Category: Current and Future Trends

Investing in an external graphics module for your laptop

Razer Blade gaming Ultrabook connected to Razer Core external graphics module - press picture courtesy of Razer

Razer Blade gaming Ultrabook connected to Razer Core external graphics module

Just lately, as more premium and performance-grade laptops are being equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 connection, the external graphics modules, also known as graphics docks or graphics docking stations, are starting to trickle out on to the market as a performance-boosting accessory for these computers.

The Thunderbolt 3 connection, which uses the USB Type-C plug and socket, is able to provide a throughput similar to a PCI-Express card bus and has put forward a method of improving a laptop’s, all-in-one’s or small-form-factor computer’s graphics ability. This is being facilitated using the external graphics modules or docks that house graphics processors in the external boxes and link these to the host computer using the above connection. What it will mean is that these computers can benefit from desktop-grade or performance-grade graphics without the need to heavily modify them and, in the case of portable computers, can allow for “performance” graphics to be enjoyed at home or in the office while you have battery-conserving baseline graphics on the road,

Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1 - press picture courtesy of Microsoft

Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1 – can benefit from better graphics thanks to Thunderbolt 3 and an external graphics module

The devices come in two classes:

  • Integrated graphics chipset (Acer Graphics Dock) – devices of this class have a hardwired graphics chipset similar to what is implemented in an all-in-one or small-form-factor computer.
  • Card cage (Razer Core, Akitio Node) – These devices are simply a housing where you can install a PCI-Express desktop graphics card of your choice. They have a power supply and interface circuitry to present the desktop graphics card to the host computer via a Thunderbolt 3 connection.

What will they offer?

Akitio Node Thunderbolt 3 "card cage" external graphics module - press image courtesy of Akitio

Akitio Node Thunderbolt 3 “card cage” external graphics module

All these devices will have their own video outputs but will yield what the high-performance graphics chipset provides through the host computer’s integral screen, the video outputs integrated with the host computer as well as their own video outputs. This is in contrast to what used to happen with desktop computers where the video outputs associated with the integrated graphics chipset became useless when you installed a graphics card in these computers.

I have read a few early reviews for the first generation of graphics modules and Thunderbolt-3 laptops. One of these was Acer’s integrated graphics module kitted out with a NVIDIA GTX960M GPU, known to be a modest desktop performer but its mobile equivalent is considered top-shelf for laptop applications. This was ran alongside an Acer TravelMate P658 and an Acer Aspire Switch 12S, with it providing as best as the graphics would allow but highlighting where the weakness was, which was the mobile-optimised Intel Core M processors in the Switch 12S convertible.

Simplified plug-in expansion for all computers

Intel Skull Canyon NUC press picture courtesy of Intel

The Intel Skull Canyon NUC can easily be “hotted up” with better graphics when coupled with an external graphics module

Another example was a manufacturer’s blog post about using their “card-cage” graphics dock with one of the Intel Skull Canyon “Next Unit Of Computing” midget computers which was equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 connection. This showed how the computer increased in graphics performance once teamed with the different graphics cards installed in that “card-cage” module.

It opened up the idea of using an “AV system” approach for enhancing small-form-factor and integrated computers. This is where you connect extra modules to these computers to increase their performance just like you would connect a better CD player or turntable or substitute an existing amplifier for something more powerful or plug in some better speakers if you wanted to improve your hi-fi system’s sound quality.

This usage case would earn its keep with an “all-in-one” computer which has the integrated monitor, the aforementioned “Next Unit Of Computing” midget computers or simply a low-profile desktop computer that wouldn’t accommodate high-performance graphics cards.

Software and performance issues can be a real stumbling block

What I had come across from the material I had read was that as long as the host computer had the latest version of the operating system, the latest BIOS and other firmware to support graphics via Thunderbolt 3, and the latest drivers to support this functionality then it can perform at its best. As well, the weakest link can affect the overall performance of the system, which can apply to various mobile system-on-chip chipsets tuned primarily to run cool and allow for a slim lightweight computer that can run on its own batteries for a long time.

At the moment, this product class is still not mature and there will be issues with compatibility and performance with the various computers and external graphics modules.

As well, not all graphics cards will work with every “card-cage” graphics module. This can be due to high-end desktop graphics cards drawing more current than the graphics module can supply, something that can be of concern with lower-end modules that have weaker power supplies, or software issues associated with cards that aren’t from the popular NVIDIA or AMD games-focused lineups. You may have to check with the graphics module’s vendor or the graphics card’s vendor for newer software or firmware to be assured of this compatibility.

