry, a lot of museums are starting to offer apps, etc, etc.

So textbooks in iBooks is just a tiny, and probably the most underdeveloped at the moment, part of how iPad could be utilized in education. Personally, I dislike books created using iBooks author, they have this very annoying formatting quirks that IMO make them hard to read. But the good thing about iPads is that you aren't limited to just iBooks.

For instance, I've been reading a historical novel that mentions lots of place names in Edo period Tokyo. So I've been jumping over into the Maps app and looking up all the places as I read, getting a good sense of how the geography affects the events in the story. It's made the reading slow going, but I've learned a lot about Tokyo geography, lol. Of course, this is info avaiable on the internet, but the iPad puts that info in your hands, only a few taps away. That, to me, is the greatest educational advantage of tablets in general and iPad in particular.
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