New technologies can help college students learn

By Alex Reiter

“Harder, better, faster, stronger.”
The lyrics to one of Daft Punk’s most popular songs sum up the pace of new computers.

Year after year, companies release new devices in every shape and size, each harder, better, faster and stronger than the last. Yet companies do not always do the best job of educating the consumer about new products.

This year  consumers will see a flood of new hardware and software updates in the market. What do these tools mean to college students? Here are five of the most important changes in computer technology students will see this year.

1. Mac OS X Mountain Lion
Apple has announced the release of their next operating system, OS X 10.8, also known as Mountain Lion, this coming summer. Mountain Lion will feature more popular features from iPad, than Lion, the last operating system released for Macs. These features include a comprehensive Notification Center, the popular Game Center for playing games with friends, and AirPlay, which allows users to view their computer screen wirelessly on any TV attached to an Apple TV device. Currently, Apple is distributing Mountain Lion to software developers for tests and consumers should see it during the summer. A price has not yet been announced.

2. Windows 8
Microsoft is also releasing a new operating system, Windows 8. Windows 8 is a radical re-imagination of the Windows that PC lovers have grown used to. Microsoft has introduced a unified user interface that will work on tablets and desktops, in order to compete with Apple’s iPad. Users will see faster speeds, smoother load times and some of the cleanest, most user-friendly changes to the way that apps work. Windows 8 also features the Windows Marketplace which will allow for easy app downloads. Users should be able to upgrade to Windows 8 in October, and buy tablets and computers with the operating system soon afterward.
Microsoft is also working on a new version of its famous Office suite. I have seen pictures and demonstrations of several of these new programs, and lovers of productivity are in for a treat.

3. Ultrabooks are thin, more powerful laptops
No matter where someone goes, they’ll encounter this incredibly thin technology. Thin laptops, ranging from 11 mm to 14 mm, known as “ultrabooks,” are everywhere. Ultrabooks from companies like Apple, Acer, Asus, HP, Dell, Lenovo and even TV maker Vizio, have already been released, with more on the way. These thin laptops have very few compromises. In fact, they feature some of the most advanced, efficient technology to date. Users will receive incredible battery life, thanks to efficient power management and lower power consumption. This increased battery life and low power consumption does not hinder performance, as ultrabooks are capable of performing any task a college student requires with easy and efficiency.

4. Thinner, longer lasting smartphones
Ultrabooks are not the only portable devices receiving major face lifts this year. Smartphone manufacturers are continuing to introduce thin devices to the market. By far the most talked about thin phone lately has been the Motorola Droid Razr and Razr Maxx. Both of these devices run Android and are super thin. The Razr is 7 mm and the Razr Maxx is 8 mm.
One highlight of the Razr Maxx is its battery, which lasts twice as long as the current Razr Maxx. Other manufacturers such as HTC and LG are following suit with thinner devices that can last longer thanks to large batteries, but those devices will not be released until late spring.
Apple has the iPhone 4S, which is still considered fairly thin at 9 mm and soon there will be, a newly designed iPhone with an even thinner body to keep up with the competition.

5. More and more tablets
Apple is still dominating the tablet market. After two years on the market, Apple has sold 10s of millions of iPads. The user experience is simple, the selection of apps is extensive and people are using them to do just about everything from photography to games. The iPad 2 made a splash with its incredibly thin, light and fast experience. At print time, Apple has not announced the next iPad, but rumors from the Wall Street Journal and CNBC official Twitter account have both said that the new “iPad 3” will feature a screen with better image quality.
In Android tablet land, tablets ranging from seven to 10 inches are being created for every possible price, however, users interest has increased at a much slower rate.  Currently Google’s Android system is presenting very challenge for Apple’s iPad. However, one Android tablet has been selling quite well. The Kindle Fire, a seven-inch tablet from Amazon, sold millions of units over the holidays thanks to its budget price of $200. Yet with the iPad firmly in first place, there is very little room for competitors.

Technology is always changing, and no one knows what the next big thing will be. That’s why students should do research to know what kind of phones they are buying, and what kind of tablets will work best for them.

Alex Reiter is a sophomore computer science major. He can be reached at ajreiter@live.olivet.edu.

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