Multiple GPUs – a possible reality

A situation that may have to be investigated as more of these products arrive is the concurrent use of multiple graphics processors in the same computer system no matter the interface or vendor. The ability to daisy-chain 6 Thunderbolt-3 devices on the same Thunderbolt-3 connection, along with premium desktop motherboards sporting this kind of connection along with their PCI-Express expansion slots, will make the concept become attractive and easy to implement. Similarly, some vendors could start offering Thunderbolt-3 expansion cards that plug in to existing motherboards’ PCI-Express expansion slots to give existing desktop PCs this functionality.

Here, the goal would be to allow multiple GPUs from different vendors to work together to increase graphics performance for high-end games or multimedia-production tasks like video transcoding or rendering of video or animation projects. Or it could be about improving the performance and efficiency of a multiple-display setup by allocating particular graphics processors to particular displays, something that would benefit larger setups with many screens and, in some cases, different resolutions.

Highly-portable gaming setups being highlighted as a use case

A usage class that was always put forward for these external graphics modules was the teenage games enthusiast who is studying at senior secondary school and is ready to study at university. Here, the usage case underscored the situation where they could be living in student accommodation like a college dorm / residence hall or be living in a share-house with other students.

The application focuses on the use of a laptop computer that can be taken around the campus but be connected to one of these modules when the student is at their home. I would add to this the ability to carry the graphics module between their room and the main lounge area in their home so that they could play their games on the bigger TV screen in that area. This is due to the device being relatively compact and lightweight compared to most desktop computers.

That same application can cover people who are living in accommodation associated with their job and this is likely to change frequently as they answer different work placements. An example of this would be people whose work is frequently away from home for significant amounts of time like those who work on ships, oil rigs or mines. Here, some of these workers may be using their laptop that they use as part of their work during their shift where applicable such as on a ship’s bridge, but use it as a personal entertainment machine in their cabin or the mess room while they are off-shift.

What could be seen more of these devices

Once the external graphics modules mature as a device class, they could end up moving towards two or three classes of device.

One of these would be the integrated modules with graphics chipsets considered modest for desktop use but premium for laptop use. The expansion abilities that these may offer could be in the form of a few extra USB connections, an SD card reader and / or a higher-grade sound module. Perhaps, they may come with an optical drive of some sort. Some manufacturers may offer integrated modules with higher-performance graphics chipsets along with more connections for those of us who want to pay a premium for extra performance and connectivity. These would be pitched towards people who want that bit more “pep” out of their highly-portable or compact computer that has integrated graphics.

Similarly, it could be feasible to offer larger-screen monitors which have discrete graphics chipsets integrated in them. They could also have the extra USB connections and / or secondary storage options, courting those users who are thinking of a primary workspace for their portable computer while desiring higher-performance graphics.

The card-cage variants could open up a class of device that has room for one or two graphics cards and, perhaps, sound cards or functionality-expansion cards. In some cases, this class of device could also offer connectivity and installation options for user-installable storage devices, along with extra sockets for other peripherals. This class of device could, again, appeal to those of us who want more out of the highly-compact computer they started with or that high-performance laptop rather than using a traditional desktop computer for high-performance computing.

Portable or highly-compact computers as a package

Manufacturers could offer laptops, all-in-one and other highly-compact or highly-portable computers that are part of matched-equipment packages where they offer one or more external graphics modules as a deal-maker option or as part of the package. These could differ by graphics chipset and by functionality such as external-equipment connectivity or integrated fixed or removable storage options.

This is in a similar vein to what has happened in the hi-fi trade since the 1970s where manufacturers were offering matched-equipment packages from their lineup of hi-fi components. Here they were able to allow, for example, multiple packages to have the same tape deck, turntable or CD player while each of the package was differentiated with increasingly-powerful amplifiers or receivers driving speakers that had differing levels of audio performance and cabinet size. It still was feasible to offer better and more capable source components with the more expensive packages or allow such devices to be offered as a way to make the perfect deal.

Conclusion

Expect that as more computers equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C connection come on the market the external graphics module will become a simplified method of improving these computers’ graphic performance. It will be seen as a way for allowing highly-compact or highly-portable computers to benefit from high-performance graphics at some point in their life, something that this class of computer wouldn’t be able to normally do.

