Apple, Textbooks and the Future of Reading as Living Experience

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English: Steve Jobs while presenting the iPad ...

Photo by Matt Buchanan. Image via Wikipedia.

Apple today announced that it would reinvent the textbook, disrupting the traditional textbook industry by developing interactive, digital versions of textbooks for students. Apple also introduced new software that helps authors and publishers create digital textbooks.

This is really interesting to me, because, like everyone else, I’ve been reading Walter Isaacson‘s biography of Steve Jobs. I’m reading the hard-cover copy of this book, which some people may find surprising. I’m an avid e-book fan, and I read them on multiple devices: my (2) Kindles, my (2) iPads, my (2) MacBooks, and even on my iPhone, which is always available because it never leaves my person.

But some books deserve to be bought, read, and displayed in hard cover. I’d read Walter’s bio of Ben Franklin (highly recommend) and, well —  I know it’s probably not obvious — but I also belong to the cult of Mac. (We do have one lonely Windows laptop in our house; but its owner, my son, knows that just one more slip-up — and it’s gone.)

Anyway, I’ve been reading this book in bed each night before lights out. But what I’ve discovered is that it’s not strictly a reading experience. It’s a multimedia experience. When Walter writes about the October 1983 Apple Sales conference in Hawaii:

 At that moment, a screen came down from the ceiling and showed a preview of an upcoming sixty-second television ad for the Macintosh. In a few months it was destined to make history…

“Hmmm,” I think. I’d really like to see that commercial again. Ah! The iPad is snuggled next to me, so:


Not only did I find this, but I also found a video of Steve introducing the commercial at the sales meeting. Suddenly, I’m watching a young Steve Jobs and following along with the words in Walter’s book! (I presume that Walter watched this “ad nauseam,” probably also on YouTube, sitting in bed with his iPad.)

A few nights later, I get to the part in the book about the 1984 shareholders meeting:

“We’ve done a lot of talking about the Macintosh recently,” he [Jobs] said. “But today, for the first time ever, I’d like to let Macintosh speak for itself.”

Wow, I think. I’d like to see that. So, back to YouTube (start at the 2:20 point, that’s where it gets good):

So reading, even in hard-cover, is now a multimedia experience — and a faster one at that. No searching around the house for the DVD (if you have it). And yes, it’s true that Kindle and iPad already enable readers to enrich their reading experience direct from the device.

But I’m quite sure that these YouTube videos are not embedded into the text. They should be. What’s more, the text should be constantly updated and annotated with more current information, opposing opinions, and links to reference materials, such as maps and CIA Factbook info.

This goes beyond what Kindle and Nook are already doing in allowing you to bookmark, annotate, and highlight passages. For example, this episode of This American Life aired on January 6, 2012, after Walter’s book was published.

Here is a unique perspective on the impact of Steve Jobs and the tech industry. As a reader of Walter’s book, would I be interested in listening? Absolutely!

Anyone who has furiously checked the shipping status for their new iPhone will recognize the Shenzhen name. It happens that I’m a regular This American Life listener. But what if I wasn’t?  If the book was living, it would automatically be updated with this rich information.

That’s what I expect for the future of ebooks, and what I think Apple’s announcement heralds. Reading as a living experience.

Diane Thieke is contemplating buying the e-book version of Walter’s book, so that she can read it on the train, but not break her shoulder carrying it around. Follow her check-ins on Twitter.Enhanced by Zemanta

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