Author: simonmackay

Acer uses liquid cooling in their latest 2-in-1

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Acer

Switch Alpha 12

Press Release

My Comments

Acer Switch Alpha 12 tablet press image courtesy of Acer

Acer Switch Alpha 12 tablet

Acer has raised the bar in the face of the Microsoft Surface Pro when it comes to releasing the Switch Alpha 12 “Surface-style” 2-in-1 tablet. The baseline model of the pack is being pitched at prices like US$599 or EUR€699 which makes for something that is keenly priced amongst its peers.

You might consider it to be an ordinary 2-in-1 that tries to copy the Microsoft Surface product range but this raises the bar through the use of a regular Intel Core series CPU. These processors will show up with cooling problems if they are used with a thin-and-light portable computer design like a detachable-keyboard 2-in-1 or tablet so Acer addressed this issue using a closed-loop liquid cooling system which works in a similar way to your car keeps its engine cool or how your fridge keeps the food or drink inside it cold and fresh. But this cooling setup is designed to obviate the need for a fan, thus allowing for quiet operation.

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1 with keyboard press image courtesy of Acer

With keyboard – as a laptop

Of course, it ticks the boxes when it comes to what is expected for a current-issue “2-in-1” detachable including the use of a standard USB Type-C connector for charging and data transfer rather than a proprietary connector which the Microsoft Surface uses, as well as being supplied with the basic keyboard cover. The 12” (2160×1440) touchscreen along with a full-size keyboard makes for a system that appeals to creating content rather than a glorified iPad. As for the kickstand, it has the same look as the kind of handle that an “old-school” portable radio-cassette was equipped with – the U-shaped metal handle with a rubberised grip in the centre. This allows for the tablet to be kept stable on a desk or table when you are using it with the keyboard.

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1 tablet rear view press picture courtesy of Acer

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1 tablet – rear view

You can purchase the Acer Switch Alpha 12 in various configurations that have either 4Gb or 8Gb of RAM and a secondary-storage option of either a 128Gb, 256Gb or 512Gb solid-state storage device. The removeable storage option for this computer is a MicroSDXC card slot and, as I have mentioned before, you have a USB Type-C port and a USB Type-A port for connecting thumbdrives or SD card adaptors.

The wireless-connectivity options come in the form of a Bluetooth 4.0 link or an 802.11a/g/n/ac dual-stream Wi-Fi network link. This will allow for high throughput data transfer when you are on the go.

Acer have pitched the Switch Alpha 12 at both the consumer market and the business market by making business-focused variants of it available through its value-added resellers and independent computer stores who court the business market. Here the business variants come with the Trusted Platform Module along with being loaded with Windows 10 Pro as the operating system.

They have also provided a range of accessories such as an optional backlit keyboard along with two “expansion-module” docks. The first one is the USB Type-C dock that connects via USB-C to DisplayPort and HDMI video ports along with two USB 3.1 Type-C ports and 3  USB Type-A ports. This is in addition to an audio-in and an audio-out jack to serve its own sound module. There is also the Acer ProDock Wireless that connects to the computer via the 802.11ad Wi-Fi short-range peripheral wireless to an 802.11ac Wi-Fi network segment, along with video displays that have either HDMI, DisplayPort or VGA connections as well as USB devices.

From what I have read about the Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1, it underscores the role where it could ideally serve as the “all-purpose” work-home-travel portable computer including the ability to use it as a tablet for reading content. This is more so if you are thinking of using a system that doesn’t use either an entry-level or mobile-focused CPU but uses a laptop-grade processor.

What is happening is that the battle-lines are being drawn when it comes to the kind of computers that represent the multipurpose 2-in-1 product class. Here, I would see some of these computers implementing the mainstream Intel or AMD processors with a goal to achieve long battery runtime while software developers write the kind of programs that exploit the touchscreens that these computers offer. As well, I would see some of these computers appear at a price that isn’t stratospherically expensive.

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Why call for the 3.5mm headphone jack to be replaced on mobile devices

Article

Intel Thinks USB-C Should Replace the Headphone Jack | Gizmodo

My Comments

Could this be the new audio connection for your smartphone?

Could this be the new audio connection for your smartphone?

Intel has raised the possibility that the common 3.5mm headphone jack not exist on a smartphone or similar audio device. Here, they would rather that the USB Type-C connection serve as the phone’s audio connections.