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Passive Wi-Fi–a new trend for battery-operated Wi-Fi network devices

Articles

‘Passive Wi-Fi’ researchers promise to cut Wi-Fi power by 10,000x | PC World (IDG)

New “Passive Wi-Fi” Could Drastically Cut Power Needs For Connected Devices | Fortune

Passive WiFi – 10,000 times less power consumption than trad WiFi | Telecom TV

US engineers unveil Passive Wi-Fi, which consumes 10,000 times less power | Android Authority

Video (Click / Tap to play)

My Comments

A new direction that is being looked at for the Wi-Fi wireless-network ecosystem is the use of “passive Wi-Fi”. This is where Wi-Fi endpoints will not be needing the use of analogue RF amplification circuitry and can simply reflect these wireless signals back to access points or routers.

Traditional active Wi-Fi setups work analogously to a torch (flashlight) that is being used where it is actively putting out the light thanks to its batteries. But passive Wi-Fi works in a similar vein to a mirror that simply reflects the light without using any energy.

The advantage here with passive Wi-Fi is that devices implementing that technology don’t need to draw lots of current for them to operate on the network. This is so appealing towards mobile devices implementing it as a battery-saving measure.

But it also appeals towards how devices related to the smart home or Internet-Of-Things will be designed. This is because these devices can be designed to work for a long time on up to three AA or AAA Duracells or a coin battery, or could use energy-harvesting technologies like solar power or kinetic energy but work with a Wi-Fi network rather than the Bluetooth LE, Zigbee or Z-Wave networks that are optimised for low energy.

Here, it may be feasible to directly connect these devices to your home network and the Internet without the need to use bridge devices to achieve this goal. This is although it can be feasible to integrate Bluetooth LE, Zigbee and/or Z-Wave bridging functionality in to a Wi-Fi-capable router or access point, especially if there is a market expectation to have these devices also serve as “smart-home” or “IoT” hubs.

At the moment, passive Wi-Fi can work between 30-100 feet on a line-of-sight or through walls while passing a bandwidth of up to 11Mbps. The prototypes have been demonstrated with traditional Wi-Fi network equipment including a router and smartphone and this has proven that they can work in a standard Wi-Fi network. But there have been issues raised about requiring routers and access points to broadcast a “wake-up” call for these devices to report their presence and status.

A question that can be asked as this technology is designed is whether it could be feasible to design a Wi-FI front-end to switch between active and passive mode. Here, it could appeal to devices that enter passive mode simply to save energy but “go active” while in use with obvious use cases being mobile devices or Wi-Fi-based handheld controllers.

What it could lead to is that the goal to optimise all of the building-wide wireless-data technologies for low-power use has been nearly completed with the ability to have devices that exploit these technologies able to run for a long time on ordinary batteries.

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Microsoft answers Amazon and Google without reinventing the wheel

Articles

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

These Windows 10 computers will be part of Microsoft’s smart-home vision

Microsoft takes aim at Amazon’s Echo with Windows 10 HomeHub feature | The Verge

Windows 10 “Home Hub” feature will take on Amazon Echo and more | ARS Technica

How and why Microsoft is stepping up its focus on ‘families’ with Windows 10 | ZDNet

Home Hub, la réponse de Microsoft à Amazon Echo et Google Home | Ere Numérique (French Language / Langue Française)

My Comments

Microsoft and Apple recently built their voice-driven personal assistants in to their regular-computer operating systems rather than confining this class of software to mobile devices. As well, Apple baked in the HomeKit smart-home framework in to the iOS mobile-device operating system to make it work with devices that represent the Internet Of Things or the smart home.

But Amazon and Google went ahead with voice-activated smart-home assistants being part of their network-connected wireless-speaker products. These would work with some of the smart-home devices and offer calendar and similar functionality for the home at your request.

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer as a desktop

These “adaptive all-in-one” computers like the Sony VAIO Tap 20 can be part of the “smart home”

Microsoft has decided to go another path for integrating the smart home and the voice-driven personal assistant concept by working on another function that will appear in an upcoming major functionality-driven Windows 10 update. This is to be called “Home Hub” which is destined for the “Redstone 3” Windows 10 functionality update, intended to appear after the “Creators Update”.

The software is intended to be able to work on a regular desktop or laptop computer that can run the Windows 10 operating system. Here, it could easily put new life in to the “all-in-one” computer design including those “Adaptive All-In-One” computers of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 ilk, pushing them as a computer that can exist on the kitchen bench. It can also put the midget computers known as the “NUC” (Next Unit Of Computing) devices to use by having them connected to that small flatscreen TV typically used to watch daytime TV content. Let’s not forget that they will earn their keep with all of the detachable and convertible “2-in-1” computers working as a tablet but can make more use out of existing desktop and laptop computers.

