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“Borgen” is now augmented with a virtual-reality tour of that famous Parliament House

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Google Europe

Denmark’s “Borgen” goes live on Street View

My Comments

For a break, some, if not a lot, of you may been enjoying the Danish political thriller “Borgen” which is set around Denmark’s Parliament. Here, Google had taken this interest in the high-quality European TV drama and provided a virtual-reality “walk-through” of this famous Parliament house (Christianborg Palace) for you to enjoy.

You have the ability to detail in on the artworks as well as effectively walk through this famous building and it can work with most browsers including what is on your regular computer or on your tablet. Treat yourselves to this as part of watching that series.

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Why do I describe non-Apple operating systems and hardware as being open-frame?

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

Windows 8 – open-frame as can be

I make references to computer systems or mobile devices based on platforms like Windows, Linux or Android as being “open-frame”.

This is compared to Apple’s computer systems and mobile devices which are focused around hardware and software interfaces are peculiar to that manufacturer’s devices. As well, it takes a long time for Apple to integrate a common hardware or software standard in to a platform although other platforms are already implementing the standard; or an accessory or peripheral vendor has to go through hoops to have a device considered “fit” to work with Apple’s products.

Android - also open-frame

Android – also open-frame

Computer systems that are based on an “open-frame” environment has the ability for one to connect peripheral devices easily to it no matter who the hardware or software vendor is. An example of this includes smartphones and tablets implementing a microUSB Type-AB socket for charging or transferring data.

Open-frame computer systems can attach themselves to a network or quickly discover and benefit from or share network resources using commonly-available standards that aren’t particular to one particular vendor. As well, the companies behind the platforms are quick to meld support for most. if not all. of these common standards and specifications in to the next major version of their software platforms and will nurture these standards through their platform’s lifecycle.

Naim UnitiServe - provides music va UPnP AV / DLNA to equipment independent of vendor

Naim UnitiServe – provides music va UPnP AV / DLNA to equipment independent of vendor

There are many examples here that I could mention.

One example is a Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer or an Android smartphone can quickly associate with a WPS-capable Wi-Fi wireless network segment at the click of a button on the wireless router as what happened when I stayed with some friends up in Sydney and when I stayed with another friend up in Ballarat. In both instances, I brought in my Samsung Android smartphone and a Windows-based review-sample laptop  to these locations and brought them on to the hosts’ networks to benefit from their Internet access.

DLNA collections listed as sources on the TV

DLNA content collections listed as sources on a Samsung Smart TV

Another example is to have the ability to discover multimedia content held on a network-attached storage device or media-server software using UPnP AV / DLNA standards which many manufacturers and software developers offer. I have seen this demonstrated many times with setups based around different manufacturers and software developers and, one time, this provided a simple on-ramp for a couple to show travel pictures to the mother-in-law.

Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone adaptor NFC tie clip

Touch your NFC-capable phone on the clip to pair it with the headphone adaptor

Yet another example is my Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone adaptor that quickly pairs with my Samsung Android phone when I touched them together in a same vein as a Braven Bluetooth wireless speaker that I reviewed. In some cases, this even applies to the ability for Android users to exchange contact details with each other or Windows 7/8 computers via Bluetooth or NFC.

How I see the personal-computing scene for both regular (desktop) and mobile applications is that there will be balkanisation taking place between Apple and the rest of the field and this has been underscored in the computer press as simply “the cult of Apple”.

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What makes that smartphone a “selfie” smartphone?

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 press picture courtesy of Samsung

The calibre of the front-facing camera on a smartphone may determine its selfie prowess

Over these past months, smartphone manufacturers and the technology press have been going on about smartphones that are described as “selfie” smartphones. But what are they and what is this trend?

Like most of the consumer-technology companies, these companies are pitching the products at young people who are wanting to take many “selfies” which are pictures of themselves. This is mainly to provide the pictures that can be thrown up on Facebook, Instagram or other similar social networks or used as “avatar” images that are used to identify people on many games, instant-messaging and social-networking services.

