Technology

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from the L.A. Times

Category: Tablets

Apple says iBooks 2 app reinvents textbooks

Textbooks for sale in iBooks 2 on an Apple iPad

Apple promised to reinvent the textbook and offer a new experience for students and teachers by way of an update to its iBooks app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch on Thursday.

The app update -- which Apple is calling iBooks 2 and is already released to the iOS App Store -- will allow for textbooks to be sold through the popular app, which in the past sold novels, nonfiction and poetry, but not textbooks.

All textbooks sold through the free app, which is available only to Apple's i-devices, will be priced at $14.99 or less -- a stark contrast to the high-priced paper books that fill college bookstores.

But the main allure might not be the price as much as the interactive features iBooks textbooks can offer.

Apple, which announced the iBooks update at a press event in New York at the Guggenheim Museum, said the iBooks textbook exceeds paper texts in terms of engagement, calling it a durable, quickly searchable book that offers easy highlighting and note-taking  as well as interactive photo galleries, videos, and 3-D models and diagrams.

Digital textbooks can also offer immediate feedback with questionnaires at the end of chapters and automatically create flash cards of glossary terms for a student to study.

Apple said the move makes sense given that more that 1.5 million iPads are used in schools. "Now with iBooks 2 for iPad, students have a more dynamic, engaging and truly interactive way to read and learn, using the device they already love," said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. 

One thing not mentioned by Apple on Thursday was any sort of program that would offer iPads at a discount to students, teachers or schools.

Apple also said there are more than 20,000 education-focused apps available in the iOS App Store.

The tech giant has enlisted the heavyweights of textbook publishing -- Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt -- to sell textbooks through iBooks 2. Combined, the three companies make 90% of textbooks sold in the U.S. Smaller publishers such as DK and the EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation will be publishing to iBooks 2 as well. 

Just as iBooks does with other types of books, textbooks will offer a free preview of a few pages or even a chapter before a purchase is made.

EO Wilson is also publishing a new book through iBooks 2 called Life on Earth, and the first two chapters of the new title will be free with more chapters coming as they are written.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

twitter.com/nateog

Image: Textbooks for sale in iBooks 2 on an Apple iPad. Credit: Apple

AT&T's new pricing: more data for more money

AT&T changes pricing structure for data plansAT&T is raising the prices and the allotments of its data plans for smartphones and tablets -- more money and more data for new customers.

If you already have AT&T service, your contract and bill will be unaffected.

The new plans roll out Sunday, the Dallas-based company said Wednesday.

AT&T's current smartphone data plans come in three flavors: 200 megabytes of data for $15 a month, two gigabytes for $25, or four gigabytes for $45. As of Sunday, those plans will be scrapped in favor of a new trio: 300 megabytes of data for $20 a month, three gigabytes for $30 or five gigabytes for $50.

In the new pricing structure for tablets, the nation's second-largest mobile carrier will increase the price on only the top two tiers of data. So the 250-megabytes-for-$15 plan will remain in tact for tablet owners, and the new options will be three gigabytes of data for $30 a month and five gigabytes for $50.

Although the plans are more expensive, the adjustment offers more gigs for the money -- essentially tacking on an extra gigabyte of data for $5 a month in the top two plans.

So what's with the rate change? Is this a consequence of the failed attempt to purchase T-Mobile USA or a move to fuel AT&T's new, expanding 4G LTE network?

"Customers are using more data than ever before," David Christopher, AT&T's chief marketing officer, said in a statement. "Our new plans are driven by this increasing demand in a highly competitive environment, and continue to deliver a great value to customers, especially as we continue our 4G LTE deployment."

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: AT&T logo. Credit: Lisa Poole / Associated Press

Apple iPad 3: Launching in February, March, or later?

Apple iPad 2

Apple rumors -- they seem to work readers, writers and editors up into a frenzy producing an echo of reports around the Internet. These blips of salacious speculation seem to spawn anew multiple times each week and, from time to time, they also fail to line up with one another, instead butting heads in contradiction.

The latest example of such conflicting rumors is the recent reports published on the pending release of what the tech media has dubbed the "iPad 3," Apple's eventual follow-up tablet to the hugely successful iPad 2 of 2011 and first-generation iPad released in 2010.

Late last week, as many tech reporters were hustling to keep up with wacky gadgets and the evolutionary advancement of TVs, smartphones and tablets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Bloomberg News reported that Apple's next iPad would go on sale in March with 4G LTE connectivity (the first two iPads have Wi-Fi or 3G), a faster processor and a higher resolution touch screen.

