Technology

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Category: Tablets

EU investigating Samsung's 3G patent licensing practices

Samsung at CES 2012

Samsung's patent lawsuits with Apple and other rivals are bringing the South Korean tech giant a bit of regulatory scrutiny in the European Union.

On Tuesday, the European Commission, the E.U.'s antitrust agency, said it had formally launched an investigation into whether Samsung had broken any competition laws by not allowing rivals to fairly license patents relating to 3G technology.

"The European Commission has opened a formal investigation to assess whether Samsung Electronics has abusively, and in contravention of a commitment it gave to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), used certain of its standard essential patent rights to distort competition in European mobile device markets, in breach of EU antitrust rules," the commission said in a statement. "The opening of proceedings means that the Commission will examine the case as a matter of priority. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation."

Central to the investigation is determining whether Samsung has lived up to a pledge the company made 14 years ago to license patents it owned that are "essential" to 3G technology in mobile devices such as phones and tablets.

"In 2011, Samsung sought injunctive relief in various Member States' courts against competing mobile device makers based on alleged infringements of certain of its patent rights which it has declared essential to implement European mobile telephony standards," the E.U. agency said. "The Commission will investigate, in particular, whether in doing so Samsung has failed to honour its irrevocable commitment given in 1998 to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to license any standard essential patents relating to European mobile telephony standards on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. The Commission will examine whether such behaviour amounts to an abuse of a dominant position prohibited by Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU)."

Samsung officials were unavailable for comment Tuesday on the commission's investigation, but the agency said it would work to "guarantee undistorted competition and to reap the positive economic effects of standardisation" of technologies such as 3G wireless connectivity. "It is important that FRAND commitments be fully honoured by the concerned undertakings," the commission said.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: A Samsung Electronics representative talks about Samsung products at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 13, 2012. Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Apple vs. Samsung: Galaxy Tab 10.1 sales ban upheld in Germany

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Samsung was dealt a loss in its ongoing patent battle with Apple as the South Korean electronics maker's request to overturn a ban on the sale of its Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet in Germany was denied.

A Dusseldorf regional appeals court upheld the August 2011 sales injunction of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and said that Samsung's Galaxy Tab 8.9 also should be banned from being sold, according to a report on the website FOSS Patents by patent expert Florian Mueller.

Although the decision hurts Samsung, the ruling may also be a setback for Apple. The reasoning behind the court's decision wasn't because of Apple's claims that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 infringes on the design patents for the iPad tablet. Rather, "the appeals court based its decision on a violation of German unfair competition law," Mueller reported.

The injunction against Galaxy Tab 10.1 sales in Germany cited Apple's design patents as the reasoning for pulling the Samsung tablet off store shelves.

In an effort to not miss out on the growing tablet market in Germany, Samsung redesigned the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and then re-released a new German version called the Galaxy Tab 10.1N, which is allowed to be sold, though Apple has requested a sales ban on that product too.

The Dusseldorf appeals court ruling is the latest in an international fight between Samsung, Apple and their respective teams of lawyers. Last week, Apple was denied a requested sales ban on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the Netherlands, where the two companies are locked in a patent battle.

Earlier this month, Apple filed two new patent suits against Samsung in Germany, seeking a ban on 10 Samsung phones and five tablets. Last month, a U.S. district court in San Jose denied Apple's request for a ban on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 before a July trial on Apple's lawsuit against Samsung in that court.

In December, a temporary ban on the Samsung tablet in Australia expired in a related suit between the two tech giants. The Australian dispute is set to go to trial in March, and other suits have been filed across Europe and Asia.

While the two companies are rivals and suing to block the sales of one another's products, Samsung and Apple are also business partners. Samsung, for example, manufactures the Apple-designed A4 and A5 processors found in the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad 2 and iPod Touch, among other components, such as flash memory, inside of many Apple devices.

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Apple loses bid to ban Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Netherlands

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Apple sues Samsung again in Germany, calls for ban on 10 phones

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: A Samsung Electronics' Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet on display this month at a company showroom in Seoul. Credit: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1 tablet review [Video]

Motorola's Xyboard tablet line is just about everything I wished the Motorola Xoom had been when it was released not even a year ago.

