In some areas, a court case may be necessary to encourage innovation

Article

US judge makes Avaya give access to maintenance commands on some PBXes | PC World

My Comments

A recent US District Court (New Jersey) ruling was handed down requiring Avaya to expose maintenance commands for their business phone systems after the jury who heard an antitrust case concerning this company found that they unlawfully prevented maintenance access to these systems for their owners or independent third-party service contractors.

This case was about who can perform repair or maintenance work on IT systems especially where they are becoming more software-defined. The article even mentioned that this is heading out beyond the IT scene towards the maintenance of cars, “white-goods” and similar products especially as more of them have their functionality driven by software.

For example, I know of two friends who have had technicians look at their 30-plus-year-old ovens and the technicians have preferred to keep them going rather than replace them with newer ovens. This is because of issues like continual availability of parts for these stoves and the way that they can be repaired.

Here, it was about who can continue to perform service on the equipment concerned and the availability of the equipment’s owner to gain access to independent experts to keep it going. I see this also opening up doors for third-parties to continue to offer innovative software or other solutions that enhance the equipment or shape it to a user’s needs. This will extend to encouraging the implementation of “open-frame” designs for hardware and software which will push forward a culture of a level playing field and, in some cases, a longer service life for equipment.

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SanDisk raises the bar in small-footprint storage with the 128Gb microSD card

Article

SanDisk unleashes world’s first 128GB microSD card – storage, sandisk, Personal storage peripherals – Computerworld

From the horse’s mouth

SanDisk

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

128Gb microSD card - courtesy of SanDiskSanDisk has raised the bar with flash-memory storage by releasing the ultra-small 128Gb microSD card at the Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. This is seen as providing increased removable secondary-storage for Android or Windows phones and tablets due to its small footprint and is something I would see as important if we carry high-grade music and video files or complicated games on these devices and value the ability to “swap them out” as we see fit.

HP Envy X2 Detachable-Keyboard Hybrid Tablet

Tablets and Ultrabooks could also benefit from increased solid-state storage capacity

But I also see this as being suitable for more than the smartphone or tablet. This capacity is very much equivalent to what is available as a baseline all-SSD storage capacity for Ultrabooks and similar low-profile ultraportable notebook computers which typically run a full Windows deployment. Here, I could see this capacity appeal for smaller Wi-Fi portable NAS devices or it could be an encouragement to increase storage capacity in most dedicated-function devices like printers due to its small size and high capacity. This factor will be underscored for anyone who is working towards an extremely-low-profile design for a device rich in functionality such as the idea of a desktop multifunction printer having the same level of document control as a freestanding enterprise-grade multifunction printer.

Sony WG-C20 mobile NAS - press image courtesy of Sony

Could raise the capacity of these low-profile NAS units very significantly

It also shows that the storage density for flash-based storage applications is increasing which could be a benefit for both fixed and removeable solid-state storage applications. For example, an Ultrabook or tablet could be ending up with 512Gb storage capacity furnished by flash memory rather than the mechanical hard disk as a product option. Or the low-profile Wi-Fi portable “media server” NAS that you take with you could carry your media library with you and serve it to your tablet, Ultrabook or car stereo from a 512Gb solid-state storage.

I would expect a lot more for high-capacity ultra-quick solid-state storage to become the norm for “there-and-then” data storage applications.

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The classes of computers to be blurred–is this the trend?

Article

A dual Windows-Android machine: PC industry savior or non-starter? | Mobile – CNET News

My Comments

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

A computer that slides to become a tablet or laptop

Previously, a computer with a screen greater than 11”, having a physical QWERTY keyboard and running a desktop operating system like Windows, MacOS X or Linux was a separate class of computer from something that had a smaller screen, no physical keyboard and running a mobile operating system.

Now we are starting to see these classes become blurred by the arrival of 7” and 10” tablets running Windows 8.1 on Intel x86 microarchitecture, along with a plethora of ultra-portable laptops with integrated physical keyboards that convert to tablets whether by folding the keyboard under the screen or detaching the keyboard. This is now augmented with a new trend where computers can boot between Windows 8.1 and Android or run both operating systems concurrently; and Android is being ported to work on the classic Intel microarchitecture.

HP Envy X2 Detachable-Keyboard Hybrid Tablet

The HP X2 family – showcasing the trend for a detachable-keyboard tablet computer

What is happening for both consumers and business users is that they will find it hard to determine which kind of computer is exactly the right one for them to use for their needs. Operating systems and baseline hardware configurations may lose their position as a factor for determining a computer’s suitability to a particular task.