There was a similar outcry when Apple proposed this idea for a newer iPhone design by requiring the use of their proprietary Lightning connection as the audio connection.

The problem is that the 3.5mm phone jack has been established as the common way to connect mobile devices to headphones and audio equipment.

The Intel approach requires the use of the USB Type-C connector which implements standards accepted by all of the industry. It is different to Apple’s approach because the Android and Windows platforms place a high expectation on the concept of “open-frame” computing where there is a preference for hardware and software standards and specifications accepted by many different vendors rather than the one vendor.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

High-end headphones like these noise-cancelling headphones could be powered by your smartphone or laptop

Firstly, there is the USB Audio Device Class which has allowed for USB sound modules and USB DACs to exist without the need to add extra drivers. This can allow for a high-grade digital-analogue converter to be integrated in a high-quality USB headset or supplied as a phone-powered USB sound-module accessory that you plug your high-quality headphones in to.

For headphones, this could lead to ideas like surround-sound processing such as to use hardware to convert Dolby Digital or DTS surround sound to Dolby Headphone surround sound. It could permit the headphones to implement sound processing such as equalisation or echo cancellation so they sound their best in all situations. Even when you speak in to the phone, the newer technology will provide some benefit such as using a microphone array to catch your voice better.

To the same extent, a USB sound module that works with high-grade microphones could open up paths for your smartphone to make good recordings for your podcast or video.

Technics Grand Class G30 hi-fi system with media server press image courtesy of Panasonic

You may soon find amplifiers and stereos equipped with a USB Type-C connection on the front so you can play our new smartphone through the speakers

Another path is to use the Multimedia Transport Protocol that operates over the USB connection to play music through your car stereo or home stereo system, using the music system’s control surface to navigate your audio content while the currently-playing music details show up on the music system’s display.

Intel’s idea also investigated the possibility of an analogue-audio connection via the USB Type-C connection to cater to the budget end of the accessories market. This is to allow for headsets and audio adaptors that have no digital-audio functionality to exist.

Another common device class is the USB Human Interface Device Class which is used primarily with mice and keyboards but there is a subset of “called-out” control types that highlight consumer-electronics and business device control applications like transport control or call control. This could open the path for USB headsets and adaptors to have full control for calls and music like the full AV transport-control quota or two-button call control.

The power-supply option that USB Type-C offers allows for the phone to power active-noise-cancelling headphones or headphone amplifiers. Similarly, an audio accessory like a stereo system or an audio adaptor that has a high-capacity battery could provide power to the phone.

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor - one of the Bluetooth adaptors that may be necessary for newer smartphones

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor – one of the Bluetooth adaptors that may be necessary for newer smartphones

Bluetooth will still exist as a wireless audio-accessory connection alternative as long as the phone and accessory still work to the established Bluetooth Profiles for their applications.

Kingston HyperX Cloud II headset USB adaptor

This USB audio adaptor could be considered as a way to connect existing headphones to your new smartphone

The idea that we will lose the ability to use our favourite audio systems and headphones that depend on the classic 3.5mm phone jack when we get a newer handset can be nullified when we use a USB sound module for a wired connection to our smartphones. As I mentioned before, those of us who appreciate the high-quality sound could end up benefiting from this kind of accessory especially where it is optimised for that kind of sound. An example of a USB sound-module device that I had dealt with was one that came with the Kingston Hyper-X Cloud II gaming headset that I previously reviewed, which presented itself to Windows as a USB Audio input and output device. If we want the wireless link, we could look for that Bluetooth audio adaptor typically sold with a pair of intra-aural earphones and connect our favourite headphones to this device like I do with the Sony SBH-52.

If this proposition is to work properly, the sound-processing circuitry need also to be power-efficient so you don’t end up draining your smartphone’s battery or depending on external power supplies to use your smartphone. Similarly, other accessory vendors may need to add USB Type-C hub functionality to their accessories like USB battery packs so that these headphones can work while the smartphone is being powered from the battery pack. Or the smartphone vendors may have to concede to having 2 USB Type-C ports on their phones to support USB headphones and USB external power supplies for example.

But whatever happens, this could open another path for innovation to take place when it comes to the supply of accessories for portable audio and video equipment.

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How to effectively establish that Wi-Fi-based mobile network

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wi-Fi mobile printer – one of the mobile peripheral devices pitched to smartphone and tablet users

A major trend that has become strong over the last few years is the arrival of mobile network devices that connect to each other and to client computer devices via Wi-Fi wireless networking technology.