Most smartphones have a front-facing camera along with a rear-facing camera but, in a lot of cases, the rear-facing camera has higher photo-taking abilities than the front-facing camera. This is because the front-facing camera has been purposed primarily for videocalls using 3G, Skype or similar services and has a resolution that usually maxes out at 3 Megapixels. As well, the lens systems in these cameras typically is a fixed-focus lens that may not yield good-quality pictures.

Some people get around this by typically having someone else take a picture of themselves using the rear-facing camera. This may range from another person in their group taking the picture or them roping in a stranger to immediately become familiar with the phone’s camera app and take that group picture. Or they may use other tricks like using a mirror or using the phone at arm’s length to take a rough shot.

What these “selfie” smartphones are all about is that they have a front-facing camera that is optimised to turn out high-quality still pictures along with logic to make the act of taking these pictures easier. The cameras will typically have resolutions of at least 5 Megapixels and, in some cases, there are some phones emanating from China that have 2 13-megapixel cameras. The lenses in these cameras even are optimised to take the best selfies by using a wide-angle design. Some of the Android phones implement camera logic to take improved shots with the front camera like removing blemishes for example or managing the rear camera to take those selfies like implementing a self-timer.

Personally, I would look towards using whatever post-processing functionality like cropping to get the picture right before tendering it to that social-media site because you may not get the framing right. This is more so if you are using your device’s rear camera to take these shots and you don’t have the help of someone else to take that picture.

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VIDIPATH has now been launched for Pay-TV

Introduction

VIDIPATH logo courtesy of DLNADLNA have worked out the final set of CVP-2 Guidelines and have started a testing regime for video equipment that fits the bill. This is to provide the ability for a level playing field when it comes to distributing premium subscription-TV (Pay-TV) content around a customer’s home network to devices that the customer owns.

A current pay-TV setup with each TV having a set-top box

A current pay-TV setup with each TV having a set-top box

They have also decided to market the new concept under a consumer-friendly brand which is “VIDIPATH”. This is following on from how a distinct brand make it easier for customers to remember what to look for when buying in to a technological improvement, such as with the successful Dolby noise-reduction system for the cassette tape.

The reason to progress with VIDIPATH has been based on the strong circulation of DLNA-capable media-server and media-endpoint equipment to distribute audio, image and video material over the home network. For that matter, it is a feature that is so important to me when I choose network-capable AV equipment or NAS units.

A VIDIPATH-enabled pay-TV setup where each VIDIPATH-capable TV, video peripheral or computer can view pay-TV

A VIDIPATH-enabled pay-TV setup where each VIDIPATH-capable TV, video peripheral or computer can view pay-TV

They launched the certification program for service-provider and consumer equipment on Sept. 11 and VIDIPATH-certified equipment is expected to be available by December, in time for this Christmas’ shopping season.

What does it offer

VIDIPATH offers DLNA compliance plus features essential to the delivery of premium subscription-TV content around the home to the display device.

Media contents in Dropbox folder available on DLNA-capable Samsung smart TV

VIDIPATH enables a compatible smart TV to view pay-TV content without the need for a set-top box

It uses DTCP-IP link-layer protection and device authentication to assure a secure signal path to the display device. This is important for content providers who want to be sure where the content is actually ending up.

Also it uses HTML5-based remote user interface to allow the customer to have the full user experience associated with the pay-TV service at the TV or on the mobile device without the need for a set-top box or “TV-Everywhere” app on each viewing device. This allows for access to PVR services, pay-per-view / video-on-demand content, the pay-TV provider’s storefront and other services associated with the pay-TV service. The HTML5 interface would be able to adjust itself for useability on smartphones or small tablets which have the smaller actual screen sizes even though a lot of newer devices are implementing increased screen pixel densities.

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

VIDIPATH-capable Blu-Ray players can bring pay-TV to the secondary bedroom TV

Another feature is to provide the exchange of necessary data across the home network to allow the gateway device to enter low-power modes when the display client devices aren’t making use of it. This also works alongside the ability to provide remote diagnostics on any of the display client devices when the customer calls the pay-TV service provider to rectify faults with their viewing experience.

