By NICK BILTON
The program is a technology-focused graduate course, so it came as no surprise when four of my students walked into class in early April with fancy new Apple iPads in hand. After the students got past the novelty factor, a debate ensued about how the iPad would fit into their school life. One factor the students discussed was the ability to carry less “stuff” in their backpacks: the iPad can replace magazines, notepads, even a laptop.
Now there’s an iPad application that could further lighten the load. A new company called Inkling hopes to break the standard textbook model and help textbooks enter the interactive age by letting students share and comment on the texts and interact with fellow students.
Matt MacInnis, founder and chief executive of Inkling, said in a phone interview that the company wants to offer a textbook experience that moves far beyond simply downloading a PDF document to an iPad.
One unique feature the service offers is the ability to discuss passages of a book with other students or professors. By selecting a piece of text you can leave a note for others to read and develop a conversation around the text.
The application also breathes life into textbooks by giving publishers the tools to create interactive graphics within a book. In a demo version of the application, available for download in the iTunes store, “The Elements of Style” includes quizzes that help students learn by touching and interacting with the screen. There’s also a biology book that offers the ability to navigate 3-D molecules from any angle.
Some other features include the ability to search text, change the size of the type, purchase individual chapters of books, highlight text for others to see and take pop quizzes directly within the app.
Mr. MacInnis said that some universities began using the textbook application this week, including the University of Alabama and Seton Hill University. “Professors are really excited about the ability to leave notes for the class in specific areas of the book and to also see commentary from their students,” he said.
One question that will likely come up for college students is the price. The program is currently only available for the iPad, a device that starts at $500. Inkling hopes to solve that problem by reducing the cost of the digital textbooks as compared to their paper counterparts and by allowing students to buy books one chapter at a time.
The cost of college textbooks on paper can easily surpass $1,100 a year. If students find that the price of the iPad and the digital textbooks balance out, then the iPad investment could quickly make sense.
And finally there’s the weight factor. Inkling’s frequently-asked-questions page points out that even if you fill your entire iPad with Inkling books, it will still weigh 1.5 pounds.