Commentary Archive

Delivery-consignment storage to be part of the floorplan

House in Toorak

How is online delivery going to be handled securely when no-one’s at home?

Most of us who buy goods on the Internet are likely to run in to situations where they miss a parcel delivery due to, for example, no-one being at home. This includes situations with families that have teenagers that arrive home earlier than the parents and it is desirable that adults sign for packages that have been delivered.

This can also extend to situations where you need to have a courier collect goods from your place, something I have had to do every time I have finished with review-sample products where I return them to the distributor or PR agency. But it would also apply when you have to return unwanted merchandise to an online retailer or send faulty equipment to a workshop to be repaired, or simply to use a messenger service to run printed documents from your home office to a business partner. Here, you have to make sure someone you trust is at home looking after the consignment until the courier arrives to collect it.

Intercom panel with codepad

These systems may need to be modified to support secure unattended parcel delivery

There has been recent Internet discussion about the Amazon Key product which is a smart-lock ecosystem that allows Amazon couriers to drop off your orders inside your home after you confirm with them that they have your order. The constant issue that was raised was the fact that courier could wander around your home unsupervised after they drop off the order, thus being a threat to your privacy and home security.

But this may raise certain architectural requirements and possibilities to cater for the rise of online deliveries. These requirements and possibilities are about creating secure on-premises storage for these consignments that have been delivered or are to be collected by a courier while you are absent. It is also about making sure that the courier cannot enter your home unsupervised under the guise of dropping off or picking up a consignment.

They will affect how homes are designed whether as a new-build development or as a renovation effort and will affect how apartment blocks and similar developments are designed. It is very similar to the use of specially-installed lock-boxes to keep front-gate or meter-box keys that are only opened by the utility’s meter reader with a special master key when they read your utility-service meter.

Architectural requirements

One of these could be a cabinet or small storeroom located towards the front of your home and used primarily for storage of delivered goods. Of course, you may use these spaces to store items like clean-up tools or solid fuel. Some householders may see a garage or a shed also serve this same purpose.

An alternative would be to implement a small vestibule or porch enclosure with an inner front door and outer front door, Here, these spaces would be secured with a smart lock or access-control system that ties in with secure consignment-drop-off arrangements like what Amazon proposes.

In the case of a vestibule, the inner entry door that leads to the rest of the house would be secured under the control of the household and not be part of these arrangements. This also applies to arrangements where the vestibule opens to other rooms like a home office.

Apartment block in Elwood

Multi-dwelling units like apartment blocks may have to have luggage-locker storage facilities for unattended parcels

For multi-dwelling developments, this could be achieved through the use of a storage facility similar to a cluster of luggage lockers. Here, one or more lockers are shared amongst different apartments on an as-needed basis. In these buildings, they would be located close to or within the mail-room or as a separate storeroom. For those buildings that have multiple entry vestibules for different apartment clusters, it may be plausible to have a group of parcel-delivery lockers in each vestibule.

If your property has a front gate that is normally locked, you may have to use a smart lock or access-control system compliant with the abovementioned secure consignment drop-off arrangements on that gate.

Security requirements for these spaces

All these arrangements would be dependent on a smart lock or access-control system that ties in with the couriers’ or online-delivery platforms’ ecosystems and would be used when you aren’t at home. Such systems would be dependent on consignment numbers that are part of consignment notes or delivery dockets, along with the recipient being notified by the courier of the pending delivery.

But you would be able to have access to these spaces using your own code, card or access token held on your smartphone as expected for all smart-lock setups.

Integration with the courier’s workflow

Such setups would require the household to register them with an online-shopping platform or a courier / messenger platform operated by the incumbent post-office or an industry association. Here, the household would notify whereabouts the secure storage space is on their property

Product delivery

Typically, when you receive a delivery, the courier would ring the doorbell and find that no-one is at home. Or the door is answered by a child and the standing arrangement regarding the chain of custody for deliveries is for the parcel to be received and signed for by a responsible adult.

In this situation, the courier would have to enter details on their handheld terminal about no-one being home. You would then be contacted by email, text messaging or a similar platform regarding the pending delivery and then you use the platform’s companion mobile app or Website to authorise the drop-off of your consignment in the safe storage space.

Then the courier would receive a one-shot authority code which they use to unlock the storage space so they can lodge your parcel there. Once they have delivered the parcel, you would be notified that the parcel is waiting for collection. You would then use your keycode to open up that space to collect your goods when you arrive.

Product collection

There are also times where we require a courier to collect goods from us. This can be situations ranging from returned merchandise, through equipment being collected for repairs, to sending goods out as gifts. In these situations, a responsible adult may not be home to hand over the item and you don’t want to wait around at home or co-ordinate a pickup time for the consignment.

Here, you would organise the consignment paperwork with the courier or the recipient organisation if they are organising the pickup. As part of this, you would receive a consignment number as part of the consignment note, returned-merchandise authorisation or similar document.

Then you would place the goods in the storage space and make sure this is locked. Subsequently you would enter the consignment number in to the smart lock or platform app on your phone or computer. This consignment number works as a one-shot authority code for the courier to open the secure storage space.

When the courier arrives to collect the consignment, they would enter the consignment number in the smart lock to open the storage space in order to collect the goods. Once they have collected the goods, they then lock up the storage space before heading onwards with the consignment. You would then be notified that they have collected the consignment, with the ability to track that parcel as it is on its way.

Issues that need to be raised

Access to a competitive online-retail or parcel-delivery marketplace

It can be easy to bind an unattended-delivery secure-storage platform to an incumbent postal service (including a courier service owned by or a partner with one of these services), or a dominant online retailer like Amazon.

This ends up as a way for the incumbent postal service or dominant online retailer to effectively “own” the online-retail or parcel-delivery marketplace by providing more infrastructure exclusive to their platform. It can also expose antitrust / competitive-access issues where other courier firms or online retailers can’t gain access to self-service unattended-delivery arrangements.