It even supports “adaptive delivery” to allow the VIDIPATH-capable Pay-TV system to provide a best-case signal that is dependent on the viewing device and on the bandwidth available to the home and within the home network. This is based around the open-frame MPEG-DASH adaptive-streaming technology so that implementations aren’t necessarily bound to particular vendor ecosystems.

How will VIDIPATH be implemented in the home network?

Sony PS3 games console

Consoles like these could be able to pick up pay TV from a VIDIPATH gateway device

A pay-TV service like Sky, DirecTV or Foxtel would supply a VIDIPATH-certified gateway device to the customer. This device would be connected to the satellite dish, cable-TV infrastructure or dedicated IP service connection like DSL and to the home network. It may be in one of two form factors: a “headless” device that has no video output for an attached display device, or a full PVR set-top box of the same ilk as a Foxtel iQ2, Sky Plus box or one of the cable-TV PVR boxes, which is typically connected to the main living-room TV set.

The customer would view their content on a display device that would be a VIDIPATH-capable Smart TV or be a TV set connected to a DVD player, network media player or other video-peripheral device that is VIDIPATH-certified. They could also run a VIDIPATH-certified media-client program on their regular computer, smartphone or tablet to view the TV content on the device.

How will it benefit

Customers

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10" tablet - Press Photo courtesy of Samsung

With the appropriate app, this tablet can pull in pay-TV using VIDIPATH

They can concentrate on their own TV or video peripheral device and the device’s remote control being the navigation device for their pay-TV content, rather than juggling different remote controls for changing channels on the pay-TV box and adjusting the sound on the TV or home-theatre. This is a real bonus with smart TV’s or home-theatre systems that have access to network-hosted AV content.

If I move location, I would only need to worry about returning one piece of hardware to the pay-TV provider as part of the move-out process if they don’t operate in my new location. Similarly, for those of you who live in pay-TV markets where different providers compete, the process of selecting the best offer is simplified because you only deal with one piece of hardware to connect to the provider’s infrastructure. An example of this is most US markets where DirecTV and / or DISH provide a satellite TV service that can compete with what the local cable-TV firm offers.

Pay-TV providers

They are in a good position because they can rationalise the pay-TV customer-premises hardware they need to have on hand at all times. This is more so with having to deal with providing and managing set-top boxes for customers who want pay-TV in other rooms. Rather they can be in a better position to provide highly-capable gateway devices and manage one of these per subscribing household or business.

They still don’t lose the ability to provide the distinctly-branded user experience because this can be conveyed across all of the customer’s VIDIPATH-capable display devices. Rather they can even enrich the branded service and effectively take it further in a “write once, run anywhere” manner.

What do we need to do?

.... as can a smartphone like this

…. as can a smartphone like this

As customers, when the opportunity comes to buy network-capable video equipment, we need to keep our eyes peeled for the VIDIPATH logo on the equipment. As well, when we subscribe to pay-TV, we can use our pay-TV provider’s feedback mechanism to suggest implementing VIDIPATH as a service feature.

As pay-TV providers, we should look towards identifying whether the pay-TV equipment that is in current circulation at our subscribers’ homes can support VIDIPATH after a firmware upgrade. Similarly, implementing VIDIPATH in next-generation customer-facing equipment like gateways or set-top boxes can be a valid step for evolving the pay-TV service. This also will be about training the staff who deal with our subscriber base such as sales staff, customer-service staff and installation technicians to understand the VIDIPATH system and how it can make the job easier. It may also involve effectively “dumping” the revenue stream that is realised from renting multiple set-top boxes to customers who have multiple TVs.

Conclusion

I would expect DLNA VIDIPATH to simplify the pay-TV experience and integrate it with an increasing number of customer-owned display devices, whether be Smart TVs, games consoles or tablets.

