Tag Archives: tablets

We Used to Dump E-Trash on the Asians. Now We Dump it on Americans.

Four years ago we issued this warning about the dumping of used e-books and other computer devices. At last the issue is receiving some front page attention (see the New York Times‘s story Unwanted Electronic Gear Rising in Toxic Piles).

The only difference between then and now is that the E-Trash isn’t just being dumped on Asia’s poor. It’s now being dumped on America’s.

Below is the original posting.

Richard Curtis


When the next generation of laptops, tablets and e-readers arrives, what’s going to happen to the devices you replace?

If what’s happening in Europe is any guideline, it will end up in a toxic e-waste landfill in Asia and Africa where the destitute, many of them children, will scavenge it for scrap. These scavengers incur horrifying and often fatal skin, lung, intestinal and reproductive organ ailments from the plastics, metals and gases that go into discarded cell phones, televisions, computers, keyboards, monitors,cables and similar e-scrap. Elizabeth Rosenthal, covering the story for the New York Times, tells us that “Rotterdam, the busiest port in Europe, has unwittingly become Europe’s main external garbage chute, a gateway for trash bound for places like China, Indonesia, India and Africa.

“There, electronic waste and construction debris containing toxic chemicals are often dismantled by children at great cost to their health. Other garbage that is supposed to be recycled according to European law may be simply burned or left to rot, polluting air and water and releasing the heat-trapping gases linked to global warming.”

Jessika Toothman, blogging on HowStuffWorks, describes how “A whole bouquet of heavy metals, semimetals and other chemical compounds lurk inside your seemingly innocent laptop or TV. E-waste dangers stem from ingredients such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, copper, beryllium, barium, chromium, nickel, zinc, silver and gold.” In fact if you want to see what this “bouquet” of poisons is doing to your fellow man, woman and child, you can view this sickening video of a Chinese e-trash village.

One device not mentioned in Toothman’s list of e-waste is e-book readers. The obvious reason is that we are still in the first generation of e-book devices (or second if you count progenitors like the Rocket Book) and there haven’t been enough readers manufactured to make them a formidable source of trash like cell phones and TVs. But when the next generation of e-book readers floods us with Kindle and Sony rivals – better, cheaper, faster, more colorful, loaded with special features and options – will we simply add them to the tons of lethal junk earmarked for miserable dumps in China, Indonesia or Africa?

Because it is still young, the e-book industry has an unprecedented opportunity to exercise its social responsibility, as we recently pointed out.Here is a three-point program to make sure the e-books business remains green.

  • First, manufacturers must be compelled to disclose the chemical components of the e-book devices they produce so that we can evaluate environmental hazards.
  • Second, Amazon, Sony, Plastic logic, Philips and other developers must develop programs for either returning their devices for safe (and monitored) disassembly and recycling or for donation to students, armed services personnel and other charitable recipients.
  • And third, The cost of recycling and safely disassembling e-books must be built into the price structure of e-books.

Right now the hidden cost of computers and other electronic devices is human suffering. It is unacceptable for the e-book industry to boast about environmental advantages while secretly sticking the helpless poor with the bill or contributing to the poisoning of the world’s water and air. If safety measures and sensible recycling add $25 or $50 to the price of their devices, that is an acceptable tradeoff. Because it would be assessed equally on all manufacturers, none would have a competitive advantage over its rivals.

We expect the e-book industry to do the right thing.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


Microsoft Tablet – AGAIN?

They say that the third time is the charm. But the 430,344th?

At least it feels like that’s how many times Microsoft has launched a tablet, not counting the one that was launched to promote the company’s new Windows 8 operating system and compete with Apple’s iPad despite the latter’s modest lead – a mere 100 million sold.

A decade ago Microsoft told us a tablet was on the way and produced a slick demo showing doctors making hospital rounds with tablets and pianists reading a score on a tablet propped up where the sheet music usually goes.

But alas, in February 2011 I wrote, “Year after year I waited for Microsoft’s tablet to sweep the country but it never happened.”

Why? In a candid New York Times op-ed column Dick Brass, a former MS vice president from 1997 to 2004, wrote, “Unlike other companies, Microsoft never developed a true system for innovation.”  (See Microsoft Snoozed Its Way Through Tablet Revolution, Says Former Veep)

In January 2010 – predating the release of the Apple’s iPad by three weeks – MS introduced the HP tablet. But it laid an egg. Here’s PC World’s take on it: “The HP tablet is basically a color e-reader running Amazon Kindle software, with few other details besides a sub-$500 price point and an estimated arrival on the market by mid-2010. So disappointing was the release that Microsoft and HP’s shares fell yesterday according to Business Week.”