These are represented in the form of:

  • mobile network-attached-storage devices
  • mobile printers
  • wireless speakers, and
  • mobile broadcast-LAN tuners that work with terrestrial or satellite broadcast systems,
Network setup for mobile NAS and smartphone

Network setup for Wi-Fi-based mobile peripheral devices

What is common about all of these devices, and is treated as a key marketing feature by their vendors, is that they can be set up to be their own access point with their own DHCP server as well as being client devices to existing wireless networks. Some of these devices like most mobile NAS devices are able to work effectively as bridges or routers between an existing wireless network and the network that they create.

This may work well if you are just using the one mobile peripheral device with your mobile client devices but may not work well when you intend to run two or more mobile peripheral devices. Here, you will end up switching between different wireless networks just to benefit from the different mobile peripheral devices.

Mobile NAS as bridge setup

Wireless NAS as a bridge between mobile client devices and another Internet-providing network

But you may want to run one or more of these wireless mobile devices together to serve multiple laptops, tablets or smartphones. Situations that may come about that will call for these setups would be where you are using a mobile NAS and, perhaps, a camera that has Wi-Fi functionality or one of the new Wi-Fi-capable mobile printers. This will call for you to create a proper mobile wireless network for all of these devices.

Use a router-class device as the main device

Here, you would have to run one wireless network device as a DHCP server and “master” access point and this function can be best served by a router-class device.

"Mi-Fi" portable wireless router

A typical “Mi-Fi” portable wireless router for a mobile-broadband service

The most common examples of devices of this class that apply to “on-the-road” use are the “Mi-Fi” mobile routers that work with a mobile broadband service or one of the travel routers pitched to work with a hotel’s wired Internet service. Some mobile NAS devices may also do this wireless-bridging functionality in an adept manner and could be the hub of your “travel network”. Similarly, one of the mobile-broadband wireless routers being integrated in to some new cars by the likes of BMW and Chrysler may also answer these needs.

You may think of using your smartphone’s Wi-Fi mobile-broadband-router functionality but this may encumber your smartphone for what you want to really use it for.

Some highly-sophisticated “Mi-Fi” and travel-router devices may also expose an Ethernet connection for LAN use, perhaps through an optional extended-functionality dock. This can come in handy if you want to increase your coverage area with another wireless access point or want to use devices like games consoles with your mobile network.

You may find that you don’t need to run the Internet connection on the Mi-Fi or travel router if you are simply establishing a link between multiple mobile peripheral devices and client devices and aren’t reliant on Internet functionality for their operation. Similarly, by having your mobile devices working this way, you avoid the need to authenticate with a Wi-Fi hotspot that implements Web-based authentication to do something like gain access to your mobile NAS’s data from your iPad.

Set up known wireless network parameters

Mobile network wiht "Mi-Fi" router and 2 Wi-Fi-capable mobile peripheral devices

Mobile wireless network for two or more mobile devices and mobile client devices – uses a router-class device like a “Mi-Fi” router

When you set up your “Mi-Fi” or travel router, you make this device the hub of your mobile network and have every device “point” to this device’s local-network by associating with its SSID (wireless network name) and security parameters.

Most of the mobile network devices that work on an “open-frame” approach can be quickly associated to this “mobile hub” thanks to WPS-based push-button setup. For devices that don’t support this quick setup mode like most Apple devices, you will need to note down the “mobile hub’s” SSID and security passphrase.

For that matter, a good practice would be to assign a unique SSID for your “mobile hub” device i.e. your Mi-Fi or travel router. This is important when you use these setups in campgrounds, caravan parks or hotels where many of these devices will be used at once.

All wireless devices to link with router-class device

It will also mean that the mobile NAS, mobile printer or other similar device has to work as a client device rather than as its own access point. This also applies to your computing devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones which also associate with the “mobile hub” device.

When positioning your mobile-network devices, make sure that they are in the range of your “mobile network hub” device i.e. the Mi-Fi or the travel router. All the wireless traffic that goes between these devices will pass through the “mobile network hub” device rather than between the devices themselves.

You may find that if you want to avoid draining your “Mi-Fi” router’s battery too quickly, it may be a good idea to have it run from a USB charger that runs from house current or your vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket. Similarly, a high-capacity USB power-pack can also earn its keep with these devices if you are away from power.