Rather I see factors like the screen size which typically affects the computer’s size and form factor; the graphics or audio chipsets; the existence of a physical keyboard and its actual size; as well as the unit’s connectivity, primary RAM and secondary-storage capacity along with the presence and runtime of an integrated battery being what determines the computer’s suitability for particular tasks and operating conditions that a user may put it to.

Sony VAIO Fit 15e on dining table

The 15″ mainstream laptop will still earn its keep as an option for one’s “digital hub”

For example, if you are creating a lot of documents and other textual content, a full-sized physical keyboard would be considered important. Similarly the size of the screen along with the computer’s form factor and the battery integrated in the computer would also affect its portability and suitability to certain tasks.

In a lot of cases, you may end up with multiple devices where each device suits a particular task or activity. For example a 7”-8” tablet that you can stuff in to a coat pocket may come in to its own when you want something that has material you refer to when you are on the road. This is while you keep a 10”-14” ultraportable computer for when you are “doing a bit more” like taking notes or creating content “on the road”; or you may keep a 15”-17” laptop or a larger-screen desktop computer as your “main digital hub”.

Desktops of a sessile nature like traditional 3-piece desktops and “all-in-one” desktops will typically end up just for applications where the computer is used in one place only. Whereas the “adaptive all-in-one” computers of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 ilk, along with 15”-17” high-end laptops will end up for those situations where the computer will be shifted as required.

What will become of this is to look at particular features and the size and form-factor of a computer to rate its suitability for a task you are targeting it at rather than thinking that one computer would suit all your needs.

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USB Type-C to be a no-worries device connection

Articles

Upcoming USB Type-C connector won’t have “right” and “wrong” sides | Gizmag

From the horse’s mouth

USB Promoters’ Group

Press Release (PDF)

My Comments

USB data cable

USB data / power cable to be eventually replaced with the USB Type-C data / power cable with the same plug each end

A new USB equipment connector is in the process of being designed and will be called by the USB Promoters’ Group by the middle of 2014. This is to cater for technology equipment that is becoming smaller and thinner while also allowing for quick worry-free connections.

This connection will be the same size as the existing USB Micro-B connector used on most smartphones or the Apple Lightning Connector that Apple uses on their latest iDevices. This will cater for devices that are acquiring an increasingly-low profile such as the smartphones, tablets or Ultrabooks or even peripherals like some external hard disks and keyboards.

The socket will be designed so that you don’t worry about which way you plug it in and the patch-cords will have the same connection on each end so you don’t have to worry about which end of the cable you are using, in a similar vein to the RCA connections used on most stereo equipment.

Of course, the standard will also define the patch cables that allow you to connect equipment that has the USB Type-C socket on it to equipment that has commonly-available USB connections like the Type A found on computers and USB power supply equipment or Micro-B connections found on the smartphones or USB hard disks.

As we are seeing the USB connection become the universal power-supply connection for many different gadgets. Here, the USB Type-C connection will also allow for scaleable power-supply and charging situations and to provide further support for improved USB bus performance. A commonly-raised question that could surface is the power-supply performance for particular USB patch cables especially as we find smartphones not charging as quickly with some cables compared to others given the same power-supply equipment.

Of course, this will cause a requirement for power-supply standards for mobile devices to be revised because of the current standard supporting only the Micro-B connection on the mobile equipment and Type-A on the power-supply equipment. As well, we will be ending up with USB Type-A to Micro-B and USB Type-A to Type-C as power/data cables for most of our gadgets in the near term.

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Bluetooth 4.1 to support Internet Of Things

Article

Bluetooth 4.1 Will Offer Better Connections | Tom’s Hardware

Bluetooth 4.1 prepares headsets and more to connect to the ‘Net | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Bluetooth SIG

Press Release

Specification Guide

My Commenbts

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

Sony VAIO Duo 11 with Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity that can be upgraded to Bluetooth 4.1 through a software update

Recently, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group have released the Bluetooth 4.1 specification which is intended to capitalise on the low-power devices application that Bluetooth 4.0 was known for, but improve on useability and reliability.

With Bluetooth 4.0, it allowed the development of low-powered “Bluetooth Smart” devices that work with a “Bluetooth Smart Ready” device like a smartphone or tablet that serves as a hub for these devices.

