When the Microsoft Surface came out last year, there was a fair bit of confusion about what, exactly, it could and couldn’t do. Microsoft hyped the tablet as one of the first devices running the Windows 8 operating system -- but the Surface runs Windows RT, a slimmed-down version of Windows 8. Even though the Surface can run full-fledged versions of Microsoft Office and a few other apps, it isn’t compatible with older Windows programs.
If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Lots of people felt that the distinction between Windows RT and Windows 8 didn’t make sense, especially since Windows 8 was specifically designed to work equally well on both tablets and computers. Microsoft promised that a full Windows 8 version of the Surface would be coming soon -- and after more than half a year of silence, we finally have a release date: the Microsoft Surface Windows 8 Pro, as it’s formally known, will hit stores in the US and Canada on February 9th.
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The Surface Pro is faster as well as a little bigger than the regular Surface tablet. It sports a 10.6-inch display and an Intel Core i5 processor, and comes in two models: a 64GB version for $899, or a 128GB version for $999. That’s a $200 price increase over the Surface RT, but the Pro is a faster machine -- and the big upshot is that it can run any program that works on a desktop, as well as apps from the Microsoft Store.
The Surface Pro also works with the “Touch Cover” and “Type Cover,” clever cases that double as full keyboards. The Touch Cover is thinner and spill-resistant, but uses pressure sensors in place of traditional keyboard keys. The Type Cover (shown in the photo above) incorporates mechanical keys and behaves more like a laptop keyboard. (It’s worth adding that the Surface Pro doesn’t come with either keyboard, and getting one will set you back about $120 for the Touch Cover and $130 for the Type Cover.) If you need even more input options, the Surface Pro comes with a pen for drawing or writing notes by hand.
The Surface Pro might be coming just in time: in spite of a big marketing push from Microsoft, and strong early indicators, the Surface hasn’t been selling too well -- just one million tablets over the holidays, by one estimate, compared with three million iPads and iPad Minis during the same period. It’s too soon to predict how well the Surface Pro will sell, but the fact that it runs all Windows applications (even older ones) might help ease customers’ concerns.
What do you think about the Surface Pro? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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The North American International Auto Show in Detroit opened its doors to reporters on Monday. Members of the media were allowed early access to the upcoming vehicle debuts and latest automotive news. One of the biggest shockers so far has been the prominent placement of bicycles.
“Consumers that may be not that active or may not even have bicycles themselves are going to associate that with an active lifestyle, an outdoor lifestyle, a healthy lifestyle," Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman of the Edmunds.com auto website, told the Associated Press.
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While bikes were not the primary focus of the Press Preview, they have been used to market vehicles in the past.
Coincidentally, the North American International Anti-Auto Show opens on Friday at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit. The show is an art exhibition featuring alternative modes of transportation.
The NYTimes reported that the timing is not meant to pit bicyclist against driver but rather to highlight “the environmental consequences of the automobile and the things that come from a heavy car culture.”
According the Times, Aaron Timlin, chief executive and president of the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, finds the event humorous, “because it is ironic.”
Irony and marketing aside, bike commuting has been on the rise in recent years. The AP reported that in places like Portland, Ore., which has already been dubbed one of the most cyclist-friendly cities in the US, bicycles and biking culture have been increasing. Some apartment complexes have started to offer secure bike storage and others have installed repair shops.
The green-minded apartment complex EcoFlats even has a bike bar on the ground floor. According to the AP, the Hopworks BikeBar features water-bottle filling stations and comes decorated with locally handcrafted bike frames.
“Three thousand people ride their bike by here each day,” Jean Pierre Veillet, the developer of the building, told the AP.
The bike movement is spreading quickly. Denver already has complexes similar to Portland's EcoFlats and other cities have begun to build them.
In Seattle, where thousands of cyclists already share the road with drivers, the Pine Street Group is building a 654-unit apartment complex that will accommodate the biking tenants and bike commuters. Commuters can join a club to have access to the repair shop and lockers.
Matt Griffin, a managing partner for the group, says that he's been car-free for nine years. He wants the complex to become a hub for commuters. Griffin told the AP that, "bikes are a good way to get around Seattle." The rising numbers suggest that people agree.