What I stand for when reviewing or researching mobile devices

When I review any device for this Website that is capable of being its own wireless network such as a mobile NAS or mobile printer, I test the device with my home network’s Wi-Fi wireless segment as if it is a client device. This is so I am sure they can work in this kind of setup as well as the highly-promoted “own access point” setup. As well, as part of researching a mobile device that uses Wi-Fi wireless technology as part of its link with client computer devices, I verify that it can work as part of an existing wireless-network segment as well as being its own segment.

Similarly, when I research a mobile router-class device like a Mi-Fi or travel router, I would expect the device to support WPS single-push connectivity along with other essential Wi-Fi connectivity and security standards. Similarly, such a device would have to be easy to configure including setting up the SSID and passphrase. As well, the Mi-FI device can’t be very thirsty with its battery if the goal is to have it as a “hub” device.

Conclusion

Once you are able to set up a mobile multi-device network, you can then be able to use it to store or print data while you are “on the road” without needing to constantly switch networks for each different task.

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Popular Internet-based communications platforms to be secure

WhatsApp Android screenshot courtesy of WhatsApp

WhatsApp – the pioneer for security-focused online communications for consumers

Some of the popular over-the-top messaging and VoIP platforms are being equipped for personal privacy and security.

This was a feature typically pitched at high-stakes business users but is now being pitched at everyday consumers thanks to the saga occurring in the USA between FBI and Apple where the FBI were wanting the encrypted data held on a suspect’s iPhone.

At the moment, WhatsApp and Viber are offering secure-communications features but this could be rolled out by other messaging/VoIP/videocall platform vendors like Skype, Facebook or Apple. For that matter, WhatsApp have recently made their platform from a subscription-funded platform to a free-to-user platform. They will continue to raise money by offering business-focused WhatsApp communications services.

Platform-wide best-case encryption by default

One of the main features is platform-wide end-to-end encryption which is implemented to “best-case standards” by default.

This means that the data that represents your calls and messages is encrypted by the end devices. Along with that, the user’s public and private keys associated with the encryption algorithm don’t stay on the company’s servers, thus not being at risk of a subpoena or other court order or government mandate. Rather, these are created by the end-user’s device and kept there.

The reference to “best-case” operation in this situation is that if the users are communicating with the latest version of the software that supports newer encryption algorithms, these algorithms are used for the encryption process. This even applies to group conversations where the “best-case” encryption method is implemented if all the correspondents are using the client apps that support that algorithm.

Authentication of contacts and their devices

As part of key exchange between contacts, there is an emphasis on authenticating one’s contacts with some systems like WhatsApp preferring a “face-to-face” method or others like Viber requiring you to read and confirm a password during a call. The former method that WhatsApp implements is for you to scan a QR code

Here, this is about whether you are really talking with the user on their device, in order to circumvent situations like lost or stolen phones, users installing their SIM cards in different devices and “man-in-the-middle” attacks. It was highlighted in Graham Cluley’s blog article about improving your security with WhatsApp.

This will typically be highlighted through the use of an indicator in your contact list that shows if a contact has been authenticated or if they have switched devices.

Concealed text/image conversations

Viber - Hide This Chat

Viber with its ability to conceal a conversation

Viber introduced to their platform the ability for one to conceal a text/image conversation which can come in handy if you are exploiting their functionality to use tablets or regular computers as endpoints for Viber conversations.

Here, you can conceal the conversation so that others cannot see it unless they enter a user-set PIN or password. Situations where this can be necessary could include an innocuous activity like arranging that surprise event through a personal conversation held in a workplace to a traveller who leaves their iPad in their hotel room which can easily be visited by Housekeeping staff.

On the other hand, you could be able to specify whether a text/image chat is to be kept on each other’s devices or to disappear like what has been valued with Snapchat.

Features that could surface in the name of security

As other online-communications platforms jump on to the secure-communications bandwagon, there could be the rise of different features or variations on the above features.

For example, a communications-platform client could implement client-level user authentication where the software can be set up to require the user to log in to the client to start a conversation. Or the primary communications device like the smartphone has to be near a secondary communications client like a laptop before the user can run the software. This feature may be considered of importance with tablets and regular computers likely to be used by other users.

To some extent, an operating system that implements multiple-user operation could allow an online-communications client to switch user profiles and phone numbers so it works totally personally to the user.

There could be the ability for a user to mandate device-level authentication or encryption before a conversation takes place with a contact. This could allow for one to be sure they are talking to the right correspondent.