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Lenovo puts fresh blood in to the Yoga lineup

Articles

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Successors to come to the Lenovo Yoga lineup

Lenovo Refreshes Yoga Series with New Laptops and Tablets | Tom’s Guide

Lenovo’s New Yoga Laptop And Tablets Are All About Touch | Gizmodo

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 range

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 targets both Windows and Android | Mashable

Lenovo Announces 8- and 10-inch Yoga Tablet 2 for Windows and Android | Laptop Mag

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro Wants to Be Your Tablet and Big Screen TV | Mashable

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is Thinner and Lighter with Adaptive Software | Laptop Mag

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14 Makes Business Flexible | Laptop Mag

My Comments

There has been so much doubt in the concept of the convertible notebook but Lenovo is one of a few who are keeping it alive in the form of the Yoga lineup. This is a lineup of 360-degree convertible computers that fold over on their back to become either a laptop, tablet or something in between.

Recently, I reviewed the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro and found that this 13” convertible was capable and able to do many different tasks, whether creating new written content, playing basic games, browsing the Web or watching video content. As well, Lenovo had run some “Yoga Tablets” which had a kickstand which worked in a similar way to how the Yoga laptops worked.

Lenovo has refreshed the Yoga Tablets by adding variants which are delivered with Windows 8.1. These use Intel Atom quad-core “classic microarchitecture” horsepower and work with 2Gb RAM. Their network connectivity is primarily the 802.11n Wi-Fi but some market-specific variants will come with 4G wireless broadband. Secondary storage is in the form of 16Gb SSD for Android variants or 32Gb SSD for Windows variants with add-on storage in the form of a microSD slot. They will come in the choice of an 8” or 10” screen for each operating system. One feature that Lenovo had integrated was a hole in the kickstand to allow it to hang from something like a cup hook in the kitchen.

They also fielded the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro which is the largest Android tablet, clocking in at 13.3”. This also has an integrated pico projector which can comfortably throw a 50” image and has an 8-watt sound system with an integrated bass driver, a feature being pitched at consumer or business use. But its hardware abilities are similar to the Yoga Tablet 2 which has the Atom processor working with 2Gb RAM, along with 32Gb SSD storage and add-on storage abilities courtesy of a microUSB “On The Go” port and a microSD card slot.

The Yoga 3 Pro has an aluminium chassis and a hinge similar to how a metal watchband is constructed. This is to make it easier to fold this 360-degree convertible between a tablet or a laptop or anything in between. It is slimmer than the Yoga 2 Pro and has that same 13.3” screen but the resolution clocks in at 3200×1800 pixels fulfilled by an integrated-graphics subsystem. It runs with Intel Core M-70 horsepower and can work with 8Gb RAM. As well, the maximum storage available is 256Gb SSD like the Yoga 2 Pro review sample along with a “4-in-one” memory card reader. There is the similar connectivity to the Yoga 2 Pro, including 2 USB 3.0 ports, a microHDMI port, a headphone/microphone audio jack as well as a power socket that can become a USB 2.0 port. It runs Windows 8.1 but also comes with Lenovo Harmony software that optimises it for the task in hand.

Business users who like the “work-home” laptop need not fret that they are being left out in the cold. This is because Lenovo have fielded the ThinkPad Yoga 14 which has the Yoga 360-degree convertible abilities but has the ThinkPad credentials like the excellent keyboard, thumbstick and a long battery life. This comes with a 14” Full-HD screen that is serviced with NVIDIA GeForce GTX840M discrete graphics. It has the latest generation Core i5 processor and can work with 8Gb RAM. For secondary storage, it comes with a 1Tb hard disk and has most of the same connectivity as the Yoga 3 Pro, except for a full-size HDMI port.

What I see of this is that Lenovo won’t give up easily on the convertible notebook computer even though a lot of naysayers are running the line that the computing world is just tablets, especially the iPad.

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Solwise to provide a HomePlug AV2 adaptor with integrated power outlet

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Solwise

Product Page PL-1200AV2-PIGGY

My Comments

Solwise have released some earlier HomePlug AV2 adaptors for the UK and Irish market but they have come up with a HomePlug AV2 MIMO “three-wire” adaptor which has an integrated UK-standard power outlet. Of course, this firm have been known about pushing the HomePlug powerline-networking concept along with advanced Wi-Fi wireless networking in the UK market.

