Category: Current and Future Trends

Another one for the Android-based TV platform

News Article

Sony Internet TV Has An Intel Atom Processor And Runs Google TV, Chrome, Flash 10.1 | Sony Insider

From the horse’s mouth

Sony’s official Internet TV Website – Sony Style

My comments

Previously, I had written in my blog about People Of Lava introducing an Internet-enabled TV that was based on the Google Android Platform. This is a brand that may not be on everyone’s lips, especially when it comes to consumer electronics.

But now Google had determined an Android-based app-driven TV platform to go alongside their Android app-driven mobile phone platform and described it as “Google TV”. They have pitched this at digital TV sets and various set-top applications, primarily as an open platform for delivering Internet-enabled interactive TV.

Sony have become the first mainstream TV manufacturer to implement this platform, which will give it an air of legitimacy in the consumer-electronics space. This is eve though the interactive-TV space has been dominated by various closed or limited platforms like the games consoles, the PVR boxes such as TiVo, and various pay-TV platforms.

I often wonder that if Google keeps the Android platform as an open platform, they could provide many interesting applications and uses for many devices.

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The first of the “netvertibles” or convertible netbooks – a possible challenge to the Apple iPad perhaps

News article

Acer launches 11.6-inch Aspire Timeline 1825PT netvertible – Engadget

My comments

This computer is becoming one of the first netbook-class notebook computers to have a multi-touch screen. The main problem with these machines is that consumers will forget about them because they are so entranced by Apple’s iPad.

If you want to make this class of netbook come up very well with consumers, you will have to provide touch-enabled book-reading applications for the main e-book and online-comic platforms to work with Windows and other “freely-programmable” operating systems. As well, machines like this Acer should use a “tilt-sensor” to determine the display orientation in order to provide a “broadsheet” or “tabloid” view.

As well, anyone who provides an “online newspaper” platform will need to make sure that people can subscribe to their papers from any platform as long as the appropriate reading software is in place and the software should be ported to many platforms like Windows, MacOS X and Android.

Then they could effectively challenge the iPad in providing an online reading platform for books or newspapers.

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The HTML5 vs Flash debate

The computer press have been running articles regarding the use of Flash or HTML5 in highly-interactive Web sites such as video sites.

It has started off with Apple wanting to move iPhone and iPad towards HTML5 / H264 video by proscribing Flash runtime engines from these platforms and forcing developers to move to the HTML5 / H264 platform. This caused Google to write YouTube client-side apps for these platforms and develop an HTML5 site. Then Microsoft and others worked towards implementing HTML5 in their next browser issue, with some browsers being equipped with HTML5 interpreters.

The debate about HTML5 vs Flash has been more “video-centric” because Adobe Flash was mainly used by YouTube to display the many videos hosted on that site.

It is worth noting that the FLV files used in YouTube and similar Flash applications are container files with the video and audio encoded using the H.263 video codec. The HTML5-based video applications will use FLV, MOV or AVI container files with H.264 video codecs which are becoming the standard for high-resolution video.

Applications beyond video

Adobe Flash has been used for applications beyond video. Primarily it has been used for high-interactivity applications like games such as Farmville on Facebook or the casual games on MiniClip because it offers a quick-response user interface and easy development that these applications needed. Here, it has offered a “write-once run-anywhere” platform for these Web-centric applications with plenty of “rapid-application-development” tools.

It is also worth knowing that most of these games refer to back-end databases and / or “client-local” cookie files to persistently store game-state and other user-generated data. These programs will then have to work with the different data stores as they are used.

Web-based runtime environments for partially-linked programs

HTML5 has a variety of inherent elements that allow for vector-graphics and interactivity for highly-interactive applications. It also may be of benefit to open-source software developers and Linux advocates/

But there are some developers, most notably games developers, who want to keep their source-code closed in order to control reuse of that code. These developers also want to provide programs in a manner where the target machine doesn’t have to interpret or compile code before it is of use, which will benefit high-interactivity applications where quick response is desired.

These developers typically want to provide these programs as either an executable file or a “p-code” (partially-linked) program file which is run by an interpreter or just-in-time compiler program, known as a runtime module, that works with these files on the target platform. At the moment, there isn’t a mechanism for delivering a compiled HTML5 file in a “write once, run anywhere” manner.