Other methods of verifying contacts and devices could surface such as the use of NFC “touch-and-go” or Bluetooth data exchange as a way of authenticating users’ devices. The software could also exploit other hardware or software “secure elements” like Trusted Platform Modules as an alternative to SIM cards for Wi-Fi-only tablets or regular computers.

This could even extend to such things as “trusted networks” or “trusted locations” where your caller can know that you are talking privately, based on factors like wireless-network parameters or proximity to particular Bluetooth devices.

Conclusion

What is now happening is that secure online conversations, once a feature that was enjoyed by big business and government, is now becoming available to every individual in the street for free. This allows them to have online conversations without being eavesdropped upon.

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The 3.5mm digital-analogue audio socket is still relevant for today’s portable computing equipment

Laptops like the Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 could benefit from a 3.5mm digital-analogue audio output jack for an audio connection

Laptops like the Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 could benefit from a 3.5mm digital-analogue audio output jack for an audio connection

Increasingly, there has been the rise of portable audio equipment associated with computers and there are opportunities to exploit what this all about for better sound.

Most of this equipment is implementing a 3.5mm tip-ring-sleeve phone socket for analogue line-level audio input or output connections. This is because the socket type is considered to be a “low-profile” connection that allows the equipment to be designed to be slim and neat. The same connector even appeals to the traditional PC expansion cards where the socket can easily exist on the card’s bracket.

Sony MZ-R70 MiniDisc Walkman image courtesy of Pelle Sten (Flickr http://flickr.com/people/82976024@N00)

One of the Sony MiniDisc Walkmans that implemented a 3.5mm digital-analogue audio input jack

Some devices, namely video projectors use the 3.5mm phone jack for this purpose, whether as an input or an output while this connector is also used as a so-called ad-hoc “walk-up” audio input or output connection on amplifiers or stereo systems such as an auxiliary input. This exploits the ability associated with the “phone” sockets where they can survive being connected and disconnected repeatedly thanks to their original use on the old telephone switchboards.

Sony took this connection type further during the MiniDisc era by equipping some of the CD Walkmans with a line-out jack that also had an LED in it and equipping their MiniDisc Walkman recorders with a mic/line input jack that had a photodiode in this socket. Then the user would connect a fibre-optic cable with 3.5mm fibre-optic connections on each end to provide a digital link between the CD Walkman and the MiniDisc Walkman to digitally copy a CD to MD with the sound transferred in the SP/DIF digital domain.

Economy data projector with VGA input sockets

HDMI-equipped projectors could even exploit the 3.5mm digital-analogue output connection for use with sound systems that have a digital input

You would still be able to connect the portable device to a normally-sessile device like a digital amplifier by using an adaptor cable which had a Toslink plug on one end and a 3.5mm fibre-optic connection on the other end or use a Toslink-3.5mm adaptor with an existing Toslink fibre-optic cable.

A few other companies exploited this connection beyond the portable realm with Pace implementing it as a digital audio output on some of the cable-TV / satellite-TV set-top boxes. The set-top application implemented this connection just for the digital-audio application while the analogue audio connection was facilitated through the multiple-pin SCART connection.

This same single-socket connection could be easily implemented for a video projector that uses an HDMI input and a 3.5mm audio-output jack so you could have a digital connection to a sound system rather than an analogue audio link. This can also apply to laptop computers which are increasingly being purposed as party jukeboxes by younger people along with “mini-DJ” accessories pitched at iPod/iPhone users who want to play DJ.

Conversely, TVs and stereo systems could implement the same digital/analogue input for the auxiliary-input connection that is reserved on a TV for computer equipment or on the front of a stereo system for “walk-up” connection of portable digital-audio players.

As far as equipment design is concerned, the single socket for a SPDIF-optical-digital or analogue audio connection saves on designing and budgeting for two sockets if you want to facilitate both a digital and an analogue audio connection.  This is more important if the goal is to design equipment that has a low profile or is highly portable. The same approach can also appeal to providing for an ad-hoc digital/analogue input or output where the connection exists on an “as-needed” basis rather than a permanent basis.

Personally, I would like to see the 3.5mm digital-analogue audio jack that Sony valued during MiniDisc’s reign as something that can work with portable computing equipment, video projectors, smartphones and the like for transmitting audio in the SPDIF digital domain.

