Mobile Computing Apps Archive

Personal-assistant software turns from a trickle to a flood

Siri - the first of the mobile personal-assistant software

Hi Siri! Siri – the first of the mobile personal-assistant software

First there was Apple with Siri, then Google with Google Now, then Microsoft with Cortana (not that Ford car of the 1970s). Now Facebook has jumped in on the act with M. What is this about?

We are talking of “personal-assistant” software that uses artificial intelligence and natural-language processing along with access to locally-stored and Web-hosted resources to answer questions.They also implement machine learning to fine-tune themselves to how you operate in life. Depending on the software, you may pose these questions by talking to the device or typing in the question. They will reply either by text or, if they implement speech technology, by voice. In some cases, you could ask the “personal-assistant” software to get the ball rolling for a hotel, restaurant or journey booking or product purchase.

Some of these programs provide API hooks to other programs and Web services either to learn from or pass commands to them so you could, for example, ask Google Now or Cortana to get Shazam to identify a particular song playing on the radio. These APIs may be passed to select programs as determined by the personal-assistant software vendor or may be widely available to every third-party app developer.

OK Google - Google Now as an Android widget

OK Google – Google Now as an Android widget

Initially this class of software was bound to a particular operating system but it is less becoming the case especially with Google Now, Cortana and Facebook M. Rather you can use these assistants at least on the major mobile platforms. Let’s not forget that these assistants are showing up on regular desktop and laptop computers with Microsoft rolling out Cortana for Windows 10 desktop use and Apple working on having Siri in an upcoming version of MacOS X.

Hey Cortana - Cortana which is the first of these intelligent personal assistants for regular-computer use

Hey Cortana – Cortana which is the first of these intelligent personal assistants for regular-computer use

What do I see of this competition? Personally, the proliferation may be focused on tying a natural-language personal-assistant experience to be centric to particular platforms and aps even if your computing life is multi-platform. But it could then lead to different personal-assistant programs that are focused on particular experiences, beliefs and ideals so that the experience is more in tune with who you are, what you believe and what you like. For example, a media company could create a personal-assistant program based on their media properties like ESPN creating a personal-assistant program centered around their sports channels but learning who your favourite leagues, teams and competitors are.

But I would rather that these platforms focus on a level of modularity where you can interlink them with particular information sources and apps and give them the kind of functionality that you desire yet keeping your data private. As well, this will assure that users can use a single interface point rather than switching between interface points according to what they are after.

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Bluetooth beacons find an application in point-to-point racing

Article

VW Golf 3rd Generation rally car in Saxony rally by André Karwath aka Aka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Bluetooth beacon technology is relevant with rally racing and similar sports

Hill climb cars to include beacons | NFC World

From the horse’s mouth

Pikes Peak International Hill Climb

Press Release

My Comments

This year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Coloradio Springs, Colorado, USA has become an interesting race when it comes to enriching the spectator’s experience.

It has been facilitated by the use of Bluetooth Beacons or iBeacons along with an iOS 8+ iPhone app which provides detailed up-to-date information about the competitors and where the place during the race. This includes the ability for users to favourite a competitor and be notified when they hit the finish. The Bluetooth Beacon technology is pitched as being Internet-independent because there isn’t the need to have the vehicles equipped with GPS-capable devices and spectators’ smartphones can pick up these beacon signals easily.

Tour De France in London - Flickr Creative Commons image by John Pennell

.. like bike races of the Tour De France calibre

But I do see more potential for this in rallies, hill-climb races, road-based cycle races, marathons and similar point-to-point races. This is where competitors are required to race from one point to another and following a known route or series of waypoints. Here, spectators would typically be spread across the (typically long) course and would want to know when their favoured competitors are coming past them as well as knowing how they are placed in the competition.