The Solwise PL-1200AV2 HomePlug AV2 adaptor implements the “three-wire” MIMO concept that HomePlug AV2 has facilitated where it can use the “Active (Line / Phase) + Neutral” and the  “Active (Line / Phase) + Earth (Ground)” wire pairs as data transfer pairs. This is to allow for robust data transfer and higher throughput, but I would place doubts on this working across the three wires with building-to-building HomePlug AV2 setups where an outbuilding that is wired for AC may be earthed independently. Let’s not forget that each HomePlug AV2 device works as its own repeater in order to increase the robustness in this segment or push out over larger areas. But it can be of benefit if you are considering this “wired no-new-wires” technology in a large apartment block or a commercial or industrial building.

This Solwise HomePlug AV2 adaptor also has an integrated 2-port Gigabit Ethernet switch which can provide an “on-board” to the HomePlug AV2 segment for two wired Ethernet devices. One advantage with this is that it could serve a desktop computer and a network-capable printer or a NAS; or serve a smart TV and a Blu-Ray player or PVR. Personally, I would like to eventually see a variant that has the 3 Gigabit Ethernet sockets as a switch, to cater for home AV setups. The integrated power socket makes sure that you are not forfeiting a power outlet just because you want to have HomePlug AV2 connectivity.

Personally, I would see a lot more coming about with HomePlug AV2 as a robust “wired no-new-wires” network setup with Solwise advancing the cause for the UK market.

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The XBox One to be the first console to support home-developed games

Article Project Spark Editor screenshot press image courtesy of Microsoft

Microsoft’s Project Spark Finally Out Of Beta | Tom’s Hardware

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft (XBox)

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Project Spark screenshot press image courtesy of MicrosoftOne item that Microsoft has had as its foundation stone was to allow people to develop their own computer software through the provision of the necessary tools to do this.

This started from Bill Gates writing a BASIC interpreter for the Altair microcomputer and effectively writing the BASIC interpreters for a few subsequent personal computers of the era like the Radio Shack TRS-80 and the IBM PC. In the 1990s, Microsoft had developed the Visual BASIC software to allow one cost-effectively develop software for the Windows platform that took off through that era.

Now Microsoft have fully released Project Spark which is a software-development kit to allow one to develop games for the XBox One games console along with regular computers running Windows 8.1 . People who have tinkered with the earlier beta versions of this software have used it to create extra game levels for their favourite games.

It may appear that you would have to work within boundaries when building a game or level but I would see this as a way for Microsoft to work on a games-development platform for both regular computers and the XBox One games consoles. This may also lead to a marketplace for “lean-back” console games which are developed by individuals and independent studios and, hopefully open up the console-gaming world.

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HP to split in to 2 companies

Articles

Hewlett-Packard to Split Into Two Companies: Report | NBC News

Hewlett-Packard to split in 2 | The Australian

Partners: HP Split Could Unlock Value Of Both PC-Printer And Enterprise Businesses | Computer Reseller News

My Comments

IMG_0907 HP Envy 4 Touchsmart at Intercontinental Melbourne at Rialto - Windows 8

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart notebook computer

Recent news is that Hewlett-Packard is to split in to two entities with one covering PCs and printers and another covering Tech services which is encompassing the enterprise computing sector. This is to offset the losses caused by the reduced demand for regular personal computers and printers due to mobile computing devices (smartphones and tablets) being the preferred way to go.

HP OfficeJet 6700 Premium multifunction printer

HP OfficeJet 6700 multifunction inkjet printer

By splitting the entities, there is the ability for HP to have the companies focus on the expertise and value that each of them will provide without one of them affecting the other negatively. This was in contrast to HP previously acquiring Compaq who had bought out DEC who were known for the PDP-11 and VAX mainframe computers with their associated terminals and peripherals. In this case, HP’s PCs and printers company could place more effort on winning back the “personal computing and printing” market for both business and home users as well as increasing that effort that they started on printing for mobile devices that they started with their ePrint initiative.

