MacOS KenDensed: Apple Schools the Textbook Industry

Your friendly neighborhood Ken RaySeems some government officials in Germany can’t have an iPhone, Apple is checking up on working conditions for its parts suppliers, and the publishing industry may be getting a shakeup thanks to Apple’s new iBooks 2, interactive textbooks and iBooks Author. Mac OS Ken’s Ken Ray dives into all of those topics this week with his usual… well, Ken-nes.

No iPhone for You
What do the iPhone and the BlackBerry have in common? They’re both off-limits for the German Interior Ministry.

Bloomberg highlights a report out of the bundesrepublik that says Hans-Peter Friedrich, German Interior Minister, has banned phones by both Apple and Research In Motion from use by his ministry employees because the servers linked to the devices are here in the states.

Research In Motion’s servers are here in the states? Maybe they meant North America. I mean, I would think Canadian-RIM would have its servers in Canadia. But what do I know? I just called it “Canadia.”

Apparently the concern is that confidential info could fall into the wrong hands. Bloomberg says Friedrich and his people are using phones made by HTC running special software supplied by the Federal Office for Information Security.

I’ll bet their version of Angry Bird totally sucks.

Apple’s Supplier Report Card
Changes for Apple that feel pretty big: Fortune says the Cupertino-company is out with its sixth annual “supplier responsibility” report and it brings with it a whole new era of transparency.

Listed along with the report, 156 of Apple’s major subcontractors — or 97-percent of its supply chain — should prove interesting reading for human rights activists, financial analysts, and Apple’s competition.

It’s all out there it’s all public. As see-through as the company’s planned spaceship HQ. And it’s not just who’s doing what that’s listed, but also what’s been done wrong, though unfortunately not by whom.

The report said Apple found companies without guards against discriminatory practices based on Illness or pregnancy, facilities that worked employees too many hours in a week or too many days consecutively, payment violations, benefit violations, companies using deductions from wages as a disciplinary measure, and companies that either didn’t pay enough overtime or didn’t pay overtime at all in violation of local law.

Then there were the “core violations;” 15 companies where foreign workers had paid excessive recruitment fees to labor agencies, and five facilities with a total of six active and 13 historical cases of underage labor, though the findings there were that the facilities had insufficient controls to verify age or detect false documentation. Apple says it found “no instances of intentional hiring of underage labor.”

Fortune says Apple severed ties with one “repeat offender,” and says it’s “correcting” the practices of a second “repeat offender.”

So that feels pretty big. And so does this:

iPodNN says Apple has joined the Fair Labor Association, a group that the piece says was set up in 1999 “with the mission of tracking global workplace conditions.” While major manufacturers such as Adidas, Nike, Nestle and Syngenta are members of the FLA, iPodNN says Apple is the first technology corporation to be admitted.

Quoting the piece, “The move should in theory increase scrutiny of Apple suppliers, since the FLA performs unannounced audits on roughly five percent of members’ supply chains annually,” though that doesn’t sound nearly as sweeping as what Apple was already having done on its own. Hopefully they’ll do both.

In addition to the FLA’s audits, there are rules for member corporations. iPodNN says “Apple will be expected to comply with FLA criteria, including a code of conduct based on standards vetted by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization.”

There’s also an email making the rounds reportedly from Apple CEO Tim Cook to Apple employees on both the “supplier responsibility” report and the admission to the FLA. In the letter, Cook trumpets Apple’s accomplishments in the area of worker rights and treatment, including having leaned on suppliers for better living conditions for workers who live in company-supplied dormitories, as well a vast reduction in underage labor violations, though the email says Apple “will not rest until the number is zero everywhere.”

And then there are the improvements that are actual improvements, not just ending violations. Quoting the letter:

Finding and correcting problems is not enough. Our team has built an ambitious training program to educate workers about Apple’s code of conduct, workers’ rights, and occupational health and safety. More than one million people know about these rights because they went to work for an Apple supplier. Additionally, Apple offers continuing education programs free of charge at many manufacturing sites in China. More than 60,000 workers have enrolled in classes to learn business, entrepreneurial skills or English…

No one in our industry is driving improvements for workers the way Apple is today. I encourage you to take some time to read more about these efforts, so that you can be as proud of Apple’s contributions in this area as I am. The details are online now at

Feels big, right? And different. Not likely to solve everything in one day, but it’s something. In more ways than one.

Back to School
Employing its usual brand of humility Apple sent out a press release Thursday after its education-focused press conference saying that it had reinvented textbooks. This was the headline of the press release: Apple Reinvents Textbooks with iBooks 2 for iPad.

Seems possible, though we don’t know after one day.

That’ll take at least three days.

The big announcements: iBooks 2 for iPad, iBooks Author, and the iTunes U App for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.

While it has a new name, iBooks 2 is actually an update of iBooks, bringing with it support for iBooks textbooks that the company says are “dynamic, engaging and truly interactive.” Apple says their version of the future of textbooks offers iPad users fullscreen presentation with interactive animations, diagrams, photos, videos, neat navigation tricks and a bunch of other stuff.

They can be kept up to date, they weigh as much as an iPad, and once you or students — or you — get a book, it’s yours or the student’s to keep.

True to the implication from a Wall Street Journal piece earlier this week, textbook powerhouses Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and Pearson are all on-board. The press release says each will deliver educational titles on the iBookstore with most of those priced at US$14.99 or less.