The same technology can work with other computer systems to accurately determine who has won the race without requiring the use of proprietary transponder technology. As well, there isn’t a requirement for competitors to carry and use GPS devices that need continual mobile-broadband links for uploading real-time position data, something that would be difficult with events held in country areas where such service isn’t all that reliable. The other bonus is that the Bluetooth beacons are very lightweight which adds very little weight to the competitor or competing vehicle where any extra weight carried can slow the competitor down.

But the hillclimb allowed spectators with suitably-equipped mobile devices that supported beacon detection to detect these beacons themselves when it comes to when “their” competitors are near. As well, computing devices with Bluetooth Smart functionality and Wi-Fi / mobile-broadband Internet access can be located at key points in the course to report the competitors’ positions for real-time updates for broadcast and online use.

It does show that the idea of using the Bluetooth Beacon technology for tracking the competition in point-to-point races has been proven thus allowing for systems that are more affordable for providing real-time competition updates for the spectators. It could be that as you watch that car rally you could have you phone notify you when that rally legend is near and about to perform that 3-point turn in the WRX. Similarly, your phone would notify you as the Tour De France péléton is about to arrive in your street so you can flip open those shutters and windows on the front of your house to have a look as it comes past.

For it to work effectively, the Bluetooth Beacon technology needs to be able to work on the client side with iOS, Android and Windows platforms with the necessary client apps written to work on each of those platforms.

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More classes of premium drink are protected by NFC bottle caps

Articles

Remy Martin thinks an NFC bottle cap is the key to authentic cognac | Engadget

Video

Smart liquor bottles can keep tabs on your bourbon collection | Engadget

Previous coverage

NFC technology to determine if that good wine or whiskey is the real McCoy

My Comments

I had previously covered the use of NFC as a tool to check if that bottle of premium wine or whiskey is the real McCoy and is filled with the real drink. This is based on a technology where an NFC chip is integrated in to the drink’s bottle cap is able to signal to a companion mobile app on an NFC-capable mobile device to indicate the veracity of the drink and what it’s about. As well, these tags become defunct or change their status if the bottle is opened.

Selinko developed the NFC bottle cap as a solution to a problem that has been happening in Asian markets where customers were being sold a “pig in a poke” when it comes to buying premium liquor. This is where a bottle of premium liquor had its contents diluted or swapped for poor-quality drink and is similar to where customers in the Asian countries are buying knock-offs of clothes, luggage and similar products made or designed by respected brands.

Remy Martin, a well-known cognac distiller, is partnering with Selinko to verify the authenticity of cognac bottles and check that the drink hasn’t been substituted with cheaper poorer quality liquor. As well, they are using this technology to allow their customers to find out more about the drink and participate in a promotion. As well, Diageo is using a similar technology designed by Thinfilm to check the veracity of Blue Label bourbon whiskey.

This could lead to you having to install an app on your mobile device for each drink brand you have in your liquor cabinet but each of the companies could also provide a generic interface and API for stock-management systems. Here, consumers, the licensed trade, hoteliers and others can check if a bottle is opened and what is meant to be in that bottle.

As I have said before, I would like to see this technology have applications beyond liquor such as to check the veracity and provenance of other branded items like soft drinks, pantry items and toiletries also at risk of substitution. That is, is the bottle of Coke full of the actual Coca-Cola, that jar of Vegemite full of the real Aussie thing or that bottle of premium aftershave or perfume containing the stuff with the real distinct scent that you love.

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TuneIn Radio brings Internet radio to the car courtesy of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Article

TuneIn Android screenshot

TuneIn – now to be ready for the car with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay

If you have Android Auto, you should get TuneIn Radio | Android Authority

TuneIn Radio adds real radio stations to CarPlay + Apple Watch controls | 9to5Mac

My Comments

The new smartphone platforms are working together with the TuneIn Radio app to bring Internet radio to the car.

Those of you who may have cottoned on to Spotify or similar online music services may have forgotten about what Internet radio is all about. This is where traditional radio broadcasters run an Internet stream that is effectively a simulcast of what you would hear on a radio that was tuned to that station. In some cases, it may be seen as the “new shortwave” because of the ability to listen to “out-of-area” radio like overseas stations.