HP Elitebook 2560p at Intercontinental at Relto, Melbourne

HP Elitebook 2560P business notebook computer

The questions that can be raised here are what of the branding for the separate entities as in how each of these entities will be known. As well how will this affect HP’s footing in to the commercial printing sector such as the digital presses and photo printing systems – whether this will be part of the “Tech services” company or the “PCs and printers” company. Yet another question that can be raised is how research and development that HP has been known for will be affected, especially if one of the companies puts forward an innovation that is of benefit to the other company’s products.

This will remind me a bit of the way IBM divested themselves of their hardware businesses over the years, with the printing and typewriter business going to Lexmark, the personal computing business going to Lenovo and the data storage business going to Hitachi. It was in order for them to focus on the enterprise data services sector rather than running a monolith that has other loss-making functions.

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Emergency-notification apps–very important for some of us

In Case Of Emergency opening screen

In Case Of Emergency opening screen

I am highlighting the emergency-notification apps like “ICE In Case of Emergency” which are available for most smartphone platforms along with other techniques to make your smartphone work with you if you are caught up in a medical emergency or disaster.

What are these apps?

These apps provide access to information that is essential for others to know if an emergency occurs. Typically the apps work with a lock-screen that provides immediate access to this information along with the necessary space to store that information on our smartphones. As well, they keep the phone’s security functionality in place by providing “sandboxed” information to the emergency information but you can gain full access to your phone using the regular passcode that you have for it. This “sandboxed” access may only allow you to dial the contacts listed in the app’s contact list from that app when the phone is locked so you can still contact them in case of emergency.

In Case Of Emergency app widget on lock screen

In Case Of Emergency app widget on lock screen

They store information about whom to contact in case of emergency, illnesses or other conditions that others should be aware of, medical contacts along with information about the medicines that the person on the file is taking. They may even have the ability for you to directly dial the emergency contacts from their user interface. Some more sophisticated variants may work with a cloud service and your phone’s location identification features to transmit your location to loved ones in case of emergency.

Most of these apps are available from the mobile app stores for pennies’ worth or, in some cases, for free. On the other hand, you can add text to your phone’s lock-screen wallpaper with your emergency-contact information so this is available at all times even when your phone is locked. There are apps that can facilitate that by “mixing the text with the pictures”.

Who are they useful for?

One group of people they are essential for are those of us who have chronic illnesses which can result in an unpredictable emergency situation like a coma, seizure or asthma attack. This includes elderly people who are at risk of a stroke or something similar that is brought on by the ageing process.

Here, it means that when they are out and about, they are sure that the people they are with are able to contact someone like a close friend or relative or their doctor to find out what to do in relation to helping them through the situation. As well, they can convey the critical information to the paramedics or safety / security staff who are managing the situation.

I had one of these apps on my phone because of the fact that I have epilepsy and am at risk of the seizures associated with that illness. This came in handy recently when I had one of these seizures during a group get-together at the church I attend and two of the fellow congregants were able to know whom to contact and what to do by the easily-accessible information that the app was able to provide. This was even though they had called an ambulance to attend to this situation.

Another group of users that would benefit from these emergency-notification apps would be those of us who do activities like bushwalking, long-distance running and long-distance cycling. Similarly people who do a lot of travel can benefit from these apps. These kind of activities may require others to know whom to contact if something untoward happens to them.

In all these situations, a hard-copy card that you keep in your bag or wallet and carries the same essential information does work well as a backup incase your phone runs out of batteries or

“freezes”.

What to look for with these apps

These apps should have the ability to retain all of the essential information like your name, the phone numbers for at least a few contacts including your primary-care and other-care doctors, along with identity numbers for national / universal health or other coverage. As well they should be able to keep information about your blood type and other general medical particulars along with information that is essential to treating and managing your illnesses.

As well, they should be able to have the ability to provide off-device backup storage of this information, whether on removable media or a cloud-based storage service. This is to cater for situations where you may upgrade your phone or your phone plays up and destroys the data.

Another feature that a good emergency-information app should have is the ability to be dynamically switched between different languages. This can be of importance in countries which maintain multiple tongues or have a multicultural society, or for travellers who are travelling in to countries or territories where their home tongue isn’t spoken.

