Current and Future Trends Archive

Symantec Symposium 2012–My observations from this event

Introduction

Yesterday, I attended the Symantec Symposium 2012 conference which was a chance to demonstrate the computing technologies Symantec was involved in developing and selling that were becoming important to big business computing.

Relevance to this site’s readership

Most solutions exhibited at this conference are pitched at big business with a fleet of 200 or more computers. But there were resellers and IT contractors at this event who buy these large-quantity solutions to sell on to small-business sites who will typically have ten to 100 computers.

I even raised an issue in one of the breakout sessions about how manageability would be assured in a franchised business model such as most fast-food or service-industry chains. Here, this goal could be achieved through the use of thin-client computers or pre-configured equipment bought or leased through the franchisor.

As well, the issues and solution types of the kind shown at this Symposium tend to cross over between small sites and the “big end of town” just like a lot of office technology including the telephone and the fax machine have done so.

Key issues that were being focused were achieving a secure computing environment, supoorting the BYOD device-management model and the trend towards cloud computing for the systems-support tasks.

Secure computing

As part of the Keynote speech, we had a guest speaker from the Australian Federal Police touch on the realities of cybercrime and how it affects the whole of the computing ecosystem. Like what was raised in the previous interview with Alastair MacGibbon and Brahman Thiyagalingham about secure computing in the cloud-computing environment, the kind of people committing cybercrime is now moving towards organised crime like East-European mafia alongside nation states engaging in espionage or sabotage. He also raised that it’s not just regular computers that are at risk, but mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), point-of-sale equipment like EFTPOS terminals and other dedicated-purpose computing devices that are also at risk. He emphasised issues like keeping regular and other computer systems up to date with the latest patches for the operating environment and the application software.

This encompassed the availability of a cloud-driven email and Website verification system that implements a proxy-server setup. This is designed to cater for the real world of business computing where computer equipment is likely to be taken and used out of the office and used with the home network or public networks like hotel or café hotspots. It stays away from the classic site-based corporate firewall and VPN arrangement to provide controlled Internet access for roaming computers. It also was exposing real Internet-usage needs like operating a company’s Social-Web presence, personal Internet services like Internet banking or home monitoring so as to cater for the ever-increasing workday, and the like. Yet this can still allow for an organisation to have control over the resources to prevent cyberslacking or viewing of inappropriate material.

Another technique that I observed is the ability to facilitate two-factor authentication for business resources or customer-facing Websites. This is where the username and password are further protected by something else in the similar way that your bank account is protected at the ATM using your card and your PIN. It was initially achieved through the use of hardware tokens – those key fobs or card-like devices that showed a random number on their display and you had to enter them in your VPN login; or a smart card or SIM that required the use of a hardware reader. Instead Symantec developed a software token that works with most desktop or mobile operating systems and generates this random code. It even exploits integrated hardware security setups in order to make this more robust such as what is part of the Intel Ivy Bridge chipset in second-generation Ultrabooks.

Advanced machine-learning has also played a stronger part in two more secure-computing solutions. For example, there is a risk assessment setup being made available where an environment to fulfill a connection or transaction can be assessed against what is normal for a users’s operating environment and practices. It is similar to the fraud-detection mechanisms that most payment-card companies are implementing where they could detect and alert customers to abnormal transactions that are about to occur, like ANZ Falcon. This can trigger verification requirements for the connection or transaction like the requirement to enter a one-time-password from a software token or an out-of-band voice or SMS confirmation sequence.

The other area where advanced machine-learning plays a role in secure computing is data loss prevention. As we hear of information being leaked out to the press or, at worst, laptops, mobile computing devices and removable storage full of confidential information disappearing and falling in to wrong hands, this field of information security is becoming more important across the board. Here, they used the ability to “fingerprint” confidential data like payment card information and apply handling rules to this information. This includes implementation of on-the-fly encryptions for the data, establishment of secure-access Web portals, and sandboxing of the data. The rules can be applied at different levels and affect the different ways the data is transferred between computers such as shared folders, public-hosted storage services (Dropbox, Evernote, GMail, etc), email (both client-based and Webmail) and removable media (USB memory keys, optical disks). The demonstration focused more on the payment-card numbers but I raised questions regarding information like customer/patient/guest lists or similar reports and this system supports the ability to create the necessary fingerprint of the information to the requirements desired.  

