Category: Current and Future Trends

Phone integration for in-car audio – not just for the iPhone anymore

Articles

Nokia and Alpine integrating handsets into cars, bringing Ovi Maps to your dashboard — Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Alpine’s press release

My comments

Phones like this one can now let the Alpine blast

Alpine, who has been considered the status symbol as far as car audio is concerned, have been one of the first car-audio manufacturers to provide phone integration for a phone platform other than the Apple iPhone, nowadays considered the status symbol for mobile phones. What they had done is to allow the Symbian-based Nokia phones similar to my N85 to work with the car stereos by providing access to Ovi Maps navigation, the music playlist, weather applets and more alongside the usual calling and phonebook functions.

They have achieved this through “Terminal Mode” which uses a “gateway app” installed on the phone and the phone linked to the system through a USB cable or a Bluetooth link. The phone’s apps can benefit from the larger display found in high-end car-audio installations.

The reasons I am pleased about this technology is that

a) the mobile phone that links with a car stereo for full functionality doesn’t have to be the Apple iPhone

b) there is an incentive for vehicle builders, car-audio manufacturers and handset manufacturers to establish a level playing field for achieving full functionality for mobile phones from the dashboard.

This can also lead to further functionality like Pandora, Last.fm, Internet radio, location-based services and extended navigation becoming available at the dashboard without needing to use multiple applications installed in a phone platform that you don’t have or on your car’s infotatiment platform.

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First production car with Internet radio to be presented at Geneva Auto Show

Article

Mini Countryman to be first production car with internet streaming radio? – Engadget

MINI Connected Technology Adds New Infotainment Options, Debuts in Geneva | Motor Trend (USA)

My comments

Previously, I had talked in this blog about the idea of Internet radio in the car and the way this goal would be achieved. Now BMW have integrated Internet radio functionality of the kind that the Kogan Wi-Fi Internet Radio, the Revo iBlik RadioStation and the Pure Evoke Flow provide in to the Mini Countryman as part of the Mini Connected infotainment pack.MINI Connected Internet radio press picture

The article had described some of the gaps about how this goal would be achieved, but I would reckon that the technology would be based on a user-supplied 3G USB dongle or tethered 3G phone; or an integrated 3G modem working with a user-supplied USIM card. They talked of the idea of choosing a few stations from a directory akin to the vTuner / Frontier Silicon or Reciva Internet-radio directories and allocating them to presets so you can “switch around” your favourite streams. The author had suggested that there may be a reduced station list and that, for example, his favourite “speed-metal” Internet station may not be in the list. But if the software works in a manner similar to Frontier’s “wifiradio-frontier” or Pure’s “Lounge” portals, he could be able to add the “speed-metal” Internet station.

There is a strong likelihood of this feature being available as part of the“connected” infotainment packs supplied by vehicle builders to high-end vehicles at the moment but it could be made available to the aftermarket car-audio scene soon.

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AAPT setting the cat amongst the Australian ISP pigeons with a no-limit broadband plan

News articles

AAPT launches no limit broadband plan | The Australian

No cap on downloads as AAPT’s truly unlimited internet sets new standard

From the horse’s mouth

AAPT Plan Information Page – AAPT Entertainment Bundle with 24/7 Unlimited Broadband

AAPT Press Release

My comments on this scenario

Anyone who has used broadband Internet in Australia would be aware that all of the services have a usage limit and if you go past this limit, you would either have your Internet service throttled to a very low bandwidth rate or pay for the extra bandwidth used. Some service providers have modified these plans to allow for peak / off-peak limits with separate metering and a higher limit for off-peak hours. This idea is also being investigated in the US by cable companies, especially Comcast, as a way of shaping Internet traffic, mainly to keep IP-based independent video traffic off their networks.

Now AAPT have offered a $A99.95 residential broadband plan that is in the same vein as US or European Internet service plans i.e. it has no usage limits. This has now become an attempt to “one-up” everybody else in the Australian market. This firm had introduced plans with off-peak hours that were limit-free but this has become the most bold act that any major Australian ISP had offered.

