Category: Current and Future Trends

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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Google Home–now in Australia and on your TV

Article

Google Home: Australian Review | Lifehacker Australia

From the horse’s mouth

Google

TV commercial – click or tap to play

My Comments

I have given regular mention of Google Home as a competitor in the smart home assistant space alongside Amazon Echo. At the time I wrote the previous articles, none of these services were available in Australia.

But since this week, Google Home has become the first of the smart home assistant platforms to be released in to Australia. They are offering these devices for AUD$199 at least through JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman and Officeworks, and is being linked to most of the ABC live and on-demand audio services along with Sky News and Fox Sports for local news services.

Google have even gone out of their way to promote this device on the TV by using an Australian-localised 30-second version of their Super Bowl TV ad including a question about the noise a kookaburra makes.

But I would suspect that Amazon won’t take this lying down and there will be pressure to make sure that their Echo devices and Alexa platform are on the scene as soon as possible. This would also apply to Microsoft and Apple when they get their home assistant platforms off the ground.

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Microsoft cuts down the out-of-action time users face during the Windows upgrade cycle

Article

Windows will be improving the time it takes to upgrade the operating system

Microsoft is tweaking the Windows 10 upgrade process to reduce downtime | Windows Central

My Comments

A common situation that we face when we update or upgrade the operating system on our computers including our mobile devices is that the device is out of action for some time while the update take place.

Here, the holy grail for operating-system maintenance is that the updates take action once they are delivered rather than needing us to restart the device at all. In the context of business, this means that workers and business owners are able to stay productive without waiting for an update cycle to complete.

Most of these processes involve downloading the necessary files that contain the newest software code then performing fail-safe procedures. This is before the device is rebooted as a measure to make sure the extant software files are unencumbered before they are replaced with the freshly-downloaded files. Then the update procedure makes sure that everything is in place before allowing the user to interact with the system.

Microsoft identified some of the problems associated with the upgrade cycle associated with their Windows operating system and found that a lot of the preparatory work could take place before the system has to be rebooted.

Previously, the user-created configuration and other data had to be backed up and the operating-system files were prepared for installation after the computer was rebooted to instigated the software-update cycle for Windows. Now, from the Windows 10 Fall (Autumn) Creators Update onwards, these procedures will take place before the system has to be restarted. This is because most of these procedures are simply about copying files between locations on the System Disk.

The data-migration action will take place after the system is restarted and the user data will be restored once all the downloaded files are in place. Then the system will be restarted in order to make sure all the functionality is effective and, like with major functionality upgrades, the user may have to interact with the system further to enable this functionality.

The idea behind this move is to have all the preparatory work done while you are able to work with your computer so that it is out of action for a minimal amount of time.

The question here is whether this improved software-update process will take place for maintenance-level updates like the regular software patches and security updates that are delivered to keep Windows secure.

There is still the issue faced with all of the operating system update procedures, especially with significant updates or where mobile devices are concerned. This is where the update requires the device to be rebooted twice and spends some time out of action during that cycle. It also encompasses the requirement for regular computers to boot at least once while patches and security updates are being deployed.

But Microsoft’s step with improving the software-maintenance cycle for the Windows 10 operating system is getting us one step closer towards cutting down on the downtime associated with this process.

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What is Bluetooth Mesh networking all about

Articles

Bluetooth mesh networking could connect smart devices city-wide | Engadget

Bluetooth Mesh Networking will usher in huge connected environments | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

Bluetooth SIG

Blog Post

Video – click or tap to play

My Comments

Bluetooth SIG have publicly launched the Bluetooth Mesh specification which adds on to the Bluetooth Low Energy specification to create a multi-device wireless mesh network, It is in addition to the “one-to-one” Bluetooth topology typically used for linking your smartphone to that Bluetooth speaker or the “one-to-many” broadcast-driven Bluetooth topology used for Bluetooth wayfinding beacons.

Such networks place importance on a “many-to-many” network topology where data can be shared amongst multiple network member devices while a member device can receive data from multiple other member devices. The signal paths effectively represent the lines of wire that make up a piece of wire meshing like “chicken wire” while each corner in that mesh represents the member devices in that network.