The Xoom, Motorola's first attempt to build an iPad-competing tablet, was critically acclaimed when it launched last February. It even won the Best of Show award at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

But the Xoom, which sported a 10.1-inch screen, was a bit too heavy (1.6 pounds) and much too expensive (launching with an $800 price tag), and the 3G and 4G models were available only through Verizon. The 4G capabilities were also delayed about seven months, and when they did arrive, Xoom owners had to mail in their tablets to get a 4G hardware upgrade.

Thankfully, in the Xyboard, it seems Motorola has made up for most (but not all) of its missteps with the Xoom.

For one thing, the Xyboard prices are more acceptable.

The Wi-Fi-only version of the Xyboard starts at $399.99 for the 8.2-inch model and at $499.99 for the 10.1-inch model. The Verizon-exclusive 4G version, known as the Droid Xyboard, starts at $429.99 for the 8.2-inch model and at $529.99 for the 10.1-inch model -- that is, as long as you sign a two-year data plan along with the tablet. (All four of the prices named are for tablets with 16 gigabytes of storage.)

Both the 8.2-inch and 10.1-inch Xyboards have touch screens with a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels.

The Motorola Droid Xybaord 10.1, left, next to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Apple iPad 2.

The Xyboard 10.1 is thin and light, and physically felt much more competitive with Apple's iPad and Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1, the two high-end tablets against which I think the Xyboard 10.1 will be competing most for consumer dollars. The Asus Transformer Prime tablet, a tablet I haven't yet tried, is likely be in this category as well.

In my time testing the 4G-equipped Droid Xyboard 10.1, it was clear more than just the pricing strategy was different with Motorola's new tablets.

Inside, the Xyboard 10.1 is fitted with a 1.2-gigahertz dual core processor and 1 gigabyte of RAM, which powers the tablet to speedy performance that lived up to its price tag.

In the front and rear are 5-megapixel cameras, which shoot detailed photos and 720p video out back too. They aren't as sharp as some 5-megapixel cameras I've seen on smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Apple iPhone 4 and Nokia Lumia 710, but they're far better than the lackluster cameras in the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab.

The Xyboard 10.1 is just 0.35 inches thick and weighs 1.32 pounds, making the inclusion of such high-resolution cameras and a rear LEG flash all the more impressive. It also has dual stereo speakers in the back, which sound good for a tablet (better than speakers on the iPad and the Galaxy Tab 10.1) but don't replace a good set of headphones.

The displays on the Xyboard 10.1 were another high point, responding to touch input quickly and rendering websites, apps and videos sharply, clearly and brightly. Unlike the iPad or the Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Xyboard has a mini-HDMI port built in, so it's easy to hook the tablet up to a TV set.

Continue reading »

Motorola sells 200,000 tablets, reports $80-million loss

Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1 at CES 2012

Motorola Mobility sold 1 million tablets in 2011 -- with only 200,000 Xooms and Xyboards sold in the fourth quarter of the year, a quarter in which the company also reported an $80-million loss.

The consumer electronics maker reported the low tablet sales and negative earnings on Thursday in its quarterly earnings report. The loss came on revenue of $3.44 billion in the fourth quarter. A year earlier, the company reported a fourth-quarter profit of $80 million on $3.43 billion in revenue.

For the full year, Motorola reported a loss of $249 million on $13 billion in revenue, up from an $86-million loss on $11.5 billion in revenue in 2010.

Product shipments are also down year over year for the fourth quarter. Motorola shipped 10.5 million phones and tablets (all of which run Google's Android operating system) in the last three months of 2011, down from 11.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2010.

In 2011 as a whole, Motorola shipped 42.4 million mobile devices, up from 37.3 million devices shipped in 2010.

Motorola also said it remains "energized by the proposed merger with Google and continue to focus on creating innovative technologies." The Google takeover is still awaiting approval from regulators in a number of countries, but Motorola said it expects the $12.5-billion deal to "close in early 2012 once all conditions have been satisfied."

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Motorola's Droid Xyboard 10.1 tablet on display at Motorola Mobility's booth at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Credit: David Becker/Getty Images

Harvard study finds the iPad can be a pain in the neck

Ipad

Apple sold a record breaking 15.43 million iPads in the last three months of 2011, which means a lot of people are starting to use tablet computers. And with last week's news that Apple is planning to bring textbooks to the iPad -- well, that's a lot more people who may start to use tablets, too.