Java

An interactive-applications developer could work with the latest version of Java to develop these kind of applications in a “write-once run-anywhere” platform. This platform is natively supported by the Blu-Ray Disc system as part of providing interactive video from discs and/or the Internet through that system. It could then lead to someone writing a games disc that runs classic games types on any old Blu-Ray Disc player without the player being a games console.

The main issue with this is that not all platforms, especially tablet and handheld platforms, support Java natively. As well, desktop support for Java may require the Java runtime software to be downloaded separately from Sun.

Microsoft Silverlight

As well, Microsoft is wanting to advance their Silverlight runtime platform for client-executed Web applications but this platform has not yet been ported for anything outside general-purpose computers running the Windows operating-system family. Again, this is another platform for Web-based highly-interactive content that requires the client machine to work with a “runtime module”.

Apple’s control over what runs on their platforms

One of the main cornerstones in this debate is what Apple wants out of the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch platforms. They want to maintain control over programs and highly-interactive content that runs on this platform and preserve the requirement that all such content is obtained through the iTunes App Store. The practice of supplying a “runtime module” for pre-compiled “p-code” software available elsewhere, such as what happens with Java and Flash, works against this ideal because Apple can’t see the program’s code before it runs on an iPod or iPhone. Therefore Apple have proscribed the creation of such modules for this platform.

Some Apple skeptics may also have a fear that Apple may change their desktop platform away from the Macintosh (MacOS X) platform where their is a “free-for-all” for software development towards a platform not dissimilar to the iPhone or iPad platform with a controlled development environment. This is like how they retired the Apple II platform in the early 90s in order to focus on the Macintosh platform.

The open question

Therefore, there is an “open question” concerning Web-based software development. It is whether the likes of Farmville or Bejewelled should be developed using HTML5 and in a vulnerably-open manner or whether they should be packaged as “p-code” and delivered to a runtime environment? It also includes whether Apple should expect developers to create a separate client-side app for their iPhone / iPod / iPad devices for each game or highly-interactive site that they work on.

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Arrival of e-paper-based sun-resistant displays for portable computer devices

News articles

Sonnenresistente Displays gehen in Massenproduktion – Der Standard (Austria – German language)

From the horse’s mouth

Pixel Qi – web site

My comments on this technology

If you have ever tried to use your laptop, mobile phone or digital camera outside on a bright sunny day, you will have found it very difficult to read the device’s screen in that bright sunlight. Some users may have fashioned up loupes or shades to force the sun away from the screen and others may have preferred to work in shady areas like under a tree or in a shadow.

Pixel Qi have designed a colour display which uses a combination of LCD and e-paper technology to avoid this washout problem. It has the advantage of the always-backlit standard colour LCD display but uses the e-paper technology to enable reflective viewing in brighter lighting environments. This has also allowed for the backlight to be used only as needed, thus saving power and allowing for a longer operating time when on battery power.

Some people may think that these advanced displays won’t work well with video or games but they have the same refresh rate as the current-generation standard LCD display thus will work properly with these applications.

At the moment, the only screen size that is being built with this technology is the 10.1” widescreen which will be pitched at e-book readers, netbooks, subnotebooks, tablet devices and high-end large-screen electronic picture frames. This is mainly because they are supplying this technology to the low-power laptops that are part of the “One Laptop Per Child” project. They are yet to make smaller and larger screens for the other display applications like standard laptops, regular electronic picture frames digital cameras or HDTVs.

What I am definitely pleased about with this technology is that there is a colour LCD display that is friendly to all lighting environments and can allow portable devices to run longer.

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32GB MicroSDHC card from SanDisk – What could this provide

News articles

SanDisk flips out 32GB mobile phone card • The Register

My comments

Can your device handle 32GB or larger cards?

There may be issues with SDHC-compatible devices not handling cards that are 32Gb or larger. This may result in the device refusing to mount the card (make it accessible to its operating system for storage) or file-system activities may take a long time to complete.

This may be rectified through an operating system or firmware update for your computer or device. In the case of computers, it may be worth checking the online update program for drivers or middleware that can do this job. For devices such as smartphones, check for “field-deployable” firmware updates that can allow the device to properly work with large SD cards.

There may be a limitation with devices that don’t work with a field-update procedure for their firmware and, in some cases, the manufacturer may not revise the firmware at all through the device’s lifespan. These situations may limit your ability to work with the large cards and you may have to wait for newer models to come out to take advantage of them.