Most you say? Because both Engadget and AllThingsD says $14.99 is the ceiling. Though it’s possible that $14.99 is just the ceiling for now. There are, according to yet another piece from TechCrunch, eight textbooks available currently: two biology books, one geometry, one physics, one chemistry, one algebra, one environmental sciences, and the beginning of E.O. Wilson’s “Life On Earth,” which is being given away for free. And it’s full of whistles and bells. Video intro, video explanations, animated charts of cellular activity, light up anatomy of bug parts… its fun. It also had words that I plan to check out at some point.

Back, though, to the pricing puzzle: $14.99 and under for most of $14.99 and under for all? Probably most. The seven-point-something books available today are high school level, so college texts — assuming colleges go this way — may end up costing more.

We shall see.

We’re like a ping-pong ball here because I want to go back to the concern of only eight titles to start the iBooks Textbooks show. TechCrunch wonders whether the assembled publishers are taking the iPad seriously as a way to sell digital textbooks or if this is just a test for them.

That could be, though it seems to me worth noting we’re in the middle of a school year. There are a number of issues to be worked out, including how to get schools to outfit kids with iPads on which to carry iBooks Textbooks. What would be the point of the partner publishers rushing titles for a mid-year launch?

And now we’re less like a ping-pong ball and more like a pinball as we bumper ourselves all the way back to Apple’s press release announcing thing 2: iBooks Author. This is the “GarageBand of eBooks” about which Ars Technica’s Chris Foresman wrote earlier this week, though “iWeb of textbooks” may have been more accurate. Splitting hairs, really.

Apple says iBooks Author lets anyone with a Mac create iBooks textbooks, cookbooks, history books, picture books… so… books, really. People can then publish them to Apple’s iBookstore, with Apple taking the usual 30-percent cut.

Quoting Apple’s press release:

Authors and publishers of any size can start creating with Apple-designed templates that feature a wide variety of page layouts. iBooks Author lets you add your own text and images by simply dragging and dropping, and with the Multi-Touch widgets you can easily add interactive photo galleries, movies, Keynote presentations and 3D objects.

I didn’t add anything but hyperlinks to the three-page booklet I made, but I only spent about 25 minutes doing it. Kind of neat.

Wanna make and sell your own books? There are ways to do so, though you will be working under a different set of rules than the Pearsons and Houghtons and McGraws of the world. I poked around a bit in iBooks Author and hit the bit about making and selling your own books. We, as everyday joes tryin’ ta make it in the man’s world are limited to 2 gigabytes, though the Pearson Biology text is 2.77-gigabytes.

Most of the others, though, are under 2 gigabytes. One was even under one, so 2 gigabytes for a textbook is doable. The new iBooks 2 app is free and is available in the App Store now. The iBooks Author app for the Mac is also free, and it’s available though the Mac App Store.

I have to say I can understand the concern over the small number of iBooks Textbooks to start, but there is this whole other thing announced by Apple yesterday that I personally find pretty exciting and that should roll out a bit more quickly.

The headline for this press release: “Apple Unveils All-New iTunes U App for iPad, iPhone & iPod touch,” with the sub-heading “Entire Courses from Top Universities Now Available in One App.”

Apple says the app gives educators and students everything they need on their iPad, iPhone and iPod touch to teach and take entire courses, and while I wouldn’t be able to speak to that, I will say the iTunes U offerings that include the full courses seem to me to be much more accessible than iTunes U lessons I’ve tried in the past.

Lest anyone freak out there are only 30 full courses offered in the new format currently, though Apple’s press release says the “app lets teachers create and manage courses including essential components such as lectures, assignments, books, quizzes and syllabuses and offer them to millions of iOS users around the world,” so I’d imagine more will be coming soon. In the meantime the full range of iTunes U content that has been available for the past few years is still available through the new App.

While they’re not likely to change the name, Apple has also opened iTunes U to any K-12 school district letting them offer full courses through the application.

The iTunes U App is free and is available in the App Store now.

There’s one thing Apple released yesterday that leaves me a wee bit confused. “Following its iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U app announcements on Thursday,” The Mac Observer says “Apple released iTunes 10.5.3. The update for the music-and-everything-else management app added support for syncing Apple’s new iBooks 2 interactive textbooks.”

I was really impressed when I found out that highlights made in an iBook on my iPad automatically showed up in the same iBook on my iPhone. Have iBooks Textbooks not heard about iCloud?


Whatever the case, iTunes 10.5.3 is free and is available through Mac OS X’s software update utility.

Apple Textbooks: The Questions
And to wrap up this week, there are a whole lot of pluses to be had in Apple’s announcements, though questions still abound. Mostly dealing with getting iPads into the hands of the average student.

BusinessInsider points out a few issues. The iPad starts at $500, which is not an affordable option for a lot of people. Or will it be up to the school systems to buy them? Or will school systems lease them as Josh Topolsky at The Verge says they will, and will that be anymore affordable?

There are still people out there who will resist the Apple Way simply because it’s the Apple Way, and then there’s the question of capacity. As we mentioned earlier, book sizes seem to be landing somewhere between one and two gigabytes. Assuming schools go as low as they can on cost and pick up 16 gigabyte models students could start the year close to maxed-out on storage, with little room for anything else.

I’m not saying that this is something that would happen, but I’m finally hearing a solid argument for the need for a lower-cost iPad. Maybe Apple sells iPad 2 to institutions and sells iPad 3 to the public? Or maybe the cost just comes down with the iPad 3?

Many questions. Rome wasn’t built in a day. We’ll see what happens.