ASUS VivoStick press picture courtesy of ASUS

ASUS VivoStick – their answer to Intel’s Compute Stick – can repurpose that small flatscreen TV as a monitor for the central computer

Here, this functionality is centred around a common household account which appointments and other resources can be shared to. It effectively serves the same purpose as the fridge door which ends up as the household’s noticeboard. These events will appear on a lock-screen which shows a calendar, tasklist and other common information. There will be the ability for third-party application developers to develop apps that can share information to this “common display”, thanks to application-programming interfaces that Microsoft will offer as part of the equation.

Users can still log in to their own account using Windows Hello or their traditional login methods that the system supports to see a combined view of their personal information and the shared common information.

Let’s not forget that Microsoft wants to use the Cortana voice-driven personal assistant as part of this solution but the problem with these voice-driven assistants is that they are dows usually trained to one operator and may not handle multiple users.  In the home context, there is the issue of people’s voice changing as they get older, such as a young boy using the system initially, but facing problems with Cortana when his voice breaks as part of him being a teenager.

Like with Amazon’s and Google’s implementations, it could be feasible for you to direct the Cortana implementation to stream music from your favourite third-party music services. This, again would be facilitated with the music services’ apps having API hooks to Cortana and the other software that is part of Windows 10 Home Hub.

But there will be the ability to have the Windows 10 Home Hub also work as part of the smart home by being a control or display surface for compatible smart lights, thermostats and door locks. This will be facilitated through the use of open-frame industry standards for communication between devices and the Windows 10 Home Hub, I would suspect that one of the most common applications for this would be to see status notifications for various systems on the lock-screen or to have the ability to ask Cortana or operate a control on that lock-screen to do things like turn down the heating or close the garage door.

It has been one of Microsoft’s many efforts to provide family-focused home computing like offering some software as household-wide licenses or providing integral parental controls on the Windows platform.

But there are some questions to raise concerning Windows 10 and the Home Hub.

One of these is whether the professional, educational and enterprise variants of Windows 10 will be able toe be equipped with the Home Hub. This is more so for the “work-home” laptop scenario where people use the same computing device between their workplace or place of study and their home.

Similarly, this extends to existing Windows 10 deployments where there is the desire to use existing computers that run the operating system. It is because there will be at least a lot of households that will maintain a few Windows 10 computers in some form. One of the questions is how simple is it to integrate extant computers and user accounts including domain-linked workplace accounts in to a Home Hub setup, achieving the goal to benefit from the common calendar and lockscreen.

Apple could take a leaf out of Microsoft’s book and link Siri, HomeKit and the MacOS regular-computing platform to provide a similar “home-central” service for their platforms while avoiding the need to “reinvent the wheel”.

How Microsoft have approached the smart-home trend and answer Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home wireless speakers is to exploit their knowhow in Windows 10 and allow people to use existing computers and home networks to achieve this same goal.

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Samsung implements auto-focus on the Galaxy S8 to make it a selfie smartphone

Article

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge press image courtesy of Samsung

The front camera on the next premium smartphones could end up being equipped with auto-focus technology

The Galaxy S8 may provide better selfies thanks to autofocus implementation | Android Authority

Previous coverage on “selfie” smartphones

What Makes That Smartphone A “Selfie” Smartphone

My Comments

Increasingly smartphone manufacturers are paying attention to the kind of photos a smartphone’s or tablet’s front-facing camera takes. This has been driven by the phenomenon where young people are using these cameras to take “selfies” – pictures of themselves. Even venue owners and event hosts are catering to this trend by providing “selfie photobooths” with the appropriate decorations and props so they can take the funniest-looking selfie.

The way most of the manufacturers have approached this issue includes front-facing cameras with a resolution not dissimilar to the rear-facing camera, use of a wide-angle lens on the front-facing camera or even integrating software logic to remove blemishes from the photos that are taken.

But Samsung has gone further with their front-facing camera by implementing an auto-focus mechanism. Typically, a smartphone would be equipped with auto-focus on the rear-facing camera because this is the one used for general photography but the front-facing camera gets a fair bit of use for both videocalls and selfies. But implementing an auto-focus camera for both of the smartphone’s cameras would be costly and not worth it due to the close proximity of the subjects.