This has happened even though Telstra and Optus had recently revised their plans to permit larger usage allowances due to the increased bandwidth available for international Internet traffic to Australia. Other issues that may have encouraged this include use of IP-based entertainment services like Internet radio and IPTV / video-on-demand; as well as the up-and-coming National Broadband Network.

It will be interesting to see what happens further with this deal – whether AAPT rolls it out on to other residential and/or small-business plans and whether other major-league ISPs will roll out “limit-free-all-day” plans and whether these will be offered across the board.

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Use of broadcast-network tuners to democratise pay-TV

 TiVo, Sony and others to FCC: ‘gateways’ should replace CableCARD — Engadget HD

My comments on this idea

The common situation with most TV households is that if they sign up to a pay-TV service like Foxtel (Australia), a local cable-TV franchise in the USA, DirecTV (USA) or Sky TV (UK), they can only watch TV through the set-top box provided by the service provider. The TV remote control ends up becoming redundant as they have to use the set-top box’s remote control for their TV viewing.

If they want to use a DVR i.e.. a “personal TV service”, they have to use the DVR option provided by the pay-TV provider rather than get a retail DVR solution like TiVo, a home-theatre PC such as Windows Media Center or one offered by a major consumer-electronics brand. In some situations like some cable-TV implementations in the US, you may be able to use a retail DVR solution along with a special “CableCARD” and, perhaps, a “tuning adaptor”. But this doesn’t provide the full service that the customer has put money up for, such as interactive TV or access to “pay-per-view” or “on-demand” content.

As well, a lot of these providers often charge an extra fee if the user wants to deploy a set-top box in other rooms. This typically means that one TV set, usually the one installed in the main lounge room or family room, is subscribed to the pay-TV service. At best, most users may deploy the second set-top box in a secondary lounge area like the rumpus / games room.

What is the layout preferred by TiVo, Sony and others?

The layout would consist of the following:

  • A “gateway device” or broadcast-network tuner connected to the cable service or satellite dish which “tunes” the pay-TV services and manages access to these services. It then makes them available over the home network using IP-based standards and technologies.  This device can also pass back information relating to “pay-per-view” content orders or interactive television from the endpoint devices. It can also handle on-demand content offered by pay-TV providers in the convention context and fulfil the content to the desired end-devices.
  • Standards-compliant endpoint devices (TV sets, DVRs, etc) that are connected to the home network and discover the services and content using technologies like DLNA. These devices can work with interactive services provided by the TV service provider and provide the viewer’s responses to the gateway device via the home network.

This is similar to the “broadcast-network tuner” setups like Devolo’s dLAN Sat, the Tivit ATSC mobile DTV WiFi tuner and the HD HomeRun tuner, where there is a digital-broadcast tuner that passes the signal via an IP-based home network to a hardware set-top box or software player program in a general-purpose computer so people can view the TV programme. These solutions typically used a non-standard control method and, in most cases, a single RF front-end so that only one TV set could operate at a time and they couldn’t work with a DVR or similar device.

Why develop this layout?

There is a desire for true competition in the multichannel pay-TV industry concerning end-user devices that is similar to what has occurred with telephone hardware since the Carterfone Decision in the USA and the Davidson Inquiry in Australia. One of the goals is to provide a TV navigation interface that encompasses off-air, pay-TV and IP-delivered content in the one electronic programme guide. This guide’s interface would be “skinned” to match the host device’s branding or any user customisations that are available to the device’s user. It also means that the user only needs to deal with one remote control to find whatever they want to watch.

This kind of layout could allow each TV set and each computer in the house to have access to all of the pay-TV services, rather than the common situation of having to deploy pay-TV set-top boxes to each place where there is a TV set.

There is the ability to upgrade the gateway to suit changing technological needs such as change of infrastructure or improvement in transmission or security protocols. That same ability also exists if the user wants to change providers or sign up to a supplementary-content service. Here, in all the situations above, there is no need to replace the end-user’s devices like DVRs or Internet-enabled TV sets, nor is there a need to replace software on any of the computers in the house to accommodate these changes.. In these cases, the software or firmware can discover the new services that are provided through the new hardware.

