ACU expert says new iPad may entice electronic textbook adoption

Apple’s latest iPad may be the bridge necessary to get schools to more fully embrace digital textbooks, an Abilene Christian University expert said following Wednesday’s unveiling of the latest version of the popular tablet computing device.

George Saltsman, executive director of ACU’s Adams Center for Teaching and Learning, said that he thought the increased readability of the device’s higher-resolution display would “further accelerate” the adoption of digital texts, especially in light of a recent five-year plan forged by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Education.

In February, the entities challenged states and companies to ensure every K-12 student has a digital textbook within five years.

“That’s why the new retina display is important,” Saltsman said, describing the enhanced display on Apple’s newest iPad device. “It brings us to parity with paper resolution.”

The newest iPad, which goes on sale next week in the United States has a faster processor and a screen resolution that is sharper than the average high definition television set.

The price of the new device starts at $499, just like previous models. Versions capable of accessing cellular networks will cost $629 to $829. Its battery life remains the same, about 10 hours of use.

The primary barrier to mass adoption remains textbook cost, Saltsman said, and ACU experts and others “still think there are opportunities to make digital textbook costs lower.”

There is wide disparity in digital textbook costs, Saltsman said. Some are inexpensive or even free, while others, especially college texts, are on par with normal print pricing.

And while the new device is impressive, a cheaper, $399 version of the iPad 2, Apple’s previous flagship product, may be the catalyst that moves schools to buy such a device, he said.

At a launch event in San Francisco, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said the company’s goal was “redefining the category that Apple created with the original iPad.”

As part of its Mobile Learning Initiative, ACU has been studying how digital textbooks could work on iPads and how iPads can be used as educational content delivery tools, Saltsman said.

The program, which also makes use of iPods Touches and iPhones, has identified three primary areas of use, ranging from what Saltsman termed “hypermobile” devices, such as an iPhone, to portable but powerful devices such as a traditional laptop.

Currently, the iPad fits somewhere in the middle, Saltsman said, not quite placing the technology world in the “post-PC” era, a term Apple has begun using to describe what it sees as the future of its mobile devices.

“I don’t think we’re really there yet,” Saltsman said of Apple’s futuristic moniker. “But I do think it’s really close.”

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