Current and Future Trends Archive

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.

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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.

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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.

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Android now on par with Apple for tablets–what this could mean for printed-content delivery

Article

As tablet use grows, Android use on par with Apple, report says | Mobile – CNET News

My Comments

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet – a 10″ Android business tablet

Over the last year or so, there has been a lot of talk in the newspaper industry about heading to the digital-delivery path, with most newspaper publishers running the idea of offering their mastheads in a digital-delivery form. This has been lately augmented over the past few days of the Fairfax media group announcing their new direction and pushing the idea of a subscription-based digital-delivery arrangement for their two main mastheads, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

When I have heard this kind of talk, the tablet platform that is most often cited and supported for these applications is the Apple iPad. This is because it is seen as the most popular form of tablet computer for this application. But, from the CNET article, it is becoming so that the Android tablet platform is being placed on a par to Apple’s platform, mainly due to Amazon’s Kindle tablets.

I would also find that the Android tablet platform has yielded some capable products like the ASUS Transformer Prime; as well as the Samsung Galaxy Tab series and the business-oriented Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet that I just reviewed. These do appeal to users who “know what they are after”. Similarly, the Android platform has also yielded the 7” coat-pocket-size tablets like the Toshiba ATiSo that I reviewed recently.

Toshiba Thrive AT1S0 7" tablet

Toshiba Thrive At1So 7″ tablet

What I would like to see more for this platform is that the newspaper publishers work on integrated app-based newspaper readers for this platform rather than focusing the integrated experience to the iPad. Here, the 7” coat-pocket-size Android tablets could allow a user to have a few mastheads in their coat pocket to read on the train or the Transformer Prime could double as an electronic newspaper.

One platform that I am pleased with is the Zinio platform used for distributing magazines. Here, the effort was to deliver the magazine mastheads to a variety of devices ranging from the iPad through the Android tablets to the Windows and Mac desktop platforms, simply by working on a client program for each of the platforms.

Newspapers could look at developing a platform that allows the development of client apps for different device platforms and allow the user to subscribe to multiple mastheads without cluttering up their device with apps. It may either have to go for an app for each publisher or an app that is supported by multiple publishers and works as an online newsstand.

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Computex 2012–a chance to try at making touch-enabled computers mainstream

Article

Acer unveils bevy of Window 8 devices at Computex | Windows 8 – CNET Reviews

My Comments

With the imminent release of Windows 8 and its Metro touch-based user interface, most of the Asian computer manufacturers are trying at making the touch-screen a mainstream item in the consumer-focused computer.

Previously, as Microsoft integrated tablet and touch abilities in to the Windows operating system, either through a special-delivery pack in Windows XP or as part of the build in Windows Vista and 7, manufacturers tried running with some business computer models that had this feature. This appealed to some usage scenarios like kiosks or point-of-sale / point-of-service applications but didn’t progress further.

Now, through the popularity of the Apple iPad and the Android-based tablets, touchscreen computing has been positioned in to the mainstream. A few manufacturers like HP and Sony have started to make the touchscreen a standard feature of some of their “all-in-one” desktop computers in order to capitalise on its popularity. But they wrote up their own touch-enabled shells and applications to exploit this feature and some of these shells didn’t serve a practical or proper purpose. For example, they didn’t work well with “reading” or similar tasks that are touch-intuitive.

Microsoft have capitalised on this factor by building in the Metro touch user interface in to the Windows 8 operating system, thus making it work properly as a touch-centric user interface. Now this year’s Computex trade show, held in Taipei, has become a point where most of the Asian computer manufacturers are releasing more of the touch-enabled computers for this operating system.

For example, Acer have run with two touch-enabled Ultrabooks which can lie flat as well as two “all-in-one” desktops and two Windows-driven tablets. As far as the tablets are concerned, one of them even uses a keyboard dock in a similar vein to the Android-driven ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime and Lenova ThinkPad Yoga tablets.

Some of us may be skeptical of the idea of consumer touchscreen computing occurring on anything other than Android or iOS devices but as we see the arrival of touchscreen-enabled all-in-ones or laptops running Windows 8, who knows whether this would come to pass.

