Current and Future Trends Archive

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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The full-featured wristwatch has come back thanks to Sony

Articles

Sony unveils ‘Dick Tracy’ Android wristwatch

Sony unveils the SmartWatch, syncs with Android phones | News.com.au

From the horse’s mouth

Product page – Sony UK

My Comments

Since the late 1970s, some Japanese firms like Seiko and Casio introduced multi-function digital wristwatches. These typically had an integrated calendar, alarm clock and stopwatch as well as the time display with a seconds count; and showed this information on a liquid-crystal display. There were some economy models that came with just a time display and a calendar.

Infact, through 1980-81, these were a “must-have” and people could impress each other by showing that new digital watch they had bought. They would even step their watch through the functions that it could do.

Through the 80s, manufacturers gradually added extra functions to these watches such as hourly chimes, musical alarms, phonebooks, four-function calculators and even games as a way of differentiating their product. This trend started to peel off through the 1990s due to various factors such as an effective “innovation ceiling” for this product class as well as the mobile phone becoming a commodity.

Even now, the smartphone has displaced the wristwatch as a personal timepiece, with some people wearing a quartz analogue watch as a “dress watch” or not using a watch at all. This is due to the smartphone implementing a clock that works off an Internet-based or mobile-network-based master clock and setting up for daylight-saving automatically. They also have the same functionality as the most tricked-out 1980s-era digital wristwatch, if not more.

There have been a few attempts at implementing a digital watch that works as a remote terminal for a smartphone but Sony have released the latest in the form of the “Smart Watch”.

This is an Android-powered wristwatch that is paired with an Android smartphone using Bluetooth technology. The phone runs a special communications app that allows it to be a display and control surface for that phone. You control this watch using its OLED touchscreen rather than pressing one of the buttons on the side of those watches, There is the ability to upload apps to the watch via the communications app so you have the right functions on your wrist.

At the moment, there needs to be work done on providing a level playing field for data communications between smartphones or similar devices and remote-display devices like these watches. Devices like watches would also need to keep the time independently of the phone when they are offline from that phone so they can do what a watch does best.

This could become an interesting return to the watch just like what has happened in the 1980s where the desire for many functions on your wrist made this accessory earn its utility value rather than fashion value.

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A serious “all-in-one” workstation computer that answers the iMac

Videos

Video reveal of the HP Z1 workstation

Video introduction of the HP Z1 Workstation

Product Page

HP Z1 Workstation

My Comments

When I first saw the videos of HP’s new Z1 all-in-one workstation with 27” LCD display, I had seen it as a game-changer especially for Windows-based workstation-class computing. This is more so as an increasing number of people live in and work from smaller homes or rent smaller office spaces and the traditional workstation may not fit these settings anymore. It may also be seen similarly as a game-changer for the “serious gamers” who would like to play World of Warcraft or other similar games on high-performance computers.

Typically this class of computing was serviced by a computer that had a separate “tower-style” system unit located under the desk. This was connected up to an external monitor, keyboard and mouse. Some of the high-end Apple iMac all-in-one computers may have satisfied high-end graphics and multimedia needs; and there may have been a few computers with compact system units serving in this class of high-intensity computer.

I had also reviewed a Sony VAIO J Series “all-in-one” computer for this site and had found that the compact nature of these computers has a distinct useability advantage over the traditional desktop with the “tower-style” system unit that I was using.

HP has brought this kind of compact standards-based all-in-one computer to the architecture, engineering and graphic arts industries in a form that is reliable and continually serviceable. Here, the system can be laid flat and opened up so you can repair or improve the system, like as you could with the traditional workstation-class computer. It still needs the forced-air cooling but the software regulates how the fans run so as to cut down on the noise.

Some people may see this as being too “cutting edge” for a workstation-class standards-based “all-in-one” and there may be foibles associated with this model. But I would see this as a chance to bring high-performance computing in a home-friendly compact form without having to have the Apple logo.

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Next generation HTTP afoot

Article

Engineers rebuild HTTP as a faster Web foundation | Deep Tech – CNET News

My Comments

HTTP has been the standard transport protocol since the dawn of the World Wide Web and effectively became the backbone for most file transfer and streaming activities of the modern Internet.

But there is a desire in the Internet industry to bring this standard to 2.0 and bring some major improvements to this standard to cater for today’s Internet reality.

Data multiplexing between client and server

One key capability is to implement the SPDY protocol which supports multiplexing of data between the Web server and the Web browser. This is to provide for faster and efficient data throughput by shifting the data using one “channel”; as well as providing support for managing quality-of-service.

This may involve the deployment of audio and video material under a high quality-of-service while text data and software downloads can pass through on an “as-needed” basis.

Inherent end-to-end encryption support

The SPDY protocol that is to underpin HTTP 2.0 also provides support for end-to-end transport-layer encryption. But Microsoft wanted this feature to be optional so it is implemented according to the needs, such as a blog not needing encryption whereas an Internet banking or device management Web page would need this level of encryption.