Cloud-focused computing support

The abovementioned secure-computing application makes use of the cloud-computing technology which relies on many of the data centres scattered around the world.

But the Norton 360 online backup solution that is typically packaged with some newer laptops is the basis for cloud-driven data backup. This could support endpoint backup as well as backup for servers, virtual machines and the like.

Mobile computing and BYOD

Symantec have approached the mobile computing and BYOD issues in two different paths. They have catered for the fully-managed devices which may appeal to businesses running fleets of devices that they own or using tablets as interactive customer displays. But they allowed for “object-specific” management where particular objects (apps, files, etc) can be managed or run to particular policies.

It includes the ability to provide a corporate app store with the ability to provide in-house apps, Web links or commercial apps so users know what to “pick up” on their devices. These apps are then set up to run to the policies that affect how that user runs them, including control of data transfer. This setup may also please the big businesses who provide those services that small businesses often provide as an agent or reseller, such as Interflora. Here, they could run the business-specific app store with the line-of-business apps like a flower-delivery-list app that runs on a smartphone. There is the ability to remotely vary and revoke permissions concerning the apps, which could come in handy when the device’s owner walks out of the organisation.

Conclusion

What this conference shows at least is the direction that business computing is taking and was also a chance to see core trends that were affecting this class of computing whether you are at the “big end of town” or not.

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Toshiba to introduce the first NFC-capable Ultrabook

Article

Toshiba Satellite U925T is First NFC-Enabled Ultrabook#xtor=RSS-181#xtor=RSS-181#xtor=RSS-181

My Comments

From this article, I reckon that Toshiba has used the Satellite U925T Ultrabook to push themselves ahead of the game by integrating the “touch-and-go” near-field-communications technology in to a portable computer.

One key advantage that I see of this is exploiting the mobile-wallet systems like MasterCard PayPASS and, perhaps, Google Wallet to allow NFC-compliant payment cards to facilitate an online transaction that doesn’t have the fraud risks associated with “card not present” transactions. This would be facilitated by the use of appropriate software that interlinks with the NFC reader and merchant-side software that runs the transaction as if you are paying for the goods at a store using your card and their card terminal.

Similarly, the Android and Windows Phone ecosystem would benefit from this feature through access to the mobile wallets that can be hosted in the NFC-capable smartphones. This can extend to device-to-device file-transfer functions like Android Beam where users could upload pictures and sync contacts and QR-discovered Websites to the notebook from the smartphone.

In addition, the setup routines associated with commissioning Bluetooth or Wi-Fi wireless devices with this notebook can be simplified to a “touch-and-go” procedure if these devices support this functionality. This can then lead to the ability to transfer “extended-functionality” files to the host computer so as to open up advanced feature sets like sound-optimisation functions for headsets and microphones.

What I see about this more is that this Toshiba Windows 8 hybrid Ultrabook is an example of using NFC to demonstrate a synergy between open-platform computing devices. This then simply leads to a breeding ground for innovation.

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Bluetooth Smart Ready product announcements piling up

Article – from the horse’s mouth

Bluetooth Smart Ready product announcements piling up

My Comments

I have given some coverage about the new Bluetooth 4.0 “Smart” and “Smart Ready” technologies. These are improvements to the Bluetooth specification to allow the use of Bluetooth sensor and control devices that can work on low battery requirements – think 2-3 AA or AAA Duracells or a “watch” battery – for in an order of six months or more.

This has opened up paths for health and wellness devices like blood-pressure monitors, glucose monitors and pedometers. Even the old 80s-style digital watch is coming back with a vengeance as a smartphone accessory due to this technology.

Most of the Bluetooth-equipped tablets and smartphones issued over the past model year or so are equipped with this technology fully with software support. But an increasing number of newer laptops are equipped with Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready functionality at least on a hardware level and underpinned with OEM software. An example of this is the recently-reviewed Fujitsu LifeBook LH772 which has this interface.

