Apple’s Dream For Digital Textbooks Was Fueled By A Student Intern In 2008



Today Apple unveiled its digital textbook software for the iPad and Mac. We’ve covered every aspect of the announcement, including the event’s three main releases: iBooks 2, iBooks Author for Mac, and the iTunes U app.

While Steve Jobs mentioned his desire to revolutionize the textbook industry in Walter Isaacson’s official biography, Apple has been relatively silent about its plans to take the education market by storm. As it turns out, the company’s dream for digital textbooks comes from a student intern’s pitch in 2008.

Before the iPad even existed, Apple student intern Joseph Peters and his peers came up with the idea of bringing textbooks to iTunes and the iPhone. It’s not hard to imagine where the idea came from; textbooks cost a lot of money and most college students are poor. Not to mention that most school books are heavy, clunky, and just plain boring.

The pitch was made at Apple’s 2008 iContest in Town Hall. In case you’re unfamiliar with iContest, it’s an opportunity for Apple interns to present their ideas for the company to high-level executives. A little nerve-racking, to say the least.

Brian Lam of The Wirecutter tracked down Peters to talk about his experience in 2008 and how he thinks his idea shaped Apple’s announcements this morning. Here’s part of what he had to say:

Well the original idea came from my frustration with how much Textbooks were and I did some research about the market which showed that prices were artificially inflated because publishers were losing revenue from the resale of used textbooks.

I remember answering a handful of questions and getting the impression that the exec’s were totally on board. It was a pretty awesome feeling. Afterwards I knew that we clearly we’re going to win so that last 5 presentations were pretty much screwed. Again, another awesome feeling.

Peters and his friends won that year’s iContest and each member of his team received a MacBook Air. The same pitch was then given to John Couch, the Vice President of Education at Apple. After today’s event, Peters feels that his pitch from 2008 helped initiate the idea we all saw fleshed out onstage in New York City:

I want to clarify one thing – I’m not claiming that I invented the idea, just that I may have helped push management down a direction that they were already contemplating. It’s very possible that they were thinking about Textbooks well before I did. I just want that to be clear because I certainly don’t want people thinking that I’m trying to take all the credit. There’s a lot of work that has been done to advance the idea.

You can look at it this way – here’s a college aged kid telling you that this is a service he’d like.

For more context on today’s announcements, check out our own reaction pieces here and here.


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