The Parable of the Tablet and the Calculator

21 September 2015

From Wired:

Casio released a calculator and Amazon released a tablet within 24 hours of each other this week. That alone is unremarkable. One costs $220, the other costs $50. That, too, wouldn’t raise many eyebrows, until you realize which is which.

The $220 calculator is the Casio S100. Yes, that’s right, 220 bucks for a calculator. It’s not a graphing calculator, or a calculator app in showier hardware, either. It is a sit-on-your-desk, square-rooting, 12-digit calculator, the kind you last saw atop your parents’ conquered tax returns in the early ’90s. The $50 tablet is the latest Amazon Fire, an 7-inch, 8-gig, quad-core, decent-battery-life, watch-movies-and-download-apps, mini, mobile, touchscreen computer. It offers your choice of, among many, many other things, wellover 3,000 free calculator apps.

This disparity between the cheap new product and the expensive retro one seems insane, but it is not. Each makes perfect sense, in its way, and reminds us just how wonderful technology can be, in just how many ways.

. . . .

We’ll start with the Fire tablet, since that’s easier to swallow. In fact, it’s not even the first $50 tablet. Walmart has sold Android slates from companies with names like Visual Land and Ematic and JLab and RCA (yes, that RCA) for months, if not years. These are only technically tablets, though, in the same way Impractical Jokers is technically a television show. They exist, but you wouldn’t want to spend any time with them. They are the harbingers of total commoditization, the bottom toward which others are racing.

By all accounts, Amazon’s new Fire tablet occupies an entirely different taxonomic ranking. It’s lighter, its battery lasts longer, its display should be improved thanks to in-plane switching (IPS) tech that its cheap rivals often lack. It’s not going to win any awards, and next to the iPad Air 2 or 10-inch Kindle HD, it’s still essentially a brick. A brick, though, that costs literally one-tenth the price. Even less, if you buy it in a six-pack, which you can, because we’ve gotten to the point where good-enough tablets can be bought and sold like Miller Lite.

There’s a straightforward reason Amazon’s able to offer Fire so cheap, aside from the obvious component downgrades versus its more expensive tablets. “Amazon’s hardware is sold at cost to push content sales and Prime membership,” says Current Analysis research director Avi Greengart, “which leads to increased sales through Amazon’s retail operations.” Think of Fire, then, as a gateway gadget. On the other side of that gate lies an Amazon shopping cart.

. . . .

Not everyone can afford (or wants) an iPad, though. Similarly, entry-level smartphones and computers still cost hundreds of dollars, enough to put them beyond many families’ budgets, especially in any quantity. Even the new iPod touch starts at four times what you’d spend on a 7-inch Fire.

In fact, instead of comparing the Fire tablet to the off-brand Walmart tablets of the world, here’s a different exercise. Less than three years ago, Apple announced the 7.9-inch iPad mini. The new Fire tablet has a display with more pixels per inch than that tablet had. It has a faster processor, and twice the RAM. Its storage is expandable. It can access Amazon Underground, which provides free games that on other platforms rely on in-app purchases. The iPad mini, at launch, started at $330.

. . . .

And then there’s the Casio S100.

If your immediate reaction to a $220 calculator is to light the nearest lampshade on fire, that’s valid. After all, you can literally google the word “calculator,” and one appears that’s more capable than the S100 is or ever will be. There are no firmware updates to look forward to here; it doesn’t even connect to the internet.

The gall! And yet, have you seen it? It’s beautiful, as far as calculators go, which turns out to be pretty far. That a aluminum alloy body that would feel at home alongside a high-end humidor, or a Newton’s cradle made of pure titanium.

Link to the rest at Wired Here’s a link to the $50 Fire.

Unplugging My Way to Recovery

11 September 2015

From ArcaMax:

For 12 weeks, I’ve been on a miracle diet that has improved my mood, cleared my mind, given me more energy, made my eyesight better, cured my insomnia and, most importantly, pretty much eliminated the daily headaches that had been dogging me.

Best of all: I still eat gluten and haven’t had to ingest kale once. All I did was cut back my consumption of electronic content by about 75 percent.

