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Cheap tablets that don’t suck
In the beginning, there was the iPad. Then there were a few Android tablets from Samsung and Google. Then Amazon got into the act with the Kindle Fire, and Microsoft released Windows 8.1, which enabled a whole class of tablet-sized devices. The result is a glut of great tablets to choose from.
Yes, there are plenty of dirt-cheap Android devices that deliver an awful experience, but they’re easy enough to avoid in favor of very good brand-name devices. There’s the 7-inch Google Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX. Dell has a pair of 8-inch tablets, one running Android and the other running Windows 8.1. And there are plenty of iPad alternatives in the 8.9-inch-and-up form factor, including Microsoft’s Surface and Surface 2. If you’re happy with last year’s technology, the Kindle Fire HD and the original Surface are seriously discounted.
There are so many tablets, in fact, that manufacturers are falling over themselves to offer eye-popping discounts. Those Dell tablets, for example, have been offered for as little as $129 (Venue 8, Android) and $99 (Venue 8 Pro, Windows 8.1), and Amazon is aggressively comparing its $379 price tag on the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 to the much pricier iPad Air.
Those prices are really good news for consumers, although it’s doubtful that any of the companies involved are making much of a profit at those prices. It’s even good news for business buyers, because many of these devices are perfectly capable of doing work as well as play.
— Ed Bott
ARM becomes the engine of the Internet of Things
When you use a modern smartphone or a tablet, chances are good that it’s powered by a microprocessor or System on a Chip (SOC) based on a design created by ARM Holdings. That UK-based firm is the acknowledged leader in embedded, low-power processor designs that are required by virtually all consumer mobile devices.
PCs and laptops may still use Intel’s chips for raw power and application compatibility, but when it comes to mobile and consumer electronics, ARM is king.
What’s most amazing about ARM is that it doesn't even make chips; instead, it licenses chip reference designs and intellectual property to companies like Samsung, nVidia, Qualcomm, and Apple. Those companies in turn create their own chips, and that silicon eventually ends up in products you recognize, like iPhone and iPads, Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets, and countless Android devices. Even Microsoft has gotten into the game with its Surface devices and Windows Phones from its soon-to-be-subsidiary Nokia.
But ARM-based chips also end up in products you don't directly interact with, like your Wi-Fi router, your Internet-connected TV, and streaming media devices like the Roku and Apple TV. ARM technology is in smart home products like the NEST thermostat, in home appliances, and, of course, in your car. Collectively, ARM powers an amazing percentage of "The Internet of Things," which will eventually be interconnected with apps and services in unexpected (and, we hope, delightful) ways.
— Jason Perlow
First it was Google’s Chrome browser, which turned automatic background updates into a standard feature. Then it was iOS, which pushes free updates out to every device that can run a new version. And now almost everybody is doing it. Well, maybe not Android.
Office 365 (which has its own place on this list) uses Click-to-Run virtualization, allowing it to update automatically with no user intervention required. Both Microsoft and Apple delivered the latest versions of their operating systems (OS X Mavericks and Windows 8.1, respectively) as free updates via their app stores.
Software companies and customers have a strong common interest in making updates free and as painless as possible. There’s still lots of room for improvement, of course, especially when third-party hardware manufacturers get involved. That’s why the Android installed base is so fragmented and it’s why so many owners of Windows PCs still have to struggle to find and apply firmware and driver updates. Maybe next year.
And there’s also entrenched resistance from enterprises that don’t want the disruption that comes with frequent updates. That’s why the aging, increasingly insecure Windows XP will continue to be insanely popular even after Microsoft ends support for it in April 2014.
— Ed Bott