These units would have full inherent implementation when they run Windows 8 and it could open up questions about how the Bluetooth 4.0 Smart technology could be relevant to the laptop or desktop “regular-computer” device class.

One way I would see it being relevant to this class is the availability of Bluetooth wireless keyboards, mice and game controllers that don’t need special rechargeable batteries to operate. Here, they could run for a long time of use on just the two or three AA batteries.

Sensor devices like temperature or humidity sensors that are important to particular profession or hobby groups like refrigeration / HVAC engineers or gardeners could benefit from this technology especially when used with a laptop or tablet. Here, these computers could work with data-logging software to record trends or monitor for abnormal conditions.

At least what is being proven with the current crop of Bluetooth-Smart-Ready capable regular and mobile computer devices is that the world of innovation with this low-power wireless netowrk is being opened up.

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Asus’s latest USB laptop expansion module satisfies current expectations

Articles

Asus Launches the New USB 3.0 HZ-1 Docking Station | Tom’s Hardware

ASUS Launches the New USB 3.0 HZ-1 Docking Station Based on DisplayLink’s Leading SuperSpeed™ Graphics Technology | BusinessWire

My comments

I have covered the concept of expansion modules a.k.a docking stations that connect to laptops via USB 3.0, Thunderbolt or other similar connectivity as a must-have accessory. This is to allow people who use smaller or less-equipped laptops like Ultrabooks to use other equipment like optical drives or larger displays at their normal workspaces yet be able to maintain the portability of these machines. I cited this kind of device when I reviewed the Sony VAIO Z Series ultraportable which came with one of these modules that housed a slot-load Blu-Ray optical drive.

Lenovo issued one of these USB 3.0 modules as the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock. This unit had a Gigabit Ethernet connection as well as an external sound module and self-powered USB 3.0 hub for five devices.

Now ASUS have issued an improved USB 3.0 variant of a USB docking station that they previously released. The previous iteration had USB 2.0 connectivity therefore having access to 10/100 Ethernet, VGA and DVI video as well as an audio module and USB self-powered-hub connectivity for four devices. The video is supplied to the module using the DisplayLink video-over-USB technology to transfer the video to the VGA and DVI ports.

Now this improved version satisfies the current expectations by being equipped with a Gigabit Ethernet port as well as an HDMI port for current displays. This has the audio module and the USB 3.0 hub but uses the latest iteration of the DisplayLink technology to exploit the high throughput of USB 3.0 for high-resolution displays and stereo or surround-sound audio via HDMI. It is infact the first USB 3.0 docking station or expansion module that I have heard of that implements this DisplayLink setup.

Personally, I would like to see this device and the previous version equipped with an SP/DIF optical output using the same 3.5mm optical-electrical jack that Sony used with some of their CD Walkmans in the mid-90s to facilitate digital CD-MiniDisc recording with their MD Walkmans. Here this connection could be used provide a high-quality PCM stereo or bitstream surround digital signal to amplifiers that have built-in digital-analogue conversion circuitry.

As long as these are kept to common standards, it could then be feasible to supply the expansion modules to work with extra peripherals at one’s main work locations.

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Replacement power outlets with USB charging sockets now available to the Australian market

Product Page

sockITz.com.au sockITz

My Comments

A common reality with many of today’s personal electronics is the requirement ot use wall-warts to charge up or power these devices from AC power. Recently there has been a push by the industry to make the USB device-power standard the required standard for supplying power to mobile phones and similar devices. This is underscored with standards-compliant mobile phones being required to be equipped with micro-USB input sockets as the only power-input sockets on these devices.

Similarly, the agenda is to have the battery charger not being supplied as a standard accessory with the phone. This is to encourage us to use the charger that came with our previous phones as the current phone’s charger.

A new company has taken this further by supplying to the Australian and New Zealand market a double power outlet that also has an integrated USB charger for two devices. This outlet, supplied by sockITz, is intended to be installed as a new or replacement power outlet, allows us to charge or power two phones or similar devices while powering two AC-operated devices.

The outlet, which is finished either in classic white or with an aluminium front and either black or white switches and socket surrounds, also satisfies the zero leakage test with shutters that come over the USB sockets and shut off power to the charger circuitry when a device is unplugged from the USB sockets.

