Current and Future Trends Archive

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.

Send to Kindle

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”.

Send to Kindle

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.

Send to Kindle

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.

Send to Kindle

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.

Send to Kindle

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.

Send to Kindle

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.

Send to Kindle

Western Digital now launching NAS-optimised hard disks

Articles

WD Has New Drives Designed For Your NAS ! SmallNetBuilder

From the horse’s mouth

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Netgear ReadyNAS

Now there are some hard disks optimised for NAS units like this ReadyNAS “music server”

Western Digital have released a range of hard disks that are optimised for the common network-attached-storage device. You may think that you need to use a regular desktop hard disk for this application but the WD RED range can suit this space in a more reliable manner.

These 3.5” SATA HDDS are set up for 24/7 operation yet have reduced power needs. Their software even is optimised for this class of device by assuring quick response and high compatibility across most NAS enclosures. But I also would reckon that they would suit those large USB / eSATA hard-disk subsystems that are commonly used with USB file server devices like the Freebox Révolution or one that was part of a home network that I helped someone with.

Compared to a desktop or mobile hard disk that has to deal with reduced duty cycles or a high-end server hard disk that is optimised for intensely-active corporate servers with large power allowances and many-spindle disk arrays, these are optimised for a small NAS that has a small power supply that provides power to up to five spindles.

WD aren’t just selling these 1Tb-3Tb hard disks with their MyBook Live NAS products but making them available as disk units for use with diskless NAS or USB enclosures. This also applies to those of us who buy a multi-bay NAS enclosure like a NETGEAR ReadyNAS with one disk, then add hard disks to this enclosure as needs, funds and time allow.

They also have support for proper AV streaming which would be required of most NAS subsystems used in the home as DLNA Media Servers or “NVR” subsystems used in small-business IP-based video-surveillance setups. This would cater for a glitch-free audio or video recording and playback experiences.

A good question I would ask is whether the competing manufacturers like Fujitsu and Seagate would answer WD when it comes to providing the hard disks optimised for these small network-attached-storage systems.

Send to Kindle

Repost–USB Audio in Android Jelly Bean to mean more in the way of accessories

I am reposting this to make sure that the link to the product review is working properly for RSS, email and Facebook subscribers

Article

Gear4 speaker dock supports USB audio for Jelly Bean at Google I/O 2012 (hands-on video) — Engadget

My Comments

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled music system main unit

An iPod-enabled music system that can also benefit from Android’s new USB Audio interface

Apple iOS users have had the advantage of also having a USB single-wire or docking connection between their iOS device and accessory equipment, with the ability to channel the sound data, the control signals and power to their device using the same connection. This has built up the iPod / iPhone accessory market very strongly with the accessories allowing the user to start and stop the music or move between tracks and folders on their iPod or iPhone using the control surface that the accessory provides.

People who used Google Android devices were limited to an analogue or Bluetooth audio link between an amplification device and their smartphone or tablet with support for transport control if the phone was connected via Bluetooth. They typically had to run a separate USB cable if they wanted to supply power to the Android device from that accessory.

Now the latest iteration of the Android platform, known as “Jelly Bean” and version number 4.1, supports USB Audio. This is similar to how a USB speaker system or external sound card can work with most desktop operating systems. It can then allow a large manufacturer base to develop “Android-friendly” audio playback equipment like speakers, Internet radios and hi-fi amplifiers / receivers in a timeframe that allows the device to be “ready-to-market” quickly.

What could be looked at

Communications audio

There are some questions I have about this kind of setup. One is whether the USB Audio functionality in Android Jelly Bean can allow for communications audio as well as audio content from the media player program. This would be of importance with automotive applications where the USB Audio link could be used as an alternative to Bluetooth for hands-free telephony in the car.