What needs to happen

One thing that needs to happen is high-profile implementation of common standard technologies like UPnP AV in the broadcast-reception sphere. This includes having endpoint and recording devices work to these standards when discovering and receiving broadcast signals via an IP network. It also includes the recognition of electronic-programme-guide data provided by these gateway devices, especially if the device that benefits from the data is a recording device like a “personal TV service”. It doesn’t matter whether the client device has the programme-guide data or the broadcast-network tuner has that data. This also includes handling situations where the same broadcast service can be received through different paths such as one or more over-the-air channels and / or a cable or satellite service.

In a similar light, broadband routers that work as the network-Internet “edge” could work as a “gateway” for IPTV services by storing channel lineups and service-authority information for these services.  This device may also have to support handling of interactive-TV sessions in situations where the endpoint device cannot handle the sessions itself.

As well, interactive-TV setups would need to work with an IP backhaul irrespective of whether the TV signal is delivered via RF (cable, classic-TV-aerial or satellite) means or via an IP feed. This also includes allowing access to downloaded assets associated with interactive content.

Conclusion

As mentioned before, what needs to happen is the use of common standards and device classes to support broadcast-network tuners; standard viewing and recording devices; and the home network in order to democratise the provision of pay-TV services.

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Internet radio in the car – why not?

A few weeks ago, a young teenager friend of mine had the Kogan internet radio, which I previously reviewed a sample of and had bought, “tuned” to an Iranian pop-music station that was broadcasting via the Internet. This youth, who had just turned 18 and was about to get his driver’s licence, was asking whether Internet radio in the car would be a reality.

Issues that limit this concept

One of the main issues would be for the wireless-broadband standards like 3G and WiMAX to support media-streaming in a reliable manner and at a cost-effective rate. Recently, there were issues with AT&T raising concerning about Apple iPhone users drawing down too much data, especially multimedia and another 3G provider wrote in to their subscriber terms and conditions a prohibition against media streaming.

The main issues were how these networks handle real-time content and whether they can stream this content reliably when the vehicle is travelling at highway speeds or faster. This also includes how to achieve this cost-effectively without limiting users’ ability to enjoy their service.

One way that it could be mitigated would be for mobile carriers and ISPs to look towards providing “sweeter” wireless-broadband deals, such as integrating voice and data in to single plans. Similarly,the providers could optimise their services to cater fir this kind of use.

Ways of bringing Internet radio to the speakers

Internet radio functionality integrated in car audio equipment

In this setup, the car-audio equipment, whether as part of the in-dash “head unit” or as an accessory tuner box, has access to a TCP/IP LAN and Internet through a modem or an outboard router. It uses any of the common Internet-radio directories like vTuner or Reciva to allow the user to select any of the audio streams that they want to listen to.

Wireless broadband modem integrated in or connected to car audio equipment

The car-audio equipment would have a wireless-broadband modem integrated in the unit or connected to it. The latter situation could be in the form of a USB “dongle” plugged in to the unit, or a mobile phone that supports wireless broadband being “tethered” by USB or Bluetooth to the unit. If the setup involves an integrated modem or an attached USB “dongle”, the setup may use authentication, authorisation and accounting data from a SIM installed in the unit or “dongle”; or simply use the data from a phone that uses Bluetooth SIM Access Profile.

This practice had been implemented in a Blaupunkt car stereo which was being used as a “proof-of-concept” for Internet radio in the car.

Use of an external wireless-broadband router

This method involves the use of a mobile wireless-broadband router which has an Ethernet connection and / or USB upstream connection with a standard “network-adaptor” device class along with a WiFi connection. Of course, the device would have a wireless-broadband connection on the WAN side, either integrated in to it or in the form of a user-supplied USB modem dongle or USB-tethered mobile phone. A typical example of this device would be the “Autonet” WiFi Internet-access systems being pitched for high-end North-American Chrysler-built vehicles or the “Ford Sync” integrated automotive network available on high-end North-American Ford-built vehicles that gains Internet access with a user-supplied USB wireless-broadband dongle.