This is intended to be a software-based upgrade so that an operating system, device firmware or driver software update could bring a Bluetooth 4.0 device up to date to this newer standard. It is compared to previous Bluetooth standards which affected the silicon that was installed in the device.

But what are the improvements?

Reliability

Kwikset Kevo cylindrical deadbolt in use - Kwikset press image

This Bluetooth 4.0-capable smart deadbolt can work with “hub” devices that are updated to Bluetooth 4.1 specification

A Bluetooth 4.1 subsystem can co-exist with an LTE cellular connection used for mobile broadband services without suffering or causing near-band interference which could ruin the user experience. This is catering to the increased rollout of the LTE-based 4G mobile-broadband services by many cellular-telephony carriers, the integration of LTE-based 4G modems in well-bred smartphones and tablets and the popularity of these services amongst users.

This is also augmented by use of longer time windows for inter-device handshaking so that there is less risk of the connections between devices being “dumped” and requiring users to manually pair the devices to each other again. The devices also connect with each other when they are in proximity to each other without extra user intervention beyond just powering-on devices that were powered off.

Functionality

One ability that Bluetooth 4.1 adds to Bluetooth Low Power devices is to support bulk data transfer in this class of device. One commonly highlighted application is for a sensor device to capture data while away from a “hub” device for an amount of time then upload it to the hub device. The situation that is described is someone who uses a heart-rate monitor during a physical activity, especially swimming. Then, after they have completed that activity, they upload the data to their smartphone or tablet which has the fitness-tracking ap.

I also see this as being useful for updating a Bluetooth Smart device’s firmware without the need to connect the device to a computer for this purpose. This could be to add functionality to a device like a smartwatch or improve on a device’s reliability and security.

A smartphone like this one here that has Bluetooth 4.0 hardware support can head towards Bluetooth 4.1 through a software update

A smartphone like this one here that has Bluetooth 4.0 hardware support can head towards Bluetooth 4.1 through a software update

Another ability would be for a device to be both a Bluetooth Smart peripheral device and a Bluetooth Smart Ready hub device. This is obviously targeted at the smartwatches which are effectively the descendents of those 1980s-era many-function digital watches. Here, these devices could serve as an extra display for a smartphone or be a display and data-capture unit for a health monitor or another “key fob” device for the Kwikset Kevo deadbolt.

To the same extent, this functionality could allow for peer-to-peer setup with Bluetooth Smart Ready devices such as a “smartphone and tablet” or “smartphone and laptop” setup; or a quick data share setup between smartphones or tablets to work taking advantage of what Bluetooth Low Energy has to offer. This would lead to increased battery runtime for devices used in these setups.

Extra functionality has been added to the core Bluetooth 4.1 specification to support IP-based high-level data transfer especially to the IPv6 standard. This is essential for integrating Bluetooth devices in the “Internet Of Things” which is about devices beyond regular and mobile computing devices benefiting from the same kind of communication advantages that the Internet has offered.

This is becoming more important where we are seeing sensor and controller devices being part of personal health and wellbeing; and a convenient secure and energy-efficient lifestyle.

Conclusion

Bluetooth 4.1 could be a path for the Bluetooth specification to mature its role in the support of low-power devices whether they integrate with each other or with other so-called full-powered devices especially as the concept of the “Internet Of Things” matures.

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Is the Motorola Project Ara to do to smartphones what the IBM PC did for desktop computers?

Articles

Motorola unveils Project Ara, customizable smartphone effort | CNET

Motorola’s ‘Project Ara’ modular smartphone setup switches out hardware like apps  | Engadget

Project Ara: Motorola Wants to Make Your Smartphone Modular | Mashable

My Comments

The IBM PC of 1981 had not just become the standard for a business-class desktop computer as far as software was concerned but epitonised the concept of a highly-modular hardware design. This was highly evident in the way the computer’s system unit was designed where there were user-upgradeable parts, a concept that was so heavily underscored with the PC/AT “second-generation” design.

Here these computers had a continuous update and upgrade lifecycle where one could install faster microprocessors, highly-capable graphics cards, hard disks of increasing capacity, increased RAM, newer secondary-storage media like backup tapes, 3.5” disks and CD-ROMs  along with various communications devices like modems and network cards. This capability evolved with the ATX form factor along with newer smaller form-factors such as microITX.