Bloomberg didn't mention when it believed Apple would unveil the iPad 3, in its report, which cited three anonymous sources that reportedly have knowledge of Apple's plans.

Aside from the March-debut nugget of information, the rumored iPad 3 specs have been reported and re-reported countless times since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad 2 on March 2, 2011, ahead of the tablet hitting U.S. stores on March 11, 2011.

On Tuesday, the Japanese website Mackotakara reported that the unveiling of a so-called iPad 3 along with an update to Apple's iOS 5 operating system would take place in February. According to PCMag and Apple Insider, Mackotakara cited an unnamed Asian supplier and an anonymous source in the U.S. for its report.

So, do the Bloomberg and Mackotakara reports line up or contradict? When is the iPad 3 coming -- February or March?

In all likelihood, only Apply really knows when it will launch its next iPad. And Apple, which is known to reschedule its events and product launches up to the last minute, isn't saying. The company never comments on speculation about its product launches.

But it could be that both Mackotakara and Bloomberg are right? Maybe (and yes, I'm speculating here) the iPad 3 will be unveiled in February and go on sale in March?

Apple introduced the original iPad on Jan. 27, 2010, but it didn't go on sale until April 3, 2010.

Complicating matters is the Taiwanese website DigiTimes (which has a reputation for publishing inaccurate tech rumors). The DigiTimes has reported that the iPad 3 would be released sometime this month -- but the site has also said its unnamed sources have also said the iPad 3 may arrive in March or April.

Well, here's one thing you can count on: Whenever Apple's next iPad is released, the Technology blog (and the much of the tech reporting world) will have plenty of coverage of the eagerly anticipated new tablet.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: The Apple iPad 2. Credit: Nathan Olivarez-Giles / Los Angeles Times

Samsung reportedly 'front runner' in RIM purchase

Photo: Research In Motion's Senior Manager of Brand Marketing, Jeff Gadway discusses new BlackBerry technology in a presentation at the company's "BeBold" event at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 10, 2012. Credit: Eric Reed/AP Images for BlackBerry

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is again at the center of buyout rumors and this time the speculated buyer is consumer electronics giant Samsung.

Among other possible suitors believed to be interested in RIM are Nokia, Microsoft and Amazon, which sent shares in the smartphone and tablet maker up as much as 10% in December when the rumor mill was churning.

On Tuesday, after the website BGR published a story that stated Samsung was the "front runner" to purchase RIM, stock in the Canadian company rose $1.30, or 8.04%, to $17.47 per share.

"Research In Motion is currently weighing every single option it can think of in an effort to reverse a negative trend that is approaching a boiling point for investors," BGR said. "Reports that RIM is currently in talks to license its software to other vendors are accurate according to our trusted sources, though we have been told that RIM is most likely leaning toward an outright sale of one or more divisions, or even the whole company."

RIM officials were unavailable to comment on the BGR report on Tuesday.

The negative trend mentioned by BGR is a well-documented slide at RIM that didn't relent in 2011. In December, RIM recorded a $485-million loss on unsold PlayBook inventory after the tablet failed to live up to sales expectations since its launch in April. Every model of the PlayBook was also cut to $299 in a move to entice consumers.

With sales of the PlayBook slow, no wireless carriers have stepped up to offer a 3G or 4G version of the BlackBerry tablet as RIM had originally planned. 

RIM also dealt with multiple product delays, employee layoffs, service outages, contracting market share, disappointing earnings results and declining stock prices in 2011.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Research In Motion's senior manager of brand marketing, Jeff Gadway, discusses new BlackBerry technology in a presentation at the company's "BeBold" event at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 10. Credit: Eric Reed / AP Images for BlackBerry

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

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Apple has reportedly filed another patent infringement lawsuit against Samsung in Germany, this time calling for a sales ban on 10 smartphones it says violate its design rights.

Filed in Dusseldorf Regional Court, Apple's suit -- which calls for a ban on the Galaxy S II, Galaxy S Plus and eight other models -- isn't the only front in the ongoing international patent battle between the two firms, reports said Tuesday. Apple also filed a suit against five Samsung tablets "related to a September ruling" that imposes a sales ban on the Galaxy Tab 10.1, according to a Bloomberg report.

Apple alleges that Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 copied the design of the Apple iPad in a way intended to confuse customers. After sales of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 were halted in Germany, Samsung released the re-designed Galaxy Tab 10.1N, which the Dusseldorf court said in December is different enough from the iPad that "it is unlikely to grant an injunction" against the new design, Bloomberg said.