Here, the car-audio equipment would have a network connection of some sort, usually an Ethernet connection or a USB connection that supports a common “network interface” device class and would be able to “pick up” Internet radio as mentioned before.

Internet radio functionality integrated in an Internet-access terminal

At the moment, this will become the way to bring Internet radio to most car setups in circulations for some time. The setup would typically represent a mobile phone or laptop computer with an integrated or connected wireless-broadband modem. This would have software or Internet access to the Internet-radio directories and stream the audio through Bluetooth A2DP, an FM transmitter or hardwired through a line-level audio connection, a cassette adaptor or an FM modulator.

Increasingly, there is interest from car-audio firms and Internet-media software firms to establish an application-programming interface between a computer or smartphone running selected Internet-radio directory software and the car sound system. This would typically require use of Bluetooth or USB and use a control method of navigating the directory, in a similar manner to how most current-issue car-audio equipment can control an attached Apple iPod.

The primary platform where this activity may take place would be the Apple iPhone, because of it being the most popular programmable smartphone platform amongst the young men whom the car-sound market targets.The setup was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show 2010 in the form of Pioneer and Alpine premium head units controlling a front-end app for the Pandora “custom Internet radio” service installed in an iPhone connected to the head unit via the special connection cable that comes with that unit.

On the other hand, if a smartphone or MID that is linked to the head unit via Bluetooth A2DP does support the AVRCP profile properly, an Internet-radio application installed on that smartphone could achieve the same goal. This would require that the directory applications are able to expose links to the AVRCP commands and requests.There will also have to be requirements to allow “source selection” between multimedia applications through the AVRCP protocol.

Further comments

This concept will become part of the “connected vehicle” idea which provides real-time access to navigation, telematics, communication and entertainment in a moving vehicle or craft, especially as companies involved in this segment intend to differentiate their offerings. It may also be very desireable as an alternative to regular radio in those areas where most regular radio broadcasts leave a lot to be desired.

Once the cost and quality of wireless broadband Internet is brought down to a level that is par with reasonably-priced wired broadband service, then the concept of Internet radio in the car will become reality.

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Switchable graphics – an “overdrive switch” for PC graphics

Articles

 NVIDIA’s Optimus Technology Brings New Level of Switchable Graphics – Windows Experience Blog – The Windows Blog

From the horse’s mouth

NVIDIA’s article about the Optimus graphics system

My comments and explanation

The common graphics setup

The “IBM PC”-based computing platform started off with a “discrete” graphics setup where the system used a separate display card to put up data on the screen for the user to see. This allowed users to buy the graphics capability that they needed at the time of the system’s purchase yet upgrade this capability when their needs changed.

Then motherboard manufacturers and graphics-chip vendors moved towards placing the display circuitry on the motherboard, a practice that most other computer manufacturers engaged in for their platforms. This was preferred for computers that had an integrated display; as well as computers that were based on smaller stylish chassis designs. It also became a cost-saving measure for computer resellers whenever they designed their budget-priced models.

This method required that some of the system’s RAM (primary memory) was to be used for the graphics functionality and, in some cases, made use of the system’s CPU “brain” for some of the graphics work. This typically limited the performance of computer setups and those of us who valued graphics performance, such as gamers, designers or people involved in video production preferred to use the original “discrete” graphics arrangements.

Most systems, especially desktop systems, that had the integrated graphics chipsets also had an expansion slot for use with graphics cards and these setups typically had the graphics card that was in the expansion slot override the integrated graphics functionality. As well, a user who was upgrading a computer to discrete graphics also had to disconnect the monitor from the motherboard’s display output and reconnect it to the discrete graphics card’s display output.

As for laptop computers, there was a limitation in using discrete graphics there because it would lead to the computer running for a short time on its batteries, whereas a computer with low-end integrated graphics could run for a long time on its batteries. This also affected other applications where it was desirable to conserve power.

What does “Switchable Graphics” provide for the Intel-based computer platform.

