e-Textbooks Hit the iPhone — How Practical is That?


textbook1I have been following the digital textbook world for some time. As an avid e-book fan, I can see the tremendous benefits that digital versions of textbooks can provide students. These benefits include ease-of-use, advanced capabilities like search, and possibly financial benefits, too. The word this week that digital textbook renter CourseSmart released a free iPhone (s aapl) app to access textbooks has me thinking about e-textbooks in earnest. I am wondering how practical a little screen would be for accessing big textbooks.

Most textbooks have big pages chock-full of text and graphics, and this doesn’t often transition well to the small screen. I can see laptops with larger screens providing a decent reading experience, but the tiny iPhone screen not so much. Maybe our friends at TheAppleBlog have the right idea — the iPhone app is a good forum for searching e-textbooks for those bits of information. That could easily make the iPhone app worth the price of admission — free.

I do like that the CourseSmart folks allow the iPhone app to access textbooks online, even if astudent elects to get the downloaded version of the book. That gives the best of both worlds for iPhone owners.

I see that CourseSmart textbook subscriptions usually come in two flavors, 180- or 360-day lengths. I guess students better not flunk the first time through the courses.


Amit Sehgal

Check out this site http://www.bookase.com, A price comparison search engine for books and textbooks. It searches for the lowest prices among the major online stores worldwide and also offers discount coupons. You can also choose among various shipping options to calculate the lowest price

J. Scott Allen

I don’t know that the etextbooks will prove to be a viable option for college students. I think the tangibility of actual textbooks has it’s own value. Being able to write and highlight in the book, being able to skip around the book quickly and skip to the index if necessary are all things that you lose with etextbooks. And I understand that textbooks can be expensive and cumbersome to lug around, but there are ways around both of those. To combat the prices I always use the textbook search engine http://www.bigwords.com (which has there own iphone now by the way) And if you don’t want to lug all your books around all day, get there early and find a good parking spot and only carry the book you need for the next class.


@mikej165 – I totally agree. Tried out CourseSmart yesterday on my iphone – absolutely terrible experience. How could anyone read these comfortably let alone study and learn?
At the very least, the textbooks they use (which are for the most part multi-column) need to be converted and text re-flowed.

The experience reading textbooks on my Kindle DX is night and day better than this. Has CourseSmart tried focus groups? (“oh gosh, I just *loved* the tiny-text ! I nearly went blind squinting while cramming for Thursday’s econ test.”) honestly.


Yet another product made by those who don’t bother to use what they’ve created. If they had, they might have realized that a textbook on a microscopic screen just simply isn’t a workable proposition.


Amazon has been quietly selling eTextbooks for the Kindle for several weeks now. To find them I go to the kindle store and search for “-domain textbook” There are roughly 5000 titles available.

They download onto the iPhone Kindle app.

They look better on my Kindle DX. :-)

An example: http://www.amazon.com/Computer-Architecture-And-Organization/dp/B000UYWL26/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1250114597&sr=8-2

Interestingly this eTextbook is only available as an eTextbook.

Ben Drawbaugh

I recently finished my BS and at first I was very hesitant to buy the CourseSmart books, because they can actually be more expensive than used books. But in the end it was totally worth it because they were searchable, and most text book indexes such. Now if the iPhone version was included I would’ve used it, but I doubt I’d pay extra since I usually take my laptop with me when I study.


I’m more interested in being able to read the text and take notes on the subway or at work. For the pictures, I can always access the file on my tablet. With this app, I could use a Pulse pen and one of the their small notebooks to easily read and take notes. I want!

Oh, but wait, I often refer back to my books after classes are over (business, calculus come to mind) and are useful in the office if required. That subscription limit is a no go. Nevermind. I’ll continue slicing the bindings off the backs of my books, scanning them into PDF, and using my tablet/PDF Annotator software to notes onto the scanned pages. If the schools gave me more than $20 for a $150 book, I’d probably not do this though…..


When I see announcements like this that don’t seem to make sense as a standalone release, I always wonder what rumors or previously announced products would make me say YES, Great Idea! Apple Slate or iPhone/iPod Slate anyone? If an Apple slate were on the way would this free app make more sense?

iPhone App: As a standalone iPhone app, I don’t see the usefulness – too small of a screen; As a webbased app allowing me to search Textbooks for certain keywords – a little more sense;
Slate App: Makes a lot of sense as a e-book reader and e-textbook reader.


A lot of text and graphics not great on the iPhone or iPod Touch, but what about on the larger screen iPod that’s rumoured to be on it’s way. I can’t wait to move from a bookcase of computer books to having them on a bigger iPod Touch or failing that new e-readers using Pixel Qi screen technology. Bring it on!

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