Yes, seriously.

This 21st-century, always-on, social-media connected e-reader took things down several notches by returning to reading print newspapers, paper books and magazines, and massively cutting back time spent in the warm glow of electronic devices.

The road to recovery started about two years ago when my formerly episodic, but by then nightly insomnia and near-constant headaches jump-started the search for a cure.

. . . .

Why did it take me so long to realize that the onset of my symptoms roughly coincided with a resolution to save money on the many publications I read by going digital?

It’s not because I didn’t know about eyestrain, or the cognitive benefits of reading on paper versus reading electronically — according to a variety of research, reading electronically prevents us from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way.

It’s because I just got so used to being on my computer, laptop, iPad or iPhone all day long, taking in content from all corners of the Web whenever the whim arose, that the amount of time my eyeballs were frying on a screen just crept up on me.

. . . .

I was faced with a weeklong work trip away from home.

How, I fretted, would I keep up with all my reading when I was going to be busy nearly every minute of every day in meetings and travel? Much of it without Wi-Fi?

Ultimately, I decided to set my email to out-of-office mode, planned to limit my daily news to just one printed newspaper per day — compared with scouring three to four publications online — and vowed to try not to “catch up” on my online reading and socializing once I returned.

It was like the clouds parted. I noticed the changes in my health nearly immediately. Despite a hard-charging week of 15-hour days, keeping my gadgets out of my hands and face coincided with my being able to sleep better at night and not develop headaches at the slightest provocation. I just felt better.

Link to the rest at ArcaMax and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Amazon to Release $50 Tablet as It Struggles to Sell Pricier Devices

8 September 2015

From The Wall Street Journal: Inc. has struggled to draw customers to its pricier tablets. So it’s going further down-market.

The Seattle online retailer plans to release a $50 tablet with a 6-inch screen, in time for this year’s holidays, according to people familiar with the matter. That would make it one of the least-expensive tablets on the market and half the price of the company’s current Fire HD 6-inch tablet.

The move would potentially attract buyers looking for a simple—and effectively disposable—device for straightforward tasks like streaming video at home and shopping on But such inexpensive tablets typically come with compromises like inferior screen quality, durability or battery life in comparison to more expensive tablets like Amazon’s larger Fire tablets and industry-leading devices like Apple Inc.’s iPad. For instance, the $50 device will have a mono speaker, rather than stereo, one of the people said.

The $50 device is part of a slate Amazon is planning to release this year that will also include tablets with 8-inch and 10-inch screens, according to the people familiar.

. . . .

The coming 6-inch tablet is just half an inch bigger—measured diagonally across the screen—than Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus smartphone and is smaller than some large-screen smartphones known as phablets. Amazon’s device isn’t expected to have phone capabilities.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Everything Science Knows About Reading On Screens

10 July 2015

From FastCompany:

Thanks to technology, we’re reading more than ever—our brains process thousands of words via text messages, email, games, social media, and web stories. According to one report, the amount people that read tripled from 1980 to the late 2000s, and it’s probably safe to say that trend continues today. But as we jam more and more words into our heads, how we read those words has changed in a fundamental way: we’ve moved from paper to screens. It’s left many wondering what we’ve lost (or gained) in the shift, and a handful of scientists are trying to figure out the answer.

. . . .

[M]any researchers say that reading onscreen encourages a particular style of reading called “nonlinear” reading—basically, skimming. In a 2005 study out of San Jose University, Ziming Liu looked at how reading behavior changed over the past decade, and found exactly this pattern. “The screen-based reading behavior is characterized by more time spent on browsing and scanning, keyword spotting, one-time reading, non-linear reading, and reading more selectively,” Liu wrote. In the face of endless information, links, videos, and images demanding our attention, we’ve adapted our reading to fit our screens.