The “Internet Of Things” is being seen as a key application driver and I see it as a competing wireless-link technology to Zigbee and Z-Wave which are used for this similar application. Security will be designed in to this network technology to protect data from being listened to or modified by unauthorised parties, thanks to improved link-level encryption technology.

It will still have the same use cases as other technologies pitched at the “Internet-of-Things” space such as the smart home, building automation, health monitoring and industrial automation. But it takes advantage of the fact that Bluetooth technology is commonly integrated into the design of highly-portable host computing devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops, something that has been taken advantage of with some Bluetooth-based “smart-home” devices like the Kwikset Kevo smart deadbolt lock. Here, the host device can interact directly with one or more of these sensor or controller devices no matter how far it is from the host.

What will this mean for existing Bluetooth LE setups

The new Bluetooth Mesh network technology will be based on Bluetooth 4.0 LE Smart technology and extant Bluetooth chipsets that support in-field firmware updates can benefit from this functionality. Issues that may be faced include the memory capacity and computing power that the chipset may have, which may affect some designs, and will raise its head with chipsets deployed in a lot of sensor or controller devices.

Devices like smartphones or computers will need to be equipped with mesh-specific add-on software as part of their Bluetooth application-programming interface. Initially this may be delivered in the form of extra software tied to Bluetooth chipsets. But this functionality would be rolled in to operating systems through a subsequent functionality update.

The act of provisioning new Bluetooth Mesh devices will be driven by a host device running a configuration app or, more likely, an extra setup option in the host’s operating system. This is more about enrolling new devices to a Bluetooth Mesh network as well as removing devices surplus to need from that network, which also includes obliterating security keys associated with that network frim the surplus device.

The Bluetooth Mesh technology will be rolled out over the subsequent few years as newer capable chipsets come on board with this functionality and the firmware is made available for suitable extant chipsets. As well it may require each of the major operating systems to acquire a major functionality update to take place before more host devices can work in the Bluetooth Mesh.

At least the Bluetooth Mesh technology will be on a similar position to Zigbee and Z-Wave for wireless infrastructure that answers the needs of the Internet Of Things.

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Two ways to put indie games on the map

Article

GOG Galaxy client app (Windows)

One of the indie games markets out there

Calling all indie developers in the US & Canada: sign up for the Google Play Indie Games Festival in San Francisco | Google Android Developers Blog

Google Play announces 2017 Indie Games Festival for US and Canadian developers | 9to5 Google

Jump aims to be “Netflix for indie games” while still benefiting developers | KitGuru

Previous coverage

Competition arises for the online games storefront

My Comments

An issue that may face a games developer who wants to work the independent path is how they can put the game on the map as far as the public is concerned. For some developers, the importance is about avoiding heading to the “Hollywood of electronic games” where computer games become very similar in quality to the Hollywood blockbuster movies or popular American network and cable TV shows which ends up with the same-old content amid questionable ethics.

Google Play Store

Google Play Store – a step towards the indie game market

One way would be to put the games on one or more platform-specific app stores like the iTunes App Store, Google Play or Microsoft Store. On the other hand, if the game is to be targeted at regular computers, it may be about offering the games to indie-focused software markets like GOG Galaxy or the upcoming Jump subscription-driven market.

The second option appeals to those who want to keep it purely without mainstream influence, as if it is like offering indie-music records through the inner-urban record stores and having it played on community radio stations or by venues visited by the target audience like the cool cafes. It may also include making the games downloadable through the developer’s own Website. But it may only appeal for Windows, Linux or Mac regular-computing platforms. This approach may simply appeal to those who

But Google has taken a process similar to a mainstream full-line music outlet running and promoting an “indie” genre. Here, they are running the “Indie Games Festival” in San Francisco to draw out indie games developers and have them offer the Android platform the best software they can provide. What I see of this is it is a way to stimulate the indie games market especially courting those developers that are writing for mobile platforms.

I even see the Microsoft Store in a better position to court the indie games developer who doesn’t mind going down the second path by encouraging them to develop games for the Windows platform and the XBox One console in a “write-once” approach. Here, they could take a similar approach to Google by running a dedicated festival for indie games developers who want to approach regular-computer and games-console platforms.