Here, they have implemented an auto-focus cameras on both the front-facing camera and the rear-facing camera for their new Galaxy S8 Android smartphone. This will be seen as a way to differentiate their premium smartphones from the rest of the pack due to the ability to yield that sharp videocall image or selfie.

As the cost of auto-focus cameras for smartphones and tablets that yield acceptable resolution goes downhill, it could become a trend for front-facing cameras on the smartphones, tablets, laptops and similar devices to have this feature for the best Skype videocall or selfie.

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Silicon Valley starts a war against fake news

Article

Facebook and Google to block ads on fake news websites | Adnews

Facebook Employees Are In Revolt Over Fake News | Gizmodo

Google and Facebook Take Aim at Fake News Sites | New York Times

Does the internet have a fake-news problem? | CNet

Google CEO says fake news is a problem and should not be distributed | The Verge

Want to keep fake news out of your newsfeed? College professor creates list of sites to avoid | Los Angeles Times

My Comments

Since Donald Trump gained election victory in the USA, there has been some concern amongst a few of Silicon Valley’s tech companies regarding the existence of “fake news”.

This is typically a story that is presented in order to refer to an actual news event but doesn’t relate to any actual news event. In some cases, such stories a hyped-up versions of an existing news item but in a lot of cases, these stories are built up on rumours.

The existence of Internet-distributed fake news has been of concern amongst journalists especially where newsroom budgets are being cut back and more news publishers and broadcasters are resorting to “rip-and-read” journalism, something previously associated with newscasts provided by music-focused FM radio stations.

Similarly, most of us are using Internet-based news sources as part of our personal news-media options or or only source of news, especially when we are using portable devices like ultraportable laptops, tablets or smartphones as our main Internet terminals for Web browsing.

Silicon Valley also see the proliferation of fake news as a threat to the provision of balanced coverage of news and opinion because they see this as a vehicle for delivering the populist political agenda rather than level-headed intelligent news. This is typically because the headline and copy in “fake news” reports is written in a way to whip up an angry sentiment regarding the topics concerned, thus discouraging further personal research.

But Facebook and Google are tackling this problem initially by turning off the advertising-money tap for fake-news sites. Facebook will apply this to ad-funded apps that work alongside these sites while Google will apply this as a policy for people who sign up to the AdSense online display-ads platform.

There is the issue of what kind of curating exists in the algorithms that list search results or news items on a search-engine or social-media page. It also includes how the veracity of news content is being deemed, even though Google and Facebook are avoiding being in a position where they can be seen as “arbiters of truth”.

The big question that can exist is what other actions could Silicon Valley take to curb the dissemination of fake news beyond just simply having their ad networks turn off the supply of advertising to these sites? This is because the popular search engines are essentially machine-generated indexes of the Web, while the Social Web and the blogosphere are ways where people share links to resources that exist on the Web.

Some people were suggesting the ability for a search engine like Google or a social network site like Facebook to have its user interface “flag” references to known fake-news stories, based on user or other reports. Similarly, someone could write desktop or mobile software like a browser add-on that does this same thing, or simply publish a publicly-available list of known “fake-news” Websites for people to avoid.

This is infact an angle that a US-based college professor had taken where she prepared a Google Docs resource listing the Websites hosting that kind of news, in order to help people clean their RSS newsfeeds of misinformation, with some mainstream online news sources including the New York Magazine providing a link to this resource.

The issue of fake news distributed via the Internet is becoming a real problem, but Silicon Valley is looking at different ways to solve this problem and bring to it the same level of respect that was associated with traditional media.

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You could be using your phone to sign in to Facebook on the big screen

Article

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

You could be able to log in to Facebook on this device using your smartphone’s Facebook client

Facebook Login Updated for tvOS, FireTV, Android | AdWeek SocialTimes

From the horse’s mouth

Facebook

Developer News Press Release

Improving Facebook Login For TV and Android

My Comments

A holy grail that is being achieved for online services is to allow users to authenticate with these services when using a device that has a limited user interface.

TV remote control

A typical smart-TV remote control that can only offer “pick-and-choose” or 12-key data entry

An example of this is a Smart TV or set-top device, where the remote control for these devices has a D-pad and a numeric keypad. Similarly, you have a printer where the only interface is a D-pad or touchscreen, with a numeric keypad only for those machines that have fax capabilities.