Conclusion

Your smartphone can work as an emergency reference book for others to use if you are stricken through some situation. All it just requires is the use of an emergency-info app and / or using a customised lockscreen wallpaper with the critical information on it.

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5-Year Special: Portable Computing is Mainstream

5 Years Special iconThis is the first of a series of posts to celebrate the last five years of the connected lifestyle which has been covered on this Website.

Laptops

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible Ultrabook

Over the last five years, the 15”-17” clamshell-style laptop computer has overtaken the traditional “tower-style” desktop computer as become the preferred computer style for most households.

There are even users, some of whom I know, who will operate these computers in conjunction with an external screen, keyboard and mouse for their primary office-based computing locations while being able to use just its built-in screen, keyboard and mouse for computing while “on-the-road”. In other cases, the laptop bas brought with it the appeal of the dining table or kitchen bench rather than a home office or a desk in the corner of the family room as a workspace due to the ability to stow it away when you are using that space for other activities like meals.

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Precision M2800 – an example of a mobile workstation

With this class of computer, there has been the rise of “workstation-grade” and “gamer-grade” laptops that are tuned for increased performance, especially with graphics-intensive tasks or even “full-on” games. This has also displaced the desktop workstation computer or “gaming-rig” for these applications and allowed for increased portability when dealing with CAD, multimedia or games.

Windows 8 with its tile-based “Modern” user interface has legitimised the touchscreen as a control surface for the computer and has opened up a plethora of touchscreen-enabled laptop designs. For example, the Sony VAIO Fit 15a that I reviewed last year underscored the concept of adding touch abilities to a 15” mainstream laptop even as I let a friend who works in enterprise IT play with this machine when I had visited him.

This has also led to the arrival of convertible and detachable computer designs that switch between a traditional laptop design and a tablet design. There are even these convertibles that have 13” or, in some cases, 15” screens which may be considered too large for tablet use by one person but are the right size for creating content. In some cases, this size can appeal to those of us who want to let another person have a look at the same content.

The trend has led to a fusion of regular desktop-style computing and mobile computing with some laptops running Android whether standalone or on a dual-boot method. As well, some small tablets are being sold with Windows 8.1 as an operating system and it is being harder to differentiate between mobile and regular-grade computing capabilities.

Mobile computing

One main trend over the past five years has been the arrival of platform-based mobile computing, which was commercialised by Apple with their iPhone platform.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 press picture courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – an up-and-coming Android smartphone

It is where devices like mobile phones and tablets are built around an operating system which has many third-party programmers writing software for these devices. Typically the software is supplied through “app-stores” operated by the company who develops the mobile-computing platform and these “app-stores” are typically one-touch away from the user. The software, which is referred to as “apps”, typically ranges from productivity software like email clients or note-taking software, through utility programs like calculators or unit converters, and mobile front-ends for online services to games for whiling away those train journeys.

Google Play Android app store

Google Play Android app store

If the programmer wants to monetise their creation, they have the ability to sell it through that app-store which has an integrated e-commerce setup, sell modules for that software through “in-app purchasing” where the user can buy the option within the app’s user interface but via the app-store’s storefront or make use of an in-app display advertising setup.

Some of these app-stores or the apps available in them provide access to content-retail services where you could buy music, audiobooks, e-books and videos to enjoy through your device. For example, the e-book has appealed mainly to women who like to read romance fiction without that “tut-tut-tut” from other people about what they are reading.

The performance calbre of these mobile-computing devices is approaching that of the regular computing devices, especially when it comes to playing hardcore games or watching multimedia content. Here, we are seeing mobile devices being equipped with 64-bit ARM-microarchitecture RISC processor units or some Android devices being equipped with IA-64 microarchitecture chips similar to what most laptops are equipped with.

Smartphones

These devices have changed since the arrival of the iPhone with customers being spoilt for choice in device capabilities, operating systems and even screen sizes.