At the moment, when it comes to the games for the regular computer, being able to use a dedicated indie-game market or using an established games market like Microsoft Store, iTunes Mac App Store or Steam are the viable games options. But when it comes to targeting other devices like mobile devices, games consoles or set-top devices, the only way would be to use the platform-specific app stores and unless the platform encourages quality independent software development, these will be very limiting for the indie games developer.

There still needs to be interest in and support for the indie games market from many app stores and games markets so that electronic gaming is an environment for high-quality electronic games that appeal to all people.

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The EU are now pursuing the right-to-repair issue in Europe

Article

Europeans want to see the ability for people to have consumer electronics repaired by independent technicians so they can see the equipment have a long service life

EU lawmakers call for a right to repair electronic equipment | PC World

My Comments

An issue that recently has been raised in the US is “right-to-repair”. This is to allow consumers to have their equipment repaired or upgraded by an independent technician rather than a manufacturer-approved technician.

Here it’s about avoiding the need to replace equipment once it breaks down or live through a fault like a cracked screen because it costs too much to repair. It also affects the ability to see a device serve us for the long haul such as not being able to upgrade it with higher-capacity data storage or improved functionality through its service life.

It also includes the availability of repairers who can keep our equipment in good repair such as being able to take our smartphones to the repair kiosks in the shopping malls when the screen breaks or the battery dies out.

Saeco GranBaristo Avanti espresso machine press picture courtesy of Philips

Could that church or other community organisation use this espresso machine as part of their coffee-stall fundraiser without its use being questioned by the machine’s manufacturer?

For small businesses and community organisations, there is the issue of being able to use high-quality cost-effective equipment pitched at the domestic market yet be able to seek repairs at a cost-effective price even though the equipment such as a microwave oven or premium “bean-to-cup” espresso machine  is used in what is seen by the manufacturer as “commercial use”.

There is also the issue of seeking insurance coverage for repairs done to equipment that had suffered damage, something that can affect policies that provide accidental-damage coverage or industry-specific liability coverage associated with providing services. In this case, there is more incentive to have the repair covered without any party needing to be slugged extra when it comes to premiums or excesses.

The European Union have tackled this issue under many fronts when it comes to equipment being maintained in Europe.

Here, it encompasses the availability of spare parts, tools and knowledge to independent European-based repairers, including the ability to easily dismantle the product rather than having parts like batteries glued in to it. This includes having the spare parts available for the product’s lifespan and function. In some ways I would also see it as encouraging “parts-common”design approaches where equipment uses parts that are common with prior designs or maintaining a particular design platform for a very long time but providing incremental improvements.

Personally, I would also like to see the availability of “official” optional-function modules and accessories for the product available also for its lifespan. This is important with European-designed electronics, especially television sets, where the manufacturers were providing modules to add functionality to these devices like teletext reception, viewdata terminal functionality or picture-in-picture functionality once a technician installed the required module.

The Europeans also demonstrate an interest in the “right-to-repair” issue because they want to see more European-based employment of technicians in European-based repair workshops along with the sale of second-hand equipment within Europe. Let’s not forget a call-back to European values when it comes to how consumer electronics and similar items offered in that area by European firms are designed and manufactured. It is infact something I have noticed with equipment that has a strong European pedigree like the Freebox Révolution, and the AVM Fritz!box routers or even the Revox B77 open-reel tape deck which I had regarded as the “Technics SL-1200” of open-reel stereo tape decks – a model that existed for a long time with a large parts base and given respect by personal and professional users. This is where there is an emphasis on a long service life and the ability to see a continual product-improvement cycle over a long time even for existing products.

Here, the Europeans are also using another angle to approach the “right-to-repair” issue. They want to provide an incentive for manufacturers to offer repairable products by requiring them to extend the warranty period on the product if it takes more than a month for a warranty repair job to be completed.

They also want to see some form of standard consumer-facing identification of products prior to purchase to highlight their durability and repairability. This also includes the continual availability of updated firmware for these products so there is a committment to data security but also the ability for a device to adapt to newer circumstances.

At least Europe is joining in with the USA to push for “right-to-repair” along with having equipment designed for a long service life rather than ending up as e-waste.

