Weekend Tech Blog: Ebook readers, tablets, and teens' online usage

Curious about Apple's new CEO? Bored with HP TouchPad news? Looking for the right ebook reader or that perfect iPad app? Or what's wrong with kids today? It's all here.

Curious about Apple's new CEO? Bored with HP TouchPad news? Looking for the right ebook reader or that perfect iPad app? Or what's wrong with kids today? It's all here.

Call this the grab-bag issue: some news, an app or two, and a cool gadget to keep your eye on.

The transition of power at Apple from Steve Jobs to new CEO Tim Cook was by far the week’s most dramatic tech story.  But who is Tim Cook? More specifically, who is Tim Cook as a person?  The personality of an incoming CEO is normally unimportant — this Forbes profile of Cook is typical of the low-key genre — but at Apple, where it all revolved around Jobs, the “who” is of vital importance to the company, its stockholders and the public.  This first-person account by a former Apple employee offers some clues about the man Jobs has chosen to carry Apple forward — and  insure his own legacy.  

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As most of you probably know, HP abruptly stopped selling its highly promoted TouchPad tablets last week (Aug. 18) and is getting rid of its remaining stock at a fire sale price of $99.  Just don't waste your time looking for it in local stores.   

“No TouchPads available” messages were part of the pre-recorded phone greetings at Best Buy stores in Seattle, South Center,and Lynnwood.  A check of Staples on 15th Avenue West near the Interbay area of Seattle yielded the same results. HP is still taking TouchPad order requests online, however.  And at a selling price that's 20 percent of the original selling price, there are still people lining up to buy them

How much HP is losing by pulling the plug on the TouchPad is anyone’s guess, but All Things D’s Arik Hesseldahl is guessing it'll wind up being about $1 billion.

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Need more evidence that tablets and small-format smartphones are becoming a major force in the nation’s digital life?  According to the media analysts at InStat in a survey published this past week, 65 percent of the U.S. population will own a tablet and/or smartphone by 2015.  The use of those small-format devices — versus large-screen TV sets — may well impact on how video entertainment is acquired and consumed (this according to an article in MediaPost).

Those stats are supported by a Neilsen report from last June (quoted in Variety), which noted that teenagers ages 12 to 17 spent more time watching online video on their mobile devices and texting than they did watching TV or blabbing on the phone.  And surprise, surprise: average 18-year-olders spend nearly 40 hours a month on their computers, of which more than five hours are spent watching online video. 

Now for the not-so-pleasant news about the effects of the digital life on kids, especially their time spent on social networks. According to the results of the 16th annual back-to-school survey conducted by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, teens ages 12-17 who typically spend time on social networking sites are at increased risk of smoking, drinking, and drug use.  Moreover, the images on Facebook or MySpace of kids getting drunk, passed out, or using drugs have been first been seen by many kids when they were 13 or younger.  More than 90 percent first saw such pictures when they were 15 or younger.

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On a somewhat lighter note, if you still haven’t made up your mind about acquiring a digital ebook reader, do include the Barnes and Noble Nook Color on your short list.

Although I own both an Amazon Kindle and the Nook Color, I think the Nook Color trumps the Kindle on several fronts.  Of all the dedicated ebook readers, it is uniquely an Android tablet at its heart, complete with a backlit touch screen and full color.  There are no arcane buttons and controls to master (we’re looking at you, Kindle).     

It may weigh nearly twice as much as a Kindle — the Nook weighs nearly a pound — but that’s a minor issue in actual daily use.  And as for battery life, the Nook lasts all day under most circumstances.  Its WiFi service give you access to its online book store, over 400 Android apps via its own apps store (I wish its app selection was better), and has an Internet browser equipped with Flash, which means you have access to some Internet video. 

Now here’s the fun part: With the addition of a relatively inexpensive accessory ($35), the Nook Color becomes a fully functional Android tablet. Yes, your Nook Color can run the Kindle app.

A slick piece of software engineering by a company called N2A Cards has shoehorned an alternative Android OS onto a SanDisk micro-SD card.  Just insert the card into the Nook Color’s SD card slot, power up the reader, and you now have a Gingerbread (V.2.3.4) tablet with many of the apps and services of a dedicated tablet. Cards with up to 64 gigabytes of storage are available through Amazon.com. Switching between the two operating systems is easy.  When you cold-start the Nook Color with the N2A card in place, you simply choose between the two systems.

The beauty of the N2A software is that it does not “root” or “jailbreak” the Nook Color — in  other words, altering the device’s internal software to use it for purposes other than for which it was intended.  The N2A approach simply swaps one operating system for another, like substituting ham for salami on a sandwich. No warranty issues are raised by the card’s use, according to the developer.

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And finally, what do you use to search out new apps for your iPad?  Do you read MacWeek, or Apple’s Facebook count, follow the recommendations of the iTunes app store?

Although many sources are available, I use AppAdvice and AppShopper. Both can be accessed from any computer or as iTunes apps.

AppAdvice has one of the best-designed news apps in iPad-land.  Each story appears in its own eye-pleasing block, and I find the tan-on-gray background easy on the eyes. It has lists for various interest groups (e.g., “apps for saxophonists”), and separate review lists that link back to the app store.

App Shopper serves one primary purpose for me: it tells me about the fluctuating prices of old and new apps, letting me buy interesting apps at the best possible prices, and lets you filter apps by the kind of Apple device you have.  It also has categories of apps, but none as extensive as AppAdvice.

And for those of you who believe in the ecumenical approach to tech coverage, you Android tablet and smartphone users out there can get reviews of the latest and greatest Android apps from the Android Tapp website.  Just don't expect there's an Android Tapp app in the iPad app store. You wouldn't be wacky enough to look for one there . . . or would you?  


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