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No Class: Georgia Schools Are Nuts to Consider Replacing Textbooks with iPads

Georgia is considering replacing school textbooks with Apple (APPL) iPads in an attempt to curb long-term costs and utilize the latest technology. It's great that the school district is ahead of the curve, but in this case, it's too far ahead. A paucity of digital textbooks and the rapid pace of tablet evolution makes it way too early to switch students to a digital-only classroom.

Not enough to read
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Jim Galloway, Georgia Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, and his colleagues met with Apple recently to discuss student tablets:

Last week we met with Apple Computers, and they have a really promising program where they come in and their recommending to middle schools -- for $500 per child per year, they will furnish every child with an iPad, wi-fi the system, provide all the books on the system, all the upgrades, all the teacher training -- and the results they're getting from these kids is phenomenal.

Apple has traditionally been supportive of school systems, knowing the value of hooking someone when they're young, but there is one thing Apple cannot provide: content. For every Calloway Arts, the progressive educational publisher creating textbooks specifically for the iPad, there are dozens of traditional publishers who don't have their material on the iPad -- or in any digital format at all.

Textbook publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing and Pearson Education are supposed to be working with Apple on iPad-exclusive textbooks, but Apple is mum on how many textbooks the iBookstore actually carries -- and a search of its iBookstore yields very few textbook titles.

Furthermore, with Apple's dubious history of digital censorship, students could end up reading whitewashed versions of history, among other things

iPads may not always be top dog
Apple has sold 15 million iPads within the past 10 months, but there's absolutely no guarantee that the original iPad will remain preeminent in the future:

  • The current Google (GOOG) Android tablets aren't even using an operating system made for tablets. The Motorola (M) Xoom will be the first major tablet using Honeycomb, a version of the Android operating system tailored for the devices -- and it already has a deafening buzz.
  • The Samsung Galaxy Tab has sold 2 million tablets within the past three months, an adoption rate high enough for it to be compared to the iPad's success. Even with the relatively high return rate, the Galaxy Tab can be considered a legitimate threat. In fact, the company announced the Galaxy Tab 2 this past Sunday.
  • The long-delayed Kno tablets are finally available. They are specifically made for educational purposes, as are other tablets on the horizon. Kno has already made deals with textbook makers, which may limit what is available on other tablets -- including the iPad.
Not all books will be readable
The biggest issue here, however, is that Apple announces a new iPad every year, making them obsolete quicker than the textbooks school systems hope to replace. Apple will render previous iPad versions obsolete on a regular basis.
It sounds like Apple is promising to provide students with new iPads like clockwork, but what happens when there are school budget cuts like the ones currently proposed by Georgia and 45 other states right now? Chances are the students will be stuck with old iPads, creating the same problem schools have with the 10-year-old PCs sitting in their classrooms now -- and a quandary much more complicated than old textbooks.
Schools may be used to dealing with old material (Williams said that some of Georgia's text books were so old that they didn't mention 9/11), but they are not used to dealing with the challenges of new technology. For instance, what happens if the latest multimedia book app from Scholastic is only compatible with the latest iPad software and/or hardware? First- and second-generation iPod Touches are already being cut out of the latest software, and there's absolutely no reason to believe that the same thing won't happen to the current iPad. It is also a potential tech support headache for both the school system and Apple.

A tablet-driven classroom is definitely the future, but it is the wrong time for notoriously slow-moving and cash-strapped state school systems to jump into the technology.

Photo courtesy of Enokson // CC 2.0