The NVIDIA Optimus technology has brought around the concept of “switchable” graphics where a computer can have both integrated and discrete graphics. This practice is similar to a car that is equipped with an overdrive or “performance/economy” control.  Here, the driver runs the car in the “economy” mode or disengages the overdrive when they do their regular driving so they can conserve fuel. On the other hand, they engage the overdrive or set the transmission to “performance” mode if they want that bit of “pep” in the driving, such as for highway runs.

These computers will have a graphics chipset that can perform in a “discrete” manner for performance and use dedicated memory or in an “integrated” manner for power economy and use “spare” system memory. This will be accomplished with NVIDIA software that comes with computers that have this technology and run Windows 7. There is a special program in the software that works like the overdrive or “performance/economy” switch in the car. The program can be set up so the user switches modes manually or can be set to change modes dependent on whether the computer is running on external power or whether certain programs like games or video-editing software are being run.

Further comments

At the moment, the technology has just had its first public airing. This will usually mean that certain reliability issues will surface as the bugs get ironed out. It is also just optimised for laptop use but could be implemented in a “dual-chipset” manner for desktop and similar applications. In the desktop environment, the integrated graphics subsystem could work alongside an discrete aftermarket graphics subsystem and share outputs. This could allow, for example, a “gaming rig” to be less noisy and power-demanding while it is not being used for games and other graphics-intense tasks because the integrated graphics chipset could come in handy for the Windows shell or office applications.

Once this concept is worked out, this would allow users to avoid power and system heat tradeoffs if they want high-end graphics in their computing environment.

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The rise of the “multimedia router”

Links

New multimedia router up before FCC – clock radio (FM+Internet), access to online video services, media playback from local storage – http://www.engadget.com/2009/12/09/qisda-sourced-multimedia-router-hits-the-fcc/

D-Link DIR-685 router with electronic picture frame – http://www.dlink.com.au/Products.aspx?Sec=1&Sub1=2&Sub2=5&PID=388

My comments on this new device class

What we are starting to see is the arrival of the “multimedia router” which is a device that is primarily targeted at the home and small-office user, the people whom this blog is written for.

What is this product class

This product class is a single-band Wireless-N broadband (Ethernet WAN) router with integrated multimedia playback functionality through an integrated screen and / or speakers. They have access to the popular online multimedia services and are able to play media held on local storage.

The screen in some of the devices also acts as a local “instrument panel” for these routers and if the device has a touchscreen, it could permit the device to have a local control panel.

They have come about because the cost of integrating these functions in the one shell has become very cheap and it has allowed manufacturers to differentiate their product range in a deeper manner.

Could this product class have a place in the broadband-router market

These devices may appeal initially as a novelty device but they could add an independent media playback device in the location where the Internet router would also go. This would typically be the home office or study or the back office of a small shop. In households where the phone is customarily installed in the kitchen or hallway, it could be feasible to make maximum benefit of these locations by locating these routers there alongside an Ethernet-ended DSL modem because these units could provide a picture display or “there-and-then” information display and, in the case of the proposed design, Internet radio in one box.

Similarly, even if another router like a VPN-endpoint router is on the network edge, these units can work as an integrated multifunction wireless access point that can be moved around the house.

What the device class needs

The first two iterations of this device class need to support DLNA-compliant LAN media playback so that media held on NAS boxes and media server devices that exist on the local network can be played through these devices. They could support DLNA MediaRenderer functionality as a controlled device so a PC or other device can become the control point.

They would also have to work well as an access point or as a router with a simple configuration routine for units that are connected to existing routers. They could support working as dual-band single-radio or dual-band dual-radio access points for those networks where a dual-band 802.11n segment exists.

These kind of features could be introduced in to this device class as more manufacturers introduce devices in to the class and the competition heats up. The previously-mentioned DLNA functionality could come in to play through a firmware update during the existing router’s service life.

Conclusion

Once this device class is developed further, it could be the arrival of a router that can acceptable be on show in that credenza in the home office.

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Soft-goods being available on demand at retailers – could this be real?