Use beyond smartphones

Achieving a small neat nice design for portable equipment without forfeiting capacity

The 32Gb MicroSDHC card may also yield a valid reason for camera manufacturers to implement MicroSD cards in smaller camera designs when they equip these devices with high-resolution still or video capabilities.

This could similarly benefit handheld audio equipment like “digital notetakers” and personal media players where there is a desire to store a high quantity of higher-quality recordings yet achieve a pocketable design.

Similarly, manufacturers could cram more circuitry or room for batteries into other portable devices like portable GPS units without forfeiting storage capacity.

A compact solid-state storage alternative to the 2.5” SSD.

The SD card technology is optimised as a random storage medium in a similar way to the hard disk or the classic floppy disks. In this case, the microSDHC card can be used as a compact solid-state storage medium which is occasionally removed.

For example, a 32Gb microSDHC hidden behind a service panel could be useful as a system drive (boot, operating system, applications, hibernate file and registry) in a laptop or notebook computer with a regular 2.5” hard disk being used for user data. For printers and all-in-one devices, this card would work as a larger temporary storage for applications like keeping the print or fax queue for reliable and convenient printer operation.

Conclusion

The main reason I am blogging on the 32GB MicroSDHC card is because it is an example of the direction that solid-state secondary storage is taking, whether in a removeable or fixed form

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What is happening to the common household telephone nowadays?

What was the common household telephone?

The household telephone became common during the years of prosperity that occurred after World War II ended and technology made it affordable for most householders to have a telephone service. This was a telephone handset that was installed in a common area of the house like a kitchen, hall, main lounge room or dining room. This phone, which was initially black, was allocated a number by the monopoly telephone provider and family, friends, employers and neighbours of any of the household’s members knew this number to contact the household’s members. These same members could place calls from that phone or receive calls on it whenever anybody who knew the number rang in. Sometimes it was seen as part of the wedding celebrations for a married couple to list their names in the standard telephone directory as “<husband’s first name> & <wife’s first name> <surname>”.

Using the common household phone

Using a common household telephone in the kitchen

There wasn’t the expectation of privacy from other members of the household during a phone call and, in a lot of cases, whenever the phone rang, members of the household would be “on edge” if the call was for them or not and whether the call had anything to do with them or not. If the intended call recipient wasn’t available, it was the job of whoever answered the phone to write down any messages that the caller may leave and, in some cases, call out those messages to the intended recipient. Typically this involved making sure there was a notepad or message book and a working pen near the phone and there were may occasions where there would be frustration due to the pen that was meant to be near the phone going missing. This has led to companies manufacturing pens that are tethered to a holder that is attached to the phone.

There used to be the option of having extra phone sockets installed around a house so you could move the phone amongst particular locations. On the other hand, some households installed an extra phone in the master bedroom, home office or similar locations so they could make or take calls from these locations. One person whom I know who used to run a dairy had 4 or 5 phones with three in the main living area, one in the office and another in the bedroom so he could take milk orders as soon as possible.

The cordless phone, which became popular through the 1980s and the 1990s, had changed the dynamics of the common household telephone and had allowed for some privacy and for handling calls in one’s preferred location.

This was the way with telephony for everyone until the 1990s when the mobile phone became affordable for most people due to competing service providers, subsidised handsets and prepaid mobile services. Similarly, there are many households with two or more lines where another of the lines is used as a household member’s private line because of the cost of telephone service going downhill.

What is now happening with the common household telephone

The mobile phone has made the common household telephone less relevant for engaging in personally-sensitive calls because the person can give out their own mobile phone number for such calls and can take these calls in their bedroom or outside with their mobile phone. Therefore these phones just end up being used for calls where there aren’t any privacy expectations.

In some households, especially share-houses with many young people, there isn’t a common household telephone installed. Instead, the phone line is used primarily for Internet access or other data-based activity. In other households, the common household telephone is simply seen by adults and teenagers as a failover line or a “call-anyone” line for that household.

The reduced traffic on these lines due to the mobile phone and VoIP-based low-cost-calling services has made the telecommunications companies (telcos), especially incumbent telcos who traditionally provided this service, worried because of the loss of call revenue that these lines yield. Some of these companies who run Internet or mobile services make up for this loss through the revenue derived from these services, but they have to maintain the infrastructure that is part of this elementary phone service.

