Remember when seeing an iPad on a bus, an airplane or the subway was a startling new experience? Now you might be startled not to see one.
Over the holidays, so many people bought tablets for each other (and, presumably, themselves), that U.S. tablet ownership nearly doubled among adults, to 19% in January from 10% a month earlier. The rate is growing quickly: In May 2010, shortly after the debut of the iPad, only about 3% of consumers over age 16 owned tablets, according to survey information from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
The survey found a similar jump in e-reader ownership, as prices dropped below $100 for electronic book readers from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nearly 20% of U.S. adults now own an e-reader, up from 10% in November.
Tablet and e-reader adoption continues to grow quickly just as sales of traditional personal computers slow and even decline. In the U.S., PC sales last year had their worst year since 2001, dropping nearly 5% compared with 2010, according to research firm IDC. Analysts and PC industry executives regularly cite the increasing popularity of tablets when talking about the slowing growth of the PC businesses.
According to the survey, tablet adoption is now the highest among wealthier and more educated buyers. About 36% of those making more than $75,000 a year own a tablet computer, compared with about 16% of those making $30,000 to $50,000, although ownership rates in both groups appear to be growing quickly. The discrepancy is also substantial between college graduates, 31% of whom own tablets, and high school grads, at 15%.
– David Sarno
Photo: Boxes of Kindle e-readers sit at an Amazon.com distribution center. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg.
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.
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.
Photo: Apple's iBook Author app on an iMac, and an iBook and an iPad. Credit: Apple
Barnes & Noble said Thursday that it is evaluating the possible sale of its growing Nook e-reader and tablet business, which hit a record level of sales over the holiday season.
"We see substantial value in what we've built with our Nook business in only two years, and we believe it's the right time to investigate our options to unlock that value," said William Lynch, Barnes & Noble's chief executive, in a statement. "In Nook, we've established one of the world's best retail platforms for the sale of digital copyright content. We have a large and growing installed base of millions of satisfied customers buying digital content from us, and we have a Nook business that's growing rapidly year-over-year and should be approximately $1.5 billion in comparable sales this fiscal year."
"Between continued projected growth in the U.S., and the opportunity for Nook internationally in the next 12 months, we expect the business to continue to scale rapidly for the foreseeable future," Lynch said.
Shareholder's weren't particularly pleased Thursday with the idea of spinning off Barnes & Noble's Nook business into a separate company or selling the Nook unit altogether.
Shares of the New York-based company fell about 20% on the news of a possible spin off, which also came alongside word that the bookstore chain also expects "full year losses per share to be in a range of $1.40 to $1.10."
Holiday sales at Barnes & Noble retail stores rose 2.5%, to about $1.2 billion, over the last nine weeks of 2011 when compared with the same period in 2010. Meanwhile, during that period, sales of Nook devices and digital content rose 43% from a year earlier.
The company also said it was "in discussions with strategic partners including publishers, retailers, and technology companies in international markets that may lead to expansion of the Nook business abroad."
As for how long Barnes & Noble will take to decide just what it will or won't do with its Nook unit, the bookseller isn't saying.
"There can be no assurance that the review of a potential separation of the Nook digital business will result in a separation," Barnes & Noble said. "There is no timetable for the review, and the company does not intend to comment further regarding the review, unless and until a decision is made."
Barnes & Noble didn't release specific sales numbers for Nook devices, or for the sale of Nook e-books, apps and other digital content, but it did say that even in that segment of its company there is some mixed performance.
For the last nine weeks of 2011, digital content sales grew 113% from the same period 2010 and overall sales of Nook devices were up 70% from a year earlier, setting a new holiday record for the company.
But sales of the Nook Tablet "exceeded expectations, while sales of Nook Simple Touch lagged expectations, indicating a stronger customer preference for color devices," Barnes & Noble said.
[Updated 5:19 p.m.: Barnes & Noble fell Thursday $2.32, or 17%, to close at $11.23 per share.]
