Textbooks Now On iPhone, iPod Touch

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It appears that rumors of the death of the e-book on the iPhone platform were greatly exaggerated, at least that’s what Apple has said in a recent statement. Backing up Apple’s official denial of plans to discontinue that side of app store business is a Wall Street Journal report (subscription required) that details a new recently released app which brings textbooks to the iPhone.

The new venture bringing the textbooks to the platform is a joint effort by 12 major educational publishers, including McGraw-Hill and Pearson, both of which are responsible for a huge chunk of the higher education textbook market in North America. 7,000 titles are available from the combined publishers. The partnership is being operated under the moniker of CourseSmart LLC, and works based on a rental model.

This model has the benefit of being much less expensive than purchasing a traditional textbook, but the digital books can’t be resold to recoup expenses at the end of the rental period, or loaned to friends, for example. Of course, that’s the drawback of any e-book, but for most students, the cost benefit probably outweighs the disadvantages of the format.

People might be quick to note that the iPhone’s small screen is hardly ideal for working with text books, most of which have larger than average publishing formats, which is why Amazon went about creating the Kindle DX in the first place. CourseSmart isn’t trying to sell people on the idea of using the pocket device as a straight-up substitute for all other learning aids, though. The app is designed to supplement its existing catalogue of e-textbooks on other platforms, not replace it entirely.

Instead, it’ll provide a quick, searchable reference for use on the go when using your computer is impossible or awkward. CourseSmart EVP Frank Lyman suggested one possible scenario for how students might go about using the new program to enhance and extend their learning. “If you’re in a study group and you have a question, you can immediately access your text.”

Even though I had to trudge along with traditional, cumbersome, paper and ink textbooks, there were countless times that I wished my texts were digitally indexed and searchable. Theoretically, even if you prefer sticking to old-fashioned learning methods, you could also subscribe to the digital additions and quickly find relevant passages by keyword without having to resort to anything as archaic as the text-based index at the back of the book.

The app is available for free in the App Store to existing CourseSmart subscribers. For those looking to sign up, e-textbooks through CourseSmart are roughly 50 percent cheaper than their paper-based counterparts, on average, and any textbooks you subscribe to will immediately be available via the app.

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