Microsoft had a chance to redeem itself with the Courier, but it too flopped and not long after release Microsoft threw in the towel and said it would no longer support it.

Then in December 2011, we wearily wrote Microsoft Re-re-re-relaunches Tablet. The new device, manufactured by Samsung, was to be “similar in size and shape to the Apple iPad, although it is not as thin,” wrote Nick Bolton of the New York Times.

You’ll understand, therefore, why our eyes glaze over to read that yet again Microsoft is going to give tablets a go. But who knows? The 430,344th time may well be the charm.

Richard Curtis
This blog post was originally published by Digital Book World as Microsoft Tablet – Needs Only 100 Million Sales to Surpass iPad


Can Readers Resist the Seductions of Tablets? Short Answer is No

Can You Resist Temptation? Probably Not

We don’t need the New York Times to confirm something we’ve been saying for years but it’s always nice to be validated. Julie Bosman and Matt Richtel, writing in that august journal, describe growing concern that tablet computers have too many distractions to keep readers immersed in books they are reading on those devices.

We’ve been saying so for years, but now it’s official. “People who read e-books on tablets like the iPad,” the reporters write, “are realizing that while a book in print or on a black-and-white Kindle is straightforward and immersive, a tablet offers a menu of distractions that can fragment the reading experience, or stop it in its tracks.” “’The tablet is like a temptress,’” said a Forrester Research analyst, citing such seductions as YouTube videos and popup email alerts. In response to a Forrester survey, only 31 percent of publishers “believed iPads and similar tablets were the ideal e-reading platform.”

Three years ago we expressed concern about the allure of tablets. A former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, wrote that “people read more slowly on screen, by as much as 20-30 percent… Distractions abound online — costing time and interfering with the concentration needed to think about what you read.”

Her comments are particularly true for children. Maryanne Wolf, a professor of child development at Tufts and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, points out that “No one really knows the ultimate effects of an immersion in a digital medium on the young developing brain.” But “my greatest concern is that the young brain will never have the time (in milliseconds or in hours or in years) to learn to go deeper into the text after the first decoding, but rather will be pulled by the medium to ever more distracting information, sidebars, and now, perhaps, videos (in the new vooks).” (See The Medium is the Screen. The Message is Distraction.

Professor Gloria Mark, deeply concerned about the distractions engendered by screen media, expressed her own preference: “I’d much rather curl up in an easy chair with a paper book. It’s not only an escape into a world of literature but it’s an escape from my digital devices.”

Richard Curtis

Note to readers: Digital Book World has invited me to post my blogs initially on its website before releasing them on E-Reads, and this content is re-published with DBW’s permission. Click here to view the original posting.


Task #1 for Apple’s New CEO: Amazon Tablet

Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook was just welcomed with a goody bag filled with 1 million shares of his company’s stock. That was the easy part. Now he’s going to have to earn it.

But as much as he would like to focus on developing products envisioned by the retiring founder Steve Jobs (who will remain active in the company for as long as he is able), he may first have to shore up the iPad as it comes under fire from rivals seeking a share of Apple’s commanding market for the tablet computer.

In particular Cook will have to deal with Amazon, which is not only developing a tablet of its own but planning to offer it to consumers dirt-cheap.  Amazon has not concealed its strategy of selling its Android-driven gadget at a loss – hundreds of dollars below iPad’s base price of $499 – just to pull the rug out from its competitor, according to Garrett Sloan of the New York Post.

Amazon has a long way to travel to bite into Apple’s 25 million unit lead, but no observer of Amazon would bet against its coming up with a product, a price and a marketing campaign that could close the gap faster than anyone would believe possible. Maybe Jeff Bezos should name the new tablet Orange, to facilitate comparison between Apples and Oranges.

Details in $99 tablets: Price is right

Richard Curtis


Sheesh! We Just Got Over the Death of Books; Now it’s the Death of E-Readers?

“The e-reader’s days are numbered,” writes HuffPo’s Amy Lee. Despite millions of e-book readers sold in the last couple of years, Lee foresees obsolescence for Kindles and Nooks as tablets take grip and ultimately take charge.