Of course, an ordinary old “sparkie” would have to install these outlets and they are best used in the office, kitchen or beside the bed, They would also go well with public spaces like cafes so that people can “top up” their gadgets on the go without carrying a wall-wart battery charger with them.

Personally, I would like to see this concept taken further with desk lamps and electric fans that have a self-powered USB hub in their bases so these devices can work as mobile-phone chargers or USB peripheral hubs. These kind of standards don’t just satisfy environmental friendliness but open up paths for real innovation and thinking “out of the box”.

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Nikon to field the world’s first Android-driven camera

Articles

Nikon Coolpix S800c hands-on: a closer look at the Android camera (video) – Engadget

Nikon intros Android based 16-megapixel camera | HelloAndroid

My comments

Nikon is intending to launch a compact digital camera which is based on the Android operating system. This camera, known as the Coolpix S800c, runs Android 2.3.3 as its operating system but uses a separate baseline operating environment for photography. This is to allow you to have the camera ready to snap the moment you turn it on, even though the Android operating environment will start and make itself available through a “fall-through” icon. The same operating environment also comes in to play as a battery-saving measure.

Of course the Wi-Fi-enabled camera will have access to the Google Play app store so you can load up Android front-ends to social-Web services, messaging services and the like. Similarly you could load up DLNA server programs like TwonkyMobile to show the pictures you took on your smart TV via the home network. There is an integrated GPS function so you can geotag the pictures that you take.

As the Engadget article went on, it is so easy to think you could load a game like Angry Birds in to this camera and play it but this would drain the battery out too quickly.

The Nikon compact camera has the expectations like 16 Megapixel sensor and a 10x optical zoom. Most Android phone users will rejoice because this camera implements the same kind of OLED multi-touch display that these phones use.

I suspect that this camera is pitched at the smartphone market due to the common practice of using smartphones to take family snapshots and this could yield the concept of using proper Japanese camera optics and a smartphone operating environment for this purpose.

This could become a chance for Android to prove that it isn’t just an operating environment for smartphones, tablets and set-top applications, that it can be used across many device classes.

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Trends concerning tablet computers in the workplace

Article

Will The New Wave Of Prosumer Tablets Beat The iPad In The Enterprise? | ZDNet

My Comments

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet with stylus

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet – fit for business

A trend that has been occurring over the past year or two regarding workplace computing is the implementation of consumer and “prosumer” tablet computers in this environment.

This has been underscored by the concept of “BYOD” and “consumerisation of IT” where technology hardware that is owned by employees is used to fulfill work tasks with this hardware existing under the control of the employees. This situation occurs commonly in a small business’s office environment but is being viewed with worry in medium and large businesses who are used to a company-supplied fleet of computers managed by an in-house IT team.

Issues that are commonly raised include the security of the workplace data held on the device and a desire to have a device that is manageable to company policies. This is especially where there is a “Bring Your Own Device” scenario where the employee buys and owns their device and uses it in the workplace.

Even hardware manufacturers are answering this trend through equipment like the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, both of which are equipped with styluses for rapid data entry as well as support for manageability.

Similarly. Microsoft and Apple are intending to court this market through the development of hardware and software that answers business needs like data security and system manageability.

Relevance to the small business

The large-business management options may be considered important for those businesses that have a solution provider or value-added reseller satisfying their IT needs. This is more so with retail and food / beverage / hospitality industries who implement computerised point-of-sale or similar systems. Here, a cafe  or restaurant who have their waitstaff taking customer orders at the table could benefit from tablet computers used for order entry.

It is also worth knowing that some of these tablets have been known to be cheaper in many ways to repair than the Apple iPad. This could be evident both in the increased availability of OEM and third-party spare parts as well as the increased access to expertise when it comes to repairing these units.

But any of these tablets can be relevant to the small business not just for jotting down notes, having reference material on hand or using them as a secondary communications-service terminal. Once loaded with the appropriate software or pointing to the appropriate Web resources, these units would come in handy for long-form data entry such as medical applications or surveys or frequent order entry like the aforementioned food and beverage industry.

