Monday, March 22, 2010

Many in the edublogosphere have dismissed the iPad as being "closed" and therefore not suitable for the pursuit of open educational objectives such as creating a Personal Learning Space (PLS) on the internet made from Open Educational Resources (OERs). Thus, the question becomes, "Is the iPhone OS so closed as to be incompatible with the ideals and goals of open education?"

The main complaint appears to be about the closed nature of the iPhoneOS ecosystem where devices such as the iPhone, iPod touch and, now, the iPad are fed by the iTunes Content Management System which includes the iTunes Store for Music and Video, the iTunes App Store and, now, the iTunes Book Store.

Since Apple is not an eleemosynary concern, we should expect an emphasis on the commercial aspects of all this. Making life and consumption safe and easy for customers is certainly consistent with that status. Equally unsurprising is that geeks who like to tinker with everything, Libertarians and other kindred spirits are rankled by all of these constraints. Which camp is the more numerous and profitable? But is that all there is to it?

Smart capitalists also understand the "economics of free" and how "doing well by doing good" can improve the bottom line. Apple gets these concepts very well and that is why Apple has maintained non-commercial avenues for content production, discovery and distribution. Hundreds of thousands of podcasts are free via the iTunes Store podcast directory. Apple supports iTunes U which is free to any higher education institution and many other public information sources. Apple has a long history of supporting educators in their work with sites such as the Apple Learning Interchange.

Thus, I expect that these kinds of things from Apple will continue and expand. It's good business for them.

Unlike the iPhone, the iPad is aimed at a new category and Apple hasn't revealed to the world everything that we need to know in order to properly assess its importance or irrelevance to teaching, learning and other things. Right now, we know more about the iPad commercial model than we know about its corresponding non-commercial model and it's the latter that will likely be more important in education.

We know that the iBooks app and iTunes Book Store will be based upon the open ePub standard. What we don't know is how much of that standard will be supported. There's a lot to ePub beyond plain text. We also don't know whether there will be free books in the iTunes Book Store or not or whether books will be reviewed by Apple, someone else or not at all. Although eTexts will probably also be done with ePub, we don't yet have confirmation of that nor do we know how eZines and eNews will be done though I suspect that these will be apps that use in-app purchasing to acquire single issues or commit to multi-issue subscriptions.

The big unknown, IMO, is what the non-commercial counterparts of eBooks, eTexts, eZines and eNews will be like. How will they be produced, discovered and consumed? The podcasting model would seem to me to be a natural fit. If they were all done as ePub documents, these would be just one more new podcast media type. There are other possibilities, especially for eZines and eNews (including newsletters) that I would like better than ePub but this is hard to discuss when we don’t know how Apple will address these things.

The fact is that we know too little about how new content for iPhoneOS devices will be created, discovered and consumed, especially the non-commercial varieties that are so important to educators. Thus, our assessments are premature and sorely lacking.

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