4G wireless: It’s fast, but outstripped by hype

Cell phone companies are about to barrage consumers with advertising for the next advance in wireless network technology, reports the Associated Press: “4G” access. The companies are promising faster speeds and the thrill of being the first on the block to use a new acronym. But there’s less to 4G than meets the eye, and there might be little reason for people to scramble for it, at least for the next few years. Sprint Nextel Corp. is the first carrier to beat the drum for fourth-generation wireless technology. It’s releasing its first 4G phone, the EVO, this week. In the fall, Verizon Wireless will be firing up its 4G network in 25 to 30 cities, and a smaller provider, MetroPCS Communications Inc., is scheduled to introduce its first 4G phone around the same time. Broadly speaking, 4G is a new way to use the airwaves, designed for the transmission of data rather than phone calls. To do that, it borrows aspects of the latest generation of Wi-Fi, the short-range wireless technology. For consumers, 4G ideally means faster access to data. For instance, streaming video and video conferencing might work better, with less stuttering and higher resolution. Multiplayer video games might benefit, too. Still, the improvement from 3G to 4G is not as dramatic as the step from 2G to 3G, which for the first time made real web browsing, video, and music downloads practical on phones…

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Taiwan’s AsusTek unveils tablet computer

Taiwan’s AsusTek Computer Inc. on May 31 unveiled a portable tablet computer that runs on Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system, joining a slew of manufacturers trying to tap demand for the sleek devices following Apple’s launch of the iPad, reports the Associated Press. Acer Inc., the world’s second largest PC vendor, last week unveiled a 7-inch touch-screen tablet that, like many other coming models, runs on Android, the operating system that Google is distributing free of charge for mobile devices. AsusTek’s touch-screen tablet, with the name of Eee Pad, comes in 10- and 12-inch sizes and is set to go on sale in the first quarter of 2011. In addition to full Windows support, company Chairman Jonney Shih said the Eee Pad is equipped with a web camera and runs Adobe Flash, which will allow users to view YouTube videos and other video content on the internet. The 10-inch Eee Pad will sell for $399 to $449. By contrast, Apple’s iPads cost $499, $599, or $699 depending on the data storage capacity. But iPads use the HTML5 video standard, and its lack of Flash support has alienated some users. AsusTek also unveiled an electronic notepad for $199 to $299 that serves as both an electronic reader and note-taking device, with a built-in camera that will let the user grab screenshots of lecture slides…

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Are standalone eBook readers doomed?

New research suggests that devices like the iPad, which let you read books and much more, are likely to dominate the market so fully that standalone eBook readers have little hope of hanging on to much market share, Yahoo! reports. eReaders are being assaulted on all sides by all manner of gadgetry: tablets, smart phones, and laptops large and small. As screens get bigger and crisper on all of the devices, the need for standalone reading devices inevitably will shrink, according to market research firm Informa Telecoms & Media—especially as online book purchasing markets develop and streamline into something easier to manage. After all, who wants to carry two devices when they can tote just one? Informa posits that 2014 will mark the high point of sales for standalone eReaders, peaking around 14 million devices. After that, “multipurpose devices” will pick up the slack, Informa predicts, though its analysts figure a niche will linger for low-cost readers that have no networking features and that consumers can treat less carefully than more expensive devices. Imagine, for example, gifts for children or devices to take on vacation: As with netbooks before them, they’d be no great loss if damaged or misplaced…

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Higher education’s best mobile technology programs

The University of Missouri last fall required all incoming journalism students to have an iPhone or iPod Touch.

The University of Missouri last fall required all incoming journalism students to have an iPhone or iPod Touch.

With small private campuses and large research universities alike teeming with iPhones, iPod Touches, BlackBerries, and other mobile devices, a college counseling company has highlighted five institutions in particular as the best landing spots for students attached to their gadgets.

IvyWise, a New York-based counseling company that released a list of the most environmentally friendly colleges in April, recently unveiled another list to help college applicants, this time focusing on schools that leverage the power of mobile devices to store and deliver recorded lectures, syllabi, homework, tests, and a host of other information that can be accessed any time, anywhere on campus.

The list, compiled by IvyWise counselors and released May 12, includes Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa., Stanford University, the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, Ohio State University, and the University of Missouri.

Notably absent from this list is Abilene Christian University in Texas, which just received $1.8 million from AT&T to build a studio for mobile learning experimentation.

Two of the universities in IvyWise’s list—Missouri and Seton Hill—attracted national attention this academic year when officials announced their latest education technology plans. The University of Missouri last fall required all incoming journalism students to have an iPod Touch or an iPhone so they could download material from iTunes University, a site run by Apple that includes thousands of educational videos.

Missouri officials noted that “at least 50 colleges and universities make use of iPods in their programs,” although it’s unclear how many of those schools require students to own the mobile devices. Students who couldn’t shell out a few hundred dollars for a new Apple product could pay for the device through financial aid, according to the university, because having an iPod Touch or iPhone was a journalism program requirement.

University officials said mobile devices such as the Microsoft Zune would let students listen to recorded lectures, but they added that the Zune is “not as capable as the iPod Touch beyond [its] use as an audio-video player.” BlackBerries also will “fulfill the minimum requirement” in the school’s journalism program, according to the university.

Seton Hill was among the first universities to embrace Apple’s eReader, the iPad, announcing in late March—before the iPad was released—that all incoming full-time freshmen would receive an iPad beginning in the fall 2010 semester. All other students will have a chance to opt into the iPad program, Seton Hill officials said.

The university “absorbed the cost of the iPad,” because putting Apple’s eReader devices in students’ hands marked a “strategic decision to shift resources and invest in technologies that optimize the students’ access to resources,” said Seton Hill President JoAnne Boyle.

Freshmen will pay a $500 technology fee starting in the fall 2010 semester, according to a university announcement.

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