iBooks Author and iTunes U

iBooks Author
iBooks Author

Apple announced on Thurs­day their lat­est play to dom­i­nate the edu­ca­tion mar­ket. From its incep­tion, Apple has been focused on edu­ca­tion as a mar­ket. They have con­sis­tently pro­vided spe­cial dis­counts to edu­ca­tors and stu­dents, and they have devel­oped a series of education-friendly appli­ca­tions and products.

Within iTunes, Apple has long had iTunes U, a col­lec­tion of free audio and video of instruc­tional mate­ri­als from col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties around the world, includ­ing Stan­ford, Har­vard, Yale, and Oxford. On Thurs­day, they announced that iTunes U was sep­a­rat­ing from the rest of iTunes, and being given its own app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Addi­tion­ally, Apple is allow­ing K-12 school dis­tricts the abil­ity to pro­vide con­tent through the app. (How they will help those school dis­tricts or their stu­dents afford the devices required to view this con­tent is not made clear, though many have spec­u­lated that Apple will offer deep dis­counts for large pur­chases. Even so, this seems to be an offer for another day, but per­haps as prices come down and the econ­omy recov­ers, some oppor­tu­ni­ties for this will open up.)

The most impres­sive part of the iTunes U app is how closely it mir­rors the best aspects of a good learn­ing man­age­ment sys­tem. It’s easy to nav­i­gate and to find con­tent, as you would sus­pect, but it’s no longer only a col­lec­tion of pod­casts. Now, iTunes U uses a binder motif, where the tabs include:

  • Info — defin­ing the course in a para­graph or two.
  • Posts — usu­ally hav­ing a brief sum­mary of a class, along with check boxes allow­ing you to keep track of the progress you have made, and links to the lec­ture on video or audio and the readings
  • Notes — where all the notes you take on the mate­ri­als or in related books are available
  • Mate­ri­als — where you can get to all the video, audio, books (some­times from the iBook­store, some­times in print-only copies from Ama­zon, some­times via links to exter­nal repos­i­to­ries such as Jstor.

What Apple is doing here is remark­able. They are cre­at­ing an infra­struc­ture where you can learn, with a min­i­mum of depar­ture from Apple’s ecosys­tem of hard­ware and its con­tent vend­ing ser­vices. The ben­e­fit to the con­sumer is con­ver­gence: notes taken in the e-book you bought from the iBook­store as part of your class are next to your notes about the lec­ture. The ben­e­fits to Apple are in keep­ing peo­ple locked into buy­ing their hard­ware, and also their con­tent. Geneal­ogy edu­ca­tion is going to be mov­ing in this direc­tion, though it remains to see how quickly.

Another thing that Apple announced on Thurs­day is iBooks 2 for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app can now dis­play a new type of mul­ti­me­dia book. While this could be used for any con­tent, Apple is focus­ing on the text­book mar­ket. See their adver­tise­ment if you want to hear their pitch about this. They tout the cost sav­ings (most are priced at $14.95), the weight dif­fer­ence (we have all seen the mas­sive books chil­dren labor to carry back and forth to school), and the pos­si­bil­i­ties of engag­ing stu­dents. I’m not sure how the pric­ing model will work for these pub­lish­ers, though I do think some kind of sub­scrip­tion model could flat­ten out pur­chases that with phys­i­cal books cover a 5 year period, into some kind of annual fee for updat­ing elec­tronic text books with no ship­ping and ware­house expenses.