"An appeals court also voiced doubts about the reach of Apple's European Union design right that won the company the injunction against the Galaxy 10.1," the report said.

For now, Apple's new smartphone suit against Samsung is set to "come before the court in August and the case against Samsung's tablets will follow in September," according to PCWorld.

If this all sounds a bit familiar, it is. Apple and Samsung have been suing and counter-suing each another across Europe, Asia, the U.S. and Australia for months, each alleging patent infringement over the design and operation of their respective phones and tablets.

In December, Apple failed to win an extension of a temporary sales ban against the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia, where the dispute between the two tech giants is set to go to trial in March.

According to the news site ArsTechnica, the ongoing patent battle between Apple and Samsung has caught the attention of the European Commission, which is conducting an antitrust investigation with the two companies regarding the suits.

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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 Hague, Netherlands, in August. Credit: Robert Vos / European Pressphoto Agency

CES 2012: Vizio previews new 10-inch, Android tablet

New televisions, laptops, all-in-one desktops and a "Stream Player" set-top box that can add Google TV software to any HDMI-equipped television set -- Vizio had a lot of announcements to make at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show.

A bit more quietly, the Irvine company also previewed a new tablet that it says will launch this year as a follow-up to the 8-inch Vizio Tablet that launched late last year.

Vizio 10-inch tablet

Vizio let us get a few minutes of hands-on time with its new tablet, but details on what the device would be made up of were few and far between.

VIDEOS: 2012 Consumer Electronics Show

The new tablet sports a 10-inch touch screen and front and rear cameras, and it felt a bit lighter than the current 8-inch model.

Rob Kermode, a senior product manager at Vizio, said the company was declining to say anything about the tablet's price or release dates or about what processor, how much RAM, how much storage or what screen resolution the tablet would be.

In my short time using the tablet, I felt a step up in performance compared with its 8-inch predecessor. The device reacted faster to my touch, launched apps more quickly and seemed not to stutter as much when it handled simple tasks such as playing animations Vizio has programmed into the operating system.

The prototype tablet was running Google's Android Honeycomb software with Vizio's VIA Plus user interface over the top of it, which looks very similar to the version of Android Gingerbread found on the 8-inch tablet. Kermode said Vizio was looking into Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of Android, but wouldn't promise that the new tablet would ship running that OS.

To see the new tablet in action, check out our video from CES in Las Vegas above.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles in Las Vegas

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Vizio's 10-inch tablet. Credit: Vizio

Vizio's 10-inch tablet. Credit: Vizio

CES 2012: Ion Guitar Apprentice turns aspiring guitar heroes into students [Video]

Pick. Thrash. Wail. Let out your inner Jimmy Page, Jack White or Yngwie Malmsteen -- with an iPad.

The Guitar Apprentice app and controller from Ion Audio, which we looked at during the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, aims to help students learn the basics of playing guitar before they drop some cash on a full guitar and amp setup. Although playing iPad guitar isn't as sexy as the real thing, this might reduce the number of Squier Strats and practice amps languishing in the closets of frustrated students who never pegged down barre chords.

The Guitar Appretice controller has a fret board.

The most obvious comparison is with the popular Guitar Hero and Rock Band video games, but Guitar Apprentice offers a more complex setup than the video game controllers, with buttons simulating the six strings on each of 14 frets on the neck, in a body similar to the classic Gibson SG. LEDs on the frets light up to show basic note or chord patterns, and students strum or pick simulated strings on the iPad screen. Effects such as delay, reverb and flanger are also available to customize distortion effects.

VIDEOS: 2012 Consumer Electronics Show

Guitar Apprentice is one in a series of music learning app-and-controller sets from Ion Audio, which also includes Piano Apprentice and Drum Apprentice, as well as Drum Master, which comes with a full-size electric drum kit. The plastic instruments connect to the iPad, and each shows students where or how to play, lighting up frets, piano keys or drum pads as appropriate. Teachers also appear on the apps to present basic lessons to users.

Apps are Core MIDI, which enables integration with other music apps such as GarageBand. The app and controller, when released, are to have a retail price of $99.

Just keep in mind: Although the frets on the controller are designed to simulate fretting real guitar strings, it doesn't look like the app will alleviate the sore fingers students will have if they ever move up to a real guitar.

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-- Armand Emamdjomeh

Twitter.com/emamd

Photo: The fret board on the Ion Guitar Appretice. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

CES 2012: Motorola to build Android phone with Intel CPU

Intel reference-design smartphone. Credit: Intel

A Motorola smartphone with Intel inside is due to arrive in the second half of 2012, the two companies announced at the Consumer Electronics Show.

