Texting? No, Just Trying to Read Chapter 6

Texting? No, Just Trying to Read Chapter 6

By RANDALL STROSS September 6, 2009

IN our digital age, miniaturization rules. This is a welcome thing - in most cases. Squeezing two billion transistors onto a small chip? All good. Squeezing an enormous printed textbook down to iPhone-size? Not so good.

Yes, the textbook can be digitized and displayed on gadgets that students can carry everywhere. But the iPhone version is painfully limited in its usefulness.

The standard-size printed textbook provides the maximum amount of text and graphics in a single view. Once cracked open, two facing pages supply about 155 square inches of real estate, an expanse populated by hundreds of words; the occasional chart, table or photograph; and lots of restful white space. All of this is visible without clicking, zooming or swiping.

The iPhone has a grand total of six square inches of display. In my opinion, no amount of ingenuity will enable textbooks to squeeze into a credit-card-size space. CourseSmart, a software company in San Mateo, Calif., is nonetheless trying.

Last month, it released an iPhone app called eTextbooks, which lets students read their textbooks on the phone. The app itself is free; students buy access rights for a particular textbook title, which is priced at about half the cost of the printed version. The price includes eTextbook access, which the company has offered since 2007 via a Web browser.

CourseSmart was founded by five major textbook publishers - Pearson, Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill Education, John Wiley & Sons and the Bedford, Freeman, Worth Publishing Group - and now has a catalog of more than 7,000 eTextbook titles.

It's easy to see why students would want to lug around fewer textbooks - and read them instead on their laptops. It's also easy to see why they might not want to sign up a second time. Generally, when viewed on a laptop or a PC monitor, just half or two-thirds of a single page is displayed at once. Successive clicks take you to the bottom of that page, to the top of the adjacent page, and to the bottom of that page. After every page change, the screen goes blank momentarily before refreshing.


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