But, do they know how to use them safely?

A new study published by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, in conjunction with researchers at Microsoft (a long-time Apple rival), is the first of its kind to examine the physical effects on the head, neck and shoulders of spending time staring at a tablet.

The good news is that it is not all bad news. The researchers found that people are more inclined to move around and shift positions when they use a tablet compared with people who are sitting at a desktop computer. That's definitely good. However, tablet users that hold the device almost at their lap, or rest the tablet in a case on their lap, are putting a lot of strain on the neck muscles -- much more than someone using a laptop or desktop computer.

"If you think about your position when you are hunched over looking down, your head is hanging out over space, so you are using your neck muscles to support the weight," said Jack Dennerlein, director of the Harvard Occupational Biomechanics Laboratory, and lead author of the paper.

Definitely not good.

In the paper, published earlier this month in the peer reviewed "Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment, and Rehabilitation," the researchers identified four ways that people use tablets — the lap-hand (holding the tablet down at your lap), lap-case (resting the tablet in a case on your lap), table-case (resting the tablet in its case on a shallow angle on a table) and table-movie (resting the tablet at a steep angle on a table).

They concluded that the best position is the table-movie position because it is the only position in which the user's posture approached neutral. All the other positions put a lot of strain on the user's neck muscles.

Dennerlein said those who use tablets should make sure to move around as much as possible -- "Don't get stuck in one position!" he said. The next most important thing is finding a good case that allows you to prop up your tablet at the most comfortable angle. He added that companies that distribute tablet computers to their employees should make sure to give out cases as well, in order to prevent injuries.

Next up, Dennerlein and his team plan to tackle the effect of tablet computing on the arms and wrist.

One additional note: When we reached out to Apple to see if they had any comment on the ergonomics on using the iPad, a spokesperson pointed us to a large section on ergonomics on Apple's website. The section is impressive, but the suggestions and diagrams are all related to desktop computers, and the site did not have any recommendations on how to most safely use a tablet. We called the rep to see if we had missed anything, but we didn't hear back by press time.

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--Deborah Netburn

Photo: A model looking at her iPad in a position that the Harvard study says is bad for your neck. Credit: Markus Schreiber / Associated Press

Microsoft releases Hotmail app for Amazon's Kindle Fire

Hotmail for Kindle Fire app listed in Amazon's Appstore for Andoird

Microsoft's Hotmail service now has a Kindle Fire app.

OK, this may not be as exciting as Google releasing a Gmail app for Apple's iPhone, and there is still no native Gmail app for the Fire. But the Hotmail app for the Fire should be a worthwhile release for many owners of Amazon's popular 7-inch tablet due to the addition of Exchange Active Sync.

Unlike Amazon's included email app on the FIre, which merely downloads your messages via POP3, Microsoft's Hotmail app will synch emails, contacts, folders and subfolders, said David Law, Microsoft's director of Hotmail product management, in a blog post.

While the free Hotmail app for the Fire is technically an Android app, the version for Amazon's tablet is different from the standard Hotmail Android app used by more than 3 million people, Law said.

The differences between the Fire Hotmail app and the standard Android Hotmail app have to do with the changes Amazon made to Android to create the Fire-specific operating system it runs on its tablet, which as we've noted before is unlike any other version of Android out there.

"Because the Kindle Fire uses a different implementation of Android, we needed to make some updates to our previous Hotmail app for Android to ensure it worked well," Law said. "Now that we've finished the work and the app is ready, we're excited to give customers a great Hotmail experience on the Kindle Fire."

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: A screen shot of the Hotmail app listing in Amazon's Appstore for Android. Credit: Microsoft / Amazon

Apple earnings: $97.6 billion in the bank, and other highlights

Apple Store, San Francisco

Apple just reported its best quarter of all time, as covered by my colleague David Sarno here on the Technology blog.

The Cupertino tech giant reported a boost in sales of iPads, iPhones and Mac computers (but not iPods), pushing it into a record quarterly revenue of $46.33 billion and $13 billion in profit for the first quarter of the company's 2012 fiscal year.