The phone will be the first product of a multi-year agreement that will extend to not only smartphones but tablets too, Intel said.

Intel® Atom™ Processor Z2460 Package. Credit: IntelAlthough the firms didn't disclose much about what the device would look like, how much it would cost or what it wouldd be called, Intel did say that the first of its processors used by Motorola would be the new Atom Z2460.

No word yet on which carrier the handset will make its way to either, but in a meeting Tuesday night, Motorola Chairman and Chief Executive Sanjay Jha said the new phone would run Google's Android operating system.

Hopefully that means the first Motorola and Intel smartphone will be running Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

The Atom Z2640 is a 1.6-gigahertz processor with integrated graphics capabilities and low power consumption, Intel said in a statement.

The partnership is an important one for both companies, especially Intel. Motorola currently uses processors from both Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, two chip suppliers that have found a lot of success in the smartphone and tablet market. Intel's mobile chips, meanwhile, have had a tough time catching on with hardware makers as many have chosen processors from rivals.

Though Intel, the world's largest processor maker, has so far failed to match its dominant positon in the laptop and desktop market on the mobile side, a deal with Motorola might help boost its influence in smartphones and tablets -- particularly if Google's $12.5-billion purchase of Motorola Mobility is approved by federal regulators.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles in Las Vegas

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Images: (Top) Intel's smartphone reference design and (bottom) its Atom Z2460 processor. Credit: Intel

CES 2012: Samsung tablet + Kinect + motorized skateboard = wear a helmet

Move over Segway, and make room on the road for the Board of Awesomeness.

Chaotic Moon Labs' Kinect-controlled motorized skateboard zoomed through the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, showcasing a quirky mashup of technologies -- one that hopefully won't end with the rider getting a mashed-up head.

By attaching a Samsung tablet to the Kinect, the Austin, Texas-based software laboratory set out to "make Kinect do everything it's not supposed to do," which includes helping accelerate a skateboard and its rider to 32 mph.

VIDEOS: 2012 Consumer Electronics Show

It did it by creating an electric skateboard with the Kinect as a built-in gesture sensor, so the rider can accelerate by pushing his hands forward, and slow down by pulling them back  -- a little bit like skateboarding with an invisible steering wheel.

The board has giant all-terrain tires, as well as an 800-watt electric motor, so you could probably skateboard up San Francisco's Lombard Street if you needed to. (Note to readers: Don't.)

The brain of the conveyance is a Samsung tablet powered by the new Windows 8 operating system, which you better hope doesn't crash -- because if it does ...

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Ava robot, controlled by iPad, Kinect, roams CES with ease [Video]

-- David Sarno in Las Vegas

CES 2012: Ava robot, controlled by iPad, Kinect, roams with ease [Video]

 

IRobot, the company that cribbed its name from the annals of sci-fi greatness, rolled out a drone at the Consumer Electronics Show designed to help engineers and developers explore how to get robots to do what we want, as well as things we never thought of but soon won’t be able to live without.

At first glance, iRobot's Ava looks like a Roomba vacuum cleaner jury-rigged with a Microsoft Kinect and an Apple iPad tablet. And, indeed, on a closer look, it is. But according to the company's brochure it is much more. It has a “comprehensive sensor arrays (laser, sonar, and 2-D/3-D imaging)...” The whole concept is that it is a development platform for the various technologies that make robots cool (or scary), so it is a very simple robot by itself, but it has the potential to do many thing you would expect from an autonomous robot, and possibly some you wouldn't.

The brochure also include some images of things you might want have your Ava do, like collaborative work, caregiver support, mobile kiosk or security. Mostly it shows things that you can already do with an iPad, but now it has legs of its own.

VIDEOS: 2012 Consumer Electronics Show

Other cool features include touch-sensitive skins, autonomous charging, speech recognition and omni-directional motion as well as Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity.

The idea is that if you’re the guy who designs robotic claws, or facial recognition software that allows a robot dog to follow its human boy to the bus stop in the morning and pick him out of the crowd of kids getting off the bus at the end of the day, the first thing you need before you can really get down to business is a robot. One that actually works. This can be somewhat of a barrier to entry for roboticists who don’t work for DARPA or Michael Bay.

Ava can move independently, navigating through crowded rooms using its sensor array, or it can just follow you around, all while being aware enough of its surroundings to stay out of trouble while it tags along. That might not sound like a lot, but a lot of different technology is needed to make that happen.

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-- Tim French

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