The arrival of the sophisticated multi-function telephone

Now electronics manufacturers and telcos are developing implementations of the sophisticated multifunction home telephone. These are Internet-connected telephone devices which have a regular phone handset or cordless phone unit, but have a large colour touchscreen for many different purposes. Examples of these include Telstra’s “T-Hub” cordless phone with touchscreen base and the DSP Group’s Android-driven Wi-Fi cordless phone that looks like a smartphone.

Telstra T-Hub cordless multifunction telephone

Telstra T-Hub cordless multifunction telephone

The main driver behind the arrival of these terminals is the arrival of “single-pipe triple-play” fixed-location communications services which encompass Internet, landline telephony and multichannel television. These phones are being pitched as a more-sophisticated alternative to connecting a regular telephone to the Internet gateway device and using that device’s analogue telephony adaptor as the VoIP on-ramp.

These phones are able to work as a landline SMS terminal, email terminal and gateway to the popular social-networking Websites. A lot of them will have a general Web browser that works in a similar manner to how one browses the Web on a smartphone. Some of them will be able to play streamed or downloaded audio and video material with the sound coming out of a speaker that would normally be used for speakerphone applications; and the vision appearing on the phone’s touchscreen. It may also include the ability to use content held on local storage or network storage. These features are being used as a justification for replacing the phone that was placed in the kitchen or other common area because of their relevance to that area.

The phones that are part of a VoIP-based setup will also offer functionality not dissimilar to that of a business phone system with such call-handling functions like call transfer and park, conference calling, free intercom calling and the like. Some operators who sell the classic switched-circuit phone services will also offer hybrid VoIP-switched-circuit services with VoIP providing extra sophisticated functionality and a switched-circuit as a fallback.

Individualised communications

Another trend that is shaping the role of the common household telephone is the concept of individualised communications. This has started off with mobile telephones and businesses signing up to “direct-inward-dial” numbers for their staff members, but is now being made real with VoIP-based landline telephony services. It was also augmented with the idea of locale and device-independent “personal” telephone numbers being made available to people.

Here, a VoIP-based landline telephony system could allow users to determine which phone will ring and in what way (tone or cadence) if a particular personal number is called. This may be achieved through an interactive “log-on” routine that the user performs when they want to use that phone. It may also allow for individualised call accounting including the concept of “own telephone account”, which may be useful for households with teenagers, lodgers or small businesses.

In the same context, users who already maintain their own mobile phones could annexe these phones in to a VoIP-based landline telephone system that supports individualised communications and elect to make or take calls from the system’s phones or their mobile phone with connection-appropriate charging taking place to their account.

Action being taken to standardise these concepts

The Home Gateway Initiative is a trade group who are establishing reference standards for network hardware for the home and small business. They have established a reference standard for home network gateway devices like the routers, but more so the Internet gateway devices that have integrated VoIP functionality. They have also looked at the device setup scenarios where there are external modems like most cable Internet setups, but will encompass next-generation Internet setups. They are working on reference standards for VoIP telephony and could end up determining such standards for the multi-function telephones.

Conclusion

If these companies can look at ways of extending value out of the common household telephone by integrating it in today’s online world, they could stand a chance at seeing it more than just a communications device for the sidelined communities.

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Swedish TV manufacturers implement Android in a flatscreen TV

Articles

Swedish TV Manufacture, People of Lava, Intros Worlds First Android-Powered HDTV | eHomeUpgrade

Une TV sous Android chez Lava | Le Journal du Geek (France – French language)

From the horse’s mouth

People Of Lava – Company page

Product Page

My comments

I was not surprised with the Google Android software  being implemented as an embedded-applications platform beyond the smartphone and Internet tablet. Here, “People Of Lava” have introduced a range of Internet-connected main-lounge-area television sets that use Android as their operating firmware. In fact, what’s more is that these sets are open to the Google Android Marketplace so that users can add extra functionality to them by drawing-down the appropriate apps.

What I also liked about this design was that a lot of the design costs were cut out for the manufacturer because they didn’t need to design an operating environment from the ground up when they wanted to design the equipment. It has also provided an easier path for user customisation, which may be of benefit with Internet-based TV services like IPTV and catch-up TV; and sets deployed in hotels and similar businesses.

This has then proven that the Google Android platform can become a serious contender for the embedded and dedicated-purpose operating system marketplace.