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Google chairman Eric Schmidt has spent the last three days with a private delegation on a humanitarian trip to North Korea. The delegation, which includes former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, arrived in North Korea on Monday to stress more open Internet access and cellphones for the tightly restricted country.
“The citizens of the DPRK [North Korea] will be better off with more cellphones and an active Internet,” Mr. Richardson said to the Associated Press. "Those are the ... messages we've given to a variety of foreign policy officials, scientists and government officials."
According to the AP, experts see North Korea as one of the least connected countries. North Korea has rigid control on the flow of information and the interactions of citizens with the outside world. Many argue that the strict rules and censorship have caused the small Asian country to suffer in its isolation.
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Kim Jong Un, the young leader of the Communist nation, vowed to improve the economy in his New Year speech on January 1. Un has urged citizens to expand their knowledge of science and technology as means for economic improvement. The AP reported that new propaganda signs have been spotted across Pyongyang telling citizens to “push back the frontiers” and “break through the cutting edge.”
Most North Koreans currently have a domestic intranet system as opposed to the World Wide Web.
Mr. Schmidt, who oversaw Google’s growth into an Internet giant, visited Kim Il Sung University on Tuesday. He spoke with students that have global Internet access (with permission) for research purposes.
On Wednesday he visited the Grand People’s Study House, Pyongyang’s main library, before going to see the Korea Computer Center. Several years ago, Mr. Kim's late father, Kim Jong Il, is quoted as saying: “Now is the era for science and technology. It is the era of computers."
The delegation entered an atrium exhibition hall at the computer center, according to the AP. There, the Google group got a chance to toy with North Korean computer products like the new Samjiyon tablet computer featuring foreign hardware and North Korean software. The group also got the opportunity to learn about North Korea’s data encryption software, face recognition devices, video chat and instant messaging software.
The Korea Computer Center partnered with Russia, China, India, and other nations to develop its products. Officials told Schmidt and Richardson that North Korea is hoping to reach out and establish partnerships with other countries.
Google currently has offices in over 40 countries; among those is China – another country that is criticized for its censorship. Schmidt, a staunch supporter of Internet connectivity and openness, is expected to make a donation during his visit.
However, the trip for the Google chairman and former governor has not been without criticism.
US officials initially criticized the four-day trip after North Korea launched a satellite into space using a long-range rocket on Dec. 12.
Washington considered the launch to be a ballistic missile technology test – a violation of UN Security Council resolutions. These resolutions prohibit Pyongyang from developing its nuclear and missile programs.
The Atlantic Wire released an article on Wednesday titled, “Just How Badly Is Eric Schmidt’s Trip to North Korea Going?” and speculated that the image released on Tuesday of North Korean students Googling for Schmidt may have just been a photo-op.
John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN, calls Schmidt and Richardson “gullible” in his New York Daily News piece. He opined that Schmidt and Richardson, “have joined the long list of Americans and others used by the Kim family dictatorship for political advantage."
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You’ve probably heard that Google has been working for years to develop self-driving cars – but the search-engine giant isn’t the only game in town when it comes to autonomous driving. Toyota and Audi are preparing to show off their own semi-driverless cars at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, which opens next week in Las Vegas.
Toyota will be bringing a version of its luxury Lexus LS, which sports a spinning radar on top of the car and camera equipment on the front. The car also features technology called Intelligent Transport Systems, which allows the car to communicate with other vehicles on the road as well as with the highway “grid” (think of a decentralized computer network that could, eventually, plan traffic and coordinate each different vehicle’s path).
Toyota leaked a video ahead of its Jan. 7 announcement that shows a Lexus LS decked out with driverless technology speeding down a highway.
Audi’s a little tighter-lipped with the details, but The Wall Street Journal reports that it will be bringing a car that can find a parking space on its own, and park itself without help from a driver. Audi’s been working on autonomous vehicle technology for quite a while, as have Ford and Mercedes-Benz.
A lot of the driverless cars currently available from big automakers might be better described at this point as “semi-autonomous.” They add features that reduce the need for driver input, rather than doing away with human operators altogether.
Toyota, for example, notes in a press release that its “high-level driver assistance systems” are designed to make things safer for the driver of the vehicle and for other vehicles on the road. Lots of cars today have “adaptive cruise control,” which matches a vehicle’s speed to that of surrounding traffic. And some cars can automatically steer themselves back into a lane if the driver veers out of it by accident.