This issue can be answered either through an app-based approach that works with the smart-home / Internet-of-Things ecosystem to interlink with IT systems associated with the goods-delivery industry; or a common platform adopted by the courier / messenger and online-retail industry that integrates unattended-delivery storage as part of the workflow.

Similarly, these systems need to have a level of flexibility such as being able to work with multiple smart locks on the one property. This would be to facilitate a locked gate and / or two or more storage spaces such as a trunk-style cabinet for small items and a larger storeroom for larger consignments; or to provide a private storage space for each dwelling on that property such as a house converted to apartments.

Conclusion

The online retail marketplace has brought about a discussion regarding management and secure storage of consignments that are delivered to unattended addresses.

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Audio–Video Newscasts On Demand–Could this be real

Kogan Internet table radio

Traditional radio and TV broadcasters could augment their newscasts by having them on-demand

A question that can be raised in the online era is whether radio and TV broadcasters need to place their latest newscasts “on demand” alongside running them at the appointed times.

This is to encourage us to find relevance for traditional broadcast media in an age where the preferred source for information and entertainment is from online media services including social media. It is also about finding ways where traditional public-service and commercial broadcast media can maintain their influence in an age where Silicon Valley is obtaining more clout.

The typical newscast situation as it stands

What typically happens with radio is that most stations will ordinarily run a short-form newscast of up to five minutes long on the hour. Some of them even run an additional newscast on the half-hour during the breakfast programme as people are getting ready for work. It doesn’t matter whether the radio station serves as an informer like the talk-based stations or as an entertainer like music-based stations. Some stations who don’t have their own news-gathering team usually syndicate another station’s short-form newscasts to keep their listeners up to date with the news.

For TV, the traditional broadcasters, especially free-to-air broadcasters, frequently run regular short-form news updates, commonly known as “newsbreaks”, inserted between programmes or during commercial breaks. They are typically used to announce breaking news or updated news items or provide a succinct overview of what’s going on. This is in addition to the main long-form half-hour news bulletins run during breakfast, midday, early afternoon, early evening (which is TV’s prime time) and late evening.

Some of these stations may run dedicated newsbreaks focused on particular themes like local weather or financial / business news. The TV stations who advertise on local radio during the afternoon drive-time programme are more likely to run an audio equivalent of a newsbreak as their commercial for that daypart in order to create public interest for their main evening news bulletin.

Let’s not forget that all these broadcasters will run newsflashes, even interrupting regular programming, when there is significant breaking news.

The current way we consume media

But we are living in an environment where we rely on on-demand entertainment like Spotify, podcasts, Netflix and catch-up TV services. We even end up in an environment where sports is the only reason for watching or listening to linear real-time broadcast content. Similarly, some of us use PVRs to record TV shows and may find ourselves with “banked up” TV-show collections on these devices especially if we travel or not watch any TV for a while.

But most radio and TV stations’ Websites provide news clips for each of the news items that occur through the day, more as a way to allow people to learn more about particular events or share them on blogs or the Social Web. This is based on the “portal” idea that was started when the Web cam in to the mainstream and these broadcasters wanted to augment their daily broadcasts with a Web-based newspaper.

How can radio and TV news fit in with today’s media habits?

Amazon Echo, Google Home or similar platforms could be used to summon the latest news

But having the latest radio and TV news available in an on-demand context can earn its keep with a significant number of use cases.

For example, a short-form newscast like a radio news bulletin or TV “newsbreak” could earn its keep with a voice-driven home assistant where you could ask for the latest news. In this case, you could say “Hi Alexa, what is the latest news from the ABC?” and you would hear the latest local ABC Radio newscast together with the ABC’s newscast signature tune we have loved. If you are dealing with a voice-driven home-assistant device equipped with a screen like Amazon Echo Home, you could ask the voice assistant for the latest news from a TV station like the Seven Network whereupon you would see the latest newsbreak. In those situations where you have separate short-form newscasts for finance, sport, weather and other topics, it could be feasible to ask the voice assistant for one of these newscasts.

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

Even a device like Amazon Echo Show could run the latest TV “newsbreak”

Similarly, a podcast or music player app could support the insertion of short-form news bulletins between podcasts or between tracks after a certain time has passed. A TV network having the latest newsbreaks online through their catch-up TV services or through YouTube can allow users to “pull up” short-form news content as required.

There could be the ability to draw down that long-form prime-time TV news bulletin via a “catch-up” TV service so one can catch up with the day’s news at a time they see fit. Even offering an audio-only version of one of these bulletins could earn its keep with a range of users like vision-impaired people or drivers.

What can broadcasters do?

Most broadcasters and networks don’t have to do anything with the news content that they make available through their channels. They simply have to keep the recordings of short-form and long-form news bulletins available and indexed according to time of publication.

Radio stations can even record the bulletins that are not normally recorded like traffic bulletins to provide an experience similar to what Blaupunkt achieved with their Traffic Information Memo feature on some of their 1990s-era car radios. This was where the car radio would operate in a standby mode for three hours when the car is parked and record traffic bulletins as they come through from the last-tuned radio source. It relied upon established standards commonplace in Europe for providing machine-to-machine signalling for these broadcasts, namely the RDS system. Then the driver would be able to press a blue “TIM” button to hear the last four traffic bulletins that were recorded.

This can be facilitated in a manner similar to what happens with podcasts where the latest content is available through an RSS Webfeed. Most talk stations would be familiar with this practice when they make their shows available as podcasts or for syndication to other stations. But they also need to keep their “branding” alive with these newscasts like maintaining the use of their news signature tunes at the start of each bulletin so people know they are dealing with their favourite broadcasters. Let’s not forget that a single URL should then be used to provide a Weblink to the latest news bulletin for the various voice-driven-home-assistant skills, mobile apps and the like to locate that resource.

