How Apple’s internal iContest for interns may have helped create iPad textbooks

How Apple’s internal iContest for interns may have helped create iPad textbooks

There’s an interesting interview with a former intern at Apple up over at The Wirecutter. The ex-internist, Joseph Peters, talked with Editor Brian Lam about how he pitched an idea for ‘iTunes Textbooks to Apple back in 2008.

The story is an interesting one, and not just because it may have been the genesis for the digital textbooks we saw introduced today. There are also some interesting points to be gleaned about Apple being interested in what the talented people at its company have to say.

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Peters participated in a competition for interns called the ‘iContest’, something I had never heard of existing at Apple before. The iContest is designed to give Apple interns a chance to pitch executives at the company with cool or interesting ideas.

While other interns came up with big ideas like an ‘iCar’ or some such fantasy, Peters was focused on something closer to his heart, a frustration at the inflated prices of Textbooks. So he came up with an idea for ‘iTunes Textbooks’ and presented it to the executives along with slides, one of which you can see below. His team won and was awarded a set of MacBook Air computers.

The executives scheduled a meeting for Peters with John Couch, head of Education at Apple and he was peppered with questions about the ‘why’ of digital textbooks, as he saw them:

[One question] was about whether people would read on their computer screens. I couldn’t talk about the rumored device that’d later become the iPad, but I think I just said that there would be other ways to consumer this content in the future.

I won’t quote the whole interview here, please head over to The Wirecutter to catch it in full, it’s an interesting story. Peters makes sure to note that he is not claiming that he came up with the idea, or that Apple wasn’t already working on a kind of digital textbook. He also couldn’t talk to the executives about rumors of the then-stealthy iPad project.

The iContest system is new to me, but it makes sense. Apple makes it a practice to hire incredibly talented people and there is little reason why it shouldn’t turn to that talent to poll it for cool ideas. There is obviously no way to tell whether Peters’ presentation was the genesis of Apple’s digital textbook idea, but it couldn’t have hurt its chances of becoming a shipping product. Jobs himself talked passionately about the possibility, but that was in 2010.

It is very cool to see that Apple is open to ideas from inside the company and that it took to heart Peters’ concept for exactly what it was “a college aged kid telling you that this is a service he’d like” and awarded him for pursuing a topic he felt passion for.

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