By Brian Fung, Published: October 3 at 9:48 amThanks to the government shutdown, nearly a dozen federal Web sites are offline and 19 of them are no longer being updated. But a less obvious casualty of the widespread furloughs are the online tools that automatically relay government data to the public.
Federal agencies maintain hundreds of application programming interfaces, or APIs. Whenever you see an interactive map that's based on Census statistics or pollution data or other official information, that's often the result of a government data feed. These days, however, when a map or a program phones in to the feed for updates, it's often met with a "sorry, we're closed" message — just like the kind human visitors see when they visit Data.gov.
Craig Isakow runs a Washington-area startup that helps offices, schools and other public buildings become Energy Star-recognized with the Environmental Protection Agency. Using the agency's API, Isakow submits characteristics about a building's size and energy usage, and the API returns a numerical score from 1-100 that can be read like a fuel-efficiency rating for cars. Last year, Isakow said, nearly a third of all such Energy Star scores were generated using the API; the rest were computed by logging in by hand.
Now both methods of performance certification are down as a result of federal furloughs. That means delays, lost revenue and greater uncertainty for Isakow's business, WegoWise. (MORE)
Microsoft unveils new Surface tablets that are thinner, faster than previous generation: The Redmond, Wash., technology company unveiled the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets Sept. 23 in New York. The changes that Microsoft has made to its tablets are in response to consumer feedback.
NEW YORK — (AP) Is Microsoft’s Surface a tablet or a laptop?
I’m not quite sure, but it is a lot easier to type on than an iPad.The software company unveiled updates to its Surface tablet computers Monday at an event in New York, where I had a short amount of time to try them out.
It almost seems unfair to categorize the new Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 as tablets. Although they have touch-screen keyboards like regular tablets, they work best when attached to an optional cover with a keyboard on the inside.
The better one I tried was the Type Cover 2. In addition to coming in four fun colors — pink, purple, blue and black — that cover has backlighting, silent keys and a typing feel similar to that of a laptop keyboard. At $130, it is just $10 more than a Touch Cover 2, which doesn’t have movable keys like real keyboards.
The slick wireless mouse designed for the tablets is helpful, too, as is the docking station created to go with the Pro version of Surface.
The result is something that looks more like a laptop than an iPad or Android tablet. And that’s what Microsoft wants, calling its tablets the most productive on the market. The Surface 2 model even comes with a version of Microsoft Office, including the Outlook email and calendar program for the first time.
The Surface 2 starts at $449 and runs a lightweight version of Windows called RT, meaning it works only with apps designed specifically for it. The Surface Pro 2 starts at $899 and runs a full version of Windows, so it works with programs designed for traditional desktops and laptops. Both come with 200 gigabytes of online storage through Microsoft’s SkyDrive for two years.
With the Surface, Microsoft is trying to create a seamless transition between home, work and the field. Microsoft doesn’t want this device to just replace your tablet and laptop, but your office PC as well. It’s a great idea, and I’ll be interested to see if it can actually work in practicality.
Like a laptop, both the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2 balanced well and didn’t slide around on my lap when attached to keyboards. I felt very comfortable typing and had a clear view of the screen.
A setup like this would be very helpful for all those events I’ve had to cover, including Monday’s, where I wasn’t able to sit at a table and had to balance my tablet or laptop on my lap while I typed. For the new versions, Microsoft improved the built-in kickstand used to hold the tablet up like a laptop screen. It is sturdier and works in two positions, one for sitting on your lap and another for placing on a table.
The kickstand on older Surfaces had just one position, for the table.
My only complaint is that the keyboard was just a little bit too big for my lap and didn’t have quite enough space to lay flat. But at 5 foot, 2 inches, I’m small. If you’re taller, you shouldn’t have a problem.
