Holiday gadgets: Windows, Surface latest launches

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NEW YORK (AP) - It’s been a big week for technology releases. Microsoft Corp. kicked off its campaign for the Windows 8 operating system and Surface tablet computer, just days after Apple and Samsung refreshed their lineups.

Desktops, laptops and tablet computers running Windows 8 go on sale Friday. That includes the Surface, Microsoft’s first foray into manufacturing a general-purpose computer. Friday is also the day people with older machines can buy upgrades to Windows 8.

Windows 8 is a major revamp to Microsoft’s industry-leading operating system. It is designed especially for touch-screen computers and requires users to change their habits. The start button at the lower left corner of the screen is gone, for instance.

Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer encouraged people to visit a store to try Windows 8 themselves.

“Seeing, touching, clicking and swiping really is believing,” he said at Thursday’s launch event in New York.

Earlier this week, Samsung released its large-screen Note II smartphone and Apple announced new iPads and Mac computers. Microsoft has an announcement Monday on its Windows phone system, while Google has one on its Android system for mobile devices.

With those announcements, these are some of the gadgets to expect for the holidays:

_ APPLE DEVICES

Apple has done well selling its full-sized tablet computer, which has a screen that measures nearly 10 inches diagonally. The iPad dominates the worldwide tablet market, accounting for 70 percent of all tablet shipments in the second quarter of this year, according to IHS iSuppli. But companies such as Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc. have made in-roads selling tablets with smaller, 7-inch screens and lower price tags.

On Tuesday, Apple said it will start shipping the iPad Mini next week. It will have a 7.9-inch screen, making it slightly larger than those smaller rivals but about two-thirds the size of a regular iPad.

The iPad Mini starts at $329, well above the $159 starting price for Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle Fire and $199 for Google Inc.’s Nexus 7. Both have 7-inch screens. The Mini will be just $70 cheaper than the 2011 iPad 2, which is still available.

Unlike its rivals, Apple will make a version of the iPad Mini that can access cellular networks from AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. That version will start at $459, compared with $629 for the full-sized cellular model.

Apple is also refreshing its full-sized iPad, giving it a faster processor and faster Wi-Fi capabilities. It will go on sale next week as well.

Meanwhile, Apple unveiled a 13-inch version of a MacBook Pro with sharper, “Retina” display, complementing the 15-inch version unveiled in June.

Apple also updated its iMac line. Some versions will sport a hybrid storage drive that combines the speed of flash memory and the capacity of regular hard drives. They will go on sale in December.

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