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Amazon chasing the numbers when it comes to Alexa’s Skills

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon needs to assure quality for the skills they offer to Echo users

Alexa is learning more new skills every day | Engadget

My Comments

At the moment, Amazon is adding many skills to the Alexa voice-activated home assistant ecosystem every day with at least 15,000 skills available for your Echo by the time this article is published. This is in contrast to Google offering 378 apps and Cortana offering 65 apps. Apple yet hasn’t shown up the number of skills or apps that they have added to Siri as part of her role as a voice-driven home assistant.

But the problem with this approach is that Amazon can easily end up “chasing the numbers” where they don’t care about software quality. This is very similar to what has happened with the app stores like Microsoft Store where these stores filled up with many poor-quality and, in some cases, worthless apps. Here it is seen as a quick way for Amazon to dominate the voice-driven home assistant landscape alongside offering the multiple devices and extra capabilities.

Amazon yet haven’t had much experience in building up a platform app store with a goal towards achieving a significant number of quality apps. This is compared to Google, Microsoft and Apple who have learnt by experience when it came to building up their platform app stores which Google Home, Cortana and Siri will be based on. In most cases, it was about leaving the gates wide open and admitting too much trash or “dribbling in” very little software and putting across an image of very little choice. It is symptomatic of a technology being at an immature state where much hasn’t been worked on to have the right mix of features and software.

As regards with the software quality of skills or apps for a voice-driven home assistant platform, there will be issues about preserving proper software behaviour, assuring proper taste and decency in a family environment, along with assuring end-users’ data-security and privacy. It is more so with the fact that these skills will be relating to smart-home devices and these devices can be used to represent a household’s lifestyle. This will need to be achieved through software and consumer-protection policies and a feedback loop between end-users and the platform developer.

Of course, there needs to be the ability for Amazon and co to highlight high-quality skills and apps to users such as through an “editor’s choice” or “product spotlight”, along with a user review and rating system.

Other issues yet to be raised include how a developer can monetise a skill, whether through having customers buy the skill through Amazon’s storefront or through an advertising platform. In the case of advertising, there will be issues regarding user privacy, the kind of advertising that appears along with when the ads appear in your interaction with that skill.

I would see the sign of maturity for the voice-driven home assistant technology as higher-quality skills or apps being available along with the platforms being offered in more territories on more devices with the expected feature sets.

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AVM adds distributed Wi-Fi functionality to the Fritz!Box

Article – German language / Deutsche Sprache

Fritz!Box: Auch AVM setzt auf Mesh-WLAN | Netzwelt.de

From the horse’s mouth

AVM

AVM FRITZ!Box 3490 - Press photo courtesy AVM

AVM Fritz!Box – the first Wi-Fi device range to implement distributed Wi-Fi through a software upgrade

FRITZ! Labor für WLAN Mesh (Product Details)

My Comments

A major trend affecting the home network is the rise of distributed Wi-Fi systems which are simple-to-setup Wi-Fi networks that use a mesh-based or “repeater-extender” Wi-Fi wireless backbone. Some ISPs are even offering these kind of systems as an added-value option that customers can “buy on” or product differentiator for their top-shelf packages.

But AVM, a network-technology company based in Berlin, Germany, and known for its Fritz!Box routers have taken a different approach to this situation. This is in addition to being the first home-network hardware  Here, they are offering this functionality in the form of a user-deployed software upgrade just released in Germany for some of their devices, namely the Fritz!Box 7490, 7580 and 7590 modem routers and the Fritz!WLAN Repeater 1750E Wi-Fi repeater and Fritz!Powerline 1240E HomePlug access point.

Here, AVM has done away with the need for households to replace their equipment to head towards the mesh-driven Wi-Fi home network.They just have to download the newer firmware updates from AVM’s Website and apply them to the Fritz!Box modem router. Then they take advantage of a firmware-hosted “Home Network Overview” (Heimnetzübersicht) dashboard to roll out the “over-the-air” firmware updates to any compatible Fritz!WLAN repeater or Fritz!Powerline access point to have them part of the mesh. Of course, it also facilitates one-touch configuration of the network with each wireless node in the meh being part of the proper “extended service set” with the same ESSID and security parameters.