Although the tablets are focused on productivity, they also have some fun elements. Besides the usual games and apps available in Microsoft’s app store, the Surface Pro 2 can be used to play PC and Xbox games such as the popular “World of Warcraft” and “Halo” series. Although you don’t quite get the same visual experience as you do with a big screen, gamers will like portability. It’s a big step up from playing “Angry Birds” or “Fruit Ninja.” (Yes, those games are available in Microsoft’s app store, too.)
Both Surface models felt a little bulky and heavy to me. That said, the Surface 2 weighs about the same as the latest version of the full-size iPad at about 1.5 pounds, while the Surface Pro 2 weighs in at 2 pounds.
At the same time, the Surface tablets feel a little more rugged than an iPad. Microsoft touts them as nearly indestructible, pointing to their heavy-duty glass and magnesium-alloy casing. It claims you could hit it with a sledge hammer or run it over with a car. I can’t wait to hand one to my less-than-gentle 3-year-old daughter and see what damage she’s able to inflict on it.
According to Microsoft, both tablets feature significant improvements in speed, cameras and battery life. I didn’t have enough time with the devices to test those out, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with it. And it’ll be interesting to see how well the Pro version works as a desktop when attached to a docking station, which will sell for about $200 when it comes out early next year.Based on an early look, though, Microsoft seems to have learned from its mistakes and refreshed the Surface lineup with devices that feel better on the lap.
By Hayley Tsukayama
WP Tech News daily
The next iPhone announcement is expected next month, and Apple fans are not only searching for information on a possible new smartphone but also mulling what to do with the one they already have.Dealing with secondhand phones can be big business, and reports, including one from 9 to 5 Mac on Monday, have revived speculation that Apple may be looking to tap into the market itself. TechCrunch, in fact, reported Monday that Apple has already been piloting a trade-in program in some stores.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.Apple chief executive Tim Cook has said that he’s “not opposed” to starting a trade-in program, telling analysts in a July earnings call that he was particularly keen on the how that could benefit the environment. The company started a recycling program in 1994 that now lets users send the company their old iPods, mobile phones, Macs and PCs — sometimes in exchange for Apple gift cards. According to the TechCrunch report, the pilot iPhone trade-in program would work in a similar way, but users would only be able to use the value of their trade-in iPhone toward a new iPhone.Since Monday’s reports on Apple, the online used electronics site Gazelle announced some changes to its trade-in policy. Users will be able to lock in their trade-in value up to 60 days before Sept. 10, the site said. That’s when Apple is expected to unveil its newest iPhone. Trade-in values often drop as launch events near, so having a price lock gives an incentive for those definitely planning to upgrade regardless of how the new smartphone measures up.Apple has, of course, is keeping mum about what the new iPhone will look like and even whether it actually exists. But that hasn’t stopped information from seeping out in the form of alleged leaks and anonymously sourced reports.The general report is that Apple will release two new iPhones: a more incremental update to the Phone 5 and another, less expensive phone aimed at wooing consumers who are gravitating to the lower-cost Android smartphones. There’s also a lot of chatter about the tech giant possibly offering several new colors for the next upgrade to the iPhone line. Apple is reportedly offering the higher-end iPhone 5S in gold/champagne, while the iPhone 5C is expected to be available in a variety of iPod-esque tones.Of course, there’s also speculation about the phone’s new tech. CNET noted that the camera on the iPhone 5S is expected to have a larger aperture, improving low-light snaps. In addition, the report said that some expect a much bigger 128GB storage option for the 5S and that there’ve been persistent rumors that the new phone will also have a fingerprint scanner.Meanwhile, Apple might be making tweaks to the iPhone’s network support, according to more rumors, which should give it a stronger position in the growing smartphone markets of Asia. Apple has yet to sign a deal with China’s largest mobile carrier, China Mobile, or Japan’s, NTTDoCoMo, but recent reports indicate that may change with the next generation of the iphone.Both deals — particularly one with China — would boost Apple’s standing as it competes with firms such as Samsung in the expanding global smartphone market.
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