Big W disc kiosk lets customers burn on demand

My comments

This concept that Big W is trying, as well as the “on-demand” book-printing machines being tried at some bookshops could easily upset the applecart when it comes to the distribution of “soft-goods” (books, music, video and computer software). It would be achieved through an Internet-connected server installed at a “soft-goods” retailer which is connected to optical-disc burning and/or high-speed “print-to-finish” document-printing hardware that is also installed at the same retailer. These setups could typically take up the same space as a free-standing office copier and be based on today’s computing and networking technology.

Similarly an online content retailer like Amazon could engage in using the technology to “print and deliver” titles without needing a huge warehouse to run their operation from. In some cases, they could use smaller offices to fulfil “print and deliver” orders local to the delivery locations. As well, there have been proposals to set up “buy-download-burn” arrangements so that people can buy music or video material and make it to optical disc on their computer equipment at home. This is in conjunction to the supply of legally-downloaded music through the likes of iTunes, Destra and Big Pond Music and the various proposals to provide legally-downloaded video material, such as AACS’s “Managed Copy” that is currently practised with Blu-Ray.

There could be the idea of titles still being available even though they reach the end of their print run and the contract with the author may preclude further print runs. This definitely can be of benefit with titles that have demand that outstrips agreed supply and it can allow publishers to liaise with the author about whether to do extra runs or not. Similarly, there could be less risk of shops dedicating shelf space to slow-moving titles, yet these titles can be made available irrespective of this fact.

Similarly, there could be “mass-customisation” being available for particular classes of titles. For example, there could be the ability to have computer-software disks full of appropriate programs for the customer’s needs. Similarly, a reference-type title like a Bible or dictionary could be printed with indexing that suits the customer’s needs, such as “white-on-black” for the current letter in a dictionary or a book of the Bible.

What I see with this kind of technology is that content creators who want total control over their content will find that they have lost that control. This may be of concern to content providers who want to be sure of a limited number of copies in existence or make sure of having their content “vaulted” for significant time so as to create a public “want” for re-releases.

It will be interesting to see whether this concept will achieve the mass-market as a way of providing current and legacy “soft-goods” or just simply flounder.

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Rovi brings the car closer to the DLNA home media network

News articles

Rovi Home Network Media Syncing Automotive Solution Announced | eHomeUpgrade

Rovi hooks cars up to home media collection | TechRadar (UK)

From the horse’s mouth

Rovi’s own page about their automotive network solutions

My comments on this topic

Mustang dashboard with Eclipse head unit What Rovi is doing is integrating the vehicle in to the home network and its content pool. This will, as far as car entertainment companies are concerned, legitimise the feasibility of a hard disk / solid-state drive and/or WiFi network connection in the car AV system.

Key features

Content-description metadata would be available for CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs in a manner similar to the current practice with iTunes or Windows Media Player. This can also work well with setups that have a built-in hard disk and a “rip-to-hard-disk” function for CDs. This can be updated with new data over the network connection or with the user transferring data from their PC using removeable media.

There would also be the ability to have improved content lookup available for applications where the media is stored as files in a file system like in an SD card, USB memory key, mobile phone or MP3 player like the Apple iPod.

Another key feature that Rovi has established in the press collateral has been the concept of transferring and syncing media content between the vehicle and a media collection hosted on a DLNA media server. This again would work with a 2.5” hard disk that is located in the car and used as the data storage.

There is even the concept of sharing data held in the vehicle or devices plugged in to the vehicle with associated networks which could allow for such things as map updating for satellite navigation and, I may have said this before, collection of diagnostic information from the vehicle.

Where do I think this will exist

The concept will typically appear initially as equipment installed at the factory in high-end cars and / or as high-end aftermarket car AV equipment that appeal to young men who turn their highly-customsied cars into “mobile discos”.Also these kind of markets are based around people who are usually more willing to spend big on the new technologies.

The primary form factor for aftermarket deployment may typically be in the form of the 2-DIN car navigation/audio/video head-unit with a large touchscreen on the front. It is because these head-units will typically have room for an integrated hard disk alongside a CD drive.

Some manufacturers may move towards moving the hard disk out of the head unit so as to reduce costs or design equipment that fits in to a 1-DIN car accessory space. This will typically allow for a USB or eSATA hard disk in an enclosure with an automotive-rated power supply located somewhere in the dash. On the other hand, highly-compact SSDs could become part of 1-DIN head-units which become part of the home network.