But I would also like to support in this feature the ability not just to encrypt data but to authenticate the same data using a digital signature. Here, it could permit users to be sure that the Web site they are visiting or the file they are downloading is authentic and would be especially of importance with field-updated BIOS and firmware deployments, as I raised in my commentary about a lawsuit involving HP concerning this practice and its security ramifications.

Caching support at network level

Another feature that is being proposed is to provide for network-level caching of HTTP data. This is intended to provide for environments like mobile networks where it could be desirable to cache data in the service network rather than on the user’s mobile device; rather than introducing proxy servers to provide this kind of caching.

It will also allow mobile and embedded devices to avoid the requirement to have Web caches for quick loading of Web pages. Of course this will not be needed for those Web pages that have regularly-updated data such as Web dashboards, Web mail or similar applications.

Other issues

It also is worth investigating whether the HTTP 2.0 standard could support applications like client-server email delivery or advanced document authoring such as version control.

Of course this development will take a long time to achieve and will require some form of HTTP 1.x backward compatibility so there isn’t the loss of continuity through an upgrade cycle.

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Delivering purchased content collections to the home network

Apple and others may have us streaming content on a temporary basis in to our homes after we subscribe to them or another content provider but we will still want to download content to our home networks. This is so we can believe that we really have bought and owned the content rather than perpetually renting it. As well, an increasing number of content providers will take advantage of the digital environment to affordably distribute content under a “to-own” philosophy where we can buy that content in a digital form for cheap.

An example of this would be a few of the US’s well-known magazines, especially National Geographic, offering their back-issues as a collection of PDF files on a CD collection or a USB hard disk. Similarly, we would purchase digital albums of our favourite recordings from various online stores including iTunes. As well, when I went to a travel fair on Sunday 19 February, a country provided an optical-disc-based “slide collection” of images of that country at their stall.

The question that many will ask is how can it be made easier to deposit this content so it is available across the home network. Here, we could copy the files to a public “media folder” on a network-attached storage unit that is on the home network. But we would have to know where that “media folder” exists and how we should present the media to the network. As well, we would need to make it easier for a collection of PDF or other “electronic-book” files to be discovered on a mobile computing device such as a tablet.

A secure network installation routine for small networks

There typically are installation routines in place for provisioning software to computers but these look after putting the software in place on the computer from a user-carried, network-hosted or downloaded package and making the software discoverable in the computer’s operating system. The practice is also similar for delivering software updates and add-ons for network-attached storage devices and other similar devices.

Most media that is purchased online for download is typically downloaded to the user’s regular computer or, in some cases, their mobile device and manually copied to the network-attached storage using the operating system if it is to be shared. It also holds true for digital photos that are downloaded from one’s digital camera or content held on a “carry-through” physical media container like an optical disc or USB memory key. This can be a pain for people who don’t have much computer experience or patience.

One way to make this easier would be to provide a secure simple network installation routine for content collections. This could be based on the routine knowing common variables that represent the content collection and where particular content classes should go. It could manifest in a download handler associated with an online music store that knows the location of the download-music folder on the NAS.

Such routines would need to have a high level of security in order to prevent questionable software from being made available to the network. They will also have to properly support and handle permission systems that are part of most network operating systems.

These routines could allow the copying of “new” media files from the source to particular folders or, in some cases, mount the content collection to the NAS’s file system if it was in something like a USB hard disk such as the National Geographic example. Then it would force the media to be annexed to the index created by the NAS for searching and browsing the media. Of course, there will be the desire to install a skinned microsite which allows one to browse or search a media collection and this would work if the NAS uses a Web server.

Making “electronic-hard-copy” formats discoverable over the network

With DLNA at its current point, it is now feasible to provide images and audio-visual content to nearly every network-enabled audio and video player, allowing users to search or browse for the content they are after. This can be done using the device’s control surface or a control point hosted on another device and the browsing and searching can be performed against many different attributes such as the artist, title, date, user-assigned keyword or genre or a combination thereof.

But this concept hasn’t been extended to the “electronic hard-copy” document that is used for e-publishing. This will become more relevant as we purchase e-books and similar documents and create our own “e-libraries” and store them on NAS drives on our home networks. This will be of importance as large collections of works are made available in electronic hard-copy format for sell-through download or supply on a physical medium like a USB hard disk or optical-disc collection.

Here, PDF, ePub, XPS and other electronic-hard-copy files could support standardised metadata and the DLNA specification could be extended to permit discovery of content held in these electronic hard-copy formats. This would allow people who use e-readers, tablets and smartphones equipped with the right software to discover and download this material to these devices without having to know the file hierarchy of a NAS or use file managers to “pick up” the content. This software could then be integrated in to these devices in a similar manner to how DLNA media player software is becoming de rigeur for the standards-based tablet or smartphone.