Here, it would take a long time to enter one’s credentials for these services due to the nature of the interface. This is down to a very small software keyboard on a touchscreen, using “SMS-style” text entry on the keypad or “pick-and-choose” text entry using the D-pad.

Facebook initially looked at this problem by displaying an authentication code on the device’s user interface or printing this code out when you want to use it from that device. Then you go to a Web-enabled computer or mobile device and log in to facebook.com/device and transcribe that code in to the page to authenticate the device with Facebook.

Here, they are realising that these devices have some role with the Social Web, whether to permit single sign-on, allow you to view photos on your account or use it as part of a comment trail. But they also know that most of us are working our Facebook accounts from our smartphones or tablets very frequently and are doing so with their native mobile client app.

But they are taking a leaf out of DIAL (DIscovery And Launch) which is being used as a way to permit us to throw YouTube or Netflix sessions that we start on our mobile devices to the big screen via our home networks. It avoids a long rigmarole of finding a “pairing screen” on both the large-screen and mobile apps, then transcribing a PIN or association code from the large screen to the mobile client to be able to have it on the TV screen,

This is where you will end up authenticating that big-screen app's Facebook login request

This is where you will end up authenticating that big-screen app’s Facebook login request

What Facebook are now doing for the 4th generation Apple TV (tvOS) and Android-based TV/video peripheral platforms (Android TV / Amazon FireTV) is to use the mobile client app to authenticate.

Here, you use a newer version of the Facebook mobile client, the Facebook Lite client or the Google Chrome Custom Tabs to authenticate with the big screen across the home network. The TV or set-top device, along with the mobile device running the Facebook mobile client both have to be on the same logical network which would represent most small networks. It is irrespective of how each device is physically connected to the network such as a mobile device using Wi-Fi wireless and the Apple TV connected via HomePlug AV500 powerline to the router for reliability.

What will happen is that the TV app that wants to use Facebook will show an authentication code on the screen. Then you go to the “hamburger” icon in your Facebook mobile client and select “Device Requests” under Apps. There will be a description of the app and the device that is wanting you to log in, along with the authentication code you saw an the TV screen. Once you are sure, you would tap “Confirm” to effectively log in from the big screen.

At the moment, this functionality is being rolled out to tvOS and Android-based devices with them being the first two to support the addition and improvement of application programming interfaces. But I would see this being rolled out for more of the Smart TV, set-top box and similar device platforms as Facebook works through them all.

Spotify login screen

This kind of single-sign-on could apply to your Smart TV

One issue that may have to crop up would be to cater for group scenarios, which is a reality with consumer electronics that end up being used by all of the household. Here, software developers may want to allow multiple people to log in on the same device, which may be considered important for games with a multiplayer element, or to allow multiple users to be logged in but with one user having priority over the device at a particular time like during an on-screen poll or with a photo app.

Another question that could be raised is where Facebook is used as the “hub” of a user’s single-sign-on experience. Here, an increasing number of online services including games are implementing Facebook as one of the “social sign-on” options and the improved sign-on experience for devices could be implemented as a way to permit this form of social sign-on across the apps and services offered on a Smart TV for example. It could subsequently be feasible to persist current login / logout / active-user status across one device with all the apps following that status.

Other social-media, messaging or similar platforms can use this technology as a way to simplify the login process for client-side devices that use very limited user interfaces. This is especially where the smartphone becomes the core device where the user base interacts with these platforms frequently.

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LG puts downward pressure on OLED TV prices

Article

OLED TV from LG drops to lowest price of the year | CNET

CNET video about the LG OLED TVs – Click / Tap to play

My Comments

LG is pulling out the stops to make the OLED-based 4K flat-screen TVs become in reach for most consumers. These sets use the same display technology as a lot of the high-end Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S and Note series, with this technology allowing for improved contrast and black levels as far as the picture goes. It is because the pixels light up under their own power and turn off when it is black, rather than using white LEDs as a backlight for a colour liquid-crystal display with the corresponding light leakage that can occur wherever it is black.

But another advantage that OLED has allowed for when it comes to product design is that the manufacturer can work towards a very thin product

For example, in the USA, they are offering the B6 series of 55” and 65” 4K HDR-capable sets at the price of US$2000 for the 55” variant (OLED55B6P) and US$3000 for the 65” variant (OLED65B6P). This is effectively a price reduction of US$500 for the 55” model and US$1000 for the 65” model.

Even Australian viewers haven’t missed out on the promotion effort with LG and Harvey Norman promoting the OLED smart-TV range through a TV-advertising campaign ran over the last few weeks, as a run up to the Christmas shopping season.