A stylus can be a valuable option, if not a requirement if you are expected to do data entry using the tablet. This means that you can quickly “pick” options or “type” on the keyboard. Some devices may even recognise handwriting using this stylus.

For some small businesses, the tablet computer with its touchscreen is a valid trend to observe and, where relevant, implement. Similarly, the idea of “bring your own” IT is not new news in small operations but the manageability of this concept can be investigated when the business becomes larger or deals with a solution provider whom assists with the IT needs.

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High-pixel-density displays becoming a key computing trend

Article

Beware the allure of Apple’s Retina displays | Apple – CNET News

My Comments

Those of you who have heard a lot about Apple’s latest iPhones and other devices will know about them being equipped with the “Retina” display. This is primarily Apple’s take on a high-pixel-density display, and this will become an increasing trend over the next few years for most computing environments.

What is the high-pixel-density dsiplay

These are displays that have a pixel-density of at least 200-250 pixels per inch and are represented by devices like the 3rd generation Apple iPad, tie Apple iPhone 4S or the Sony PlayStation Vita. This is compared to most desktop and notebook computers offering a pixel density of 120-150 pixels per inch.

The main benefit is to see an image on the display that looks like what you would normally see with the naked eye. For text, this would appear as though you are reading a regular book; and would come in to being with e-book applications but can also apply to regular word-processing or similar work.

Similarly photos and computer graphics would acquire the smoothness of a photo that was taken using ordinary film or an painting that was painted by an artist.

Requirements

As well as the display surface having this kind of resolution and the display subsystem being able to show images to this resolution, the operating system would have to paint the user interface at a regular viewable pitch. This is no mean feat with the current desktop and mobile operating systems like Apple’s desktop and mobile operating systems, Windows 7 and the Android mobile operating system.

This has been aided through the use of vector images for the text and shapes that form the user interface and the ability to determine certain viewable pitch. It then allows for these features to be rendered at a more natural look that takes advantage of this higher pixel-density.

Current obstacles

At the moment, the high-pixel-density display will be limited to smartphone, tablet and laptop applications up to 16”. This is until LCD and OLED display fabricators can supply display subsystems with these pixel densities at a cost that allows the construction of larger displays at prices that are tolerable to the mainstream computing market.

Conclusion

What I would observe is that the Windows 8 platform would increasingly, with the increasingly powerful display subsystems. make the idea of the high pixel-density display common for most Windows-based regular computing platforms rather than just the Apple platforms. This same idea could be taken further with the next or subsequent generation of mobile and dedicated-purpose computing devices.

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What could the OUYA Android games console be about

Article

An update on OUYA’s exciting Android-based console project: Success! | Hello Android

From the horse’s mouth

OUYA Web site

Kickstarter Web site

My Comments

From my observations, Android has been known to offer an open-frame computing platform for the smartphone and tablet. This has included access to independent content services as well as access to third-party browsers, independent content-transfer paths, and standards-based setup.

Now the Kickstarter project has asssisted the OUYA Android-based gaming platform which has been called as an effort to “open up” the last “closed” gaming environment i.e. the television. This environment has been effectively controlled by Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo through the sale of loss-leading consoles and developers finding it hard to cotton on to one of these console platforms without having to pony up large sums of money or satisfy onerous requirements.

The OUYA gaming platform could be seen as an effort to take Android’s values of openness to this class of device, especially by allowing independent games authors and distributors to have access to a large-screen console gaming platform. One of the main requirements is to provide free-to-play parts for a game title like what has successfully happened with games for regular computers, mobile devices and Web-driven online / social play. This is where games were available with demo levels or with optional subscriptions, microcurrency trading or paid add-on content.

Other companies have stood behind OUYA as an IPTV set-top box platform with TuneIn Radio (an Internet-radio directory for mobile phones) and VeVo (an online music-video service with access to most of the 1980s-era classics) giving support for this platform.

The proof-of-concept console uses the latest technology options like a Tegra3 ARM processor, 1Gb RAM / 8Gb secondary flash storage, 802.11g/n Wi-Fi and Ethernet networking as well as Bluetooth 4.0 Smart-Ready wireless peripheral interface. The controllers have analogue joysticks, a D-pad, a trackpad and link via this Bluetooth interface. They are also a lightweight statement of industrial design.

