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Tablets, E-Readers Double Market Penetration, Says Report

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Ownership hits 19% for both devices, but what happens next? Also, Google+ is a public relations minus. And, that wacky Kim Dotcom!

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A startling new report from Pew Research shows that ownership of both tablet devices and e-readers nearly doubled in a few weeks over the holiday season. About 19% of U.S. adults now own tablets, and another 19% have e-readers.

The report, released Monday, notes that sales of both devices had been virtually flat in the previous quarter. But the marketplace changed dramatically just in time for the holidays. That is:
  • In the tablet market, the Apple (AAPL) iPad got some competition from Amazon's (AMZN) new Kindle Fire and the souped-up Barnes and Noble Nook. Neither had the bells and whistles of an iPad, but they were a lot cheaper.
  • Amazon and Barnes & Noble (BKS) duked it out for the more price-conscious e-reader crowd, cutting starting prices below $100.
The report did not break down sales by brand name.

Meanwhile, an international survey of IT and business professionals who use Apple iPads, from technology publisher IDG, says nearly half of those users find it sufficient for their computing needs, both at work and at home. Another 43% in the survey said their iPads were a "part substitute" for a smartphone.

The interesting question at this moment is: What about the other half, those who own an iPad but still find they need another computer for work, or at home, or both?

Intel (INTC) clearly sees the tablet as an interim device, to be replaced by a more powerful but still-portable ultrabook, running on its new generation of chips.

Alternately, could the tablet grow up to take on all of the functions that a PC now has?

It's a question that probably won't get an answer until next Christmas.

Web Weekly In Brief:

Google+ Goes Too Far
In its eagerness to compete with Facebook, Google (GOOG) may have given up the last vestiges of its warm-and-fuzzy reputation.

Technology site Arstechnica accuses the company of using "brute force" to pad the enrollment numbers of its new Google+ social site to an impressive 90 million users in time for CEO Larry Page's quarterly conference call.

Google's new user enrollment process makes it difficult for a user to avoid signing up for Google+. From then on, Google's integration of Google+ features in other areas counts any number of activities as "engaging" in Google+. And that calls into doubt another impressive statistic quoted by Page: that 80% of enrolled members actually "use" Google+ at least once a week.

CNET also beats up on Google for its aggressive integration and promotion of Google+. And Gizmodo accuses the company of prioritizing Google+ over Google Search, in ways that make its search less effective if not downright annoying.

In yet another change, Google has integrated users' Google+ posts with its Google search results-while ignoring similar content from Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. That led several engineers for those competing sites to create their own plug-in, or "bookmarklet" tool, slyly called "Don't Be Evil" in mockery of Google's unofficial slogan. The tool adds in social media results ignored by Google's search.

Google has said all along that its aim was to integrate social attributes into its core search mission, rather than to create another "social network." But judging by the reaction, it may have gotten off on the wrong foot.

The Wacky World of Kim Dotcom
Kim Dotcom: Poster boy for opponents of Internet censorship? Or sinister criminal mastermind poised to flee justice?

Even prosecutors admit Mr. Dotcom might not be able to pull off a disappearing act, since he stands 6 feet, 6 inches and weighs 285 pounds. His cars are equally conspicuous, including a pink Cadillac and a Rolls Royce, one of which has a "Hacker" vanity plate.

The founder of file-sharing site Megaupload and three others were arrested last Friday at his home, invariably referred to as a "lavish country estate," in New Zealand. He was reportedly armed and hiding in a safe room when police swooped in.

Dotcom, a German who also is known as Kim Schmitz, is accused of raking in $175 million over several years by illegally distributing copyrighted materials through file-sharing services. Two more suspects, a German and an Estonian, were arrested Monday in Europe.

U.S. authorities have shut down the Megaupload site.

You may be wondering what the difference is between Megaupload and the many "cloud-based" services. The legal argument is this: Cloud services offer storage and retrieval of files by people and companies. So did Megaupload. But the latter also charged a fee for "file-sharing," effectively selling access to pirated movies, music and other content.

This distinction does not impress the activist hacker group Anonymous. Within minutes of the Megaupload shutdown, the group took down the site of the U.S. Justice Department, and sites operated by a number of music and movie companies.

At least one competitor, Filesonic, has removed its file-sharing functions.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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