Mobile E-learning Publishing: iPad, iPhone, or Kindle – Which do iChoose?

While it was enlightening to see Steve Jobs demonstrate what the iPad can do, I found it more interesting to see what the iPad cannot do. Tablet-like in size only, the iPad’s conformity to the iPhone OS, features and ergonomics suggest that we’re seeing Apple promote a renewed focus on empowering crowdsourced content creation over significant platform enhancements—perhaps in a way we have not seen before.


When looking at the evolution of smart phones over the last year, it’s fair to say that mobile content characteristics are progressively less defined by bandwidth and endpoint constraints and more influenced by app developer community innovation, user need, timeliness, and cost. Dev Patnaik at BusinessWeek recently discussed product innovation in this light and the relation to mobile content and e-reader growth is telling.

In this environment of greatly improved platform and decentralized content development, the $500+ iPad brings renewed attention to the e-book phenomenon and adds some serious sizzle to mobile video viewing and Web surfing. However, whatever benefits it might bring to the table, my gut tells me its raison raison d’être is to strengthen Apple’s content delivery position around their iTunes content delivery model. In an insightful post about how the iPad is shifting power to the publisher, the Scholarly Kitchen blog suggests Apple’s main revenue is tied to device sales; however, my own view is that Apple’s iTunes revenue stream is more raging river than trickling tributary. Case in point: Apple has been generating iTunes profit upwards of several hundred million dollars for some time now; all the while selling many of their devices at a price just marginally above the cost of production.

All this to say that there is some reason to be cautious about aligning oneself too exclusively with iTunes or any other proprietary content repository where gatekeeping is controlled offsite.

Here at Oregon State University, as we’ve contemplated porting our text- and image-based publications into an e-book format, the complicating factors have not generally revolved around issues of user preference or medium maturity (we know our users would enjoy more video- and image-based content and that the majority of our users have adequate bandwidth and hardware), but rather gatekeeping and format. The former speaks to the fact that like many content distributors, we need to ensure we have ample control over posting, maintaining and disseminating content from our repository; the latter refers to the challenge we have in approximating the robust feature set found in the PDF format. We’re exciting with some of the emerging technologies that might allow us to address both of these obstacles in the months to come.

Based on the iPad’s content delivery model, it is clear that Apple and other mobile device manufacturers are seeking to expand their role as content gatekeepers. Consequently, it is more important than ever to understand how a company like Apple prioritizes, monetizes, and categorizes content types and what this tells us about whether or not the role of the gatekeepers will be to secure the kingdom or assess excessive tariffs to participate in it. One of the more interesting windows into Apple’s recent iPad activity comes from Flurry, a mobile device analytics company. In late January, they posted the following on their blog:

“Using Flurry Analytics, the company identified approximately 50 devices that match the characteristics of Apple’s rumored tablet device. Because Flurry could reliably “place” these devices geographically on Apple’s Cupertino campus, we have a fair level of confidence that we are observing a group of pre-release tablets in testing.

What did their “stealth” analysis uncover?

Essentially, prior to the release of the iPad, Flurry analytics showed that the tablet device would support mainly games, entertainment, news and books, music, and other lifestyle content. Strong on content consumption capability (browsing), short on content creation (computing). I’m also betting that Apple recognized the trend towards cloud based computing and “thin client” functionality implemented via HTML5 and web services and designed the iPad accordingly. See also Horizon’s 2010 report, which points to these trends.  As an e-learning developer, I also see the continued movement towards edutainment as deconstructing and redefining traditional e-learning containers and approaches for both professional workforce development and lifelong and informal learning contexts. Is it a game, an e-learning course, a marketing tool? In many instances, especially when conveyed via phone apps or mobile devices, the content simultaneously matches all three descriptors. Personally, I see this convergence of content form and device function opening up vast new domains of content creation potential; especially since phone apps are more increasingly used as free e-readers or content organizers that allow pushing and pulling of remote content in a pay to play (or read) model (see Amazon’s iPhone Kindle application). Augmented Reality and touch-sensitive science games are two of the best examples of educational game-like format—oftentimes incorporating integrated marketing.