Let's take a closer look at Apple's huge numbers for the quarter ended Dec. 31, which showed strong holiday sales and sent shares in the company up 8% after the markets closed Tuesday.

Cash balance -- One major number to note from Apple's earnings report, as mentioned in its earnings call, is that the company has a cash balance of $97.6 billion, up from $81 billion a year ago.

That's a massive amount to be sitting in the bank and it's a sum Apple will spend in part on developing new products that will help it remain competitive against rivals such as Samsung, Sony, HTC and Motorola.

Revenue -- Apple racked up $46.33 billion in sales in the 14-week quarter, which is up from $26.74 billion in the same quarter a year ago.

Profit -- The tech giant reported a $13-billion profit last quarter, which is more than double the profit the company reported for its first fiscal quarter of 2011.

IPhones -- Apple sold 37.04 million iPhones in the last three months of 2011, which marks 128% growth from a year earlier, when the company sold 16.25 million iPhones.

IPads -- Sales of the ever-popular Apple tablet grew 111% when compared to the year-earlier quarter, with 15.43 million iPads sold for the company's fiscal 2012 first quarter  versus 7.33 million iPads sold in the first quarter of 2011.

IPods -- The iPod isn't dead yet, but it is on the decline. Apple sold 15.4 million iPods last quarter, down 21% from 19.45 million iPods sold a year earlier.

Mac computers -- Apple's Mac line of desktop and laptop PCs -- which includes MacBooks, iMacs, Mac Minis and the Mac Pro -- saw a 26% increase in sales from the year-ago quarter, with 5.2 million Macs sold in the first fiscal quarter of 2012 and 4.13 million Macs sold in the first fiscal quarter of 2011.

"Portables," which would include the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops, made up the majority of Macs purchased, with 3.71 million units sold last quarter, up from 2.9 million sold a year ago. Apple sold 1.48 million desktops last quarter, up from 1.23 million sold a year earlier.

Looking ahead, Apple said Tuesday that it is projecting it will record about $32.5 billion in revenue in the second quarter of its fiscal year.

[Updated: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Apple's profit for the first quarter of its fiscal year was $6 billion. Apple reported a $13 billion profit last quarter and recorded $6 billion in profit a year earlier.]

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

twitter.com/nateog

Photo: An Apple Store in San Francisco. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Apple loses bid to ban Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Netherlands

6a00d8341c630a53ef014e8bedc9ec970d-600wi

For the second time, a Netherlands court has denied Apple its request for a ban on sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet, whose design Apple says illegally copies the iPad's.

The Samsung victory, first reported on the blog Foss Patents run by patent expert Florian Mueller, came Tuesday in The Hague, where an appeals court ruled that the Samsung device -- which runs on Google's Android operating system -- doesn't steal from the iPad's patented design.

The Dutch court's decision, which upheld a lower-court ruling made in August, is another setback for Apple in its worldwide patent battle against South Korea-based Samsung.

Last month, a U.S. district court in San Jose denied Apple's request for a ban on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 before a July trial on Apple's lawsuit in that court. Also in December, a temporary ban on the Samsung tablet in Australia expired. The dispute is set to go to trial in Australia in March.

Apple last week filed two new patent suits against Samsung in Germany, seeking a ban on 10 Samsung phones and five tablets.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: An Apple iPad 2, left, and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 at a store in the Netherlands. Credit: Robert Vos / EPA

Sony PlayStation Vita hands-on [Video]

Sony's PlayStation Vita has got me intrigued.

As much of the gaming world has moved toward smartphones and tablets, I've wondered if consumers (or myself as a gamer) would take to new handheld consoles the way they did with the Vita's predecessor, the PlayStation Portable.

But after spending a few minutes with the Vita in my hands at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, my interest has piqued.

If you've played video games on the PlayStation Portable, which affectionately became known to most as the PSP, then the Vita will look very familiar at first glance. Joysticks and buttons are placed to the left or right of a nice, wide display and the graphics produced by the system are detailed and sharp.

