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Students swap laptops, desktops for smartphones, tablets

4:02 PM, May 21, 2013   |    comments
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USA TODAY - On college campuses across the country, tiny glowing screens are taking over.

Computer company Dell released its first-quarter report Thursday, revealing a 79 percent plummet in earnings as consumers turn from personal computers in favor of tablets and smartphones.

As a generation that's been online since a young age, college students aren't waiting to embrace the transition. Today's smaller, more mobile devices hold many of the academic and entertainment tools that once filled up a backpack or clunky desktop hard drive.

In an annual survey at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., 73 percent of students reported using a smartphone in 2012 as compared with 27 percent in 2009. About 30 percent of the university's students reported owning a tablet.

Michael Hanley, director of Ball State's Institute of Mobile Media Research, believes that student tablet ownership will rise to somewhere from 40 percent to 50 percent by next year.

"It's not a fad," says Hanley, who is also an advertising professor at Ball State. "It's here, and it's going to actually move faster than the smartphone growth has in the last five or six years."

The most popular tablet is the iPad (17 percent) followed distantly by Galaxy devices (2 percent), according to the survey.

Ashley Oglesby, a sophomore at Georgia Perimeter College, has all but abandoned her laptop in favor of her iPhone and iPad Mini. She's even written papers and edited her school newspaper on the 3.5-inch screen of her iPhone 4.

"I really don't like opening my laptop a lot," she says, describing her 2007 MacBook as bulky and slow.

In fact, the 21-year-old journalism student only cracks it open to upload photos or use heavy-duty design programs such as Adobe Photoshop and InDesign.

"I know a lot of designers who usually only turn on their computers for Adobe and use their iPads for everything else," Oglesby says.

And for young people preparing to start college, there are more tech options to choose from than ever before.

Alona Whitebird, 18, recently started researching whether to buy a laptop or a tablet for her first year at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Okla. When she began looking at Windows PCs, she was put off by the Windows 8 interface.

"It was too complicated," she says. "I'm leaning more toward an iPad."

As an iPhone user, Whitebird is already familiar with Apple's operating system, and she said many of her friends have recommended going for the popular tablet. Like Oglesby, she already has experience using her iPhone to do schoolwork. She once wrote a paper using the voice-to-text function (though she doesn't recommend it). If she opts for the iPad, she plans on buying a keyboard and wireless mouse.

According to research by Gartner, this is the way of the future. The technology research company projects that worldwide sales of notebooks and desk-based units will drop by 7.6 percent in 2013 alone.

"This is not a temporary trend induced by a more austere economic environment," states the study's press release. "It is a reflection of a long-term change in user behavior."

As students embrace smaller and more versatile technologies, the classroom will inevitably change.

However, Hanley says that college campuses can sometimes be slow to catch up to the tech habits of their students. He predicts it will be at least five years before tablet use in classrooms is the standard, but by then, students may have already moved on to smaller and better things.

(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)

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