The launch included 8 books by McGraw-Hill, Pear­son Edu­ca­tion, and Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, who together account for 90% of the K-12 text­books in the United States. These books, as shown by a free copy of E. O. Wilson’s Life on Earth: An Intro­duc­tion, are com­pletely dif­fer­ent from books you have seen before. They include video, audio voice overs, images that read­ers can inter­act with, charts that can be re-spun to dis­play infor­ma­tion from a dif­fer­ent perspective.…

Finally, Apple has released a free prod­uct that will help get con­tent into their iBook­store. The app, which runs on the Mac OS, is called iBooks Author. It is easy to cre­ate high-presentation qual­ity mul­ti­me­dia books using iBooks Author. It’s as easy to use as Apple’s other con­tent cre­ation tools in iWork. The catch with the prod­uct is the End-User License Agree­ment (EULA). Most EULAs are designed to limit the lia­bil­ity of a soft­ware com­pany to any­thing that might hap­pen to you if the soft­ware stops func­tion­ing or loses your data. How­ever, this EULA includes the fol­low­ing (as sec­tion 1B, high­lights are mine):

B. Dis­tri­b­u­tion of your Work. As a con­di­tion of this License and pro­vided you are in com­pli­ance with its terms, your Work may be dis­trib­uted as follows:

(i) if your Work is pro­vided for free (at no charge), you may dis­trib­ute the Work by any avail­able means;

(ii) if your Work is pro­vided for a fee (includ­ing as part of any subscription-based prod­uct or ser­vice), you may only dis­trib­ute the Work through Apple and such dis­tri­b­u­tion is sub­ject to the fol­low­ing lim­i­ta­tions and con­di­tions: (a) you will be required to enter into a sep­a­rate writ­ten agree­ment with Apple (or an Apple affil­i­ate or sub­sidiary) before any com­mer­cial dis­tri­b­u­tion of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may deter­mine for any rea­son and in its sole dis­cre­tion not to select your Work for distribution.

So, if you sell works cre­ated with iBooks Author, you can only do so through Apple, and you can only do so if they agree to dis­trib­ute it. If they turn your con­tent down for any rea­son, you not only can­not sell it with them, you also still are not allowed to sell it with any­one else. If you are absolutely sure that you are going to give your work away, I say, by all means, use iBooks Author. You will likely have a lot of fun putting the book together, and end up with a very good prod­uct. If, how­ever, you are invest­ing time cre­at­ing con­tent you hope to sell, even to dis­trib­ute as a perk for mem­ber­ship in a non-profit genealog­i­cal soci­ety, then I would say, wait a bit, and see if Apple is pres­sured by the out­rage of the com­mu­nity to soften this. (I can­not say that I have a lot of hope, because Apple has sev­eral dra­con­ian aspects to their con­tent dis­tri­b­u­tion model already that peo­ple are clos­ing their nose and swal­low­ing, so … they may not change this either.


PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Inter­net from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

I usu­ally do not take polit­i­cal stands here on GenealogyMedia.com, but two pro­posed laws could have a chill­ing effect on the open­ness that has allowed the Inter­net to flour­ish. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA, PDF) in the US House and Pro­tect Intel­lec­tual Prop­erty Act (PIPA, PDF) have the stated goals of pro­tect­ing prop­erty rights and stop­ing piracy of intel­lec­tual prop­erty. Most peo­ple do not dis­agree with those goals.

Red­dit, Boing­Bo­ing, Mozilla, Word­Press, Twit­Pic, MoveOn.org and the ICan­HasCheezBurger net­work, as well as Gene­ablog­gers, have gone offline in protest against SOPA/PIPA. Google has blacked out their logo.

Please look into these laws, and con­tact your Con­gressper­son and your Sen­a­tors. We have plenty of laws to con­trol piracy, and do not need more. We espe­cially do not need laws designed to limit the secu­rity of the Domain Name Ser­vice by forc­ing Inter­net ser­vice providers and con­tent providers to remove links to or not direct traf­fic to sites accused of hav­ing allowed or par­tic­i­pated in piracy. This law sim­ply goes too far, and threat­ens the free dis­sem­i­na­tion of ideas that has made the Inter­net thrive. Twit­ter, Face­book, YouTube, GoogleReader, Red­dit, Word­Press, and Tum­blr are among some of the obvi­ous exam­ples of inno­v­a­tive web­sites that would not have been able to stay in busi­ness if con­stantly harassed by the kinds of laws that SOPA and PIPA represent.