In a previous post on the Stafflink blog, Tim wrote about how Steve Jobs had revolutionized the Apple computer, the music industry, smartphones, and tablets, bringing us innovative, elegant and segment changing products. According to the Steve Jobs biography I’m currently reading, there was another item on his to-do or, ‘revolutionize,’ list – textbooks.

In high school, I was one of those kids with a backpack almost as big as me, full of heavy textbooks, notebooks, art supplies, and other items. I’m barely 5’2, so this all added up to some back-breaking weight to carry to and from school everyday. It was normal for my backpack straps to dig into my shoulders, leaving red welts. I’m sure I’m not the only one to have experienced this. When I headed to university at Western, my backpack only got heavier, especially during essay writing and exam season, when I’d be bringing home extra books from the library to use for research papers.

iPad being held by Jobs

Steve Jobs with the iPad

With the creation of the iPad, I look back now and think of how much easier it would have been to download all those books onto an iPad. Sure, it’s not the same experience as holding a physical book, but if you had asked me while I was standing in the library checkout, if I’d rather carry those thirty books home with me, through the torrential snowfalls of London, Ontario, down UC Hill, onto the packed #6 Richmond bus with tons of other students and their giant backpacks in my face, or if I’d prefer to download a file onto a handy, little iPad, from the comfort of my home that I could toss into my bag, I think it’s clear what my answer would be.

UC Hill in the winter

UC Hill on the University of Western Ontario's campus

In the Steve Jobs biography, Walter Isaacson reveals Jobs was planning to hire textbook writers to create digital versions of their books for the iPad. It would have been interesting to see Steve put his sleek design stamp on textbooks, the way he managed to with every other product he touched. While there are sites like that are already leading the way for online textbooks, it seems like a shame that Steve didn’t get to work his magic on this area. What was his vision for textbooks?

Looking into the future, the capabilities of digital textbooks are pretty exciting. Imagine all the ways that information can be presented, beyond a simple 2D page of text and image? Animated infographics could bring boring facts to life. Videos could elaborate on tough theories, and illustrate important scenes of history. Art class could be more interactive, bringing you to real-time art exhibits with video conferencing with museum curators all over the world. Could this be what Steve had envisioned for the future of textbooks?

I hope it is.

It seems that Apple and Steve Jobs have been instrumental characters in bringing us into the future we otherwise have only seen in movies. Hopefully, without their visionary, Apple can at least come close to carrying out the rest of Steve’s visions the way he wanted.


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