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Most people I speak with — regardless of their age — tell me they prefer reading a real newspaper (on paper) rather than a virtual one on a computer screen.

They like the “old-fashioned” tactile experience, where they can turn the pages, skim the headlines, choose which ads to read, clip articles of interest, and generally feel like they have accomplished something when they are through. (You’re somehow never “through” with online media.)

Being the publisher of a printed newspaper, it’s possible that I, perhaps unconsciously, choose to speak with people who are likely to agree with me on this.

But there is evidence that a preference for reading on paper rather than screens is widely shared. Scientific evidence. Scientific American evidence, even.

In its November issue, that premier magazine of scientific research published an article titled, “Why the Brain Prefers Paper.” It reports that, in many studies conducted over the past 20 years, researchers have found that people comprehend and recall text better when it’s read on paper rather than a screen.

Compared with paper, people find reading on a computer, smartphone or tablet screen to be more taxing — both mentally and physically. Prolonged reading on screens also causes more eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision than reading printed paper.

I think this is all true. And we like to point out these facts when speaking with those ad agencies and potential advertisers who believe that the only place to advertise today is online. (Obviously, advertisers you see in the Beacon do not share that bias, for which we are grateful, as there would be no Beacon without them.)

But even I have to admit that there are times and places where having access to a broad range of reading material in one’s pocket can come in handy: waiting for a train, sitting in a doctor’s office, standing in line and, as the British say, “on the loo.”

I own a smartphone and admit to using it to read various news sources in those situations. I also just obtained my first tablet (an iPad). While I marvel at its beauty, I am still figuring out how and when I will use it. So why did I buy it?

Drum roll, please.

Because the Beacon has recently unveiled our first “mobile app” for both tablet and smartphone users and, believe it or not, not a single member of our 13-person staff owned a tablet on which to check it out!

Let me pause for a moment to define “app” for the more technologically challenged folks who may be reading this. An app (short for “application”) is a software program that enables your smartphone or tablet to do something particularly useful for you.

For example, there’s an app to convert your phone or tablet camera into a document scanner, or its flash into a powerful flashlight, or to make your device function as an alarm clock or stopwatch or radio or sound machine or GPS or...well, you get the idea.

So what does the Beacon app enable you to do? Well, basically it provides versions of our website, newspapers and Resource Guides that are designed to be easier to read on a smartphone or tablet.

If you’re familiar with our website, you know that it features many options, including feature articles from our four editions, blog posts from me and our managing editor, an events calendar, comics, puzzles, videos and more.

Using a smartphone, you can open and view our website, but you’d better be holding a magnifying glass if you want to read anything on it!

But now, if you access our website through a smartphone or tablet, you should get a message inviting you to download our free “mobile app,” which makes it much easier to scroll through a list of stories and topics and to pick one article at a time to read.

You can also view our archives and select any of our editions (Greater Washington, Greater Baltimore, Howard County, or Palm Springs, Calif.) to view them exactly as they appear in print. You “flip” through the pages by swiping the image with your finger.

Even though you can significantly expand the size of the text (and ads) to make viewing easier, I don’t think you’ll prefer reading the Beacon in this manner to picking up a paper. But the app can certainly give you an overview, help you find something from a past issue, or call up an ad to remind you of a special offer or phone number while you’re out and about.

And you may find reading our print editions on a large tablet can be helpful, especially if you’re out of town or otherwise unable to pick up a printed copy now and then.

Our mobile app will also let you access other sections of our website in a simple format, such as videos, information about upcoming Expos, and the like. We will be adding more functions to the app as time goes on.

Please don’t be alarmed. Our app will not be taking the place of our printed product! You will continue to be able to pick up our paper from thousands of free local distribution sites.

We do expect, however, that younger people, travelers and out-of-towners will discover the Beacon more readily thanks to this app. In fact, we are already seeing some evidence of this.

Our new app went “live” just two weeks ago, and we have not even announced it publicly. This is my first reference to it in print. But as I write this column, 96 people have already downloaded it.

To download our app, visit http://beacon., or search for The Beacon Newspapers at the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.

I will keep you informed as we make progress. And if you choose to read the Beacon on a mobile device, please return the favor: Let us know what you like (or don’t like) about it, and what else you’d like to see our new app do for you.