The TuneIn Radio app which has been developed for just about all of the desktop and smartphone operating systems has been able to bring the joy of Internet radio to your laptop, smartphone or tablet in an easy-to-find manner. Here, you could be in Australia where commercial popular-music radio doesn’t excel on variety but you could listen to a station like Heart London, known for their large variety of pop music from the flare-flappin’ disco-infused 70s to new, on your smartphone.

In the early days of HomeNetworking01.info, I raised the concept of Internet radio in the car in response to a question a teenager who was about to get his driver’s licence raised when he heard an Iranian station on an Internet radio that I previously reviewed.  There have been some attempts by car-radio manufacturers and vehicle builders to achieve this goal as part of the connected car. Now TuneIn Radio had written in code to their iOS and Android apps to make it work tightly with the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in-dash infotainment platforms. For that matter, these platforms are available in an aftermarket form courtesy of Pioneer but Alpine and Kenwood are intending to roll their own versions of head units with these platforms out soon.

Owing to the nature of Internet radio, both these implementations wouldn’t provide the same kind of “few-control” experience associated with tuning for new local stations on the AM and FM bands with an ordinary car radio. Personally, I would prefer to have TuneIn Radio give drivers one-touch access to all their favourites whether through “paging” through each station in the favourites or a list of stations on the screen that they can touch. This can provide a similar experience to what most of us have experienced when “jabbing” the preset buttons on the car radio to find what one of our favourte stations comes up with.

At the moment, work will need to be done to allow mapping of hardware controls to CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces so that “up-down” and “numbered-preset” buttons on the dashboard or steering wheel can be of use with these interfaces. This will achieve support for tactile control of music apps using familiar car-audio interfaces.

At least what is coming through is that Internet radio, along with Spotify and similar services, is being valued as part of the connected car in many different ways.

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BT now offers an Android home phone that goes all the way to Google Play

Article BT brand identity  Enquiries about this image can be made to the BT Group Newsroom on its 24-hour number: 020 7356 5369.  From outside the UK, dial +44 20 7356 5369.  News releases and images can be accessed at the BT web site: http://www.bt.com/newscentre.

BT’s new home phone is as smart as your Android mobile | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

British Telecom

Press Release

My Comments

There have been some attempts by device manufacturers and established telecoms companies to provide an advanced home telephone to justify to residential customers the idea of keeping an existing landline phone service. It was something we used to do before the availability of cost-effective mobile phones especially smartphones and was the main business for these phone companies.

Examples of these phones include the Telstra T-Hub series which had a separate handset and a separate tablet which ran on a proprietary operating system along with various Android phones that didn’t have mobile connectivity but could work with a Wi-Fi home network.

BT used to offer an Android home phone but this didn’t have access to the Google Play Store which had all of the apps available for the Android platform. Rather this relied on the Opera Browser app store as a place to purchase these apps. Now they have just launched to the UK market the Home SmartPhone SII which has some interesting features.

The BT Home SmartPhone II is based on a fully-fledged Android 4.2 phone with integrated 2Gb memory which can be expanded like most Android smartphones. As well, you can download apps from the Google Play app store which has a large plethora of apps. You could even do things like load one of the many casual games like Candy Crush Saga or even install some of the “over-the-top” communications solutions like Viber,Skype or WhatsApp which are also supported with a front-facing camera for videocalls.

There is also the ability to filter out nuisance calls like “unidentified”, “number-blocked” or “payphone” calls so there is less risk of receiving unwanted calls  But this phone may be a hard sell with younger people who are sold on the idea of a mobile-phone-centric household but would appeal to older households who still place value on the traditional telephone handset in the home, especially as a common “catch-all” solution.