The network connectivity issue may be worked out either with an integrated WiFi-Bluetooth radio platform in the head unit or a WiFi network adaptor on the end of a USB cable or WiFi-Ethernet bridge on the end of an Ethernet cable located near the windscreen (windshield) or the rear window.

Conclusion

Once Rovi have established this technology, it could mean that the car will exist as part of the home entertainment and information network.

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Showdown on the handheld front

Two years ago, there was very little activity concerning the handheld PDA and smartphone front save for a few devices based on the Symbian S60 / UIQ platform and Windows Mobile (CE) platform.

Then Apple brought their touchscreen-enabled all-singing all-dancing iPhone on the market and businessmen became addicted to Research In Motion’s Blackberry smartphone with push e-mail functionality. Now Nokia (Symbian S60), Google Android and Microsoft have jumped on the same bandwagon as these previous companies. In the case of Nokia and Microsoft, they have released handset designs based on the iPhone-style “touchscreen” model as well as a QWERTY-style keypad. Some have even designed a handset that works sideways and uses a pull-out QWERTY keyboard. As well, Google had built up the Android Linux distribution for smartphone applications and a few manufacturers are releasing smartphones bast on this platform; while Palm, known for the classic “Palm Pilot” PDA, have come back from the dead with the Palm Pre smartphone platform.

This had stirred up things very significantly with the contract-driven high-end smartphone market. 

A new expectation was required for this class of device in the way they operated, the features they came with and how the additional software that extends their functionality is marketed. The devices will have 3G (or better) cellular voice and data interface, 802.11g WPA2 Wi-Fi networking, Bluetooth connectivity while being capable of working as a digital video camera, phone, portable media player, personal navigation unit and Internet terminal at least. Additional programs will be typically sold or provided through a PC-based or over-the-air application store hosted by the device’s manufacturer or platform provider.

As part of this showdown on the smartphone front, handset designers, operating-system and applications developers will start to develop very interesting handsets and handheld applications. The handset designers and operating-system developers will end up at the point which was common for consumer electronics in the 1970s and 1980s where manufacturers pitted themselves against each other to design the best product and as models evolved, the features that were in the top-end model gradually appeared on midrange and low-end models. Mobile service providers will also have to provide cost-effective mobile service plans which consider increased data usage on these devices as they become work and lifestyle information terminals for their users.

This could lead to inclusion of digital radio and TV reception in some of the models; 802.11n Wi-Fi networking; OLED user displays, improved battery runtime on “full-feature” use; and the like.

As far as applications are concerned, developers who write handheld applications, whether operating as a dedicated program or as a front-end to a Web page, will need to make the applications suit the different platforms and application stores. This may be easier for the Microsoft and Symbian platforms because the developer can have the option of providing the application through their Web site, a competing application store like Handango, or a mobile phone operator as well as the official application store for the platform.

There is a risk that certain features will be missing from the smartphone market during the smartphone platform showdown. One will be the support for WPS “quick-setup” functionality for Wi-Fi networks. These devices really need to benefit from this technology – how could you enter a WPA passphrase that is “security-ideal” in to a phone with a 12-key keypad or “picking through” a small QWERTY keypad. As well, most of the desireable wireless routers and access points that are being released at the moment are now equipped with WPS, These phones should have support for WPS, preferably as part of the operating system’s Wi-Fi functionality, but at least as a reliable application that the user downloads to the device for free.

As well, DLNA media-management support should be available across all of the platforms, preferably as a playback and download (to local storage) function and a media control point. Similarly, the phone could be set up to act as a media server so that pictures taken with the phone’s camera can be shown on larger screens. At the moment, Symbian is providing the functionality native to their S60 3rd Edition platform and third parties, mostly hobbyist developers, are developing implementations for use on the Apple iPhone and Windows Phone platforms.

It will be very interesting over these next few model years as we observe mobile phone manufacturers, smartphone operating-system developers, independent application developers and mobile phone service providers grapple with this new reality.

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