We live in exciting times. The next decade or so will see the gradual exit of paper-based books and magazines as printed content moves from the physical world to digital. The digital trendsetters, who already read books and other content on tablet devices like the iPad and Kindle and countless other devices to come, have already embraced this future. The upcoming battle between Apple, Amazon, and Google on this playing field is mainly focused on this audience. However, I continue to wonder if this playing field will eventually encompass education.
The education market opportunity for digital publishing is almost an accepted fact. We probably agree that it’s going to be huge. Yet, we may not agree on what products and solutions will succeed in this market. The reading experience for novels and magazines on tablet devices is a more linear experience than the kind of interactive reading and problem-solving that students must do as part of their homework and curriculum.
And so it is always exciting to hear about new companies and products in the e-learning marketplace that are pioneering the way. Inkling is one such company that is offering an interactive reading/learning software platform for the iPad. When I heard about Inkling, I had to give it a try.
As an iPad app, installation was dead simple. It’s also a free download, so there were no excuses at all. Upon install and after you complete the registration form, you find yourself looking at the one book that is pre-installed. An essential classic — The Elements of Style. Except that it’s not really the Strunk and White edition. It’s the Inkling Edition “based on the work of William Strunk, Jr.”.
You can either feel horrified or amused at this point. They are messing with the classics and adapting them for the digital future. If you want the original Strunk and White, you probably want it to look like the original, front to back. And this is not the old-timer’s original edition. In the first 2 to 3 pages, you will see commentary like “ftw” and “wtf” as part of the dialogue.
However, if you accept that the digital textbooks of the future need to be updated and adapted for the next generation of students, then you will likely enjoy the experience. I’m in this camp and I found it to be intriguing and inspiring… with some reservations.
Here are a few screenshots to help you visualize the Inkling experience. If you have an iPad, just download it and try it yourself. In the opening screen after signing up / signing in, you see the one book. In Part 2 of this article, I will discuss the Inkling business model and speculate about the digital publishing workflow behind this system. It can’t possibly be easy.
Table of Contents
When you open the book, you immediately can see that this is not a traditional table of contents. The TOC is one of the primary areas for enhancement in any digital publication and this one wants you to know that the linear TOC you knew as a child is a piece of history.
In the cover page, you see a nice splashy title and image along with a toolbar on the left and a call-to-action graphic near the bottom to instruct you on scrolling the content using a swipe gesture. Note, that you will need to do a heavy swipe from the bottom of the screen to the top.
The menu button in the toolbar shows you several actions available to you. The “Highlights” and “Notes” menu options are particularly interesting. According to the Inkling website, these can contain shared notes provided by other students reading the same pages in the same book.
And lastly, here’s a screenshot of the Search Tool, also found in the toolbar. I found it strange that there were no matches for the word “Footnote”. I felt sure that Strunk and White addressed this topic. We will have to do a little fact-checking.