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It is now simple to port iOS and Android apps to Windows 10

Articles Windows logo courtesy of Microsoft

How Microsoft Is Going To Port Everything To Windows | Gizmodo

Android applications will be able to run on Windows 10 | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Welcome speech for Build 2015 – Blogging Windows

My Comments

Candy Crush Saga gameplay screen Android

This game has been the test-bed for porting to Windows 10

The Web has been awash with rumours about Microsoft allowing Android apps to run on Windows 10. The image projected by these rumours underscored ideas of users running Android APK program files in the Windows 10 environment or a gateway to Google Play on this operating system.

But Microsoft announced at Build 2015 conference a very different scenario that is more about developers being able to easily port iOS and Android apps to Windows 10 Universal Apps. It is part of a simplified code-porting mechanism that will come with this new operating system.

As you already know, a Windows 10 Universal app is designed from the outset to run on a regular desktop / laptop computing environment, a tablet or 2-in-1 in “tablet mode”, a smartphone or even the XBox One games console.

The process of “porting” an app to run on different computing platforms is about making sure that the program conveys a user experience that doesn’t differ no matter the platform that you are running it on. Rather it takes advantage of the bouquets that the platform provides like improved sound or graphics and is something I have seen in action through the late 1980s with games written by the likes of Sierra and Broderbund. In that era, there were a few different home / desktop computing platforms in circulation ranging from the IBM PC (MS-DOS) platform, Apple’s Apple II and Macintosh platforms, to Commodore’s legendary C64 and Amiga computer platforms and anyone who wanted to cover a large market with a games title had to port these titles across the different platforms.

Windows 10 Start Menu courtesy of Microsoft

Now easier to port from mobile platforms to this platform

Take for example “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego” which I had played on an Apple IIe and on an IBM-compatible running MS-DOS 3.3 . These games were ported in a way to take advantage of the graphics abilities the different platforms offered and were worked to give the same smooth operating environment for the platform you bought it for. If I had played that game on a Commodore Amiga, it would have come through with graphics and sound performance appropriate for that platform such as sharper graphics with many different colours along with a richer music soundtrack.

If you were to port an application or game to a different platform, you had to rewrite the program code from the ground up to target that platform. As well, you had to re-engineer all of the resources like the graphics and sound for that platform. This became a costly affair because you had to hire programmers who were conversant with your native computing platform and the target platform to do this job and make sure they run as expected on that platform. In some cases, the software may not run exactly as required nor would it properly take advantage of the platform’s assets.

Microsoft has made this process simpler courtesy of the Project Islandwood and Project Astoria software-development kits which simplify the process of porting iOS or Android apps to Windows 10 Universal Apps. These would allow the developer to reuse the iOS Objective C or Android Java/C++ code as the mechanism for the program and allow them to tweak the code to run smoothly in Windows 10, taking advantage of its assets like Cortana, Live Tiles, XBox Achievements and the like where appropriate.

They worked with King.com to use the new software-development kits to port Candy Crush Saga to Windows, having the gameplay experience on a Windows Phone similar to what was expected out of an iPhone.

What does this mean? It could allow a software developer to target iOS or Android for their programs then have it ready for the Windows platform very shortly after that without it being a costly affair..Who knows when a game like Candy Crush Saga could appear on the XBox One as a “quick-play” game to play on your TV?

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Panasonic has outlined what Wi-Fi can mean for your camera

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Panasonic

The wonderful world of Wi-Fi supercharges our latest cameras and camcorders (Blog post)

My Comments

LG G-Flex 2 curved Android smartphone - courtesy of LG

Panasonic is pushing the idea of apps as a Wi-Fi-linked control surface for cameras and camcorders

When Wi-Fi is added to a digital camera or camcorder, it is typically about being able to download the images or footage to a regular computer for editing and post-production.

But Panasonic is using Wi-Fi wireless networking for more than that thanks to the app-cessory model. Here, they provide a downloadable app that works as a control surface for the camera and can use the smartphone’s abilities to increase what the camera or camcorder can do.