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Chromecast to find its way to your hotel room

Article

Chromecast is now getting built into hotel TV systems | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Sonifi

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

The Google Chromecast HDMI dongle is still seen as a way to throw video and audio content to your TV from your Android mobile device or Google Chrome browser with some support for it on an app level for iOS devices. Dedicated Apple users will see something similar going on when they use the Apple TV device and invoke AirPlay to run video content from their iOS device to their TV.

These devices can be used on a hotel room’s TV but there is a lot of difficulty getting them to work with a hotel’s Wi-Fi-based guest-access network. This is typically because most of these guest-access networks require a Web-based authentication routine for your device along with the proper design practice to isolate client devices from being discovered by each other.

Sonifi have answered this problem by developing the SoniCast technology which provides Google Cast (Chromecast streaming) services for a hotel guestroom TV. This requires the client laptop, tablet or smartphone to be connected to the hotel’s guest-access network as if to benefit from Internet access there. There is software in place that allows you to only discover and stream content to the TVs that are in your room or suite so you can’t stream to the TVs in neighbouring rooms.

Initially, a hotel could provision Netflix, Spotify, Hulu or the like by having support for these services on the guestroom TVs thanks to either a Smart TV or a set-top box. This required guests to enter their service credentials using the “pick-and-choose” method of typing in text on a TV – how long does that take to enter a typical email-address and password using that D-pad! These systems would “clear the slate” and log guests out when they check out of the hotel.

But this Chromecast-based solution allows you to keep your credentials for these services on your phone or tablet and the authentication for the services takes place at your device. As well, you are effectively working the online services like your Netflix queues or Spotify playlists using the apps installed on your mobile device.

A question I would like to raise is whether Sonifi will extend the SoniCast platform to work with Apple’s AirPlay streaming platform, Spotify Connect audio streaming or even the DLNA media-controller concept. With Apple, this may be seen as a difficult ask but DLNA and Spotify Connect could add extra value to the SoniCast “BYO media” platform.

At least I see this as a step in the right direction for tight integration between the hotel guestroom’s TV and a guest’s own computing devices.

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Using Bluetooth for wireless keyboards, mice and game controllers

Bluetooth could be the preferred way to go for all wireless keyboard and mice applications

Bluetooth could be the preferred way to go for all wireless keyboard and mice applications

A lot of wireless mice and keyboards offered at affordable prices and pitched for use with desktop computers are implementing a proprietary wireless setup which requires them to use a special USB transceiver dongle.

This is compared to some wireless mice, keyboards and games controllers that are offered for laptops and tablets where they have integral Bluetooth support. This is because the laptop and tablet computers are the main computers that come with Bluetooth on board. It is compared to desktops, mainly traditional “three-piece” desktops, that don’t have this feature and require the use of a USB Bluetooth dongle to gain Bluetooth connectivity.

Wireless mouse dongle

The typical easy-to-lose dongle that comes with most wireless mice

A reality that is coming crystal clear is that the laptop computer along with the all-in-one desktop computer is being seen as a viable alternative to the traditional “three-piece” desktop computer for one’s main computing device. This is underscored with laptops that are taken between work and home along with myself seeing quite a few computer setups where a laptop computer is hooked up to a traditional keyboard and mouse and one or two desktop-grade monitors. Some of these setups even run the laptop’s screen as part of a multi-screen setup.

Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computer keyboard

Bluetooth shouldn’t just be for mobile keyboards

To the same extent, most of the “all-in-one” desktops are being equipped with Bluetooth functionality as a matter of course. This is more so where the goal is to compete with the Apple iMac range of “all-in-ones” or make this class of computer more impressive.

The Bluetooth advantage does away with the need to install a USB wireless dongle for that wireless keyboard or mouse or the risk of losing one of these dongles. For traditional desktop users, they can use and keep one Bluetooth dongle which works well if you want to move a Bluetooth keyboard and/or mouse between a secondary laptop and the desktop computer. Similarly the same Bluetooth dongle can support multiple devices like a keyboard, mouse, game controller and multipoint-capable Bluetooth headset.

The gap I am drawing attention to is the lack of traditional-sized keyboards, trackballs and mice fit for use with desktop computers, including novelty mice like the “model-car” mice, that work using Bluetooth. Manufacturers could offer a range of traditional-sized input devices that work with Bluetooth, preferably having Bluetooth LE (Smart) support, as part of their product ranges to cater for laptop-based and all-in-one-based personal computing setups.