In my experience with desktop computers since the early 1990s, I kept “dragging through”components from a previous chassis to a newer chassis to keep them useful and valid while being able to, in some cases, junk dud components like power supplies with nearly-worn-out fans and replace them myself. This has allowed me to maintain a longer service life for my desktop computing experience.and achieve this goal with minimal expense.

Similarly, I have seen most offices equipped with computers that have the “right mix” of software and hardware but where most of the componentry is affordable and the only expensive aspects of the system are components that suit a particular job. For that matter, this modularity opened up the business desktop-computing boom in the late 1980s.

Now Google’s Motorola smartphone arm is bringing this concept to the smartphone in the form of “click-together” components that snap on to a “skeleton” which is similar to a PC’s motherboard. Google wanted to achieve a platform for the hardware like what Android has done for the software. The goal with the Ara platform would be to have user-replaceable processors, displays, keyboards and the like that also allow these phones to work to newer technologies or work to specific needs.

For example, a higher-capacity flash storage could be planted in these phones or a Bluetooth module compliant to the latest Bluetooth specification could come in to play here. Similarly, the cracked screen could be easily replaced with something newer and brighter or an extra switch array could come in to place for one-touch access to functions. A newer sensor could come in to place to allow the phone to measure newer quantities as a dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi radio links the phone to the networks.

Of course this will lead to the longer service life for these phones as people “spin them out” further to their ever-changing needs and as technology marches onwards.

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Microsoft takes a snap at Apple in the DJ market with a mixing keyboard for the Surface 2

Article

Surface Remix Project shows a different way to Click In | Tablets – CNET Reviews

Microsoft reveals Surface Music Cover, gives DJs and producers more musical tools (updated) | Engadget

My Comments

When Microsoft presented the next generation of the Surface detachable-keyboard tablets, they presented a large swathe of accessories for these computers.

But they presented an interesting alternative accessory for these computers to make them appeal beyond the business life. Here, they showed a special keyboard which has controls relevant to DJing and audio production where there are sliders for bringing in and out audio tracks as well as a 16-button area for “dropping in” samples in to the mix. This is similar to the special USB keyboards that are sold to various vertical-industry groups but present themselves as USB Human-Interface-Device device-types.

They were showing the concept of what could be done if you had alternative task-specific keyboard layouts for this class of computer such as a piano keyboard for composing and arranging or simply a “hot-button” keyboard for gamers. The concept could be pitched at other detachable-keyboard tablet computers where special-purpose keyboards could be provided as accessories for these computers when they are used for particular tasks.

I also see this as Microsoft’s own effort to make the Windows 8.1 platform, particularly the Surface computers, more legitimate in the fashion-conscious area that is the DJ’s booth or table at the nightclub or bar. But personally, I would like to see Microsoft work with other brands that are “heavyweights” in the DJ scene like Pioneer, Technics and Denon as well as the “big-time” dance-music artists and DJs to raise Windows 8.1’s profile in the dance-music scene, thus working hard to put Apple on notice as the computer brand to be seen with.

It is also showing up that the current generation of small portable computers that run the Windows platform are being considered as highly-capable “pocket-rocket” computers that can suit many different tasks beyond Web browsing, e-mail reading and document creation.

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At last large-screen OLED displays come to a reasonable price level

Article

Samsung slashes price of curved OLED TV to $8,999 | TV and Home Theater – CNET Reviews

My Comments

Most of you who have a Samsung, LG, HTC or Sony smartphone will be looking at an OLED display as you use these phones. These are self-illuminating solid-state displays that are known to have a wide viewing angle and a very high contrast ratio. Some devices like the Denon CEOL music systems, the Revo Domino Internet radio and some of the high-end broadband routers use a monochrome variant as a display which reminds me of the fluorescent displays commonly used on home-theatre receivers.

But these displays were too costly to implement for a screen area that would typically represent anything from a “coat-pocket” 7” tablet upwards. This would mean that a television based on this technology would be ridiculously expensive to buy.

Now LG and Samsung have increased the manufacturing yield for OLED displays of this area and this has lead to a reduction in the price of these sets that are based on this technology. For example, a Samsung 55” curved OLED “main-lounge-area” TV which was sold at US$14,999 is now selling at US$8,999.

What I see of this is that Samsung, LG and others could also start selling tablets, Ultrabooks, televisions, monitors and similar large-screen devices implementing this kind of technology. Even for that matter, it could also lead to more devices being equipped with the smaller-display-area OLED displays thus making the OLED display become highly ubiquitous.