In my opinion, the Windows-based touchscreen computers would need to work with online bookstores and newsstands so that users can purchase and download ebooks and other content delivered in “electronic hard-copy” formats. Here, the apps that are used to read these ebooks need to support an intuitive reading experience that the touchscreens do offer.

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OLED to become another display option for large TVs

Articles

Samsung to sell world first 55-inch OLED TV

Panasonic, Sony purportedly entering into OLED TV team-up, torrid love affair | Engadget

My Comments

If you have a Samsung or HTC smartphone, you will most likely be using a phone that is equipped with an OLED display. Similarly you may have seen this technology in use with some upmarket car stereos.

These displays work on a self-illuminating method in a similar vein to the legacy cathode-ray-tube screens, the fluorescent displays used on most consumer-electronics equipment and the plasma display screens used in some larger flatscreen TVs. This is compared to the common LCD display technology used in most display applications that requires a backlight for the display to work.

They are known to offer an advantage of improved contrast as well as improved power efficiency for portable devices. The monochrome variants have been used effectively as a low-power equivalent to the previously-mentioned fluorescent displays, thus providing the same display look on battery-operated equipment.

Sony had previously launched an OLED-based TV in the form of the XEL-1 but this set used a screen that was eqivalent in size to most desktop computer monitors yet was very expensive compared to its peers. Now Panasonic, Samsung and Sony are taking this further by implementing OLED display technology in larger TVs that are fit for group-viewing in lounge rooms or family rooms.

Panasonic and Sony are pooling technical know-how to allow the creation of the large-area OLED displays necessary for the creation of these sets at prices affordable for most people.

What I see about this is it could be an effort in creating a large vivid high-contrast self-illuminating display that doesn’t consume lots of energy and is affordable for most users.

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HP brings around the OfficeJet 150 mobile multifunction printer

Articles

HP introduces Officejet 150 all-in-one mobile printer, Photosmart 5520 — Engadget

My comments

As most of us know, desktop multifunction printers which have an integrated scanner have been around with us for a long time and are a popular primary-use printer type. They have worked well also as photocopiers and, in an increasing number of cases, fax machines which are more cost-effective than the cheap thermal-transfer plain-paper faxes that some small businesses use,

But this device class hasn’t become of benefit to the mobile user. Some of these users may require a document to be printed out for the customer to sign as part of the workflow such as a quote-acceptance or job-completion handover form. Here they don’t want to have a pile of these documents occupying space in the briefcase or van before they head “back to base” to process and file them.

Typically, these users either had to buy a mobile printer and a mobile scanner if they wanted to be able to print and scan hard-copy documents on the road. Canon previously offered a scanning attachment for their BJC-80 mobile printers but required the user to install the attachment in the printer if they wanted to scan.

But now HP have offered the OfficeJet 150 mobile multifunction printer which I see as a game changer. It can work in a similar manner to the direct-connect multifunction desktop printer and can link with a regular computer via USB or Bluetooth. Of course it has what used to be known as “three-way” power where it can be run from AC, a rechargeable battery pack or your vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket. Infact the unit does come with the rechargeable battery pack as well as the AC adaptor and the car adaptor can be obtained through HP.

There is the ability to perform driverless printing from PictBridge-enabled cameras and selected (non-Apple) smartphones. But if this is to work with most mobile devices, HP could modify the ePrint Home & Biz app to use Bluetooth as well as Wi-Fi wireless for the device connection. Similarly this printer doesn’t support Apple’s AirPrint ecosystem for their iOS devices because this technology is pitched at network connectivity as the main link.

On the other hand, HP could develop and supply an “ePrint / AirPrint” kit with an 802.11n Wi-Fi interface that connects to this printer. This could be set to work as a wireless network adaptor for existing Wi-Fi networks or as an access point for quick-set-up arrangements where there isn’t a wireless router in place.

As I have read through the press material on this device, the HP OfficeJet 150, like all mobile inkjet printers that have been released so far, is a two-cartridge colour printer. This means that colour printing can be very costly on these setups because if you run out of one colour, you have to throw away a cartridge that has plenty of the other colours. This class of printer could be improved upon with the use of a four-cartridge colour printing setup in order to provide the same level of economy as a well-bred desktop multifunction inkjet printer.

What I see of this is an effort to provide tradesmen, travelling salesmen and other similar workers with a lightweight portable device that works with workflows that require heavy use of hard copy and quick-turnaround documents.