There’s no mistaking where Toyota and Audi are headed, though: With its spinning radar and communications array, the Lexus LS is aiming to be a fully autonomous vehicle that can operate safely without driver interaction. (By the way, even though Google tends to use Toyota cars in its self-driving fleet, the two companies say their driverless technologies were developed separately.)
A driverless future might be coming sooner than you think -- but we’ll have to wait for CES 2013 to roll around to find out more.
Before we dive in to gadgets, it’s worth noting that the show itself may be changing a bit this year. For years, CES has been absolutely huge, devouring a good chunk of Las Vegas as big companies show off their latest and greatest. But last year, Microsoft announced it wouldn’t be attending CES 2013, and other major players like Intel, HP, and Sony will be absent as well. As Matt Burns at TechCrunch points out, that means Lenovo and Samsung will be the biggest companies in attendance -- which leaves plenty of room for smaller startups to demonstrate their products.
But in spite of the absence of some of the bigger companies, there are good reasons to expect that CES 2013 will be bigger than ever. So what can we expect to see demoed in Vegas next week?
For starters, Samsung is teasing a new portrait TV that will be unveiled at CES. In a December 30th blog post, the company posted a picture showing a screen in an upright 4:3 orientation (think of a giant iPad), describing the product as “an unprecedented new TV shape and timeless design,” according to a translation by The Verge. Last year the company unveiled high-end OLED TVs at CES, and the most optimistic speculation this year includes translucent TV screens like those used in Samsung’s refrigerators.
Speaking of fridges, Stacy Higginbotham at GigaOM speculates that CES 2013 will showcase an “Internet of things,” with connected appliances and home automation products stealing the show. It’s certainly no stretch to predict that we’ll see not only smart fridges that can tell you what’s inside and communicate with your phone (especially since we saw similar devices at last year’s CES), but also services that can tie data from different appliances together in useful ways. Think, for example, of a fridge that can not only keep track of inventory, but also order groceries, create recipes based on what’s at hand, and even suggest meals based on things like the age and activity level of each family member.
We’ll also likely see lots of Windows 8 devices -- desktops, laptops, tablets, and smart phones alike -- on the CES floor this year. The OS wasn’t made available until relatively late last year, and manufacturers are still coming up with spiffy new hardware that runs Windows 8. And given that the OS is designed to take advantage of touch input, we can expect to see lots of touch-enabled devices at the conference, including some new laptop/tablet hybrids.
CES will begin in just a week, so we’ll know then which of these rumors are true. In the meantime, let us know in the comments section below what you’re hoping to see at CES 2013!
For devicemakers and app developers alike, it was a good holiday season -- to say nothing of the record numbers of happy people who found a new smart phone or tablet under the tree.
Seventeen million new iOS and Android devices were activated on Christmas Day alone in 2012, “more than any other day in history,” according to mobile analytics firm Flurry. Over the following week, the number of new devices activated rose to 50 million.
And what would new hardware be without some apps to go with it? The same week saw record-breaking app downloads: 1.76 billion from the iOS App Store and Google Play, up 65 percent from the weekly average from earlier in December. The US accounted for 604 million of these downloads, and China took second place with 183 million -- tempered by the fact that most of China’s population doesn’t celebrate Christmas.
Flurry’s numbers don’t include devices running other platforms such as Windows Phone, nor are they a complete record of all phones and tablets. But the firm says it can detect more than 90 percent of the devices activated each day, and its figures are considered pretty accurate. And its conclusion is clear: the last week of the year was the biggest in history for iOS and Android devices and apps.
Flurry also says these kinds of numbers have staying power. The firm estimates that we’ll see more than a billion apps downloaded each week during 2013, and that that number will rise to 2 billion by the summer or early fall. Given what we already know about the growth of smart phones and tablets, these numbers aren’t totally surprising -- but they do emphasize just how briskly app markets are growing. During the 2011 holiday week, Flurry reported only 1.2 billion apps downloaded, and a comparatively paltry 6.8 million devices activated on Christmas Day.
Interestingly, Flurry also noted that slightly more tablets were activated than smart phones on Christmas Day (51 percent to 49 percent). There are usually about four smart phones activated for every tablet, but December 25th was a big day for bigger screens -- probably because people wanted to save those comparatively higher-end devices for the holiday. The iPad and iPad Mini had an especially strong showing, as did the Amazon Kindle Fire HD tablet.
