Product Design

Ever Broken a Textbook Beyond Repair? Now, with iBooks, You Can!

I’ve dropped a lot of textbooks during my time in school. Usually, it’s not a big deal: maybe a corner gets bent, maybe the spine cracks, maybe a page or two tears. Even dropping a textbook in the bathtub isn’t such a problem—if you lay it out to dry, it’s readable again in a day or so. Maybe I’m clumsier than the average person. But based on the state of used textbooks I’ve purchased, I don’t think I’m the only one who occasionally drops textbooks.

That’s why Apple’s announcement of iBooks Textbooks worries me, as a graduate student, English teacher, and advocate of user repair.

Opening an iPad 2 with a heat gun

On Thursday, Apple announced iBooks 2 (a new version of their iPad e-book software) along with two new projects: iBooks Textbooks and iBooks Author. They’ve made an agreement with three of the largest textbook publishers—Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—to begin publishing interactive textbooks for the iPad. Right now, they only have seven K-12 textbooks available, but more are promised soon. iBooks Author, drag-and-drop self-publishing software, should allow professors to create interactive iBooks textbooks with ease.

We’re excited for iBooks Textbooks. But we have concerns about the durability of the only device on which they can be viewed. Most devices made with the classroom in mind are designed to last forever (brick-like TI calculators, for example), or at least are modular enough to be repairable. We know repair technicians who successfully maintain a school’s worth of MacBooks. Apple can make modular devices; the iPad 2 isn’t one of them.

Last Friday, I posted about how difficult the iPad 2 is to repair. The front glass is glued to the iPad’s frame, which means that if your front glass cracks, you have to loosen the glass shards from the screen with a heat gun and prying tools. You have to take apart almost the entire device to change the battery, and your chances of cracking the glass while opening the iPad are very high.

If all your textbooks are on your iPad, what happens when it breaks? What happens when the battery stops holding a charge? What happens when the backlight stops working or the power button stops turning on the device? If you can’t fix your iPad yourself, you’ll have to wait days, maybe weeks for it to be repaired (and pay $200+). During that time, you won’t have any textbooks. If you do try to fix your iPad 2 yourself, it’s difficult enough that you might break it more in the process.

So, a plea for help: In the process of writing our manual, we wrecked half a dozen iPad 2s trying to find the easiest possible way inside. Our manual shows the best path we’ve found so far. Can you think of a better way to get the glass off without breaking it? An improved solution will help us—and the millions of students who will eventually break their magic electric books.