Device control

The other issue to look at is exposing the accessory device’s control surface as a control point for the Android device’s communications and media-playback functions. This situation would be of importance for accessory devices which have other audio or video sources like broadcast tuners, optical-disc players or USB Mass-Storage device connection. In the automotive context, it also extends to nearly all car infotainment setups that allow the user to make or take a call using the controls on the dashboard.

Here, it could be feasible for the accessory to control the media player or phone user interface using either the screen on the Android device or using the controls on the accessory. Here, it could allow for “basic” transport control and metadata display on the accessory device while advanced “search and play” can be performed on the Android device. Similarly, call-progress control can be managed using controls on the dashboard with the ability to, when the car is parked, commence a call on the Android device’s touchscreen.

Similarly, MirrorLink or similar techniques culd allow the accessory device to be configured or controlled in an advanced manner using the touchscreen on the Android device. It could come in handy with A/V equipment which may need specific configuration and setup procedures or Blu-Ray players that may expose “second-screen” interactivity functionality on the handset.

Conclusion

At least, Google have integrated commonly-accepted open standards to add functionality to Android in a manner as to rival the established Apple mobile-device platform and stimulate a healthy competitive design environment.

Send to Kindle

USB Audio in Android Jelly Bean to mean more in the way of accessories

Article

Gear4 speaker dock supports USB audio for Jelly Bean at Google I/O 2012 (hands-on video) — Engadget

My Comments

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled music system main unit

An iPod-enabled music system that can also benefit from Android’s new USB Audio interface

Apple iOS users have had the advantage of also having a USB single-wire or docking connection between their iOS device and accessory equipment, with the ability to channel the sound data, the control signals and power to their device using the same connection. This has built up the iPod / iPhone accessory market very strongly with the accessories allowing the user to start and stop the music or move between tracks and folders on their iPod or iPhone using the control surface that the accessory provides.

People who used Google Android devices were limited to an analogue or Bluetooth audio link between an amplification device and their smartphone or tablet with support for transport control if the phone was connected via Bluetooth. They typically had to run a separate USB cable if they wanted to supply power to the Android device from that accessory.

Now the latest iteration of the Android platform, known as “Jelly Bean” and version number 4.1, supports USB Audio. This is similar to how a USB speaker system or external sound card can work with most desktop operating systems. It can then allow a large manufacturer base to develop “Android-friendly” audio playback equipment like speakers, Internet radios and hi-fi amplifiers / receivers in a timeframe that allows the device to be “ready-to-market” quickly.

What could be looked at

Communications audio

There are some questions I have about this kind of setup. One is whether the USB Audio functionality in Android Jelly Bean can allow for communications audio as well as audio content from the media player program. This would be of importance with automotive applications where the USB Audio link could be used as an alternative to Bluetooth for hands-free telephony in the car.

Device control

The other issue to look at is exposing the accessory device’s control surface as a control point for the Android device’s communications and media-playback functions. This situation would be of importance for accessory devices which have other audio or video sources like broadcast tuners, optical-disc players or USB Mass-Storage device connection. In the automotive context, it also extends to nearly all car infotainment setups that allow the user to make or take a call using the controls on the dashboard.

Here, it could be feasible for the accessory to control the media player or phone user interface using either the screen on the Android device or using the controls on the accessory. Here, it could allow for “basic” transport control and metadata display on the accessory device while advanced “search and play” can be performed on the Android device. Similarly, call-progress control can be managed using controls on the dashboard with the ability to, when the car is parked, commence a call on the Android device’s touchscreen.

Similarly, MirrorLink or similar techniques culd allow the accessory device to be configured or controlled in an advanced manner using the touchscreen on the Android device. It could come in handy with A/V equipment which may need specific configuration and setup procedures or Blu-Ray players that may expose “second-screen” interactivity functionality on the handset.

Conclusion

At least, Google have integrated commonly-accepted open standards to add functionality to Android in a manner as to rival the established Apple mobile-device platform and stimulate a healthy competitive design environment.

Send to Kindle