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Many college science students lug around Brooker Biology, a 1,438-page tome published by McGraw-Hill (MHP) that costs up to $150 and weighs close to five pounds. This fall they'll have a new option: Brooker Biology for iPad, a touchscreen textbook that runs on Apple's (AAPL) svelte tablet computer.
It's one of dozens of digital textbooks created by Inkling, a two-year-old San Francisco company founded by Matt MacInnis. Although some digital textbooks already exist—CourseSmart, a joint venture between major publishing companies, has a fairly comprehensive selection—most are basically scanned copies of print products. Inkling's offerings are more interactive. In its Brooker Biology, a 3D diagram of the human heart can be rotated with the flick of a finger, complicated processes such as cell co-transport are explained with videos, and dynamic quizzes reinforce lessons. It's social, too: Students can connect with one another to share marginalia or passages they've highlighted. The book's 60 chapters can be bought individually for $3 apiece, so professors can assign just the sections they want to teach.
Inkling expects to have 100 iPad titles ready by fall. This year's crop of 108 first-year students at Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University will be required to buy iPads and use Inkling e-books for their anatomy and clinical medicine classes. "This ability to have it be interactive and test yourself is unbelievable," says Luba Dumenco, a course director at the school.
Digital textbooks will "have an appreciable impact on how well we educate the next generation of learners," says MacInnis, 31, who founded Inkling in 2009 after an eight-year gig running various education initiatives at Apple. He's assembled a team of more than 50 programmers and pedagogy experts and partnered with some of the country's largest textbook publishers. Two of them, McGraw-Hill and Pearson (PSO), invested millions in Inkling earlier this year. On each sale, Inkling shares the revenue with the publisher of the book.
Inkling has built software that speeds up the process of turning a print textbook into a digital one, says MacInnis, a Nova Scotia native and Harvard grad. "A 1,400-page textbook is way more complex than most people care to notice," he says. "We turn it into a formula." Ink-ling's computers scan through files provided by the publisher and automatically arrange text, images, and audiovisual elements in an intuitive interface.
MacInnis says digital textbooks are a new and welcome source of income for educational publishers worried about the expansion of the secondhand market, especially online book rental sites such as Chegg. "That future is scary," he says. "This future is actually welcoming and exciting."
The Harvard grad spent eight years at Apple.
Interactive, feature-rich textbooks for the tablet era.
Inkling is required for new med students at Brown.