Apple's iBooks Announcement
This may be a little late in order to actually make any dent in the massive amount of news and opinion that came out about the iBooks Author announcement and what I actually think about it, but I have a want to express my thoughts anyway. Hopefully it’s not too stale.
The iBooks Author Announcement was about a week and a half ago now. I watched the liveblogs and then heard all about it for a week (and the follow up is still going) on the 5by5 podcast network. I usually agree with most of the people there (with the exception of Gruber, which I am usually either laughing at or yelling at), since they have reasonable opinions. There are a few points that I haven’t read about yet though.
Firstly, this is obviously about hardware. They may be giving away the software, but no one thinks that this won’t sell more iPads in the coming years. A few people brought up the notion that they are selling the iPads to young people, in order to get them into the hands of kids - then they grow up, and they want to continue using their iPads. While the iPad has gained some major inroads into business, most of the major computing still gets done on Windows computers on Office, and even when you’re using a Mac you’re probably connecting it to an Exchange server somewhere. This is very similar to the type of thing that happened before though, where Apple was dominating the education market, especially at the primary school levels. It didn’t work then, and I don’t really think it will work now in the long run unless some major things change in the business landscape.
There is still a great thing for Apple in the hardware angle though. Parents are a little leery about buying the iPads for their children now, maybe because they think that they might be spoiling them, or may be they think that they will be more apt to break when the kids get their fingers on them. Now, they have an excuse which definitely pushes them into the “buy” column for many of the parents in the country. School districts will want to look like they are high tech and they want to get on this bandwagon, so they might buy the iPads for the kids themselves. Apple just made a killing on iPads in last quarter’s earnings, and selling to the academic market will certainly not hurt those sales. They’re practically giving the books away (and are giving away one decent section of one, which I’m sure they paid a nice fee for).
Secondly, I think that this is about hardware in another, more brilliant way. Getting an iPad or an Android tablet might actually become something that you will have to ask yourself a question about in the near future. Right now it’s a foregone conclusion, because unless you have a specific reason to get Android (for example, if you’re like me and don’t really like iOS), reasonable people will be buying an iPad if they want a tablet. It has a better selection of apps, and the hardware has been historically better built, plus the speed is fast enough for everything you might want to do. However, the fact is that the Android tablets are starting to look pretty good. The hardware itself is getting better, being much faster, and the screen quality is starting to climb as well. Android tablets are starting to look less like toys that are clawing for a slice of the non-iPad market and starting to look like real competitors. It’s my belief that in two to three years, there will be a set of iPad competitors that will look great in comparison.
So when is the best time to start giving people reasons to use the iPad over other tablets? It’s right now. Leverage the market position that you have now in order to create exclusive content that is required in some way, or at least greatly improves the experience of the user. If you’re a college freshman, and you could buy an iPad and a bunch of books for iBooks, or you could buy a bunch of books and buy an Android tablet that won’t have any of your books on it, you’re going to choose the iPad every time. It doesn’t matter if the Android tablet has a better screen, longer battery life, better accessories, and a great selection of apps and games, because you just got a huge tilt in the iPad direction because of the iBooks exclusive component.
Thirdly, people got a little mad at Apple because of the EULA on the iBooks Author saying that the books that you write in it can’t be sold in any other medium except the iBooks store. Many people have already commented on this, and I believe that it’s their prerogative what they say people can do with their software (as long as the content itself can be ported over to another book and they’re not claiming that - it would be overreaching), but I think there is a second reason other than the want for awesome software to do what they want. Apple started using language like the rest of the corporations that spout bullshit that people don’t like. They began the presentation talking all about how the US isn’t great in education, and we can help the students learn better with this awesome new iBooks tool. The problem is that they are speaking one thing, and doing another. If Apple really was being altruistic like their speech acts like they are, they should not care where the output of their awesome tool goes. If it makes new textbooks that are better for other people, then it’s great, and if you can get some money, you should consider selling in our store. You’re advancing the education in the world by using iBooks Author, and they would be happy about it. That’s not what they want though, they want to use your content to sell more iPads. It’s the kind of doublespeak that you would expect from other large tech companies, and exactly the kind of thing that makes every actually read the fine print when something comes out from HP or Microsoft. I don’t mind Apple acting like a for-profit company, I just don’t want the doublespeak with it - people want better from Apple.