Colleen Bartlett, a senior at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Cali., relies on technology every day to to help her edit the school newspaper, write stories and study. Like most college students, Bartlett grew up in a world where computers and the Internet pervade almost every facet of life, but she's not ready for the latest technology trend in the classroom - electronic textbooks.
"I basically don't buy into the idea of these textbooks because I value the visual impact of tangible books, both because it is easier for me to read an actual page, and because it's easier to recall information that came from a book or handwritten notes rather than from a computer," Bartlett said.
Technology leader Apple Inc. announced plans earlier this month to revolutionize the textbook industry by converting printed editions of the most common high-school texts to electronic versions that can be displayed on its iPad tablet device. Although the company is taking on high school education first, it likely will go after the college textbook market in the future.
But the company might have a more difficult time selling the concept than its marketing team expects. Despite technology's ubiquity in their lives, not all college students are ready to trade a backpack full of books for a fragile device dependent on battery power and Internet access.
At Westmont, students say they like the idea of electronic textbooks, especially if they're cheaper than hard copies. Critics of Apple's high school strategy say many public school students and school districts wouldn't be able to afford to buy iPads, which cost $499 for the cheapest model, even though the company plans to sell the books for $15 or less. But the cost of the device might not be as much of a barrier for college students, who may spend as much as $750 per semester on books.
Westmont students, some of whom already use at least one electronic textbook designed for an e-reader or computer, also like the idea of having all their books on one lightweight device.
"It's a handy way to keep yourself organized, and it helps prevent back problems from carrying around too many books," freshman Michelle Barrett said.
But even though they like the idea of electronic textbooks, most students said they would rather keep their hardcopy versions.
"There's just something about having a book in front of you and being able to turn the pages, highlighting and flipping through by hand," Olga Lane said. "It helps you learn."
Students already using e-books also claim the drawbacks outweigh the convenience. Peering at a screen for a long time causes headaches and eye strain, they said. And e-readers and iPads are too easy to break. Students also worry how they would get their studying done if their electronic book malfunctioned, the battery died or they couldn't access content online.
"I know these devices use Internet, and in lots of places, the Internet is slow or nonexistent," Megan Barnes said. "That shouldn't have to hinder you in your homework."
Apple's textbook announcement came just months after Steve Jobs, the company's iconic co-founder, died of cancer. According to his biographer, Walter Isaacson, Jobs made reforming the textbook market a pet project. At a dinner in early 2011, Jobs told News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch that the iPad could make paper textbooks obsolete.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.