Educators intrigued by Apple’s iPad

The web-enabled Apple iPad starts at $499.
The web-enabled Apple iPad starts at $499.

Apple’s new tablet computer, the iPad, could push other companies to bring more color-capable eReaders to the market in a move that could make digital books more commonplace on school campuses, educators said after the long-awaited release of the technology giant’s latest product.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad Jan. 27, calling it a new third category of mobile device that is neither smart phone nor laptop, but something in between.

The iPad, which is Wi-Fi enabled, has 10 hours of battery life, features a 9.7-inch screen, weighs 1.5 lbs, and will use the iPhone operating system, meaning education companies that have made iPhone apps can make their technology available for iPad users.

The iPad will be available in two months, according to Apple.

Jobs said the device would be useful for reading books, playing games, or watching video, describing it as “so much more intimate than a laptop—and so much more capable than a smart phone.”

He said the iPad can sit for a month on standby without needing a charge. What’s more, Apple is selling a dock with a built-in keyboard for the device.

A 16-gigabyte iPad will cost $499, according to Apple’s announcement. A 32 GB version will cost $599, and a 64 GB version will cost $699. Jobs also said Apple soon will launch an iBooks site that will be much like iTunes, where customers go to download music and movies to their iPods.

Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Harper Collins are among the publishing companies that will have digital books available in the iBooks store—an encouraging sign for eReader advocates who hope students soon will be downloading their textbooks on a tablet rather than lugging them around campus.

“I think this changes the picture for eBooks considerably,” said Larry Johnson, CEO of the New Media Consortium, an international group of colleges, universities, museums, and technology companies. “This has a lot of potential for higher education. … [Apple] has really seemed to think through the book experience.”

Educators have long complained that eReaders like Amazon’s Kindle lack the color that brings textbook graphs and charts to life. With the iPad bringing color to eBooks, Johnson said he expects competitors to follow.

“It’ll really drive others” to embrace a color screen, he said.

Carolyn Reidy, chief executive of Simon & Schuster, called the iPad a “terrific device” that gives readers the ability to adjust the typeface and turn pages by touching a finger to the screen, as opposed to pushing a button, as the Kindle requires.

Steven C. Mitchell, owner of Componica, an Iowa-based company that developed an iPhone app called “Memorize Words for Spanish,” said the iPad holds promise as a learning device for students.

“Most eBook readers, for whatever reason, are priced at about the level of a low-end netbook, which proves to be a significant barrier,” Mitchell said. “A tablet that is both an eBook reader and a netbook-like device would make it much more attractive to your everyday user. Plus, interactivity will bring new content and media that hasn’t been imagined yet.”

Still, tablet computers have existed for a decade with little success. Jobs acknowledged that Apple will have to work to convince consumers who already have smart phones and laptops that they need the iPad.

Denny Carter

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