The idea could be augmented by having a standard metadata flag for RSS Webfeeds containing audio or video content like podcasts that represents the fact that the feeds are news bulletins. Here, it could allow “podcatcher” and similar software to treat them as a news bulletin then retain and play just the latest newscast. As well, if the software has always-live Internet access, it could make sure it’s always up to date with the latest news bulletins that the user wants.

As well, broadcasters and allied organisations can create “skills” for voice-driven home assistants along with “channels” for on-demand video services. It can extend to linking them to standard application-programming interfaces to facilitate “news-on-demand” apps and services.

There has been some investigation by online media providers, especially those who have advertising in their business model to permit free or freemium access like Spotify or YouTube to allow the insertion of newscasts in online-advertising spaces. Similarly, providing it as an optional service or “channel” on a streaming service is being seen as a way to add value to these services.

But this kind of application especially where newscasts are inserted in to a playlist could be seen as heretical by the Millennial generation who want to break away from traditional broadcast media and the methods they use. This is although having the latest radio and TV newscasts on demand through various mechanisms is really about mass customisation.

Conclusion

What will be required of traditional radio and TV broadcasters who maintain a strong profile with their newscasts is to “think outside the box” with how they are used. This means being able to take them further and integrate them with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant & co; or effectively have them as part of “custom-content” strategies.

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Video peripherals increasingly offering audio-output abilities

Article

XBox One games console press image courtesy Microsoft

Newer iterations of the XBox One to have connectivity for WISA-compliant speakers

Wireless speaker support could be coming to Xbox One consoles | Windows Central

My Comments

An increasing trend for video-peripheral devices like set-top boxes and games consoles is to offer an ability to connect speakers or headphones directly to these devices even though these devices are normally seen as video source devices. This goes against the conventional wisdom of a TV, soundbar and / or home-theatre receiver serving as the audio destination device for a home AV setup.

DLNA media directory provided by server PC

But what of Smart TVs being able to pass audio to these devices?

For example, Humax are offering a Bluetooth A2DP audio output on their premium PVRs so that the soundtrack from whatever you are watching on the PVR’s “current” tuner or hard disk can be fed through a Bluetooth headset or speaker. Just lately, Microsoft partnered up with the WISA Association to provide wireless-speaker output through WISA-compliant speakers from subsequent XBox games-console designs.

Let’s not forget that some soundbars and audio amplifiers are equipped with one HDMI-ARC connection for the TV and don’t add a video source to the home AV setup. The same situation also encompasses a large number of popularly-priced DVD and Blu-Ray home-theatre systems that only have one HDMI-ARC connection for the host TV as the only way to connect video equipment to these systems.

The limitation that is being shown up here is that you can’t stream the soundtrack of video content through the speakers or headphones connected through these devices’ Bluetooth or wireless-speaker outputs unless you are viewing the content hosted by the device itself. Or you may find it difficult to watch what you want yet hear it in the manner that suits the situation such as via headphones or a better speaker setup.

This is very similar to the old practice of connecting a video recorder’s audio output to a hi-fi amplifier to pipe the sound from either a TV broadcast or a videotape through the better-sounding hi-fi speakers.  There were even some video recorders that had their own headphone amplifiers or users simply connected them to hi-fi amplifiers or similar devices with integrated headphone outputs in order to add private or late-night listening abilities to that TV which wasn’t equipped with a headphone output. In that case, you only had access to the video recorder’s tuner or its tape transport through the hi-fi system with the video recorder offering some advantages over what was integrated in that old TV.

It may not be seen as a limitation except if a video peripheral connected to the TV or the TV’s own abilities provide content different to what is available in the “speaker-ability”-equipped video peripheral.

But what can be done to improve upon this reality would be for TV and video-peripheral manufacturers to answer this trend in an improved way.

Use of HDMI-ARC input functionality for host-TV audio

One way would be for the video-peripheral vendors who provide this kind of Bluetooth / WISA or similar “speaker output” ability to implement HDMI-ARC connectivity on their device’s HDMI output socket. It is very similar to the approach used by a popularly-priced DVD or Blu-Ray home-theatre system which only has one HDMI socket,

This means that if the device is connected to the ARC-capable HDMI socket on the TV, it can stream the sound from the TV’s own tuner, “connected-TV” functionality or video peripherals connected to the other HDMI inputs on the TV through this device’s “speaker output”.

Here, you may have to use the device’s controller to select “TV audio” to hear the sound associated with the TV’s sources through the Bluetooth speaker for example. But some TVs that implement this system properly may offer an “audio output” option on the audio menu so you can direct the sound to the audio-capable device by selecting that device rather than the TV’s internal speakers.

The TV to support multiple HDMI-ARC video peripherals

A TV could also implement HDMI-ARC across multiple HDMI sockets to cater for multiple video peripherals that support this functionality. It would come in to its own where different video peripherals use different connection methods for audio devices or you use a soundbar or home theatre setup equipped with a single HDMI connection alongside one of these video peripherals.

Here, you would have the ability to direct the sound to one or more of the HDMI-ARC devices instead of or in addition to the integral speakers.

The first application that one may think of would be to provide late-night private listening using a pair of Bluetooth headphones connected to a cable box, or to switch to WISA-capable speakers connected to a newer XBOX rather than hear the sound through the TV’s speakers. On the other hand, the setup could allow the concurrent operation of multiple audio outputs such as to use a Bluetooth headset connected via a cable box and run at an independent volume level for someone who is hard of hearing while everyone else in the room hears the TV content through the TV’s or home-theatre’s speakers.

In both situations, it would be desirable to hear whatever source is connected to the TV such as a Blu-Ray player or a network media player through the Bluetooth headphones connected via the Bluetooth-capable cable TV box.

How should the digital audio be delivered?

A question that can be raised is how the digital audio is to be delivered to the different HDMI-ARC devices.

This can affect whether to run a stereo or surround soundmix for the content’s soundtrack; whether the soundtrack should be delivered as a Dolby Digital / DTS bitstream that the HDMI-ARC audio device decodes or as a PCM bitstream already decoded by the TV or source video peripheral; or simply whether to stay within the “CD/DAT-quality” digital parameters (16 bit 44.1kHz or 48kHz sampling rate) or allow “master-grade” digital parameters (24 bit 96kHz or 192kHz sampling rate).