Did you get a new smart phone or tablet this holiday season? Do you think the trend of app downloads and device activations will continue? Let us know in the comments section below.
Lots of airlines offer Wi-Fi on their flights, but if you've ever tried to use it, you know the service can be ... less than ideal. Scarce bandwidth, frequent outages, and high-connection charges on lots of planes can make the prospect of connecting to in-flight networks a dicey proposition.
For some people, that's a plus: after all, a flight is one of the rare times when you can enjoy a novel or take a nap, untethered from the demands that come from being online. But if distracting yourself from a long flight with Facebook and YouTube sounds like more your cup of tea, you can thank the FCC: the Commission established rules on Friday that will make it easier for companies to offer Internet service on airplanes.
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The new rules will streamline the process by which companies apply for permission to offer in-flight Internet, says FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. The approval process will be standardized, allowing the FCC to process license applications about 50 percent faster, and administrative burdens on companies seeking license will be reduced.
"This will enable providers to bring broadband to planes more efficiently, helping passengers connect with friends, family, or the office," Genachowski says in a statment.
The FCC has already authorized a number of companies to provide in-flight Internet service, but the process has been "ad hoc" up until now. In-flight broadband relies on a technology called Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft (ESAA), which carries two-way broadband signals between geo-stationary satellites and an antenna mounted on the aircraft. The new rules establish a framework for any company to use ESAA, provided that their systems don't interfere with aircraft communications and that they meet with approval from the FCC and the Federal Aviation Administration, which operates the country's air traffic control system.
Interestingly, the FCC's new rules don't mean that passengers will be able to use electronics throughout flights. The longstanding ban on using cell phones in-flight still stands, as does a ban on using laptops and other electronics during takeoff and landing. The government says those rules are in place because of concerns about interference with ground communications. But Genachowski also asked the FAA earlier this month to relax the rules on aircraft -- so perhaps you'll soon be able to stay connected from takeoff 'til landing.
The FCC notes that the new rules are being put in place with an eye toward "enhancing competition in an important sector of the mobile telecommunications market", as well as "promoting the widespread availability of Internet access to aircraft passengers." That means you'll likely have to rely on willpower soon, if you're interested in maintaining your flights as an oasis of "unplugged" time.
Are you excited about the idea of more connected flights? Or are you happy to pass the time in the air with a book? Let us know in the comments section below.
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When Apple CEO Tim Cook announced earlier in December that some Mac computers would be produced in the US in 2013, he didn't give many specifics. The company would invest at least $100 million, he said, to move some of its manufacturing from China to the United States. Lots of news outlets speculated that the iMac line would be produced domestically, since some iMacs with "Assembled in USA" stamps had already started showing up in stores.
DigiTimes says Apple will move the assembly of the Mac Mini to an American factory run by its manufacturing partner FoxConn. FoxConn will begin recruiting workers in 2013 for "new automated production lines," DigiTimes says, citing "sources from the upstream supply chain."
It's worth taking this rumor with an extra grain of salt, since DigiTimes doesn't have a great track record when it comes to stories about Apple. Still, the idea of stateside Mac Mini assembly makes a good deal of sense: the machine has fewer parts than either the iMac or the Mac Pro, so it would be better suited for automated production. The Mac Mini also comes in fewer different configurations, meaning it's simpler to produce and doesn't require as much customization on the factory end. If Apple is going to invest the money upfront to establish production lines in the US, the high-volume Mac mini is a good candidate for those lines.
DigiTimes also predicted that Mac Mini sales will rise by 30 percent in 2013, driven by the popularity of the Mac Mini upgrades that Apple unveiled in October. That would mean 1.8 million Mac Minis shipped in 2013, compared with 1.4 million in 2012.
Apple has been enthusiastically drawing attention to its American operations, both current and planned, for months now. In an interview with NBC on December 6, Cook estimated that Apple had created 600,000 jobs in the US over the years.
He added, "We've been working for years on doing more and more in the United States." He also noted that Apple maintains data centers in North Carolina, Nevada, and Oregon, and plans to add a new one in Texas.
Would you be more likely to buy a Mac if you knew it was made in the US? Let us know in the comments section below.