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Serious challenges to Apple from the Windows and Android front

Article

Sony Vaio Pro 13 Ultrabook v Apple MacBook Air For Photographers

My Comments

Previously, Apple had a stronghold on computing for the creative industries with most of their Macintosh computers. This was even since the Macintosh platform was launched where these computers with their graphical-user-interface being run alongside a laser printer brought in the concept of desktop publishing.

Similarly, they had a few years cornering the mobile computing platform with their iPhone and iPad devices. It also included capturing the premium “stylish computing” market with their MacBook Air and, in some cases, the MacBook Pro laptops.

Now a few computing devices and platforms are challenging Apple in a lot of these fronts. Over the last year, Samsung, HTC and Sony have fielded some very impressive highly-capable smartphones that have put the iPhone on notice like the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4. These phones also show an impressive “cool” style about them as well as the phones being able to take as good an image as an Apple iPhone.

As for mobile tablets, the 7” coat-pocket tablets like the Google Nexus 7 have created a distinct market niche which Apple couldn’t successfully fill with the right device. Similar, Sony had tendered the XPeria Z which has come close to competing with the iPad as far as 10” tablets are concerned.

HP Envy 15-3000 Series laptop

HP Envy 15-3000 Series Beats Edition multimedia laptop

Over the last few years, there have been a number of laptops and notebooks that have answered the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air in many ways. For example, the HP Envy 15-3000 which I previously reviewed provided a construction look and feel that is very close to the MacBook Pro series of laptops. Lately, Sony fielded the VAIO Pro 13 which is a Windows 8 Ultrabook that has been described in a review by “The Age” as having a photo-grade display and is capable of answering a similar-size MacBook Air as a portable workflow computer for a professional photographer. Here, this one implemented a highly-controllable Full HD display which was able to yield the proper colour temperature for photography.

Toshiba Satellite P870 desktop-replacement laptop Harman-Kardon speakers

Harman-Kardon speakers to give this laptop full sound

As well, companies who have a strong presence in the recording and reproduction of music are becoming involved in the quest for improved sound quality in Windows-based laptops. Examples of these include Beats by Dr Dre working with HP to provide improved sound for HP Envy laptops; premium Toshiba laptops being equipped with Harman-Kardon speakers and ASUS laptops having Bang & Olufsen sound tuning. Who knows what would be happening soon with even the conversion of audio signals between the digital and analogue domains being worked on so as to provide a line-level sound quality equal to or better than the Apple MacBook Pro.

Of course, the Windows and Android equipment have supported an “open-frame” operating environment for both the hardware and software where common standards set by industry groups have been respected. For example, the Android smartphones use MicroUSB as a power / data connection, it is easier for users to gain access to the files held on their Windows or Android devices, and users can integrate an Android or Windows device to a Wi-Fi wireless network at the touch of a button using WPS setup.

What I do see is that regular and mobile computing is swinging from Apple being considered the “cool kid” for both these applications to a situation where they are considered a has-been.

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ASUS integrates a UPS and external battery pack in one of their desktop tower PCs

Article

ASUS intros the Desktop PC G10, packing a built-in UPS and portable battery (hands-on video) | Engadget

Video

Click to view

My Comments

The classic “tower-style” desktop PC could be considered to be losing its market share amongst users other than small businesses and hardcore computer gamers as the laptops and all-in-one desktops gain hold amongst the mainstream PC buyers.

But ASUS have worked on a way to take things further for this class of computer. Typically, a computer like this that is involved in mission-critical work may be hooked up to an external uninterruptable power supply to allow users to properly shut these units down, or to provide continual service when the power goes out. Typically these devices are a loaf-size box that has to reside near the computer and can look very ugly.

Here, ASUS have provided a removable battery pack which doubles as a uninterruptable power supply for the computer or as an external battery pack for a smartphone or tablet. When it is installed in the computer, this pack will charge up and stay charged while the computer is on AC power but will provide half-an-hour’s worth of power to allow you to shut down the computer properly when the AC power is removed. But you can remove the battery pack and use that to run your battery-thirsty smartphone for longer by plugging its USB cable in to one of the USB sockets on the edge of that pack.

This is definitely one way ASUS have thought beyond the norm when it comes to power-supply design and I would like to see this design concept be taken further such as an aftermarket add-on for existing “tower” desktops or with higher-capacity batteries available for this setup.

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