This situation may be determined by the destination audio device’s abilities such as whether it can decode Dolby Digital or DTS audio or if it can handle digital audio at “master-grade” bitrates. Similarly, it may also be about achieving a common specification for all of the connected devices, including whether and how to concurrently provide multiple audio streams for the same content such as to offer a two-channel soundmix and a multichannel soundmix.

This can lead to situations like supplying multiple soundmixes of a kind via HDMI-ARC in order to make situations like multilingual audio, audio description or selectable commentary work well for different viewers. Similarly, it could be feasible to offer a “surround via headphones” binaural soundmix like Dolby Headphone to Bluetooth headsets connected to a cable box while offering a full surround soundmix through a multiple-speaker home theatre setup.

Conclusion

What will eventually be raised is what can be achieved at a common baseline specification, including issues of processing power and HDMI bandwidth that the setup can handle. This is especially if a device like a games console or set-top box is working as a content source and audio sink while the TV works as an audio “hub”.

It is more so where we are expecting that flat-screen TV, especially one installed in a secondary lounge area, being required to become an AV hub for all of the video peripherals that are connected to it.

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How about enabling multilingual search in the main search engines

There are those of us who are proficient in two or more languages or are wanting to become so. This is due to countries like Canada, Belgium or Switzerland or even parts of countries like the South West USA that are inherently or officially multilingual.

It also extends to societies that maintain a multicultural character; as well as people who are setting themselves about to learn languages in addition to their native one. In some societies, a desire to work across multiple languages has been enhanced through activities like the increased viewership of subtitled foreign-language film and TV content like European thrillers or Nordic Noir; or particular cultures bestowing attention to particular countries such as the gamer culture’s obsession with Japan being known for manga / anime and fast cars.

The current problem

But using Google or similar search engines may become awkward for those of us who are or want to be multilingual. Typically, you have to know a concept in a particular language if you want to see the results in resources based in that language and you only see those resources. But if you are multilingual, you may want to see the resources in the languages you are familiar with, even if you type the search terms in one of the languages you are familiar with.

What needs to happen is for a search engine to implement “on-the-fly” translation of search phrases from one source language to a multiplicity of user-chosen target languages. Then the search engine would show the resources that are natively written in the target languages.

At the moment, most search engines can work across dialects of the same language such as to understand American or British English, showing resources in either dialect.

Questions that can be raised concerning this idea would be to assure a grammatically-accurate translation of the source search terms, including where there are multiple equivalents specific to that language.

Handling language peculiarities

There are situations where source and target languages maintain particular peculiarities when referring to some concepts or objects.

An example of this would be a reference to the lightweight commercial vehicles which are described as a van if they are enclosed or a pickup truck in most of the English-speaking world or a “ute” in Australia and New Zealand in the case of those with an open tray. But the French refer to these vehicles as either a “camionnette” or a “fourgonnette” while the Germans would use “Lieferwagen”, “Kastenwagen” or “Transporter” for a van for example.

Similarly, there are loanwords that are used across multiple languages to mean the same thing although some languages like French cut back on the use of these loanwords to maintain language purity. It may be preferred to use the loanwords or the language-specific equivalents or both as search terms for searching within a particular language. The same issue can also apply to proper nouns where there isn’t a language-specific equivalent such as place names, trademarks or business names.

There is also the issue with some Asian languages like Chinese and Japanese which use different writing styles. This can cause problems if search terms are provided in one writing style but you are confident in using the other writing styles offered by that language and want to see resources offered in those styles.

Handling multilingual resources

As for showing results, some Web resources, typically resources written by organisations in or targeting multi-lingual areas, tend to provide resources in multiple languages. This practice has been encouraged in Europe since the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty which underscores the Single European Market under the banner of the “Are you ready for 1992”. This approach may be through a translation process that the author implements as part of their editorial workflow or some end-users simply “pipe” the resource through a site-wide machine-translation resource when they view the site.

A situation that can come up with some multilingual Websites is that the site carries more comprehensive information in the site’s native language or a few other languages than in the other languages. Or if the site is targeted to multiple countries like all of the European Union’s resources, the translations may be deeply localised such as to refer to governmental workflows specific to that country.

A search engine could allow the user to set preferences for multilingual searches such as preferred languages and / or language priority. This would mean that the user would see the results from resources written in the languages they specify; along with the ability to have certain languages appear first. The language priority could be fixed by the user or be determined by the search engine if the user supplies the search expression in a language-specific form. But if a resource carries translations, the user could see results from that resource in the highest-priority translation first plus a reference to their other chosen translations.

Similarly, a search engine could compare the amount of information that is available in multilingual versions of the same resource to identify language peculiarity or content richness.

User preferences concerning multilingual search

A search engine that implements individual user preferences such as being linked to a user account could implement a set of preferences for multilingual search.

This could be through a list of languages that the user knows so as to prioritise resources in those languages. Similarly, a user could determine whether to place a multilingual resource’s native language as a higher priority over the translations.

Providing a multilingual results list

A multilingual results list could have each native language as a sorting or grouping factor when ordering the results. It may also allow results that come from a multilingual resource to be identified as appearing in the chosen languages.

To cater for multilingual resources where there is a differing level of comprehensiveness amongst the languages. the user interface could identify which languages have more comprehensive results. It can also be used to call out translations that underscore area-specific terminology or colloquialisms.

Catering to language learners

Some users who are learning a language may want a multilingual search interface to provide features conducive to this task.

This may include the ability to show their “home” language under foreign-language headlines in a search list using a different typeface so they can build their vocabulary up for example. Some user interfaces like the traditional mouse-based interface or a touch-based interface that allows the user to dwell for more options may allow for a “pop-up” or similar translation. This can also apply to languages that implement an intermediary phonetic script along with one or more different written scripts.