Personally, I could see this as a sign that OLED for large displays could be coming cheaper and more as a viable competitor to the LCD technology. This is more so for those of us who value the high contrast in the pictures that we see, especially if we work with high-quality photos and videos.

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A Surface Book variant is actually a portable gaming rig

Article

Should you buy the Surface Book with Performance Base for gaming? | Windows Central

My Comments

Microsoft Surface Book press picture courtesy of Microsoft

A performance variant of the Microsoft Surface will show up as the stealth gaming rig

There have been the rise of gaming-grade laptops that have enough CPU and graphics-processing acumen to handle the latest games on the market with the full performance expectations. Here, most of the manufacturers are releasing at least one model with these abilities but most of these are styled like a muscle car or street rod.

But a few manufacturers are approaching this by offering performance computers that have a “stealth” look where their looks don’t betray the performance under the hood. Microsoft has now joined the party with a performance variant of the Surface Book which works with a “performance base”. This uses a keyboard base with the same graphics ability as the baseline variant of the Surface Studio all-in-one PC.

As with other Surface Book variants, the tablet detaches from the keyboard base so it can simply be a Windows 10 tablet but, when attached, it becomes a convertible laptop. Microsoft could provide the Performance Base not just as part of a system variant for how you wish to order the Surface Book, but as an upgrade option for existing Surface Books for those of us who want to upgrade them as a full-bore gaming or multimedia PC.

It is very similar to what can be done with Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C where manufacturers can offer a graphics module that connects to portable, all-in-one or low-profile computers to enhance their graphics performance. But this idea could be taken further with the use of coprocessors that are part of “performance modules” that could improve existing computers’ performance for gaming and multimedia tasks.

Personally I would find that the trend for portable and “all-in-one” computing is to offer gaming-rig performance as a model variant in one or more product lines rather than as its own product line. This is even though the manufacturer will offer a dedicated premium product line or brand that is focused towards gaming. Such products would appeal to those of us who value the performance angle for multimedia creation or gaming but don’t think of it like owning a “street-machine” car.

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ARCEP is heading towards an IPv6 France

Article – French language / Langue Française

L’ARCEP propose un plan d’action pour migrer vers l’IPv6 | Freenews.fr

My Comments

Freebox Révolution - courtesy Iliad.fr

The Freebox Révolution – the sign of an advanced Internet in France

France is intending to take bigger strides towards an IPv6 Internet.

Here, the ARCEP who is the country’s telecoms authority are expediting this process through a series of steps.

Firstly, they will be moving the government’s public-facing Web sites towards IPv6 operation. Most likely, this will be a dual-stack affair to allow legacy networks to touch these sites.

Then they will run a public-awareness and education campaign about IPv6 including identifying obstacles associated with not moving towards this newer set of Internet protocols. Two main obstacles in this case would be computers running operating systems that don’t have IPv6 dual-stack operation, and routers that don’t provide for IPv6 operation. This may not be an issue with the latest “n-boxes” that each of the French ISPs are offering to their customers like the Freebox Révolution.

IPv6 logo courtesy of World IPv6 Launch programThe next stage would be to facilitate moving towards IPv6 by having it work across all of the providers competing with each other in that country.

Users will also benefit from improved information especially about maintaining the IPv4 equipment and networks. This is more so with maintaining the legacy IPv4 addresses, but the endpoint issue could be resolved with various routing or tunnelling setups that IPv6 offers.

Last but not least, the French Internet backbone will move off IPv4 towards IPv6, probably only allowing IPv4 “at the edge”.

But some, if not most, of the ISPs serving the French market, especially Free, may be stepping forward towards IPv6 as part of the competitive marketplace. This includes releasing “n-box” routers that have support for this technology or adding this level of support to some existing equipment through a firmware update. Let’s not forget that most operating systems for regular and mobile computing devices will provide for IPv6 in a dual-stack form. Here, it is underscoring that France has been identified one of the first countries to head towards IPv6 technology.

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Why is there interest in Internet-assisted in-home healthcare

There is a strong interest in using Internet-based connectivity as a tool for facilitating in-home healthcare.

Bluetooth-connected pulse oximeter

A Bluetooth-connected pulse oximeter in action

This involves the use of a mix of sensor types that are typically used to observe a patient along with the use of regular, mobile and other computing devices to process and present this information to the carers and to the medical professionals. It also includes implementing voice and video telephony to allow medical professionals to communicate with the patient without the need to frequently travel to where they live.