But unlike the PSP, there are many features of the Vita that better equip Sony's handheld formula for competition in a smartphone-riddled future. On the front of the Vita is a 5-inch OLED touchscreen and a similarly sized touch panel can be found on the back of the device.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the Sony PlayStation Vita

I played a bit of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, one of the titles that will launch with the Vita during its U.S. release on Feb. 22, and the game used traditional controls and the touchscreen. And switching between the different control options was intuitive and easy.

The Vita can also be used as a controller for Sony's PlayStation 3 home console, which could bring touch controls to even more games if developers embrace this feature. Though I didn't get to spend a long time with Uncharted or the Vita, the potential for some really creative game-play options was obvious. 

The Vita will also run a number of smartphone-like apps, including apps for the photo-sharing site Flickr and video-streaming service Netflix, local-discovery app FourSquare and social networks Facebook and Twitter.

There are also two cameras on the Vita, one on the front and one on the back, and in the few test shots I snapped on the CES showroom floor, I have to say I was a bit disappointed. Photos didn't seem to be high quality and colors were washed out and not sharp. Sony wouldn't say what the resolution of the cameras would be for the U.S. release of the Vita, but the Japanese version (which went on sale on Dec. 17) featured VGA-quality cameras in front and back with a resolution of 640-by-480 pixels, which is about the same as an Apple iPad 2. 

We'll be getting a review unit of the Vita in a few weeks, and I'll reserve final judgement for then, but after my hands-on time with the system, there's a lot to like and a few things that I'm not so excited about (aside from the camera). One of them is the pricing of Vita's new proprietary memory cards. 

The Vita will sell for either $249 in a Wi-Fi-only version or $299 for a 3G/Wi-Fi model that runs on AT&T's network. AT&T is offering no-contract data plans for the Vita of $14.99 for 250 megabytes of data per month, or three gigabytes for $30. Games (on a new card format and not the UMDs found in the PSP) will sell for about $9.99 to $49.99, according to Sony. All of that seems to be pretty fair pricing in my opinion.

However, memory cards for the Vita -- which you will definitely need if you want to store any apps, downloadable games, movies, music, photos or any other content on the Vita -- are sold separately.

A four-gigabyte memory card will sell for $19.99. Not bad. An eight-gigabyte card will sell for $29.99 and a 16-gigabyte card will sell for $59.99. Getting a bit higher. And, a 32-gigabyte card will sell for a whopping $99.99.

It seems a bit painful to think you may end up spending an extra $100 after plunking down as much as $300 for a Vita, but this is the current reality, depending on how much stuff you'd like to store in the device. Ouch. 

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: The game Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the Sony PlayStation Vita. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

Apple's iBooks 2, iBooks Author: Bids to own publishing's future

Apple's new iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U apps are moves to capture the future of education and self-publishing

NEWS ANALYSIS: Alongside Apple stating that iBooks 2 and textbooks on the iPad would reinvent the textbook as we know it, the iPad-maker announced Thursday that it would also attempt to reinvent book-making by way of an app called iBooks Author.

The Apple-developed app, available as a free download from the Mac App Store, (ideally) makes it easy to make books for the iPad. But together, iBooks 2 and iBooks Author are moves to capture the future of education and self-publishing, and to continue to build on the success Apple had under the late Steve Jobs.

If you've ever used Apple's Keynote or Pages (or Microsoft's PowerPoint or Word) apps, then you should be able to hit the ground running in iBooks Author. There are templates for different types of book layouts, and adding the interactive 3-D models, photos, videos and diagrams that Apple demoed iBooks 2 textbooks on Thursday is as easy as clicking and dragging a built-in widget -- provided you've already produced the video, photos, diagrams and models you want to use.

Apple has even built into iBook Author HTML5 and Javascript support for programmers looking to take their books beyond what the app can do itself; multi-touch interactions for pinch and zoom views of photos and swiping gestures are also included.

Want to see what your book looks like before you publish it to iBooks? Just connect your Mac to an iPad by way of a USB cable and you can preview the book on the tablet.

The aim of the iBooks Author app is to make it easy to get these impressive multimedia elements, as well as questionnaires and other educational materials, into a page of text and published as a book on the iPad as easy as possible -- whether you're a self-publisher looking to write your first book, a teacher whipping up something quick for a special class, or a publishing powerhouse like the textbook trifecta of McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Before his death, Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that he believed Apple could disrupt the $8-billion-a-year textbook industry. Jobs said in Isaacson's book, titled simply "Steve Jobs," that the iPad was the tool to make transformation in the textbook business a reality.

