It was only this past January that Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing chief, announced the launch of iBooks 2 and iBooks Author. Dubbed the ‘new textbook experience’ these apps, in conjunction with the iPad, were part of Steve Jobs’ vision to disrupt the lucrative publishing industry –valued at an estimated $9 billion – and reset the education system.

The idea – partner with major textbook publishers and replace expensive and clunky textbooks with digital versions. Engaging, interactive and highly intuitive, these digital textbooks are exactly the type of product we’ve come to expect from Apple.

At Apple’s ‘little’ event in late October, Tim Cook took to the stage to share some impressive statistics: iBooks textbooks now cover 80% of US high school core curriculum and are used in more than 2,500 US classrooms. These numbers can only be expected to increase with the launch of iBooks 3. The biggest problem with textbooks – their tendency to be outdated the moment they leave the printer – is solved with this update. Apple has smartly allowed for publishers to revise current versions of textbooks, ensuring that the information being taught is always the most up to date.

A glaringly obvious, but often omitted, aspect of the digital textbooks story is that in order to read an iBooks textbook, you need to have an iPad (any iOS device would technically work but you probably wouldn’t want to read a biology textbook on your iPhone’s screen).

Sleek and portable, the new iPad Mini would seem like the ultimate classroom companion. Significantly cheaper than the $499 4th generation iPad, and slightly less expensive that the $399 iPad 2, the base model iPad Mini’s $329 price tag was still much higher than most pre-event estimates.

With tight budgets, it will be tough enough for school boards to justify buying tablets, let alone the iPad Mini, when similar tablets are much more affordable:

  • Kindle Fire HD $199
  • Google Nexus 7 $199
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 $199

Bringing new resources like tablets and digital textbooks into the classroom will undoubtedly benefit students. How many students will be able to benefit from it, however, is a different story. Whether the onus is put on school boards or individual families to fund these purchases, it remains unrealistic to assume that everyone can afford to do so, especially at $329 per device.