An augmentation that can work with text-to-speech setups may allow for the user to have all or part of a foreign language read aloud. This could permit them to hear how the word is pronounced in the context of the sentence.

Conclusion

What needs to be provided with a multilingual search option is to accept searches in multiple languages and to show resources that are native to different languages in a search-results page.

It also includes dealing with multilingual resources including resources that are focused towards a few languages along with supporting a multilingual user’s preferences.

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iTunes downgrade to permit tethered iOS app deployment–Apple could do better here

Article

iTunes Store

iTunes losing its ability to install software to iOS devices from version 12.7 onwards

Apple Releases New iTunes 12.7, What You Should Know | AppleToolbox.com

My Comments

An issue that will face iOS device users who make use of the iTunes desktop media-management applications is that starting from iTunes 12.7 onwards, they won’t be able to upload iOS apps from their regular computer to their iOS mobile device in a tethered manner using this software. This is in addition to omitting the iOS App Store from the iTunes Store shopfront integrated in iTunes. It is also part of a direction that Apple is enforcing with iOS where you manage your iPhone or iPad from its screen and update its software “over the air”.

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

Apple could still provide desktop management of their iOS devices through separately downloadable software

Tethering is where you connect a computing device that can normally function alone to another computing device, typically a regular computer, by a wired connection. This is typically to allow a smartphone to be a modem for a regular computer or to transfer data stored on one device to the other device. In this case, it is to transfer iOS apps stored on your regular computer running macOS or Windows to your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch that you have connected to the computer.

But there are people who use a Mac or Windows regular computer to deploy iOS software to iPhones and iPads. For example, in your business or household, you may want to deploy the same app to multiple iOS devices and want to save bandwidth by caching the app to your regular computer’s hard disk then deploying the same app by tethering each iOS device to your regular computer. As well, some of us may use this as a way to get around a dodgy Internet connection by downloading to a laptop used at a location with known-to-be-good Internet service then deploying where it’s more convenient.

Apple offered a make-do update for iTunes by offering the iTunes 12.6.3 software. This has the feature set associated with iTunes 12.6 including access to the iOS App Store and tethered app deployment for iOS devices. But it has under-hood improvements which allow it to work with iOS devices that are running iOS 11 or newer versions. This is alongside iTunes 12.7 which is focused as a media-management tool and iTunes media storefront.

Personally, I would like to see Apple approach this situation in a better manner for both the Mac OS and Windows operating systems. This would be in the form of a separately-installable “iOS-desktop-manager” program that provides add-on functionality to either the Mac OS operating system for Macintosh computers or to the iTunes Windows port. It would at least provide desktop access to the iOS App Store along with tethered app deployment for iOS devices.

As well, the “iOS-desktop-manager” program could provide device backup and management abilities so you could do things like backup an iPhone or reset a faltering iPod Touch. This is more so where the Wi-Fi or wireless-broadband modem in an iOS device or its network connection can be a point of failure and it isn’t realistic to restore from an iCloud backup if the iOS device’s Wi-Fi is so slow or intermittent.  Similarly, using something like your local backup infrastructure such as your NAS or a USB external hard disk of your own means that you aren’t necessarily ceding control of your mobile-created data to others, something that can be of importance when it comes to privacy.

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Europeans could compete with Silicon Valley when offering online services

Map of Europe By User:mjchael by using preliminary work of maix¿? [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia CommonsVery often I have read articles from European sources about the Silicon Valley companies not respecting European values like privacy. This ends up with the European Commission taking legal action against the powerful Silicon Valley tech kings like Facebook or Google, ending up with placing requirements or levying fines on these companies.

But what can Europe also do to resolve these issues?

They could encourage European-based companies to work on Internet services like Web-search, social networking, file storage and the like that compete with what Silicon Valley offers. But what they offer can be about services that respect European personal and business values like democracy, privacy and transparency.

There has been some success in this field in the aerospace industry with Airbus rising up to challenge Boeing. This was more evident with Airbus releasing the A380 high-capacity double-decker long-haul jet and Boeing offering the 787 Dreamliner jet that was focused on saving energy. Let’s not forget the rise of Arianespace in France who established a competing space program to what NASA offered.

But why are the Europeans concerned about Silicon Valley’s behaviour? Part of it is to do with Continental Europe’s darkest time in modern history where there was the rise of the Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin dictatorships, underscored by Hitler’s Germany taking over significant areas in France and Eastern Europe before the Second World War. This was followed up with the Cold War where most of Eastern Europe was effectively a group of communist dictatorships loyal to the Soviet Union. In both these situations, the affected countries were run as police states where their national security services were conducting mass surveillance at the behest of the country’s dictator.

There are a few of these businesses putting themselves on the map. Of course we known that Spotify, the main worldwide online jukebox, is based in Sweden. But Sweden, the land of ABBA, Volvo, IKEA, Electrolux and  Assa Abloy, also has CloudMe, a cloud-based file-storage service on their soil. It is also alongside SoundCloud, the go-to audio-content server for Internet-based talent, which is based in Germany. The French also put their foot in the IoT space with a smart lock retrofit kit that has Web management with its server based in France.

A few search engines are setting up shop in Europe with Unbubble.eu (German) and StartPage (Dutch) metasearch engines in operation and Qwant and Findx search engines that create their own indexes. But the gaps that I have noticed here is the existence of a social network or display ad platform that are based in Europe and support the European personal and business values.

There are also the issues associated with competing heavily against the Silicon Valley giants, such as establishing presence in the European or global market and defining your brand. Here, they would have to identify those people and businesses in Europe and the world who place emphasis on the distinct European values and know how to effectively compete against the established brands.

The European Commission could help companies competing with the Silicon Valley IT establishment by providing information and other aid along with providing a list of European-based companies who can compete with this establishment. They could also underpin research and development efforts for these companies who want to innovate in a competitive field. It can also include the ability for multiple companies in the IT, consumer-electronics and allied fields to work towards establishing services that can have a stronger market presence and compete effectively with Silicon Valley.