The question here is whether AVM will implement just the wireless backbone for their mesh or have it support a wired (Ethernet or HomePlug AV2) backbone as well. Here, supporting a wired backbone as well as the wireless backbone can cater towards difficult network setups like stone buildings or multiple-building properties.

What do I see of this? Personally I would see the European network-hardware vendors implement a fully software-driven approach towards the advanced Wi-Fi setup. It would then lead to ISPs in highly-competitive markets like France rolling out this kind of functionality simply through a software functionality update for their customer-premises equipment.

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Amazon gives Alexa intercom abilities for their Echo devices

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The Amazon Echo to replace that intercom you bought from Radio Shack

Amazon is turning every Echo device into an intercom | Engadget

Your Amazon Echo-Filled House Now has an Alexa Intercom System | Droid Life

Amazon wants the Echo to replace your home intercom | VentureBeat

My Comments

As the battle heats up between Amazon, Google and, very soon, Apple and Microsoft for the voice-driven home assistant platform, there is a strong likelihood that these platforms will acquire new features “out of the box” at a regular pace without the need to add a “skill” or app.

Initially Amazon added a telephony function to their Alexa platform with video telephony for the Echo Show videophone device.  Now they are introducing an intercom function for their Echo devices. It is due to the fact that a lot of the households that buy Amazon Echo devices will end up equipping their home with many of these devices, such as to kit out a pair of computer speakers or old boombox with an Echo Dot.

This may be similar to an intercom system that you may have used in your home, be it that little portable box that plugs in to the wall and uses your AC wiring as a communications path or that fancy radio-intercom setup integrated in your home with one of the units having an integrated radio tuner.

Here, you have to name each Echo device with a room-unique name when you set it up or revise its settings. Then you have to enable the “drop-in” functionality on the Alexa app, whereupon you can tell Alexa to call a specific device. You can set up the “drop-in” functionality to monitor a particular room such as to monitor a sleeping baby or hear if your older parent is calling out.

The system even works across the Internet rather than just your home network, which can come in handy with families and neighbours who want to keep in touch with each other in the same community.

You can upgrade your existing Amazon Echo equipment towards this functionality by simply updating the software in the Echo devices and the Alexa app to the latest version. But I wouldn’t put it past Amazon to roll this function out to other devices that are based on the Alexa platform or to work out ways to improve on it. Similarly, I wouldn’t put it past Google, Apple and Microsoft to answer Amazon with an intercom feature of their own.

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Spotify now ported for the Windows 10 Store

Articles

Spotify Windows 10 Store port

Spotify – now fully part of Windows 10

Spotify is now available in the Windows Store – The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Spotify

Press Release

Microsoft

Windows Blog post

Get Spotify from Microsoft Store for your Windows 10 computer

My Comments

One of the first Windows apps to be ported to the Windows 10 Store as a “Universal Windows Platform” app is Spotify. This port, facilitated with the Centennial “desktop-to-UWP” toolkit, is primarily to have it available for computers running the Windows 10 S variant of the Windows 10 operating system, which can’t accept anything other than what is available at the Windows Store.

Another feature that will also be par for the course will be that the Spotify Windows 10 client will be updated through Windows Store rather than always polling Spotify’s servers for software updates. But further versions of this client could exploit Windows 10’s features like using a Live Tile or showing notifications in the Action Center. As well, when Microsoft opens up more relevant API hooks in subsequent major Windows 10 updates that opens up newer functionality, it will be easier for the Spotify developers to take advantage of it.

I installed the port on my desktop computer which is running Windows 10 and found that this was a simplified installation routine which carried my Spotify account and other details across. It was really a simplified installation process for a crossgrade from the standalone package that Spotify offered.

Some reviewers had criticised some other Windows Store ports of existing Windows programs due to them enforcing the installation of the new software alongside the extant software or requiring the user to re-establish themselves with the services the software was a part of. But they appreciated the “one-touch” deployment process when drawing it down from the Windows Store whether this was a new installation or to upgrade the existing client.

What is being called out by Spotify is how a software developer can make a program available via the Microsoft Store for Windows 10 computers but cater to those users who have an existing desktop version of the program but want to take advantage of the new port.

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