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Could the iPad Save Publishing?  No, but… well Maybe

With the introduction of the iPad a couple of weeks ago, the oracle himself, Steve Jobs, stated that the device was the single most important thing he’s ever done because it could single-handedly save the publishing industry.  Jobs may be reaching for the stars with this one if he expect this new device to be much more than a Kindle/iTouch hybrid.  If the current business models are followed, there’s no way the iPad will reach the critical mass acceptance unless…

Before going further, let’s consider the facts:  the iPad is really an Apple entry device designed to take on the Kindle as a reading machine.  Although the iPod has enjoyed huge success, it’s profitability stems not from the device itself but from it being a gateway drug of sorts into the entire Mac world.  How profitable would these little devices be if they didn’t lead consumers to buy music, games, and apps through Apple’s own iTunes?  Also consider how many more people own a Mac computer now because they were introduced to the Apple brand through the quirky iPod.

As for my personal thoughts on the iPad, it’s far too big to be considered a portable gaming device.  Right now I carry my iTouch everywhere I go.  Something the iPad’s size isn’t conducive to such.  I’d only take a device this big with me on long trips for gaming and/or reading, but I wouldn’t break it out casually while for a table at a restaurant.  It might be a neat, coffee table device in homes for table top games or the newspaper reading, but this appeal is limited.  Steve Jobs has great intuition, but the iPad alone isn’t going to turn Apple fans into subscribers of on-line newspapers; this isn’t going to save the print industry unless…

A bigger, untapped market is educational computing.  Education and the publishing have been married ever since education began in America.  Jobs could be hinting at joining this marriage via the iPad.  A device like the iPad would be an ideal candidate to replace the aging, clunky tower and monitor systems schools now have.  Not only would administrators no longer have to worry about the upkeep of ancient wired networks, schools with wifi, could upgrade every iPad in a kid’s hand through iTunes U in a matter on an hour or so.  Apple could generously include a base version of pages along with optional, virtual textbooks.  Kids could read books online and then email their homework into their teacher on a daily or hourly basis.  Worksheets, along with the costs of paper and endless copies, could also be a thing of the past; independent developers could write interactive software that could uniquely practice and test the skills the students need to know.  Instead of finishing homework, students could be required to achieve a certain score in a math game to be considered proficient.  Having these portable devices in the hands of every student would not only increase motivation by allowing students to work at their own pace and receive instant feedback via realtime assessment, this would also mean kids wouldn’t need to run to their lockers to collect books or forgotten homework.

The iTouch is already being used in schools to allow underprivileged students access to the internet and email. The price of these types of machines will only drop.  If schools buy in bulk, these machines could cost just as much as a high-end scientific calculator which is currently about $200.  Giving an iPad-like device to every child entering high school would be cheaper than buying new text books and upgrading a mammoth computer systems every five to ten years.  It would also ensure that technology wouldn’t simply be taught in classrooms; it would be integrated in every class every day just as computers are a part of everyday business.  How does this relate to publishing?

The major hurdle preventing such a technological revolution in the classroom is the very industry Jobs is trying to “save” with the iPad.  Publishing companies have such strong lobbies with school districts and members of congress, it will be difficult to get tax monies rerouted to fund such an effort.  In short, Jobs would have to make sure publishers get a big enough piece of the pie through virtual textbook revenues that they don’t cry foul.  It’s doubtful publishers will play along, but that may be the very reason why Jobs is promoting the iPad as a neat, little savior of the publishing industry.  Even if it may not be incredibly profitable at first, the iPad (with its new ties to publishing through a nifty addition to iTunes) may harbor enough good will to open the door up for an arrangement such as this.  IBM and Apple were able to convince similar folks to brings computers into the classroom in the 80s.  Distributing the iPad (or something very similar) into our schools could be the next step, and that truly would be the most important thing Steve Jobs could do in his lifetime.



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