But I would like to see some support for additional local storage such as the ability to work with a USB hard disk or a NAS for local games storage. This could allow one to “draw down”extras for a game that they are playing

What is possible for the OUYA gaming platform

Hardware development and integration

But what I would like to see out of this is that the OUYA platform is available as an “open-source” integration platform. This could mean that someone who was to build a smart-TV, an IPTV set-top box or a PVR could integrate the OUYA platform in to their product in the same vein as what has successfully happened with the Android platform. For example, Philips or B&O could design a smart TV that uses the OUYA platform for gaming or a French ISP like Free, SFR or Bougyes Télécom offering a “triple-play” service could have the OUYA platform in an iteration of their “décodeur” that they supply to their customers.

Similarly the specification that was called out in the proof-of-concept can be varied to provide different levels of functionality like different storage and memory allowances or different hardware connections.

Software development and distribution

For software development, the OUYA platform can be seen as an open platform for mainstream and independent games studios to take large-screen console gaming further without having to risk big sums of money.

Examples of this could include the development and distribution of values-based games titles which respect desired values like less emphasis on sex or violence; as well as allowing countries that haven’t built up a strong electronic-games presence, like Europe, to build this presence up. There is also the ability to explore different games types that you may not have had a chance to explore on the big screen.

The OUYA platform could satisfy and extend vertical markets like venue-specific gaming / entertainment systems such as airline or hotel entertainment subsystems or arcade gaming; and could work well for education and therapy applications due to this open-frame platform.

Conclusion

What needs to happen is that there be greater industry and consumer awareness about the OUYA open-source large-screen gaming platform so that this platform is placed on the same level as the three established platforms. This this could open up a path to an open-frame computing platform success that the Android platform has benefited from.

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Two-screen TV viewing a strong trend

Article

The Future Of TV Is Two Screens, One Held Firmly In Your Hands | Fast Company

My Comments

There is something that is becoming a reality with TV. It is where our TV-viewing sessions are involving two screens – one large screen carrying the main video and one smaller screen that we are holding in our hands.

This has been brought about by the popularity of the tablet, laptop and smartphone which are serving the second-screen role.

Some of us may think it is just for checking email or the activities of our Facebook Friends or Twitter followers. But a fair bit of this activity is to do with the content itself.

For example, one could be using GetGlue, Fango or other TV-related social networks to find out who is watching this show and what others have to say about it. Similarly, one could be checking the show’s Website and looking at other information and commentary that exists there. These are activities that may not work well on the big screen.

Similarly, most big-screen applications cannot support multiple concurrent logins for social-network or similar uses; and they are typically require “pick’n’choose” or “SMS-style” text entry.

In the case of news, a good quote for this is that “the revolution doesn’t have to be televised”. Here, one could be checking other news resources to verify the veracity of a news story, which can be very difficult during election time. This is augmented through comment feeds and Tweet feeds that are set up during news events like the one I participated in during the UK parliamentary inquire in to the News Corporation phone hacking scandal where I was dropping Tweets in to the feed from a Fujitsu laptop that I was reviewing. Similarly the scoreboard apps that I have mentioned about previously could simply work as an always-live scoreboard display during a sporting event and some sports like cricket or racing may benefit from these apps further by displaying supplementary scores like track position or bowling scores.

Of course, the commercials as we know them will be hamstrung by the two-screen viewing experience. This is more so as the traditional goal of eyeballs at the screen during ad breaks is reduced more. Here one could be following up information on the second screen while the ads play on; as well as visiting the kitchen or bathroom or stoking up the log fire. But the information that one could be following up on can relate to what was in the TV program; or it could be to follow up on something that was advertised during that ad break or a previous ad break.

As I have noticed and observed, this concept of two-screen TV is hard to adjust to for some people, especially the older generation who are more interested in focusing directly on the screen. It may be us simply glancing down at that smartphone or tablet so we can know further what is going on with some events.

I see this as becoming an interesting chain of events as we integrate in to an online and highly-interactive media-consumption life.

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