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Supporting hubs and repeaters in the Thunderbolt 3 standard

Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port on Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook

The same connector being used for Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C may lead to confusion in more sophisticated setups

Increasingly Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 very-high-speed data connection standard has come on the scene as a product differentiator for computer products.

This standard works over the USB-C physical connection, thus allowing for a logical Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C data transfer setup.

But USB-C, like the preceding USB connection standards allows for a “tree-like” connection from the host computer device. This is facilitated through self-powered or bus-powered hubs which allow multiple device to be effectively connected to the same physical connection on the host computer or previous hub, subject to certain conditions like power budget.

On the other hand, the Thunderbolt connections can only be connected in a “daisy-chain” manner where only one device can be connected to another. This is also limited by the fact that you can only have six devices connected in a Thunderbolt data bus.

A situation that can easily crop up with the Thunderbolt 3 connection is the fact that there could be an expectation to run a connection setup for multiple devices in a “tree-like” approach. This is along with an expectation to have more than six devices on a Thunderbolt 3 data bus. It is aggravated through some of the devices that have their own power supplies being expected to be USB hubs along with these devices being equipped with Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C connections.

The classic example would be a Thunderbolt 3 RAID direct-attached-storage array along with an external GPU module and, perhaps, a Thunderbolt 3 dock (expansion module) as part of a workstation setup.

But there can be the desire to hang off more than six Thunderbolt 3 devices or establish a “tree-like” approach. This can happen where there is a desire to connect multiple storage or interface devices or you are dealing with low-tier Thunderbolt 3 devices that only have the one connection for the host computer.

In the audio recording studio environment, the Thunderbolt 3 connection can appeal with analogue-digital interfaces or digital mixers where there is the desire to connect many microphones, musical instruments and speakers to a digital-audio workstation. This can extend to the video sphere with ultra-high-definition cameras connected to a suitable AV interface for digital video production.

Similarly, Thunderbolt 3 offering support for a virtual “PCI Express” card bus may appeal to computing users running with multiple “card-cage” devices like the external graphics modules. Here, it may be about increased input-output abilities or working with high-performance graphics cards. Such a setup will become relevant with portable, all-in-one and small-form-factor desktop computers which don’t have the necessary support for the traditional interface cards that were the norm for regular computers.

A situation that can easily crop up with these devices is attempts to connect Thunderbolt 3 peripherals to other USB-C connections on upstream peripherals. This can lead to error messages and the whole setup not performing as expected.

What needs to be looked at is an extension to the Thunderbolt 3 specification to cater towards different bus layouts. This is more so to allow a peripheral to effectively reiterate one or more Thunderbolt 3 buses as if it is the equivalent of an Ethernet switch. It can also lead to the possibility of implementing active repeaters for a Thunderbolt 3 connection, something that could appeal to longer connection runs like the obvious stage-based applications.

It could be simply facilitated through a hardware-software device class for this specification that addresses “hub and repeater” behaviour. This can also include the ability for these devices to work as USB-C hubs including support for different power-supply paths and power budgets for the Power Delivery device class.

The same issue also includes a requirement for the host computer to identify where each Thunderbolt 3 peripheral is and map the bandwidth in a similar way to a city’s road system.

But it will be something that Intel will have to approach when they revise Thunderbolt 3.

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Designing for highly-compatible Internet Of Things

Article

D-Link DCH-3150 myDLink motion sensor

Smart Home and Internet Of Things devices need to be designed for compatibility and security before they become popular

How to bring true interoperability to the Internet of Things | Network World

My Comments

Increasingly, the concept of the “smart home” or Internet Of Things is becoming very real. Here, we are seeing a lot more consumer-electronics devices, home appliances and similar devices become connected to the home network and the Internet.

The “app-cessory” approach to network-controlled devices, where the only way to control these devices via your home network is through a manufacturer-supplied mobile-platform app, has now had its day. This typically asked that the device to be connected to your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet using one of three paths: a Bluetooth connection to the mobile device in the same vein as a Bluetooth headset; a Wi-Fi network created by the device that is controlled by the mobile-platform device; or the home network’s Wi-Fi segment.

The trend that is affecting these devices is to interlink them with a platform-based voice-driven “home assistant” of the Amazon Alexa or Google Home ilk. Here, the requirement is for the manufacturer to provide a “skill” or something similar to the “home-assistant” platform so that Alexa, for example, can interact with the device.

But the article is now highlighting the requirement for increased compatibility with the Internet Of Things. This is where the same device can operate across a range of different network setups and operating platforms.

Use of highly-capable hardware interfaces at the media-connection level

A direction that has assured “out-of-the-box” interoperability for regular-class and mobile-class computer devices along with an increasing number of consumer-electronics devices is to implement one or more multi-mode front-ends when handling the different interface types.

In the case of radio, it can mean being able to handle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee or similar technologies concurrently.With the wired networks, it would be about working with different media protocols over the same kind of wire, being Cat5 unshielded twisted pair, TV-antenna coaxial cable, AC wires used to power your appliances or traditional telephone wires.

Devolo Home Control Central Unit (Zentrale) press photo courtesy of Devolo

Devolo Home Control Central unit connected to router

In the case of a wireless connection, this is represented by the use of Bluetooth for peripheral-class device connection and Wi-Fi wireless networking to the latest standard for connecting to the home network and the Internet. Smartphones and some tablets will also implement a mobile-broadband modem that works across recent cellular mobile-telephony standards as well. As well, some consumer-electronics devices may implement a multifunction radio front-end that supports Zigbee or Z-Wave, typically to provide support for an RF-based remote control.

There are a significant number of “smart-home” or “Internet Of Things” devices that are designed to work solely with Bluetooth, Zigbee or Z-Wave. Examples of these range from temperature sensors, smart locks and movement sensors. These devices, typically battery-operated devices, use one of these technologies because of the fact that they are very thrifty on battery power thus allowing them to work on up to 3 AA Duracells or a 3V “pill-size” battery for months at an end or to work only on “harvested” power like kinetic energy.