According to the book, Jobs' idea "was to hire great textbook writers to create digital versions, and make them a feature of the iPad. In addition, he held meetings with the major publishers, such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple."

Jobs told Isaacson "the process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt ... but if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don't have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money."

In announcing the iBooks 2 and iBooks Author products, Apple is beginning to bring a piece of Jobs' long-term vision to fruition. The company also noted Thursday that there are currently about 1.5 million iPads being used in schools and more than 20,000 education apps sitting in its iOS App Store.

But make no mistake, iBooks 2 and iBooks Author aren't just about textbooks. The two new apps are working together to entice students, teachers, educational institutions to embrace and buy the iPad in bigger numbers than they already have.

On Thursday, in announcing the new products, Apple made no mention of new discounts on iPads for students or schools -- though Apple has offered such discounts in the past on Macs and even created special versions of the iMac for schools. Apple even built the now-defunct eMac line specifically to sell to schools.

Apple wants us to ditch the paperback and hardcover textbooks in favor of an iPad and digital downloads, that much is obvious. But the company also wants the iPad and Macs to become to go-to devices for educational institutions and publishing houses.

Although Apple's iTunes is the world's most popular online music storefront, Amazon is the world's largest seller of e-books. By adding a level of interactivity to books that Amazon and others simply can't match, and by making it easier to publish a book and sell it in the iBooks app directly from iBooks Author, Apple has made a move to challenge Amazon and its Kindle e-reader and Kindle Touch tablet as the preferred platform for self-publishers and digital textbooks.

In a statement announcing iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, Apple said as much (without naming Amazon and other e-book rivals such as Google and Barnes & Noble).

"iBooks Author is also available today as a free download from the Mac App Store and lets anyone with a Mac create stunning iBooks textbooks, cookbooks, history books, picture books and more, and publish them to Apple's iBookstore," Apple said.

The apps are also a challenge to Adobe, a company Apple has been known to partner with and feud with from time to time. Adobe's Creative Suite, Digital Publishing Suite and Touch Apps, available on both Windows PCs and Macs, are some of the most popular tools used by publishing houses and self-publishers looking to create a book, whether an e-book or a book before it heads to print.

Though capable of producing many different types of content for a broader range of devices, Adobe's software can cost thousands of dollars, while Apple's iBooks Author app is free.

Apple on Thursday also released an iTunes U app, which allows teachers from kindergarten to the university level to stream video of their lectures and post class notes, handouts, reading lists, etc., all within the app.

Previously, iTunes U was a podcasting service for college professors who wanted to put up video or audio of their lectures. Now it is one more reason for a teacher to consider an iPad and a Mac as tools to reach students at any grade level. And like iBooks Author, the app is free.

In my opinion, Apple is one of the best companies out there at providing lower-cost products that pull consumers into an ecosystem of apps and gadgets. It's one of the reason the company has so many cult-like followers.

For many Apple fans, their first purchase was an iPod or iPhone. With those purchases comes buying apps, music, movies and TV shows from iTunes. And for many, later comes a MacBook or an iMac computer. This strategy is repeating itself with iBooks 2 and iBooks Author.

First, get students and teachers to use more iPads in school by offering affordable and engaging digital textbooks. With iBook textbooks capped at a price of $14.99, I have to wonder whether or not textbooks will become shorter and more narrow, and thus students and teachers we'll have to buy more of them. Second, make it easy for anybody to produce their own iBooks (textbooks or otherwise) and then sell those books in the iBooks app, luring in aspiring authors. When those students, teachers and authors go to download music or a movie, set up a cloud storage service or buy a laptop, a phone, a new tablet -- maybe someday a TV -- what brand will be at the top of minds? Apple.

iBooks, iBooks Author and iTunes U, together are a move to fend off Google, Amazon, Adobe and other competitors in determining the future of education, publishing and book reading. Together, the launch of these apps is an attempt to not only maintain but also expand Apple's current success into the company's post-Jobs future.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Apple's iBook Author app on an iMac, and an iBook and an iPad. Credit: Apple

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