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A vehicle hands-free kit offering access to apps on your iPhone

Articles

Clarion Next Gate hands-on (video) – Engadget

Clarion Next Gate puts iPhone control, app integration on your windshield | CNet Reviews

Clarion Next Gate brings iPhone apps (and distractions) to your windshield | Engadget

My Comments

The CTIA mobile-technology show in the US has become a launch-pad for Clarion’s “Next Gate” car hands-free kit.

The kit works in a similar manner to Pioneer’s “AppRadio” concept, where an iPhone that has a specific handler app is connected to the car-audio system and selected apps are exposed to the car-audio system’s touchscreen display and control surface.

But this unit implements it in the form of a “walk-up” hands-free kit that has the main unit temporarily mounted in the car and powered from the vehicle’s cigar lighter and connected to the auxiliary input of an existing car stereo. 

There are a few questions that need to be answered concerning these car-audio setups. One is why the device doesn’t support a Bluetooth device class or application to permit this kind of “remoting” of specific applications held on a platform smartphone, such as Internet-audio, navigation and traffic-information apps from an external control surface. This may help with people who may not want to bother cabling up the smartphone to this device.

Of course there is already a standard available to the market for this kind of remote control of smartphones from a dashboard-based control surface. This is in the form of MirrorLink, valued by an increasing number of other vehicle infotainment companies operating in the OEM and aftermarket space, and Samsung is running with this standard in their latest Galaxy S III smartphone.

But Clarion and Pioneer may prefer having these devices work as a discrete user interface to the apps themselves and the data they expose rather than the phone as a device. This may provide the ability for the device manufacturers like them to have greater control over what apps appear on these devices.

If the direct-app-link approach is preferred for vehicle-smartphone integration rather than the “terminal” approach offered by MirrorLink, the industry could work on a standard for facilitating this kind of link.

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Could an expansion module for an Ultrabook be a viable product?

Introduction

Sony VAIO Z Series and docking station

The Sony VAIO Z Series ultraportable with functionality expanded by an add-on module

Previously, I reviewed the Sony VAIO Z Series ultra-thin premium laptop and the review sample cam with an expansion module that linked to this laptop with an LightPeak-(Thunderbolt)-via-USB3 connection. This provided discrete graphics circuitry, an Ethernet connection, video outputs, extra USB sockets as well as a slot-load Blu-Ray reader / DVD-burner optical drive. A cheaper variant of this laptop had the expansion module as an optional accessory rather than in the box.

Well, the age of the Ultrabook is here and some of us may want to have these machines benefit from extra connectivity or functionality at our main work locations yet benefit from a lightweight design when out and about.

Most of us would expand these computers with a myriad of adaptors and modules that plug in to these computers’ USB ports and this could yield a mess when you have many of these peripherals and too few USB ports on the computers.

Docking Stations before

Previously, some manufacturers used to supply docking-stations and port-expanders that integrated with some of their laptop lines usually through a proprietary multipin connector. These typically served one main function i.e. to connect larger desktop peripherals to the laptop but allow the user to quickly remove the laptop when they hit the road.

Data connectivity nowadays

Now the USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt connector can make this concept real for most Ultrabook models when it comes to data transfer; and this can work well with setups that just provide access to an optical drive and / or extra connectors.

These connections allow for high-bandwidth data throughput which can support the requirements of Blu-Ray Discs, high-capacity high-throughput hard disks, Gigabit Ethernet, data for discrete-video GPUs serving high-resolution displays or many more USB 2.0 connectors.

A current problem

Expansion unit as a power supply

But there are issues involved if the expansion module is to be a power supply for the portable computer. Here, most manufacturers ask for different input voltage and current levels for their different notebook computer designs, and they also use different DC plug sizes for some of their products.

This can be easier if the goal is to have the device work with one particular make or model-range of computer. But it can be harder if you expect an expansion module to work across a larger range of products such as a manufacturer’s complete lineup or products made by different manufacturers.

If there is an industry expectation that all Ultrabooks and, perhaps, other ultraportable computers, are to have a particular power-supply requirement for outboard chargers, the power-supply functionality could be answered through the provision of a standard flylead from the expansion device to the host computer.