While there are some who feel e-reading on mobile devices is not ready for mass adoption, Kindle’s popularity has laid that discussion to rest. Timothy Egan, a writer for the NY Times blog, iCountry, sees the acceleration of e-book reader adoption as a step towards preserving “book culture” and believes that a key part of ensuring this movement is equitable is to hold the gatekeepers accountable.

In relation to accountability, access becomes paramount—can those who lack financial means still find opportunities to read without having to pay? This is even more important as our traditional print-based gatekeepers such as local bookstores and libraries continue to close their doors or reduce their holdings. A nod to the oft-quoted phrase, “the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed” is appropriate as mobile devices will always require significant equipment and subscription costs—not to mention the ancillary costs of content downloads.

As a publically-funded organization whose mission is framed by a directive to seek public good over private gain, gatekeeping is very relevant to our group as it relates to how we monetize our publications and ensure equitable access to content. If we were to push more of our content to the Kindle platform, we would be forced to port our book or article content to HTML, import the content into Amazon’s store and then handle e-commerce using Amazon’s proprietary billing system. We have neither the toolset to efficiently format our longer books into a CSS/HTML format, nor do we have the stomach to fulfill the logistical steps required to run a departmental revenue stream through Amazon. What’s more, this virtual space would only be suitable for publications with ISBN numbers, which represent a fraction of our publications.

iPhone and Android offer interesting opportunities since more and more of our users are using mobile device applications as a means to find information. We are currently working on an app for the iPhone and feel this will provide us with an opportunity to understand how we can best use this format to help promote larger print-based projects and also bring interactivity to those publications that are place-based, procedural and fit the metaphor of a field guide. However, this option requires fluency with object-oriented programming and the iPhone SDK and is the more time intensive option when it comes to development.

In terms of format, we are particularly interested in the possibilities that seem to be emerging with the Epub format. Several different e-book readers and the iPad support the Epub format, which CS4 AdobeInDesign allows as an export type. InDesign allows more out-of-the-box formatting of graphical objects and is part of our group’s existing toolset. Add Adobe Air and CS5’s export to iPhone/iPad and you have some interesting options. What remains to be seen is whether the iPad will allow users to import Epub documents directly into their device from a non-iTunes repository, which would provide a much needed nod to more equitable access.

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10 Comments Already, Leave Yours Too

Victor Yee on 22 February, 2010 at 8:37 am #

\whether the iPad will allow users to import Epub documents directly into their device from a non-iTunes repository\

Since the app Stanza already allows importing of epub docs to the iphone/touch it stands to reason that it’ll allow on the iPad.

Veronica Yin on 19 April, 2010 at 5:36 am #

i think the best choice is iPad, because it is so simple, efficient & has big screen (bigger than iPhone), so users will feel so comfort to read and write in iPad.

Amy from Free Apple iPad on 11 May, 2010 at 8:14 am #

I love the kindle because it’s not like staring into a computer screen for hours, but I just love the simple functionality of the iPad. The iPhone screen is simply too small for e learning.

iphone car mount on 28 May, 2010 at 3:45 pm #

i like the ipad. so much you can do with it. its cool how you can turn it into a 2nd computer monitor.


[…] months back, I posted a comparison of the iPad, iPod and Kindle from the perspective of e-reader functionality. Now, I’d like to provide some […]

eBooks for iPad on 17 June, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

thanks for this post.i prefer ipad than kindle or iphone as i have used all of them.iPad rocks!

iPad on 25 June, 2010 at 11:45 am #

I prefer the ipad cause its more multimedial. You can watch videos in magazines. But on the other hand you e-ink is nicer for reading long books. So get both…
greets from germany,

Video marketing techie on 15 July, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

for me iPad is better..as Veronica said it is simpler and has a bigger screen. the more the technology advances the greater are the demands and the expectations..

iPad News on 13 September, 2010 at 11:36 pm #

I like my ipad too but my kindle is far better ouside. In direct sunlight you can’t read on the iPad. Nethertheless the iPad have better media access and the kindle is better for reading long books.
best regards

Iphone guy on 2 October, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

Just loves my kindle, no problem in reading on it outside in the sunlight..Next project is to get the new Iphone.

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