But this style of reading may come at a cost—Liu noted in his study that sustained attention seems to decline when people read onscreen rather than on paper, and that people also spend less time on in-depth reading. “In digital, we can link in different media, images, sound, and other text, and people can get overwhelmed,” explains Andrew Dillon, a professor at the School of Information at the University of Texas, Austin, “These are disruptive activities that can carry a cost in terms of attention.” Another study by Rakefet Ackerman Technion-Israel Institute of Technology also supports the idea that paper is sometimes less distracting than our computers. The researchers found that when people read short nonfiction onscreen, their understanding of the text suffered because people managed their time poorly compared with when they used paper (although paper’s advantage disappeared when people were given a fixed amount of time to read the text). Other studies have also found costs when people multi-task online in both efficiency and the quality of work they create (like a written report) based on their understanding of what they read.

Nonlinear reading might especially hurt what researchers call “deep-reading”—our in-depth reading of text that requires intense focus to fully understand it, like the works of James Joyce or Virginia Woolf. “Skimming is fine for our emails, but it’s not fine for some of the important forms of reading,” says Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf. “If you word-spot James Joyce, you’ll miss the entire experience.” Wolf says that since humans didn’t evolve to read, we have very plastic brain circuits for this particular skill and our brains easily adapt to whatever medium we read. If we habitually browse and word-spot, Wolf explains, our brains will favor that type of reading even when we crack open Ulysses.

Link to the rest at FastCompany and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG is a pretty digital guy, but he still proofreads documents where every word has to be right on paper.

However, he reads both fiction and nonfiction books exclusively on an ereader or tablet.

Half of UK households now own a tablet

28 May 2015

From Broadband Choices:

The popularity of portable slates has surged since 2011, when just 2% of UK adults owned one. Now, 54% of the population regularly use a tablet and that figure is set to increase to 63% by 2016 – driven by the success of devices including the Apple iPad, Google Nexus and Amazon Fire.

Tablets are the most popular amongst 35 to 54 year olds where take up now stands at 64%. Comparatively, 60% of young adults aged between 16 and 34 use one, and only 37% of over 55s do. Kids are also increasingly tech savvy as 71% of them have now had access to a tablet with a third owning one of their own.

Link to the rest at Broadband Choices

Someone gave my 5-year-old a Kindle

12 January 2015

From The Washington Post:

I was at a loss.

As I sat there eyeing the small gift box, tastefully wrapped in blue paper with a matching ribbon, I had no idea what to do. The accompanying receipt told me what was inside: a brand-new Kindle Fire – for my 5-year-old daughter.

When my husband came home from work, we stared at the gift together, unsure how to proceed. We agreed that the present, sent by a close family member, was incredibly generous. We also agreed that our daughter would love it – after all, she always asked to play on Papa’s iPad whenever he visited, and she was fascinated by her cousin’s tablet. But she’d never had one of her own, and frankly, the idea of getting her one hadn’t crossed our minds.

. . . .

Suddenly, we were faced with the prospect of our kindergartner owning a tablet, on which she could play games, practice reading, or surf the Internet. On the one hand, it sounded innocent enough. After all, we want her to be comfortable with technology and keep up with her peers. There are plenty of educational apps for young kids – not to mention opportunities for her to keep busy during long road trips or stints at the doctor’s office. Plus, it was a gift from a family member, who wanted to share something special with her during the holidays. We couldn’t object to that.

And yet we had some serious reservations. Talking it over, we came up with a list of reasons we were uncomfortable letting our daughter keep this gift.

There’s a world beyond the screen. I’ve seen too many kids who’ve lost the art of eye contact, their attention perpetually focused on their fingertips. Who am I kidding? You can add me to that group. While I try to resist, I get sucked in way more often than I should. I know how easy it is to center your life on a screen, and lose sight of everything around you.

. . . .

It sets us up for a constant battle. While we allow our daughter to watch television, we do try to limit her TV time to some extent. Yet even those efforts bring on complaints and aggravated eye rolls. I can only imagine the battles we’d have trying to disconnect her from that device – whether for dinner, or homework, or just a chat about her day. Yes, we could set limits on her screen time. But do we really need something new to argue over?