Samsung may be the biggest phone maker in the world, but it's not resting on its laurels: the Korean company announced on Wednesday that it expects to ship 510 million handsets in 2013, three-quarters of which will be smart phones.
Samsung shipped 420 million handsets in 2012, which means that if its 2013 estimate is correct it'll be a 20 percent jump for the company. The Korea Times reports that 390 million of its 2013 sales are expected to be smart phones, and that Samsung is counting on pulling away from its biggest smart-phone rival, Apple.
That estimate may be a little bit rosy: market research firm Gartner previously predicted that Samsung would sell between 250 and 300 smart phones in 2013. But no matter how you slice it, Samsung's sales have been rising sharply. The company sold 0.6 million smart phones in 2009, 23.9 million in 2010, and 97.4 million in 2011.
What's on the menu for Samsung in 2013? The company will continue to develop its popular line of Galaxy smart phones and tablets, which are rivals to Apple's iPhone and iPad. It also plans to release a line of Windows Phone 8 handsets to compete with offerings from Nokia and HTC. As fast 4G LTE networks grow, Samsung will also double down on LTE-compatible devices to meet demand, Samsung executive Kim Hyun-joon said, quoted in The Korea Times.
To produce all this hardware, Samsung will have to expand its manufacturing base. The company expects to build just 40 million devices at its Korean factory; the lion's share will come from Samsung factories in Vietnam, China, and India. The company plans to spend $2.2 billion over the next several years to expand its Vietnamese factories.
Samsung is also planning to produce devices running Tizen, an operating system it developed together with Intel. Tizen is designed to run on smart phones, tablets, TVs, computers, and even GPS units to give users a consistent experience across devices. The first Tizen devices haven't been released yet, but Samsung's 2013 phones and tablets may be among the earliest.
Samsung has had a busy year, not least because of its public legal battles with rival Apple. The latter won a $1 billion injunction against Samsung earlier in 2012, but the judgement hasn't done much to dent Samsung's momentum -- especially since Apple has been largely unsuccessful in barring Samsung smart phones from being sold. Samsung's bullish predictions for 2013 suggest that the company isn't too worried about future legal roadblocks, either.
For years, Microsoft Office was widely considered to be the way for businesses to get "serious" work done. Google Apps, the cloud-based office suite, wasn't generally thought of as being stable or full-featured enough for company use. But as Google Apps has matured, more and more companies have noticed -- and in 2012 Microsoft found its core business base eroding as offices jumped ship to Google.
Google has been promoting its software for business use since 2006, focusing mainly on small businesses that didn't need all the features of Microsoft Office. Now, The New York Times' Quentin Hardy reports, big companies are starting to notice Google as well. New Google Apps clients in 2012 included Hoffman-La Roche, a Swiss drug company with over 80,000 workers, and the U.S. Interior Department, where 90,000 employees use Google Apps.
Google's pricing is a big mark in its favor with businesses. The Google Apps suite, which includes word-processing, data-entry, spreadsheet, and presentation programs, has added features at a steady pace for several years, but the price of the software -- $50 a year for each business user -- has stayed the same. By contrast, Microsoft Office will cost $400 a year for each business user in 2013, although the Times notes that many companies pay half that with bulk discounts.
Microsoft hasn't ignored the cloud-software trend, though. Last year it released Office 365, an online version of its venerable software suite, which costs between $72 and $240 per year for each user, depending on how many features are needed. Julia White, a manager in Microsoft's business division, says Office 365 is "on track to be [Microsoft's] fastest-growing business," according to the Times, although the company hasn't released figures on usage. In late 2011 and early 2012 Microsoft's business divison made almost $24 billion -- but that revenue came almost entirely from conventional Office software that runs on computers located on companies' premises.
Google announced this summer that more than five million businesses were using its Apps suite, although nearly all of those companies have ten or fewer employees. So big companies like Hoffman-La Roche aren't jumping to Google Apps en masse, although the Times notes that Google won 23 of the 42 large government contracts for which it competed with Microsoft in 2012, compared with 10 for Microsoft.
Neither company is boasting about its total number of enterprise users, and it would be inaccurate to suggest that Microsoft is hemorrhaging business customers. But as companies put more stock in online collaboration, Microsoft will have to find ways to make Office 365 more attractive -- or come up with another strategy to tempt businesses away from Google.