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.

Oppose SOPA / PIPA

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.