Having Bluetooth LE (Smart) support would benefit this class of device because users shouldn’t need to be changing the peripherals’ batteries frequently which is something that can affect Bluetooth setups.

As well, there can be an effort towards improving responsiveness for Bluetooth keyboards, mice and games controllers to maintain Bluetooth’s appeal to the gaming community. Here, this would also be about working with other Bluetooth device clusters such as in a LAN-party environment where toe goal for gamers is to frag each other out rather than being “trampled on” by the enemy.

What really should be looked at is to standardise on Bluetooth as a way to wirelessly connect input devices like keyboards and mice to computer equipment.

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USB.org to introduce authentication in to the USB Type-C platform

Article

The USB Type-C connection will now be able to be authenticated irrespective of vendor

The USB Type-C connection will now be able to be authenticated irrespective of vendor

New USB Type-C Authentication spec can stop faulty cables before they do damage | Windows Central

From the horse’s mouth

USB.org

Press Release (via BusinessWire)

My Comments

Increasingly the USB connection standard has shown up a need to verify or authenticate device connections on a hardware level. Initially Apple had engaged in this practice with their iOS devices that use the Lightning connector to make sure that properly licensed Lightning cables are used with these devices. But there have been other reasons that this kind of authentication is needed.

One of the reasons was the existence of fake charging devices that are typically installed in public locations. These espionage tools look like plug-in AC chargers or “charging bars”  but are really computing devices designed to harvest personal and corporate data from visitors’ smartphones and tablets. The mobile operating systems have been worked to address this problem whether through asking users what role the mobile device plays when it is connected to a host computing device or whether you trust the host device you connect your mobile device to it.

But there has also been concern raised about ultra-cheap USB Type-C cables, typically Type-A adaptor cables, that aren’t wired to standard and could place your laptop, smartphone or tablet at risk of damage. In this case, users want to be sure they are using good-quality properly-designed cables and power-supply equipment so that their devices aren’t at risk of damage.

The USB implementers Forum have established a connection-level authentication protocol for USB Type-C connections. This implements some of the authentication methods used by Apple for their Lightning connection to verify cables along with the ability to verify the devices that are on the other end of a USB Type-C connection.

For example, a traveller could rectify the “fake charger” situation by setting their mobile gadgets only to charge from certified USB Type-C chargers. Similarly, a business can use low-level authentication to verify and approve USB storage devices and modems to the computers under their control are connected to in order to prevent espionage and sabotage. Vehicle builders that supply software updates for their vehicles to rectify cyberattacks on vehicle control units can use this technique as part of their arsenal for authenticating any of these updates delivered to customers via USB sticks.

What needs to be established is that the USB interface chipsets installed on motherboards and other circuit boards need to be able to support this kind of authentication. Similarly, operating systems and device firmware would need to support the low-level authentication in order to reflect the user’s choice or company’s policy and communicate the status concerning USB Type-C devices properly to the end-user.

At least it is an industry-wide effort rather than a vendor-specific effort to verify and authenticate USB devices at the electrical-connection level rather than at higher levels.

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FCC has now identified existence of reduced broadband service competition in the US

Article

The FCC aims to restore competition in the business broadband market, may help slash costs | PC World

My Comments

AT&T Touch-Tone phone - image courtesy of CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=936797

Is the US telecommunications industry heading back to the days of these phones, where competition didn’t exist?

The US-based broadband and IT press are identifying that the country is slowly creeping back to days of “Ma Bell” where there wasn’t any lively competition occurring in the telecommunications and Internet-service sector. They see the recent behaviour exhibited by AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and co as the undoing of the work by previous administrations to bring competition to this sector.

Examples of this include established “Baby Bell” telcos and cable-TV companies frustrating the provision of Internet service by private or public competitors such as Google Fiber or local governments. This is being facilitated through state governments passing model legislation to prohibit local governments from providing Internet service or communications-service infrastructure; or litigation taking place concerning the provision of infrastructure for competing communications services.

This is leading to situations where customers face poor customer service, price-gouging and onerous terms and conditions when they sign up for communications services like telephony, cable-TV or Internet service. But it isn’t only affecting households, rather the same situation also affects businesses who are after the essential communications services that “keep their axe sharp”.

For example, businesses are paying through the nose to set up any kind of leased-line or “middle-mile” telecommunications services that facilitate such things as ATMs or credit-card terminals. Even competitive wireless telecommunications providers are paying through the nose for the necessary backhaul from the mobile-antenna towers so their customers’ phones can work. Even if you just have an Internet service for your business like a DSL service, you will also end up paying dearly for this service to match your business’s needs and this can be a noose around your business’s neck especially if you are a small or medium-sized business.

