I'm a geek. When I finally figured out how cool an iPad is, I walked in a trancelike state to the Apple Store and bought one without even trying it out. And I love it, it's a fantastic device. It's not something you would use to create content, not in my opinion. But if you're a consumer of content, it's perfect. Ebooks, video, email, web surfing, there's no laptop or desktop computer that beats it for convenience. In my one thin 2 lb iPad, with its 8 hours of battery life, I have books that would fill a five-shelf unit. I have every issue of Vanity Fair that's been published since I bought the iPad. I have National Geographics, almost everything written by Charles Dickens, Cervantes, Dale Carnegie, and others. I have PDF files of lengthy contract documents I need for business, including several that my colleagues keep in print form using large binders that are at least 4 inches thick. But I have them all, in my thin iPad weighing less than 2 pounds.
So a logical question is: will it replace the textbook?
I believe the answer is a no-brainer: yes, absolutely, and it can't happen soon enough.
Reuters published an article yesterday written by Deborah L. Cohen that looks at a startup company hoping the same thing. Titled Tablet startups bet on digital classrom, she looks at a company called mySpark Technologies in particular, who is creating its own tablet based on the Android operating system, which is the platform on which Google's Droid phone runs.
(Note: in the interests of full disclosure, I use a Google Droid phone along with my Apple iPad, my HP and Dell laptops, and my Acer netbook. And a stack of legacy Dell desktops lining my home office. I'm an equal opportunity geek.)
I'm not sure mySpark feels the need to build new hardware, unless it's concerned about Apple's rather close-hold on distribution rights to intellectual property. And that's a valid concern. Steve Jobs realized a long time ago that the power of distribution is still a key to profitability, and he's seized control of that with the built-in store associated with the iPod / iPhone / iPad family of devices.
So the details of how the business of textbook distribution are in play, and who knows how the details will work out.
But I believe one thing is certain: the days of a student lugging stack of books from class to class, under an extended arm or in a backpack – are numbered.