Firstly, you can purchase smartphones with a screen size of up to 6 inches and these are the same size as an advanced-function pocket calculator such as a scientific or financial type. As well, some of the premium smartphones, especially those from the Samsung stable, even implement the OLED display which is a different self-illuminating display technology to the LCD display which requires LED backlighting to illuminate it.

As well, there are smartphones that run Android or Windows Phone operating systems available from many different manufactures. For that matter, the smartphones that are considered “cream of the crop” nowadays are most of the newer Android phones made by Samsung, Sony or HTC.

Tablets

Toshiba Thrive AT1S0 7" tablet

Toshiba AT1S0 7″ Android tablet

The mobile tablet has been made commercially viable thanks to Apple with their iPad lineup. Here, we are now seeing tablets at various different price ranges and screen sizes courtesy if intense competition. Some of these units, when paired with a Bluetooth or USB keyboard have been able to become a viable alternative to “netbook-size” small laptops.

Firstly, I had seen the arrival of the 7”-8” mini-tablet that could be stuffed in to one’s coat pocket. These have appealed as units that can be useful for reference-type applications when you are out and about and have effectively displaced the e-reader as a device.

Secondly, the 10” tablet has become more of a household content-consumption device especially with video but also has served some basic computing tasks like checking email or Web browsing. Apple and Samsung have raised the bar for this product class by improving the display calibre with the former using a high-resolution “Retina” display on their 3rd-generation iPad lineup and the latter offering an AMOLED display on a 10″ mobile tablet.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10" tablet - Press Photo courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10″ tablet

But, as I said earlier, the tablet and laptop are bridging together as a portable computing solution. This has been brought about with the convertible and detachable computers that can be a tablet one moment or a laptop another moment. Similarly, Intel and Microsoft have pushed the classic desktop microarchitecture and Windows 8 in to the field of the small-sized tablets with chipsets optimised for portable computing and the availability of Windows 8.1 for free with small-screen tablets.

Moble-Platform apps

The mobile platforms have seen a cottage industry of developers write programs or “apps” for these devices that can fit in with our lifestyle. Some of these apps have become mobile “on-ramps” to various online content services like social networks. As well, the e-reader has been displaced by the “e-bookstore” apps written for the mobile platforms so one can use a tablet or smartphone for reading whatever they want to read without worrying.

Recent controversies have arisen regarding how these apps are sold such as the issue of “in-app” sales of downloadable content or virtual currency for games that appeal to children or ad-funded apps that may host advertising that “commercialises” childhood like the sale of toys or junk food. As well there have been issues raised about the quality of apps sold through the app stores with computing “old-timers” relating them to the download sites, bulletin boards and magazine-attached disks of yore.

Wi-Fi an important part of the home network

For that matter, the most important feature of any network, including a home network, is a Wi-Fi wireless-network segment. This has enabled us to do more around the house with laptops, tablets and smartphones yet use cost-effective fixed broadband Internet.

These networks have increased in speed and security courtesy of newer technologies like 802.11n, 802.11ac and use of both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The setup procedure has been simplified for these networks courtesy of WPS-PBC “push-to-connect” setup and the upcoming NFC “touch-to-connect” setup technologies.

Increasingly more networked devices are being designed to work primarily or solely with the Wi-Fi network segment because of the “no new wires” concept that this technology provides. This technology also appeals to the mass-market retailer as an easily-saleable “backbone” for the home network even though there are issues with the radio-network performance.

Mi-Fi devices and the portable Wi-Fi network

Another class of device that is becoming popular is the “Mi-Fi” router which is a portable battery-operated Wi-Fi router for a mobile broadband service. These have appealed to those of us who use temporary network setups with Wi-Fi-only tablets and laptops or simply want to run a mobile-only communications setup.

This has also extended to the arrival of portable NAS units that work as extra storage for smartphones, tablets and laptop computers but work as their own access points for these devices. Manufacturers are even pitching them as a way to store video content on the mobile NAS unit and having people like children view the content on their tablets via the small network that is created by these devices.

The next part of this 5th-anniversary series will liook at the concept of “connected” communications and entertainment and how the home network is playing a strong part in these activities.

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