What’s she looking at, anyway? My daughter has (thankfully) outgrown Dora, and is always looking for new shows to watch. Fortunately, with the TV in the living room, I can sit down and watch with her. I can decide which shows are appropriate, and provide context for anything confusing she may see (like how real girls, unlike the Winx fairies, need to wear actual clothing). Handheld devices offer less opportunity for such oversight. I know there are parental controls, but I’m still uncomfortable with a screen I can’t easily see—especially one that’s connected to the Internet.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Sandra for the tip.

PG says this mother should look more closely at Amazon’s parental controls.

In this respect, the Kindle Fire is way ahead of other tablets. Parents can tightly control what children can and can not access. If a parent wants a child to only see specific items that the parent chooses, the parents can select those and block everything else. Customized viewing profiles for individual children can be created.

Some of the younger members of the PG Clan enjoy the Kindle Fire, but, from the start, their mother put strict limits on how many minutes per day each of them can use it.

Barnes & Noble’s Galaxy Tab 4 Nook Tablets Were a Holiday Flop

11 January 2015

From Android Headlines:

When it comes to a good story, the path of the Barnes & Noble e-reader, the Nook, has not been a happy one…though somewhat interesting.  The holiday season was not exactly a merry one as sales plummeted 55.4-percent compared to 2013’s holiday shopping period.  Hardware, accessories and digital content were all down for the season – device and accessories sales were down by 67.9-percent and digital content were down 25-percent.

It has been a real struggle for Barnes & Noble when it comes to Amazon’s Kindle e-readers, not to mention the Apple, Samsung and Google’s Nexus tablets on which anybody can read a book by downloading an app.

. . . .

Why Barnes & Noble’s sales were down could be due to a number of things – did the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook make it too easy for purchasers to read books via other readers on the same tablet.  Were the sales of Android tablets down overall this holiday season?  Without exact sales figures for their entire line, it might be that the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook sold the expected amount, but their other e-ink reader, the Nook Glowlight – with no update during 2014 – could not hold off the upgraded and lower priced line of Amazon’s Kindles.

Link to the rest at Android Headlines

E-readers ‘damage sleep and health,’ doctors warn

23 December 2014

From the BBC:

A team from Harvard Medical School compared reading paper books and light-emitting e-readers before sleep.

They found it took longer to nod off with an e-reader, which led to poorer quality sleep and being more tired the next morning.

Experts said people should minimise light-exposure in the evening.

. . . .

Our bodies are kept in tune with the rhythm of day and night by an internal body clock, which uses light to tell the time.

But blue light, the wavelength common in smartphones, tablets and LED lighting, is able to disrupt the body clock.

Blue light in the evening can slow or prevent the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

. . . .

Lead researcher Prof Charles Czeisler told the BBC News website: “The light emitted by most e-readers is shining directly into the eyes of the reader, whereas from a printed book or the original Kindle, the reader is only exposed to reflected light from the pages of the book.”

Link to the rest at the BBC

What device are you reading on?

16 December 2014

From TeleRead:

Our friends at Book Riot have been on fire in the last week or so, posting a ton of great stuff. One of my favourite posts of the week was this participation-required roundup called ‘What Are You Reading On?’

At the time I myself took the poll, 49% of respondents had listed an e-ink Kindle amongst their stable of devices, which surprised me. I was anticipating that more people than not would have abandoned their Kindles for the world of the tablet. So…why haven’t they? Why are e-ink devices still holding their share in the marketplace?

I think that for many serious readers (and Book Riot caters more to that market than to the casual one or two book a year crowd) there is still a desire to have a separate device for reading. e-Ink Kindles have some software features that have not made it into the app version yet (such as the Vocabulary Builder and WordWise features). Others in the comments also cited the more eye-friendly screens, the smaller form factor and the longer battery charge as factors.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

PG uses his tablet for lots of things, but still prefers his e-ink Kindle for long-form reading.

Amazon claims Black Friday e-reader and Fire tablet sales boom

2 December 2014

From VB News:

Amazon has announced something of a Black Friday sales boom for its flagship Kindle e-reader and Fire tablet.

Though the e-commerce giant didn’t divulge specific figures (it never does), it did reveal that it shifted four times as many Kindles and three times as many Fire tablets as on Black Friday 2013.

Link to the rest at VB News and thanks to Nirmala for the tip.

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