COVER STORY: Inside the Ebook Test Kitchen
"We're beginning to do things that merge media and devices," says MacInnis. When, for example, learning to play the guitar, "there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to look at the TV to get instructions but look at an iPad to see fret placements."
If it sounds like Macinnis has a certain disdain for the traditional textbook, it's because as a member of the Apple education division for almost eight years, he spent hours in classrooms observing how teachers used, misused and even abused technology.
"The textbook has become this crutch, holding everybody back," he says.
His vision for a more interactive approach comes from the business world. "Any time technology can improve productivity, we use it," he says of common practice in corporate America. "Education operates in a fundamentally different way. When you go through mandatory training at work, you sit down, read something, watch a video and take a test. Even that level of sophistication doesn't exist in the classroom. Things that put the student at the fore aren't happening."
Indeed, Inkling's products, which publishers can create using Inkling Habitat, integrate photos, videos, text and a battery of tests meant to gauge and reinforce retention.
"The first thing you have to do is throw out all the assumptions you have when building a book," says MacInnis of the way forward. "The philosophy of pretending a screen is a page is crazy, but that's all [publishers] do today."
At the heart of this new wave of ebook technology is the idea that the ebook is not, actually, a book at all. Rather, it's a program, albeit one built around what we understand to be a book—text and pictures arranged to tell a story or communicate facts. Springing from that, the program theory goes, anything should be possible.