But, if they want to liaise with your home network and the Internet, they have to deal with a gateway device that links between them and the home network. It is because, at the time of writing, no-one has effectively brought a Wi-Fi-capable single-mode or multimode radio front-end chipset that permits a battery-operated device to work in a power-efficient manner.

But another approach being called for is to have an Internet gateway device i.e. a home or small-business router being equipped with support for Bluetooth, Zigbee and / or Z-Wave along with Wi-Fi and Cat5 Ethernet for the home network. To the same extent, a Wi-Fi infrastructure device like an access point or range extender could simply be a bridge between other radio-network types like Zigbee or Bluetooth and the home network facilitated by the Wi-Fi or wired home-network connection.

Some manufacturers even have an “IoT hub” or gateway that links their Bluetooth, Zigbee or Z-Wave devices to your home network via an Ethernet connection. Here, this is offered as part of enabling their devices for online control via a Web dashboard or mobile-platform app. The current situation with most of these hubs is that they have the online-service hub that works with the manufacturer’s device.

There needs to be the ability to facilitate setups involving multiple gateways that link the home network with Zigbee or similar “IoT” radio segments. This is a reality with most of these devices being limited in their radio coverage in order to conserve battery power because they are expected to run on a commodity battery supply like two or three AA Duracells for months at a time or, in some cases, work on harvested electrical energy. You may find that having one of the gateways located near an IoT endpoint device like a smart lock may assure reliable connected operation from that device.

In these setups, there needs to be the ability to see a collection of these “IoT-specific” radio segments as one logical segment, along with the ability to discover and enumerate each device no matter which gateway or bridge device it is connected to and what kind of networks is used as the backbone.

Flexible software to the application level

Kwikset Kevo cylindrical deadbolt in use - Kwikset press image

To provide extended monitoring and control to the Kwikset Kevo deadbolt, you have to use a Bluetooth bridge supplied by Kwikset

Another issue raised regarding the Internet Of Things is compatibility across multiple software platforms and protocols.

A design practice that has been known to be successful was for recent network-connected home-AV equipment like Wi-Fi wireless speakers to support Apple AirPlay, Google Chromecast and DLNA “out of the box”. Here, you could stream content to these devices using most computer devices, whether it be your iPhone, Android tablet or Windows computer, or whether it is hosted on your NAS device.

Here, the goal is for a device to support many different software platforms, frameworks and protocols that are needed to do its job. To the same extent, it could be feasible for a device to work with different cloud services like Google Home, Amazon Alexa or IFTTT. What this can mean is that a device can work with different control and display surfaces from different manufacturers. It also means that the data that a piece of equipment shares is set in a known standard so that any software developer working on an IoT project can make use of this data in their code.

For example, the Open Connectivity Foundation’s standards which include the UPnP standards and are supported by the “open-frame” computing community, along with the Apple HomeKit framework will be required to be supported by network-connected devices.

Here, it will be about identifying every one of the standards supported by the physical medium that the IoT device uses to link with other devices and the network. Then implementing all of the current standards supported by that medium in a vendor-agnostic manner.

Secure by design

An issue that has been raised recently is the issue of data security practices implemented by the software that runs Internet-Of-Things and dedicated-purpose devices. Situations that have come to the fore include the Mirai botnet that scoped in network videosurveillance cameras and home-network routers to perform distributed denial-of-service attacks against online resources like the Krebs On Security Website and the DNS records held by Dyn, a dynamic-DNS provider, affecting a large number of Internet household names.

Here, the issue being called out is designing the software in this class of device for security along with a continual software-maintenance cycle. But it also includes the implementation of secure-software-execution practices not uncommon with the latest desktop and mobile operating systems. This includes secure-boot, trusted-execution and sandboxing to prevent unwanted code from running along with data-in-transit protection and authentication at the network level.

The concept of a continual software-maintenance approach where the firmware and other software associated with the Internet Of Things is always updated with these updates installed “in the field” as they are available, allows for the removal of software bugs and security exploits as they become known. It also allows the software to be “tuned” for best performance and manufacturers can even roll out newer functionality for their devices.

In some cases, it could even lead to a device being compatible with newer and revised standards and protocols rather than seeing one that ends up being limited because it doesn’t support the newer better protocol. But there can be the question about this kind of software update being used as a way to enforce unpopular device-design requirements upon an existing installed base of devices and changes how they operate. This could be brought about by a government mandate or an industry expectation, such as an eco-requirement for HVAC equipment required by a state energy-conservation department or a digital-rights-management expectation required at the behest of Hollywood.

To make the IoT hardware and software ecosystem work properly, there needs to be an underscored requirement for compatibility with prior and newer devices along with the ability to work securely and with properly-maintained software.

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VOD content-search aggregation

Article

Netflix official logo - courtesy of Netflix

Netflix – one of many SVOD providers

Say Goodbye to Video on Demand Browsing Fatigue | LinkedIn Pulse

My Comments

A common situation that will happen is for us to sign up to Netflix as well as using our Apple ID and credit card to purchase or rent video content on iTunes. But we subsequently know of one or more other video-on-demand services that have a content library that appeals to us. This becomes more real as boutique video-on-demand enters the spotlight or newer operators join the video-on-demand scene.

SBS On Demand Windows 10 platform app

SBS On-Demand – an example of an advertising-funded boutique VOD provider

Here, we end up heading down a path where we have to switch between multiple user interfaces on our smart TV, video peripheral or tablet to find the content we want to watch. In some cases, it could end up with us acquiring extra video peripherals and selecting different sources on our TVs in order to go to different video-on-demand providers, because they don’t appear on the connected-video platform we primarily use.

But what can happen is that we are after a particular title or shows like it and want to know where it is available without spending a lot of time searching for it. This is where content-search-aggregation can come in handy.