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times
A day after Amazon said it would provide an over-the-air software update to its tablet one month after its release, customers say they're still miffed and note that the update won't fix the device's hardware issues, which include its small screen, lack of external volume controls and a poorly placed on/off button.
And interestingly, some buyers are viewing the need for a software update as an admission from Amazon that its first tablet is far from perfect.
Dan Karagozian of Glendale said he bought five Kindle Fires on Friday as Christmas presents after debating between Amazon's device and Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet.
Now he's having second thoughts. The 53-year-old said he was enticed by the device's cloud feature, price and content offerings, but was upset that no one from Amazon mentioned to him that a software update was needed when he called customer service before placing his order. He called the update a "red flag."
"Yes? No? Who knows," he said about whether he made the right buy. "I think I made a good choice, but again, when the update stuff starts coming out, it makes you wonder."
Another Kindle Fire buyer wrote an email to me saying she was having a bit of buyer's remorse.
"I bought mine as soon as Amazon offered it, and received it on November 16, which means I have two days remaining to decide whether or not to keep it," the Huntington Beach resident said.
Ralph Kaye, a reader from Torrance, said he and his wife were worried about buying a Kindle Fire because of rumors that Amazon may release a 2.0 version as soon as next spring to make up for the flaws in its first-generation model.
"I would not feel very good about buying a machine which will be an older model in a couple of months," said Kaye, 69.
But despite concerns from shoppers and some analysts, other tech industry watchers are more bullish. In a note to investors Tuesday, Goldman Sachs analyst Heather Bellini said she expected the Kindle Fire to make Amazon an even more prominent company and predicted Kindle Fire sales would reach 6 million units in its first quarter of release.
"In our view, the company's evolutionary cycle will continue at a frenzied pace, and it is only over the next few years that we will truly be able to see the value that can be derived," she said. "Add to this the introduction of the Kindle Fire (U.S. only) in November of this year, where we expect 50% conversion rates, and that will only further engrain Amazon into its customers' minds."
Despite the Kindle Fire's flaws, Bellini noted that shoppers have rapidly adopted Amazon's first tablet — a feat that "does not surprise us."
"While the Kindle Fire certainly doesn’t have the breadth of functionality of the iPad (no camera or microphone, shorter battery life and less memory), it does a few things very well, which just happen to be the few actions that users utilize the tablet form factor most often for, in our view," she said.
How do you like your Kindle Fire? Are the negative reviews making you reconsider a Nook Tablet or causing you to shell out for Apple's iPad? Check out some Times reviews of various tablets below.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: A Kindle Fire at a Best Buy store in Los Angeles in November. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times
Google's Android Market has passed 10 billion app downloads, a major milestone for the world's most widely used mobile operating system.
"One billion is a pretty big number by any measurement. However, when it’s describing the speed at which something is growing, it’s simply amazing," said Eric Chu, director of the Android Developer Ecosystem, in a company blog post. "This past weekend, thanks to Android users around the world, Android Market exceeded 10 billion app downloads — with a growth rate of 1 billion app downloads per month."
The massive number is even more impressive when considering the fragmentation found on Android, with companies such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Yahoo hosting Android app stores of their own, in addition to independent app stores such as GetJar.
Apple passed 15 billion downloads from its App Store in July, noting that there are more than 200 million iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch users worldwide.
More than 200 million Android smartphones and tablets have been sold and about 550,000 new Android activations take place each day, Google has said.
To celebrate passing the 10-billion-download mark, Google and a number of developers are offering selected apps for 10 cents for a limited time, Chu said.
"Starting today for the next 10 days, we'll have a new set of awesome apps available each day for only 10 cents each," he said. "Today, we are starting with Asphalt 6 HD, Color & Draw for Kids, Endomondo Sports Tracker Pro, Fieldrunners HD, Great Little War Game, Minecraft, Paper Camera, Sketchbook Mobile, Soundhound Infinity & Swiftkey X."
Each day, until the 10-day period is up, Google will offer another 10 apps for 10 cents each, as listed on the Android Market.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A screen shot of Google's Android Market. Credit: Google