This could be facilitated through the use of a standard power-supply requirement and connection type for portable computer power-supply connections. It can then allow for power-supply innovation by computer manufacturers and third parties to provide power to these computers from different power sources.

What can be provided

Optical disc

These modules could provide an optical disc drive so one can play or burn CDs / DVDs / Blu-Ray Discs with the Ultrabooks. This could come in handy either with entertainment or with installing software held on these discs. In some cases, people could burn data to these discs due to them being sold for a “dime a dozen”.

Extra connections

Another benefit would be to provide increased connection and expansion abilities for the Ultrabook. This would play well for those users who press a 13” laptop as a computing device at their main location, having it hooked up to a large screen and a keyboard and mouse fit for use with a desktop computer as well as some decent speakers or a nice sound system at their main workstation.

Typically this would manifest in extra USB sockets of the 2.0 or 3.0 variety as well as an Ethernet socket for connecting to a Gigabit Ethernet or HomePlug AV network.

Improved video and audio

An expansion module could help a manufacturer raise an Ultrabook’s multimedia credentials whether it is to enjoy creating or playing audio, video or photo content.

If the manufacturer decided to follow Sony’s example, they could house discrete video circuitry in the expansion unit in order to provide for enhanced multimedia-grade graphics. These could service the laptop’s integrated display or a display connected to video terminals on the expansion unit. In some cases, the expansion module could be a display in the order of 21” or more working as a second screen.

Similarly the sound quality available from an Ultrabook could be improved through the use of discrete sound-processing modules like the Creative Labs modules. This could open up paths like analogue RCA inputs and outputs or SP/DIF digital connections (Toslink optical or RCA coaxial) to connect to good-quality sound systems. As well there could be the use of one or more 1/4” jacks that can be used to connect good microphones or musical instruments to this module for recording.

In some cases, this could extend to the integration of broadcast tuners in to these modules to permit an Ultrabook to receive radio or TV broadcasts.

Providing to the market

Manufacturers should be encouraged to provide more than one different expansion module so that customers can choose the right unit to suit their needs and budget rather than just their computer. As well, they can make sure that these units can cover a larger range of their small notebooks. It can also allow for customers to upgrade their notebooks to suit different needs as well as purchasing different expansion modules for different needs at a later date.

Conclusion

Yes, an expansion module for the new class of Ultrabooks can be a viable computer-accessory product and, once worked out properly, could serve a large range of these computers.

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Barnes & Noble beats Amazon to the punch with lighted e-ink Nook (hands-on) | E-book readers – CNET Reviews

 

Barnes & Noble beats Amazon to the punch with lighted e-ink Nook (hands-on) | E-book readers – CNET Reviews

My comments

Illuminating non-self-lighting displays

The new e-ink display technology is showing up a few issues here, especially with use in darker environments. The typical solution for dark-environment ebook reading was to use an accessory cover that had an integrated light of some sort. But it will follow the same path as the liquid-crystal display as I outline below.

Initially, if an application required any form of useability in a dark environment such as a watch, the manufacturer installed a filament bulb in the side of the display and this was lit up by the user pressing a button. Later on, in the mid-80s, device manufacturers used a LED array installed behind the display to backlight small displays like number displays. This typically provided a relatively-consistent illumination effect across the display area and allowed for such practices as changeable illumination colours, which was asked for with car radios.

This became the norm through the mid-90s until some watch manufacturers worked on the use of “electroluminescent” illumination technology which provided an illuminated display on their watch with very little battery consumption and an even display lighting.

Large LCD screens for video / data display applications do use cold-cathode fluorescent backlighting but have moved to white-LED backlighting as a way to be power-efficient.

Research that has been done

The current problem with the e-ink display is that it isn’t self-illuminating. This is although there is research by Pixel QI in to establishing a display technology that can combine what the LCD offers with the e-ink technology. This is to counteract the problem of LCD and OLED display applications being “washed out” in bright sunlight.

But there could be the use of a white electroluminescent panel behind an e-ink display, especially a colour fast-refreshing type to allow for a highly-flexible “use-anywhere” display that can conserve power.

Conclusion

Once we see further work on the e-ink display taking place, it could then allow for this technology to move beyond the Nook or Kindle e-reader.

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