Conclusion

The main issue here is that to be comfortable with newer content-delivery methods, we need to he able to do what we used to do in acquiring and annexing the content to household-common content pools so that all members of the household can gain access to the material. This then has to be made easier to d when it comes to file-delivered content especially for people with limited computer skills and what has been made available for photos, music and video content must extend to e-books and similar content. It also must allow the use of standards-based technology that doesn’t tie the user down to a particular vendor.

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What is the sound-tuning that is now implemented in laptops all about?

HP Pavillion dv7-6013TX laptop - keyboard highlightedA trend that I have seen with laptop computers and some all-in-one desktop computers is for them to have their sound output “tuned” by a company involved in the recording or reproduction of music. In a similar vein to how a motor-racing team will work a car destined for street use to improve its performance, these firms, such as Harman (JBL), Bang & Olufsen or Dr. Dre’s Beats Audio,  will work on the sound-reproduction systems to improve the computer’s sound reproduction, whether through its integrated speakers or through headphones attached to the computer.

The main issue that these efforts are trying to conquer is the tinny sound that emanates from the typical laptop speakers. Previously, these computers used just a pair of small speakers installed in their small chassis that didn’t yield good bass or midrange reproduction and they were driven via a low-power stereo amplifier in the computer. The setup was just good enough for audio prompts and, in some cases, speech from people without accents, yet did a horrendous job at reproducing music or sound effects in video or game content.  This is compared to the way even a cheaper portable radio or tape player that is equipped with the traditional 3” cone speaker can reproduce most frequencies “across the board”.  It is made easier due to these sets having a larger cabinet that isn’t crammed out with circuitry and reproducing sound through a larger speaker with a deeper cone. End-users are asking a lot more out of their computers as they use them as personal jukeboxes, movie players and games machines or businesses make heavy use of them as voice and video telephony endpoints.

HP Pavilion dm4 BeatsAudio Edition laptop at a Wi-Fi hotspotThe challenge is to keep these computers slim yet yield a proper and desirable sound across the audio spectrum. Typically the modifications will focus on the sound-reproduction and amplification circuitry as well as the integrated speakers. For example, there will be digital-sound-processing circuitry that works as a tone control for the computer, with the ability to improve the tone for the integrated speakers.

There will be the implementation of Class-D power amplifier circuitry that is designed by people in the audio industry and the sound will emanate from a multi-way speaker system. An example of this is the ASUS Ultrabooks implementing Bang & Olufsen ICEPower audio amplification. Most systems will use a 2.1 speaker setup with a separate bass driver that may be separately amplified, but some may use a multi-way speaker setup with many speaker units to achieve the sound of larger traditional speakers. As well, there would be some work on planning out the speaker-enclosure area to allow the sound to come out of the system properly.

From what I have noticed when I reviewed many of the laptops, I have come across some setups where the speakers can be muffled easily when you rest your hands on the palmrest, or some computers may sound better when placed on a harder surface. I have also noticed that the screen area isnt necessarily used on most laptops as a place to locate speakers because when you have speakers there, you can improve the stereo separation and sound localisation there.

There are still the many challenges ahead for these sound-tuning projects, where there is an expectation to yield that punchy bass from the built-in speakers. This is usually the kind of stuff that the marketers hype on about when they promote the computers that are equipped with these sound-tuning efforts. Other than that, these efforts have succeeded in putting the life back in to sound reproduction from the larger “new-computing-environment” laptop computers.

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Corning’s future vision of glass

Videos

 

A Day Made Of Glass 1 (link to this)

 

A Day Made Of Glass 2: Same Day (link to this)

My Comments

I had heard about Corning’s new series of videos about glass being more than just windows, mirrors and drinks containers. Their vision in these videos was to have windows, mirrors and similar objects as display surfaces for computer-hosted data; as well as for other applications like photovoltaic (solar) cells or electrochromic uses like tinting or frosting on demand.

Some of these visions include windows that are clear but become frosted “on demand” for privacy or show images or text such as a themed photo cluster or a diagram, with some being touchscreens for interacting with the display or being a control surface for lighting for example. The applications were being extended to automotive use like the glass displays being part of a dashboard for example.

This has been made feasible through efforts like the “Gorilla Glass” technology that is now being implemented in smartphones, tablets and large displays like TVs. Here, this glass is about an increasingly-tough surface or about a thinner glass surface for an LCD or OLED display application (including a touchscreen) being as tough as a glass surface of regular thickness.

It is even worth noting that Philips was also involved in “taking glass further” with mirrors that are displays and lately with an OLED light  / solar-cell combination which is transparent one moment and a light-source another moment while supplying extra power during the day. This latter application was pitched again at cars with a way of bringing more light in to the car but also working as an interior light when it is darker.

At least this shows that there will be many different game-changers when it comes to the design of display and similar technologies.

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