Friday, August 14, 2009

CHE > Phone Textbook Apps Just Keep Coming

Josh Fischman / Chronicle of Higher Education / August 13, 2009, 01:00 PM ET / Wired Campus

It may not be great as a phone--don't scream, Apple fans, but the iPhone has taken some
knocks on call quality and battery life, though the latest version has improved--but the iPhone is getting more and more fans as a college-textbook reader.

CourseSmart, an e-textbook supplier, has come out with a reader app that draws on a library of 7,000 college texts from a dozen publishers, including McGraw-Hill Higher Education, Pearson, and Elsevier. The app is free, and the e-books seem to be cheaper than hardcovers.

The idea of looking at a diagram of a molecule on a small screen might be off-putting, but the app does have a decent zoom and scroll feature that makes such things easier. You still can't make notes in the margins, though.

For algebra students who need extra help, Pearson Higher Education has rolled out its AlgebraPrep app, with tutorials and mini-tests you can take at the student union while waiting for class to begin. The first tutorial, on factoring, will set students back $2.99 at the iTunes store. Pearson promises future modules on quadratic equations, rationals, and several other topics.

Students can even use the iPhone to buy paper textbooks online. Bigwords, a book-shopping Web site, now offers its own app that does price comparisons of particular books from various online sellers. It will calculate shipping costs and discount offers, too.

Finally, and this online development has nothing to do with an iPhone, those who don't want to buy can rent. Cengage Learning, a large publisher, announced today it will start CengageBrain in December. That Web site will offer students the option of renting books--in either electronic or paper form--and returning them after 60, 90, or 130 days. The company claims the price will be 40 to 70 percent lower than the retail buying option.

It's not the only one pursuing this route. The New York Times reports that McGraw-Hill will be offering some books for rental through Chegg, an online textbook-rental Web site. And Barnes & Noble is beginning a pilot rental program at three of its college bookstores this fall.

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