Her surmise is drawn from prestigious technical and media research firm Forrester, who project that by next year tablets will outsell e-readers, and in less than four years there will be twice as many tablet owners as e-reader owners.

The reason is simple: history proves that that given a choice between a dedicated device and a multifunctional one, it’s multifunctional every time. “As the demise of the Flip camera suggests, consumers are increasingly trading single-purpose devices for multifunction gadgets. Especially as the price of tablet computers continues to fall, experts predict users will drop e-readers for tablet PCs that offer web-browsing and video capabilities alongside e-books.

“Even Amazon, which helped make e-readers and ebooks mainstream, appears to recognize the e-reader’s impending demise and is rumored to be developing its own tablet device. The Barnes & Noble Nook Color has already been modified to run Android’s Froyo software, taking it into tablet territory.”

Lee quotes another tech firm that relegates the future of e-readers to a niche. 

A niche!

We’re not sentimental about our Kindle but this is one prediction we think is dead wrong. The compactness and utility of Kindles and Nooks (the original Kindles, the original Nooks) can’t be matched by tablets. More importantly, book lovers love to immerse themselves without distraction in their books.  They like their dedicated e-book devices to be…well, dedicated. So we’re betting against the house on this one.  Niche indeed!

You decide whether or not The ereader’s days are numbered.

Richard Curtis


Take One Tablet in the Morning. But Which One?

Soon the Chinese will celebrate The Year of The Rabbit. The rest of us will celebrate The Year of the Tablet. Apple’s runaway success with the iPad has spawned an army of emulators and imitators that will leave consumers utterly bewildered when the time comes to choose.  And the time is approaching rapidly when everyone will want one, from students to business executives. Researchers project between 24 and 42 million tablets to be sold in the United States in 2011, according to New York Times‘s Joshua Brustein.

To assist the perplexed, the New York Times recently published a guide to the pluses and minuses of such iPad rivals as the Motorola Xoom, the H. P. Slate, the Dell Streak, the Blackberry Playbook and the Samsung Gallery Tab.

Conclusions? Though the Apple product “remains the dominant tablet computer,” its rivals exhibit some features like flash support that make them genuinely competitive.  And one, the Xoom, was named best gadget at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

With its huge jump on the rest of the pack, Apple doesn’t have a lot to worry about being surpassed. But neither will it have the field to itself any longer.

Read Tablets, Compared here, then pay yer money and take yer choice.

Richard Curtis


Microsoft Re-re-re-relaunches Tablet

If Microsoft keeps introducing the tablet, will they finally get it right?  We’re about to find out. At next month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, MS will present what, by our count, is its fourth tablet.  Not v. 4 of the same tablet, mind you – the fourth of four different machines.

The presentation will be made by MS’s CEO Steve Ballmer, and this time the company does expect to get it right.  The only problem is that another Steve got his tablet out first and has a multimillion unit lead.

Presumably by next month there will be a name for Ballmer’s device. The first, launched about a decade ago, didn’t really have one.  Then came the HP Tablet, released less than a month before the other Steve released his, but the HP flopped.  Then came the Courier. Came – and went. In April 2010 Microsoft announced that it would no longer support the Courier.

How will the No-Name differ from its Apple rival?

The device, manufactured by Samsung, is “similar in size and shape to the Apple iPad, although it is not as thin,” writes Nick Bolton of the New York Times.  “It also includes a unique and slick keyboard that slides out from below for easy typing.” It will run on the Windows 7 OS “but will also have a layered interface that will appear when the keyboard is hidden and the device is held in a portrait mode.” One source speculates it will run on something called Windows 8.

The marketing strategy may tilt in the direction of business applications. Has Apple left that niche open? “The company believes there is a huge market for business people who want to enjoy a slate for reading newspapers and magazines and then work on Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint while doing work,” said one observer.

If it feels like you’ve heard this story before, well, you have. Read Microsoft Snoozed its Way through Tablet Revolution.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by The New York Times.


Apple, It’s All Yours. MS, HP Throw in Towel on Tablets

From TechNewsWorld
First Blood Spilled in the New Tablet Wars by Renay San Miguel

“Two in-development tablet devices that seemed intriguing as details were slowly revealed over the last few months have apparently died in the womb. Microsoft said the Courier is not to be, and HP has hit the brakes on the tablet PC Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer showed on stage at CES in January… In a one-two punch to Microsoft and Windows, various technology blogs and websites reported late last week that Microsoft has ended plans to make its Courier dual-screen tablet, and HP (NYSE: HPQ) has hit the brakes on production of the tablet computer that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed off in prototype form at January’s Consumer Electronics Show.”