Multiple VOD and catch-up TV providers on a smart-TV or set-top box vie for our attention

What is this? It is where you supply the name of a particular piece of video content and the content-search-aggregation engine lists which video-on-demand providers have the content you searched for. It would support the different business models that video-on-demand providers work on such as subscription, transactional and advertising.

It is very similar to the success of TuneIn Radio, vTuner and Radioline in providing an aggregated Internet-radio directory used in Internet radios, both of the “big set” (hi-fi system) and “small set” (table radio, portable) kind;  and  the Internet-radio apps available on every desktop, mobile or smart-TV platform.

I would like to see these aggregated-content-search engines have, as part of their personalisation efforts, the ability to provide a results view that is based on the services you deal with such as the subscription VODs you subscribe to, the transactional VODs you have registered with and the advertising VODs you regularly visit. In the case of transactional services including “download-to-own” or “download-to-view” storefronts, the results could be sorted by the cost to view in your local currency. But it could be feasible to provide an advertising service on these search engines that list other VOD services carrying the same kind of content in your area, especially boutique providers that run with this content. This can put new streaming or download-driven online-video providers “on the map” as far as the viewership is concerned.

Client-based implementations could work with your downloaded content library along with the streaming and download-based services in order to search through these catalogues for what you are after.

Similarly, these search engines can aid in the content-discovery process by allowing us to find content similar to a specific title or having specific attributes hosted by the providers you deal with. If you are using a VOD service that has an account system for payment or personalisation, it could be feasible for these search engines to “pass” the title to the service so you can put it in your viewing list or favourite-content list, instigate a purchase / rental transaction for that title in the case of a transaction-driven service or immediately have it playing.

To the same extent, the aggregated-content-search platform that links with your accounts on the various VOD services can provide the ability to show an aggregate view of the content recommendations that the services provide based on your past viewing.

Another factor that influences our viewing choices is the content recommended by film critics, radio hosts and other personalities that we follow. Here, some of these personalities or the publishers and broadcasters they work with maintain some form of Web presence, typically through a social-media account, blog or something similar. Here they may use this presence to provide a list of content they recommend or simply cite a particular film or TV series.

But these Web presences cam be made more powerful either through RSS feeds for “recommended-viewing” lists or the ability to link a film’s title to the search engine. These can be facilitated through an express hyperlink to the aggregated-content search engine’s entry for that title. On the other hand, the combination of standardised structured-data-markup and software that interprets this markup and passes this data to these search engines could provide for a competitive approach. In the case of “recommended-viewing” lists delivered as RSS feeds, aggregated-content-search engines could implement a mechanism similar to Web-based newsfeed readers of the Feedly kind for adding these lists.

To the same extent, these personalities could contribute their knowledge about titles to an aggregated-content-search engine to turn it in to a rich video-content portal that helps viewers choose the content they are after.

There are a few of these aggregated-content-search engines existing but these are primarily Web-based or mobile-based services, with Roku offering theirs as part of their set-top-box platform. They currently link with the main video-content resources like IMDB and RottenTomatoes along with the current popular VODs.

But they have to be able to work across multiple platforms including smart-TV / set-top-box platforms, support extensive end-user personalisation along with allowing users to follow content recommendations that their favourite personalities offer. As well, if the concept of “download-to-own” picks up, an aggregated-content-search platform could be used to find content that you have in your collection or could “pick up on” through “download-to-own” storefronts,

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Software-defined microphone arrays–an idea worth considering

Creative Labs LiveCam Connect HD Webcam

A Webcam could end up being part of a multi-microphone array

Increasingly there are some setups where multiple microphone devices are becoming available to a regular or mobile computing device like a laptop or smartphone. Examples of these include:

  • A headset audio adaptor (whether USB or Bluetooth connected) that has an integrated mic but is used along with a headset that has its own microphone system
  • A (wired or Bluetooth) headset with an integrated mic connected to a computer that has its own mic or is also connected to a Webcam or similar peripheral that has its own mic
  • The use of one or more stereo-microphone setups, whether a single-piece (2-element) stereo microphone or a pair of mono microphones, connected to a computer.
Dell A2 Performance USB Headset

as could the microphone integrated in a feature headset

All these setups can lead to the creation of a multiple-microphone array which can lead to accurate voice capture and improved background-noise rejection. This becomes important for telecommunications but is also as important when you are dealing with voice-recognition applications like voice-driven personal assistants (Siri, Cortana, Google Now) or voice-to-text transcription.

Here, this would require that the microphone array is created at the operating-system level rather than the hardware level. It would require that the OS enumerate all microphone devices that are connected and active to establish a software-defined microphone array based on these mics.

This would lead to the software having to learn about the microphone-array setup including the proximity of the mics to each other as well as how they pick the sound up. This is to create an ideal “voice focus” that is required to gain benefit from the microphone array.

to improve Cortana’s speech recognition

In some cases, this may be achieved automatically but there are situations where it may require the operator to adjust the settings manually. These situations may come about with microphones that have different characteristics like pick-up ranges and sensitivities.

Another factor that affects this kind of setup is whether a microphone device will be active at all times during the usage session. This can happen with, for example, a headset that is connected to or disconnected from a tablet or laptop on an ad-hoc basis. Similarly, the user may move around with their headset while using the microphone-equipped tablet or laptop, an activity more feasible with a Bluetooth headset or adaptor. Here, this factor requires the software to re-define the microphone array so as to “catch” the user’s voice.

In the case of a user moving around between microphones, the requirement would be about readjusting the microphone array in real time to identify the key sounds to put the focus towards.

These are issues that may limit the idea of creating a software-defined microphone array, especially for voice recognition or telecommunications. Let’s not forget that a software-defined microphone array will also be demanding computer resources which can be very limiting with not-so-powerful setups.

But once the concept of software-defined microphone arrays is proven and able to be implemented at the operating system level, it could be a path towards allowing users to gain the benefits from a microphone array while being able to use a combination of existing microphone-equipped devices.

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