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College Textbooks: Coming To an iPhone Near You

Textbooks are a simple fact of college life that can't really be avoided: how are you supposed to learn without books to guide you and help make sense of your professors' words? Still, aching shoulders from heavy hardcovers (and aching wallets from heavy prices) are a side effect of textbooks that no student enjoys. An iPhone, on the other hand -- trendy, compact, and useful for a multitude of functions. Now, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, there's an application that could make textbooks one of those functions as well.

In a competitive strike against Amazon's popular Kindle, San Mateo-based e-book company CourseSmart LCC has just gone forward with making all of its "eTextbooks" available for download on the iPhone and iTouch. That's over 7,000 textbooks, covering courses for 113 majors. The company -- actually a joint venture comprised of five major textbook publishers including McGraw-Hill and Cencage Learning -- currently serves students in over 6,000 colleges across the nation, and claims that students have been demanding mobile applications as the next step in textbook technology.

Textbooks on your iPhone offer some mean benefits: the extra room in your backpack is an obvious stand-out, not to mention the convenience of on-the-go knowledge at your fingertips. "There's a lot of potential for education on the iPhone," says Frank Lyman, CourseSmart executive vice president. "You can search the text anywhere, at any time, which students seem to demand, given their mobile lifestyles."

Still, there are a couple of drawbacks. According to the Wall Street Journal, eText reception varies greatly from student to student, with some warming quickly to keyword searches and computer screen pages while others find the process awkward and more of an inconvenience than it's worth. Speaking of worth, while digital textbooks aren't made of paper, they'll still cost you some. Thankfully, not the same amount as what you'd pick up at the bookstore, but CourseSmart claims to sell their eTexts for about 50% of traditional cost. Those are some great savings, but there are some inevitable limits to the application -- Lyman himself remarked to the Wall Street Journal that "Nobody is going to use their iPhone to do their homework, but this does provide real mobile learning... If you're in a study group and you have a question, you can immediately access your text." With this in mind, $50 becomes a pretty penny to pay for what is more of a compact study supplement than an outright textbook replacement. (Not to mention the cost of an iPhone and data plan itself.)

So is an iPhone textbook application in the cards for everyone? Not likely, or at least not yet. Still, with the bit of extra convenience it can bring to the pursuit of a college degree, it will find acceptance and love among students with the means to pick it up.

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