Our Courier dreams are shattered. However, manufacturers including Microsoft feel there’s still time to produce a tablet but they want to get it right. Ace in the hole is Android-based tablets  (See What Would a Google Tablet Look Like? Here Are Some Clues).

So, the first round goes to Apple. If there’s a round #2 you’ll hear about it.


What Would a Google Tablet Look Like? Here Are Some Clues

Now that our speculations about Apple’s tablet (including a name) have been put to rest, it’s time to play Speculation 2.0.  What are we speculating about?  How about a Google tablet.

Electronista says “Google is in the midst of crafting its own tablet to take on the iPad, a leak late Sunday may have revealed. CEO Eric Schmidt at a recent Los Angeles party purportedly told those gathered that the company is working on an Android tablet. Most of its details weren’t mentioned, but it would be both an e-reader and a general computing device.”

The Electronista staff adds: “Any tablet launch would be controversial for Google, as it would not only stoke the heated battle with Apple even further but risk alienating the company’s hardware partners.”

Can’t pass up a good rumor?  Then Google prepping its own Android tablet? is perfect for you.



David Pogue Digs the iPad (with an Asterisk)

David Pogue, the wonderful blogger who tells technology like it is for the New York Times, has weighed iPad in the balance and found it not wanting.

He’s also weighed it on a scale and found it heavy compared to Kindle, 1.5 pounds vs. 10 ounces. But that is not a fatal factor in his evaluation.  In fact there are no fatal factors in his evaluation.  His biggest reservation is the fundamental concept of the iPad itself: why does the iPad exist? At first we were mystified by this enigmatic, existential question. But like a koan the answer came the next day.  More on that in a moment.

Pogue’s approach to appraising Apple’s tablet is divided in two: one column for geeks and one for shleppers.  We take umbrage at the distinction, because it doesn’t give much credit to a generation of lay users who are quite conversant with computer specs.  In fact this shlepper didn’t see anything so complex in Pogue’s “techie” section that could not be comprehended by an English major who did his Master’s thesis on Henry James.

Here are some highlights of Pogue’s analysis:

  • There’s an e-book reader app, but it’s not going to rescue the newspaper and book industries (sorry, media pundits). The selection is puny (60,000 titles for now). You can’t read well in direct sunlight. At 1.5 pounds, the iPad gets heavy in your hand after awhile (the Kindle is 10 ounces).
  • When the iPad is upright, typing on the on-screen keyboard is a horrible experience
  • Things open fast, scroll fast, load fast
  • The iPad can’t play Flash video…Thousands of Web sites show up with empty white squares on the iPad
  • There’s no multitasking…It’s one app at a time
  • The simple act of making the multitouch screen bigger changes the whole experience
  • A great AT&T cellular deal
  • 150,000 existing iPhone apps run on the iPad and 1000 specially designed for the iPad’s bigger screen

We said Pogue likes the iPad with an asterisk, but besides cavils like weight and glare, his specific reservations are so modest we won’t bother to reprint them here.  You can read them on Looking at the iPad From Two Angles

Pogue’s glowing bottom line is this: “The iPad is so fast and light, the multitouch screen so bright and responsive, the software so easy to navigate, that it really does qualify as a new category of gadget. Some have suggested that it might make a good goof-proof computer for technophobes, the aged and the young; they’re absolutely right.”

So – what does Pogue mean when he says the iPad is a hit except for the concept? The answer came in an article by Brad Stone and Claire Cain Miller published in the Times the next day. “Many consumers do not understand the device’s purpose, who would want to pay $500 or more for it and why anyone would need another gadget on top of a computer and smartphone. After all, phones are performing an ever-expanding range of functions, as Apple points out in its many iPhone commercials.” A banker commented that “I can do everything on my MacBook Pro, cellphone and BlackBerry. I don’t need any more devices. I already have six phone numbers and enough things to plug in at night.” A Silicon Valley entrepreneur was quoted as saying “But let’s see: you can’t make a phone call with it, you can’t take a picture with it, and you have to buy content that before now you were not willing to pay for.”

But that very same entrepreneur said “The first five million will be sold in a heartbeat.” Not very enigmatic or cosmic, but until something comes along to top the iPad, this would seem to be the last word.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.