More thoughts on how Apple’s (rumored) “iTablet” could reinvent higher education


A few months ago I freely speculated on how Apple’s rumored “iTablet” might position Apple to disrupt conventional higher education. It’s now time to update that post with some new thoughts and  information. In this post I’ll still call Apple’s rumored device the iTablet just to keep things consistent.

Apple emerges as the world leader of learning

In the hypothetical scenario I laid out in November Apple would emerge as the world’s leading enabler of learning, using the iTablet to replace conventional textbooks, lectures and learning materials. An interactive iTablet could offer a complete learning experience in itself. Apple, I speculated, could use the iTablet plus iTunes and cloud services to build a new digital model of higher education, in concert with the world’s top universities. This new model could enable a global level of learning far deeper than possible with current learning technology.

A 10-inch screen is the right size to reinvent textbooks

Recent rumors indicate that Apple’s iTablet—assuming there is one—will have a 10-inch screen. This makes perfect sense if one goal of the device is to reinvent textbooks as a means of reinventing higher education. Learning is large format. For education, the larger the iTablet screen, the better. In my speculative scenario, the iTablet would be much more than an e-reader that merely replicates textbook pages. Indeed, the iTablet would toss the whole category of  “textbooks” into the dustbin of history. In their place would be a new means of learning, a handheld computer that can access the full intelligence of the University. The iTablet would be  multimedia and web enabled, with embedded/downloaded lectures, videos, presentations, animations, dictionaries, databases, audio, photos, maps, charts, etc. And—like a computer— it would be interactive: a collaborative communications platform. It could replace the conventional classroom, too.

A strategic hire for Apple

One bit of data that I didn’t include in my previous post was a (potentially) strategic hire that Apple made way back in October, 2008. At that time Apple hired Joel Podolny, Dean of the Yale School of Management, as “vice president and Dean of Apple University.” That’s a pretty high-level hire. It would be a strategic hire if Apple’s intent were to create a digital education model for universities, with the current iTunes U serving as a rudimentary proving ground. At the time of the hiring Apple gave no additional information about the nature of, or future plans for, “Apple University.”

My recent Google search for “Podolny + Apple” turned up nothing after the original hiring announcement. I’m a big user of iTunes U as I noted in my previous post. But “Apple University” seems like a much more ambitious project. The name may be a placeholder . . . for what?

Disruption or liberation?

In my previous post I framed Apple’s potential move as “disruptive” of traditional higher education. It would certainly stand to disrupt traditional university classroom education, where students “go to class” to learn. Apple’s iTablet could turn that model on its head. It could bring the classroom (and much more) to the students. You could be in Oxford, Mississippi and take a class at Oxford University in England, with live lectures, notes, texts, comments and collaborations right at your fingertips. That’s liberating. And maybe that’s the best way to frame it.

NOTE: See our latest post on the iPad and education.

Photo:  Richard Peat — Wikimedia Commons

2 Responses to “More thoughts on how Apple’s (rumored) “iTablet” could reinvent higher education”

  1. Eric Brody Says:

    Great post Brian. Certainly pretty interesting implications for education, as you posit. But then I begin to think about other industries, e.g. healthcare (because we do a lot of work across the continuum). How could the tablet both disrupt current practices and liberate healthcare consumers (which is what any disruptive innovation should do, right?).

    Here’s to a healthy, happy and disruptively prosperous 2010.

    Eric Brody

  2. Brian Phipps Says:


    Happy New Year!

    As I see it, Apple’s tablet can be disruptive in education because it has an iTunes backend that would facilitate (paid) downloads of digital textbooks, lectures and course materials, in various media formats. The iTunes downloads + tablet put learning in the hands of the customer/student while maintaining a revenue stream for education. Healthcare seems like a different model. It’s far less media based than education. No clear role for iTunes as the infrastructure. That said, I’d certainly want my doctors to have tablets so they could access my medical records digitally, do diagnoses, and show me animations/videos of medical conditions, procedures, etc. The big problem is getting doctors to digitize existing medical files, and to create a “universal” digital platform for medicine. We’ll probably be on Apple Tablet 10.0 by the time that happens.