This morning’s announcement from Apple about creating tools for interactive textbooks is actually a landmark announcement for four major reasons.
The first is how these tools can impact education. Ben wrote a good piece on this so I won’t elaborate on this too much here, other than to say that these tools will completely re-define how textbooks can be created and distributed. It is ideal for higher Ed textbooks but Apple and their major publishing partners are even doing high school level interactive books that should push iPads into education circles even faster.
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The second thing iBook Author does is lay the groundwork for non-education publishers to create interactive eBooks as well. But, as Phil Schiller pointed out at the iBook 2 announcement event in NYC today, this tool can be used to create any book of any kind, not just interactive books. This free authoring tool is a major step towards making Apple not only a publisher in their own right but a distributor as well as delivering the hardware platform optimized for enhanced eBooks in general.
While the first push with these tools will be to educational authors, it won’t be long until mainstream authors start using these tools and use the iBookstore as their preferred distribution medium. And since these tools are so easy to use, authors who only write text-based content will begin playing with the integration of color drawings, illustrations and other media to enhance their story lines, which will only work properly on an iPad.
The third thing these tools do is give Apple a serious competitive advantage over other tablet vendors. The iPad is already the leading tablet, but by developing these rich authoring tools for creating interactive and enhanced eBooks for the iPad, it makes the iPad even more interesting to consumers and eBook readers from all angles. To date, Apple has sold about 70+ million iPads and we expect them to sell at least that many in 2012. This means that they are rapidly increasing their user base, which in turn becomes more attractive as an eBook publishing and distribution platform for all types of authors. This move really distances them from any other tablets on the market
But the 4th thing these tools could do is quite interesting. It has the potential of doing to the publishing industry what Apple did to the music industry. Although Apple did not invent the MP3 player, they re-invented it and then created the iTunes store, which with the iPod, became the # 1 vehicle for digital music distribution. Today, Apple owns 75-80% of the MP3 player market even though many others have tried to duplicate their success. But they created the iPod, the tools and the distribution medium for digital music that helped Apple own that market. Yes, music is now available on smartphones, but it took Apple’s competitors almost a decade to replicate their success and even then, it had to come on a completely different digital device.
Now Apple has a chance to re-invent eBooks by delivering a complete eco system of hardware, software development tools for creating next generation interactive eBooks, a publishing and distribution medium and a powerful hardware device for delivering this optimized content. On the surface this looks like a major move to get Apple more entrenched into the education market. But I see it as Apple’s first move to disrupt the entire publishing industry. If Apple’s does this properly, they could become the largest publisher and distributor of eBooks and in many ways, change the economics and overall distribution of eBooks in the future.
One more thing. If Apple was concerned about Amazon’s Kindle Fire and even Amazon’s role as a publisher and distributor of eBooks, they aren’t anymore. In fact, this is Apple’s response to the Kindle Fire and Amazon’s overall position as an eBook distributor. The key reason is that with these tools, Apple will completely raise the expectations of what should be in an eBook in the future by pushing the idea that all eBooks should have some type of rich interactive format that delivers an enhanced reading experience.
Of course, the Android or even Windows 8 tablet crowd could respond in kind, but at the very least, Apple has a two-year head start on them and given the competitors track record in trying to catch Apple that lead in this area could even be longer.
I also think that this probably signals that a lower cost iPad is on the way. For Apple to really get iPads into education and leverage this new interactive eBook development platform, they will need to have some models with lower prices. Given the tight budgets of schools and families who could really use something like this to help their kids education, iPads will need to be much more affordable if Apple is going to “own” this segment of the tablet market.