Textbooks have remained unaltered for decades. Although their composition has evolved into more and more innovative and attractive materials for the students, the way they interact with them has not changed because of the limited possibilities of paper. Nevertheless, the advances of hardware and software during the last decades were the basis for newer and more effective methods aimed to transmit knowledge.
Nevertheless, the E Ink technology evolved into more sophisticated devices. In 2010 this company introduced what they called Triton, the first color active matrix screen. ECTACO Inc., a language learning company in the market of electronic dictionaries founded in 1990, announced in 2011 their jetBook Color, which used the Triton display and was mainly oriented to the educational sector; but the improvements in the capabilities of the screen were not enough to provide a complete multimedia experience to students and teachers different than reading and listening.
It was when Apple announced the first iPad in 2010 when a real alternative to traditional textbooks became possible. This device and its OS (iOS) was the first specifically designed with a touch interface. The first iPad was very criticized because the lack of a camera and Adobe Flash technology, but it was a great success in any case. The second version, the iPad 2, was released in 2011. This second generation was more oriented to contents creation than its predecessor: it incorporated a frontal and a rear camera, and more processor power, maintaining the battery life of its predecessor. The third generation was presented in 2012, and incorporated more graphics processor power and the high resolution Retina display, with an increased battery power to maintain its previous autonomy. The success of the iPad in the educational sector is explained mainly by the way how it combined hardware and software for creating the first touch tablet with a natural real touch interface. But the iPad would not have interested to students and teachers if it was not easy to find hundreds of applications to fit their needs. An iPad with an appropriate number of applications becomes one of the most innovative tools –if not the best– in the market oriented to the educational sector. It leaves the student to interact with the contents at any level, online and offline, gives access to any resource on the Internet, it permits to create contents directly by hand, capturing images, audio and video and editing it with a lightweight device. Teachers can do the same, but they can also use it in their classroom balancing the process or learning to the students, using with multimedia and interactive presentations into the student’s iPads. Other uses are possible, like controlling the assistance, projecting images, videos or presentations wirelessly, and so on.
Apple iOS was firstly designed for the iPhone before the first generation iPad was announced. The tremendous success of this OS was closed followed by Google when their first version of Android –version 1.5, Cupcake– was released. Android was an open source project, so many manufacturers started to compete against the iPad with their own hardware running customized versions of this OS. In september 2010 Samsung announced their first Galaxy Tab which was immediately compared to the iPad during the IFA conference in Berlin. In only two years, other important companies, like Sony, ASUS, Acer, Toshiba or even Amazon, developed their own tablets using their own customized versions of Android. Other smaller companies -mainly Chinese- wanted a piece of the pie with less success. Owing to the huge variety of devices of different vendors, Android OS has not been able to get into the classrooms as iPad did. This system simply has become too heterogenous when trying to design digital educative textbooks and related applications: the different sizes of the screens and resolutions from different manufactures becomes a nightmare to the developer when designing educative contents. As a result, books and children apps remain dominated by iOS because of the high fragmentation of Android. Another factor play a part when a developer decides to invest his time and effort into an Android app: piracy. In fact, Android piracy has become the biggest issue when trying to create a high quality app for this platform. iOS suffers piracy in a similar way, but requires a higher knowledge as it is more difficult to install pirate software on this platform: this results in more sales on iOS, and a consequence of that is higher quality educative applications.
Apple has been the unique company to combine hardware and software with a significative acceptance of students and professors. Some educative institutions have recently started one-to-one programs, so their students have now the opportunity of using their iPads at home. This device has become more than a simple tablet to consume contents. Nevertheless, technology is evolving faster: cloud computing is now a reality and flexible and lighter displays are coming soon, so educative digital textbooks will embed the future innovations of the following years.