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Network-Attached Storage with Built-in Battery Backup

 Thecus NAS server ( Network attached storage ) | Unbeatable Protection with Thecus® Battery Backup Module

Product Page

My Comments

Most of us who run a network-attached storage device will realise that these devices will need to have constant power supply in order to keep the data safe. The common solution that we would take would be to connect the NAS’s AC power supply through an uninterruptible power supply. These devices have a built-in battery to provide enough power to allow for an orderly shutdown of the device or allow the device to run longer through a short outage.

Now Thecus have taken a cue from a common security-system design practice. This is where an alarm system has an integrated battery that is maintained by the system’s power supply. It is so that the alarm system can continue to protect the premises if there is a power outage.

They have extended this concept by providing an optional battery-backup module for the N4200 “muscle-NAS” unit as an alternative to a UPS setup, with the battery allowing enough power for an orderly shutdown or completion of firmware installation. This can also cater for power outages including situations where the device may be accidentally unplugged and may be enough for most home and small-business environments.  If the NAS is used with an UPS, it could allow a larger safety margin for the data through the provision of “dual-layered” battery backup arrangement.

The concept may be worth it for equipment that is used in the home or by small businesses and would be a must for places where the power supply is likely to be unreliable. It also is another example where the manufacturers are racing to build the best example of a top-end network-attached storage device for the home or small business in a similar way to what Ford, GM and Chrysler were doing in the late 60s and early 70s with the “muscle cars”.

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Samsung Super AMOLED explained in pretty moving pictures (video) — Engadget

 Samsung Super AMOLED explained in pretty moving pictures (video) – Engadget

Samsung’s explanatory video clip

My comments on this technology

Same desirable attributes as the OLED displays, but improved in significant ways. Ability for the display to have integrated touch-sensitivity, This leads to slimmer touchscreen handsets which is an increasingly-important application in the now-competitive smartphone market, as well as similar applications like remote-control handsets and personal media players.

They have improved the outdoor viewing ability and display responsiveness for this display, which would be of benefit to mobile phones as well as digital-imaging and handheld-games-console applications. But do I see this technology going further? Another application that I could see the Super AMOLED work well with is a watch which works as an auxiliary display and control unit for mobile phones, like some of the Sony Bluetooth watches that have been surfacing lately. Such watches could then permit a colour display on the wrist with various interesting applications.

An area where this Super AMOLED technology could excel would be automotive and marine applications, especially if the cost of larger-area displays comes to a par with the common LCD displays. For example, the new multi-function displays that are becoming the control point for HVAC, infotainment, navigation, and similar applications in newer cars could move towards this display technology. Similarly, this technology could appeal to personal navigation devices a.k.a. “sat-navs” or GPS units, marine GPS / fish-finder units as well as aftermarket car-audio equipment.

What I see is that the Super AMOLED could be one of the next key display technologies as was the LCD or the LED displays.

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Now Google is proposing search for the big screen in the home

 Google Testing TV / Web Search on DISH Network Set-top Boxes | eHomeUpgrade

Video business-news bulletin including story about Google’s TV / Web search

My comments on this technology

Google has become a byword for searching for information on the Internet in a similar manner to the way the word “Walkman” became a byword for personal stereo equipment or “Hoover” became one for vacuum cleaning. Their presence is now strong on the computer screen and the mobile screen, but the territory that they haven’t conquered yet is the television screen.

Now they are working with DISH Network (one of two major satellite-TV services in the USA) to develop a TV-show / Web search user interface for use on the set-top boxes that DISH Network provide to their satellite-TV customers. Could this mean that we could be able to find RF-broadcast content as well as content on the Web like YouTube clips or Web sites such as online episode guides. They reckoned that this may need the use of a QWERTY keyboard near the TV.

But I have observed an increasing furtherance towards text entry from the couch, which would be important with Google’s TV/Web search. For example, some remote controls are implementing text entry on a 12-key keypad similar to how those teenagers type out text messages on their mobiles and others, including TiVo are issuing remote controls that have a slide-to-expose QWERTY keyboard for text entry. On the other hand. there have been manufacturers who offered small wireless or USB keyboards being pitched at “lounge-room” use.

This is even though I have seen situations where teenagers have brought laptops in to the lounge area so they can IM or Facebook friends while watching their favourite TV shows, or where I have used Google or the Internet Movie Database from my mobile phone to search for information relating to a show that I am watching.

So it definitely shows that the Internet is becoming part of the regular TV-viewing life rather than a separate activity.

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