One of the many consumer-activist groups, the Consumer Federation Of America, came forth with the results of a study on this topic. Here they identified that the incumbent carriers were overcharging businesses by US$71 billion for broadband services over last the 5 years.

The FCC are addressing this issue by focusing on how competitive the different communications and Internet-service markets really are and looking at ways to regulate to assure competition.

Here, according to FCC’s Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC would identify markets that aren’t competitive and make sure established players don’t harm consumers and businesses or kill innovation. This would be approached by creating a tailored regulatory framework to address non-competitive markets with the barometer for a non-competitive market being with two or less independent operators providing telecommunications and Internet service.

I would look at issues like the ability for a company to lease access to infrastructure whether as full copper or fibre infrastructure; or as access to the “poles, pits, pipes and towers” that the infrastructure runs through. This can also include the ability for a European style of operation where there is a “wholesale-retail” method of selling communications services, allowing for different retail operators to sell the same wholesale bandwidth.

Other issues that Uncle Sam would need to examine include continual surveillance of the market on an antitrust basis such as potential mergers or buyouts to assure competition. This would include dealing with the political influence that established operators are waging with state legislatures and the judiciary to prevent the existence of competitive markets.

To the same extent, the issue of broadband deployment in to the USA’s underserved areas like poorer communities or rural areas still needs to be tackled so as to prevent carrier “redlining”.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=936797

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The gaming sub-brand is now considered part of the computing scene

ASUS RoG GX700 water-cooled gaming laptop with radiator dock - press picture courtesy of ASUS

ASUS RoG GX700 water-cooled gaming laptop with radiator dock

Most of the personal-computing industry are courting the core gamer as a highly-valuable market. These are typically young male but increasing female players who see computer gaming, especially games played on PCs (Windows-based regular computers), as a hobby and will focus a lot of disposable money towards building that dream performance-focused “gaming-rig” computer.

The personal-computing scene is focusing a lot of attention on this highly-valuable niche, typically by creating a range of computers, parts and accessories that appeal to this demographic. Initially this was looked after by businesses that exclusively court this demographic such as Razer but increasingly companies like Dell, ASUS and Acer are running their own brands or model names that are focused on gaming performance such as Alienware, Republic Of Gaming, and Predator. Lenovo has been the only company not to create a model name or brand for this demographic so for, typically using the Y name as the gaming-focused brand.

Most of these names reflect the traditionally-young-male gaming culture that is focused around playing MMORPGs, first-person shooters and similarly-aggressive games. It is being seen that this group of gamers have a large amount of disposable income to spend on their gaming hobby and is symptomatic of the way the marketing of goods and services is focused on the young.

A lot of these games are very dependent on instantaneous response and most of these computers and peripherals will be expected to yield performance that reduces unnecessary lag when playing these games.

But there is hope for some of these brands targeting female and mature-aged gamers who bite the bullet for engaging in computer games thanks to independent software developers and mobile platforms. It is because these user groups are using mobile platforms like tablets to play various casual games while independent game studios are answering the need to satisfy a market gap that is forgotten by the mainstream games studios and distributors.

AOC has now joined the party by creating the AGON brand which represents monitors and other accessories focused towards core gamers. The brand AGON represents AOC representing their leadership in monitors, Gaming that enhances the latest technology, Outstanding performance for that competitive edge and New standard of gaming. This bas been fulfilled with a range of QHD and 4K monitors that can easily complement that gaming rig with features like improved ergonomics for gameplay, a headset hook, highly-portable design; along with a remote control that makes it easier to switch between display modes for the games you play.

I do see this progressing onwards with every computer-hardware vendor running at least a product line focused on the gamer market with a lot of technical development taking place to squeeze as much performance out of these products. This could be where, for example, laptops, all-in-ones and low-profile desktop computers are equipped with support for external graphics modules or graphics-card cages thanks to the Thunderbolt-3 (USB-C) connection.

Similarly, Microsoft is progressing the idea of games developers being able to write a games title that can play properly on a Windows 10 regular computer or the XBox One gaming console thus allowing for games developers to cater to PC and console gamers at once.

It is showing that computer gaming isn’t just a casual pastime but becoming a serious hobby and the computing industry is having to cater for this.

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