iTunes U: The iPad Killer App

Today Apple announced the release of iBooks 2 and their $14.99 high school textbook program.  That's kind of interesting, but what's a lot more interesting and getting buried in the press coverage is the release of the iTunes U app in the iOS App Store.  The iTunes Store has included an iTunes U section for quite a long time, which contained some excellent audio and video downloads of university course lectures.  I've downloaded a lot of them over the years and enjoyed having high quality free educational content from some of the world's leading universities.

But watching the lectures on iTunes U is not exactly the same thing as being enrolled in the class.  There's no homework.  No reading assignments.  I suppose you could buy the textbook if you wanted, but I never have.  But now Apple has released the iTunes U iOS app for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.  This changes the game significantly because now in addition to the audio or video lectures, there's lecture notes, assignments, and the other things you'd typically expect from a college course syllabus.  While it's still not the same as sitting in a classroom, it's a whole lot closer.

But here's the thing - there is no iTunes U app for OS X.  You can download the course material from iTunes on Mac OS X, but there is no integrated course experience as is provided by the iTunes U app on iOS.  Compare and contrast the following screen shots from the Stanford Machine Learning course in the iTunes U app on my iPhone and then the same course in iTunes on my Mac.

iTunes U iPhone App Screen Shots

Course home screen

Course overview

Instructor bio

Course info

Course posts

Course materials

iTunes U OS X Screen Shots

iTunes Course List

iTunes Course Screen

Which set of screenshots looks better to you?

I installed the iTunes U app on my iPhone and it ran fine, but while an iPhone is fine for playing the lecture video, it is not really a great platform for reading the associated written material.  Presumably a good interface could be created for an OS X iTunes U application, but Apple has chosen not to make one.  So the message would seem to be that if you want to enjoy this incredible free educational content you need to buy an iPad.

I've been thinking about picking up an iPad when the iPad 3 comes out, but this may just be the killer app that moves the decision from "likely" to "no brainer".