iSoother or iTutor… Toddlers and iPads
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Thinking of ways to make technology more friendly and intuitive is one of Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) core strengths. Arguably, Apple's greatest achievement was introducing the world to their interactive touch operating system; the iOS on the iPhone. In an instant, the iPhone revolutionized the human-computer interface and ushered in a completely new way of interacting with technology.
One of the most compelling testimonials of Apple’s achievement is the growing number of YouTube videos showing toddlers expertly using iPads before they can even walk, such as this happy two-year old. In fact children’s educational apps is one of the fastest growing segments in the Apple App Store.
The iPad seems to be an ideal platform for interactive books, it is small and light enough for kids to handle, and the content is more engaging and fun to interact with than traditional paper editions. Many believe this is the next evolution of learning, and they anticipate this technology will replace the paper classics in the home, in libraries and in our schools.
Unlike the basic Kindle, Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) tablet reader prior to the new Kindle Fire, Apple iPads have bright, backlit, high resolution screens and are capable of high quality graphics and animations. With millions of apps at the Apple App Store, including many kid’s games, the iPad also seems to make a great distraction for toddlers. Many parents find it irresistible to hand an i-device to their toddlers to keep them occupied in the car, at home or out in public places. But is it just an iSoother or are kids developing cognitive skills by playing games on i-devices?
Not yet proven
The fact is it is too soon to tell whether i-devices are actually helping toddlers become smarter or not. The iPad has only been out for two years, which is not enough time to make a reasonable assessment of its effect on learning among toddlers. Some experts are concerned about the possible side effects of habit forming at such a young age, as demonstrated by this young tot.
Publishers and animators are still trying to find the appropriate balance between enriching book reading experiences and movie-like animations that resemble video games more than books. This is an area Moonbot Studios is attempting to refine. Co-founded by former Pixar designer, William Joyce, and Reel FX Creative Studios cofounder; Brandon Oldenburg, Moonbot Studios recently won an Academy Award for best animated short film; “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”, which is now available as an iPad app.
Meanwhile publishers are forging ahead with iBooks and apps aimed at kids of all ages, including old classics such as The Wizard of Oz, Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter Rabbit. The classic Dr. Seuss books have been given new life by Oceanhouse Media, with fascinating creatures that respond to touch, and pleasing jingles for sing-along fun. MeeGenius provides many new and classic book titles for the iPad, and 8interactive promises a new book every day for their Read Me Stories app.
Whether scientifically proven effective or not, thousands of schools globally are adopting electronic books and tablet reading devices in classrooms, and many more are exploring usage of iPads in their curriculum. This fledgling global shift in education systems, moving away from paper textbooks to electronic books, has sparked a battle over book pricing.
Prior to Apple’s launch of the iPad, Amazon.com was the leading provider of electronic books via the Kindle. Amazon’s pricing model for e-Books paid publishers a percentage of the digital list price set by publishers, but Amazon exclusively controlled sale prices. Amazon subsidized many of the books, paying publishers more than the sale price, which made publishers wary of the deal anticipating Amazon would eventually force publishers to accept lower margins.
Almost immediately upon Apple’s iPad launch in 2010, Macmillan Publishers and several other publishers signed deals with Apple under an agency pricing model, giving publishers more control over retail pricing. Citing pricing disagreement, Amazon responded by removing paper and electronic Macmillan titles from its store. Both Macmillan and Amazon have been quite vocal over the dispute.
Amazon has since compromised and agreed to new pricing agreements with a subset of publishers. However, last month the DOJ filed a law suit against Apple and multiple publishers alleging they conspired illegally to raise e-book prices. In the wake of the law suit, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster decided to settle, agreeing to Amazon’s discount pricing scheme. Apple, Macmillan and Penguin are preparing for the legal battle.
Electronic publishing eliminates much of the printing, warehousing and distribution costs inherent in paper book prices. The economics of electronic versus paper books almost certainly assures electronic publishing will thrive, if not dominate.
As the technology and the content improve, electronic media will become inevitable for toddlers and school kids as schools capitalize on the technology. Future generations may indeed be taught by an iTutor, which the late Steve Jobs and his creative team likely anticipated in their vision of the iPad.
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