Why the interest?

Ageing at home

This is where a senior citizen is able to live independently at their home as much as possible but have supporting care from relatives, friends and professional carers.

tablet computer used as part of in-home telemedicine setup

A tablet used as part of an in-home telemedicine setup

One of the reasons driving “ageing at home” is the fact that the generation of people born through World War II and the post-war Baby Boomers will be entering their senior years which will place strong demands on health care and welfare facilities that cater to this group of people.

Another is that an increasing number of aged-care facilities have been associated with substandard quality of care“I don’t want to end up in the nursing home”.  This is brought about with more of us being aware of this level of care either through observing how those we have known in our life’s journey that were looked after in those facilities were being treated, or hearing about instances of substandard care in the media such as the infamous “kerosene bath” incident that hit the news in Australia in the early 2000s.

This has also been driven by the trend towards health-care deinstitutionalisation affecting geriatric and palliative care where there isn’t a desire to rely on large facilities for this kind of care.

Other healthcare needs

Increasingly hospitals are looking towards “hospital in the home” or similar programs as a way to provide ongoing care for convalescent patients and those with illnesses that require long-term attention. Here, the care associated with what would typically be provided in a hospital, typically nursing-focused procedures, would be offered at the patient’s home but with visiting nurses, doctors and allied staff.

Even obstetric care is also affected by this trend, with an increased preference for minimal hands-on professional care for low-risk mothers when they go in to labour. Similarly, low-risk psychiatric care is being delivered at home thanks to telecommunications-based technologies.

The advantages that are being put forward for this kind of care is that the patient can stay in the familiar surroundings of their home and, again, has been underscored by the concept of deinstitutionalisation in healthcare. Governments and others also see it as a cost-saving because they can focus a hospital’s beds towards those needing acute care.

The rural community are seeing an application for this kind of technology so as to avoid the need for frequent long-distance travel which would be of importance when it comes to specialised or advanced healthcare.

How is the kind of healthcare delivered?

Here, the focus is on observational healthcare where medical professionals can assess the situation based on either the data that is collected or through communications with the patient. In some cases, it may be based on an event-driven principle where the professional is alerted if the situation goes beyond certain limits.

This is facilitated through the concept of “telemedicine” where the data is conveyed through an Internet connection and has been facilitated through various technologies.

One of these is “machine vision” where one or more cost-effective high-resolution cameras feeds images in to a platform-based computer which runs software that recognises and interprets these images for medical use. One application that was put forward was to observe a patient’s pulse using a camera that observed the brightness of one’s face as the heart beats. Another application is to use a smartphone’s or tablet’s camera to read fluid-analysis strips as part of assessing urine or blood while an app in that device interprets this information rather than a person comparing what is seen on the strip against a chart.

Another of these is the implementation of common communications technologies like Bluetooth, Zigbee or Wi-Fi in sensor devices. This can lead towards the existence of cost-effective sensor devices that can work with existing computer devices with a minimal need for extra hardware, while these devices can use cost-effective software to interpret and present this information. This has led to startup companies and tech innovators developing devices like “wandering-alert” socks that work with Bluetooth and apps.

What needs to be done?

An issue that will affect in-home telehealth is where device manufacturers and health providers legally stand when it comes to providing these services.

One of the questions that is being raised is the use of non-medical sensor devices for medical applications. One of the scenarios is the use of a general wellness device like a fitness band or a wellness-focused thermometer as a medical sensor for clinical purposes. Another scenario would be the use of a “non-wellness” sensor like a security system’s PIR and door sensors, a home-automation sensor, or a smartphone’s camera for medical-observation purposes with these devices feeding their data to software running on a platform-based computing device.

These questions are being examined by the US’s Food and Drug Administration with respect to wellness-focused devices serving as medical devices in this context. But implementing home automation and security in this context may require a case-by-case assessment based on the actual installation and would only work with geriatric, psychiatric or allied situations where observational healthcare is the order of the day.

Similarly, software that uses devices like cameras for medical reasons like “machine vision” may have to be certified by medical-device authorities to be sure that the software provides accurate results no matter the input device. In the case of software that uses cameras, there would be a requirement for a minimum resolution for the camera to turn out consistently accurate results.

Conclusion

Once the issues that affect the provision of Internet-assisted in-home health care are identified and worked out, then it could be feasible for the home to be a place to deliver continual health care.

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