For example, they have a “Jump Snap” feature which uses the accelerometer in your phone to detect the peak in a jump to cause the camera to take the picture as you jump. It also exploits the smartphone’s GPS so you can geocode your photos that you take with your camera. Let’s not forget the ability to use the smartphone’s screen to set up and take your photo, as what a control-surface app would do.

Sony FRD-AX33 4K HandyCam camcorder press picture courtesy of Sony America

Your smartphone could control one of these and add extra capabilities to it

For camcorders, the Wi-Fi ability allows for multi-camera filming like what the TV producers do in the studios. Here, the smartphone’s camera works as a second camera. This would lead to practices like picture-in-picture or real-time cuts/fades/dissolves being part of your videography. There is even the ability to purpose the camcorder as a network-capable video-surveillance camera with your smartphone or tablet serving as a monitor.

What I see of this is these apps could allow Panasonic and other camera manufacturers to add capabilities to their cameras and camcorders using a mobile-platform app.  The multi-camera filming could be improved upon by allowing multiple camera devices, especially digital cameras or camcorders with the good lenses, to work together for creating multiple video tracks or multi-camera views.

The current limitations with anything that will use a smartphone to add capabilities to a digital camera or camcorder is the fact that the software will only work with a certain range of products supplied by a particular manufacturer. Typically this could be limited to mid-tier and high-end products made since a certain model-year or generation.

Who knows who else will be turning out “app-cessory” setups for their camera and camcorder ranges?

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More coverage on the VIDIPATH technology.

Article VIDIPATH logo courtesy of DLNA

DLNA’s VidiPath Enables Subscription-TV Sharing At Home | TWICE

My Comments

I have given previous coverage to the DLNA VIDIPATH technology which allows you to use the home network to share pay-TV content around the home using compliant Smart TVs or desktop / mobile apps.

Foxtel IQ2 pay-TV PVR

A PVR-type set-top box can serve as the hub of a VIDIPATH pay-TV setup

This article talked of a typical scenario where you have a PVR-grade set-top box provided by your pay-TV provider – the same kind of box as Sky+ or Foxtel IQ. The typical scenario for serving a TV in the master bedroom. the den or the games room would be to rent another set-top box from the pay-TV provider and have them pull coaxial cable to where it is installed. If you wanted to participate in the pay-TV provider’s “TV Everywhere” platform, you would have to download and register their desktop or mobile app to have cable-TV content on your computer, tablet or smartphone when you are at home.

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

VIDIPATH-capable Blu-Ray players can bring pay-TV to the secondary bedroom TV

VIDIPATH provides an authenticated method of allowing third-party devices to connect to the PVR via your home network. The application that was raised in the article was to have a Smart TV in the bedroom or den without the need of a set-top box, or to install an open-frame app on your computer or tablet to pull up live, on-demand or PVR-recorded pay-TV content.

But a situation that wasn’t raised was the fact that one is not likely to spend as much on secondary TV sets as they would for the primary one where they watch most of the TV content on. Either the main set may be upgraded and the set that served that role would be installed in the bedroom, a smaller TV would be placed in the kitchen or similarly-small area or a set that doesn’t have the same bells and whistles as the one in the main lounge area may be placed in a secondary lounge area.

Here, such TVs may not be VIDIPATH-enabled and would really need to be considered would be Blu-Ray players, Blu-Ray AV systems, network media players and similar video peripherals to be equipped for VIDIPATH. Why? This is because such devices can add this kind of functionality to an existing TV by simply using the existing TV as a display. It is in the same context as the VHS video-cassette recorders of the 80s where they had features like enabling cheaper and older TVs to benefit from remote control.

As manufacturers like Sony release Blu-Ray players and home-theatre systems that have “smart-TV” abilities, it wouldn’t tale long for them to offer VIDIPATH-capable versions of these devices as a way to enable the secondary sets.

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Berlin creates a smartphone app to tackle neo-Nazism

Article Flag of Germany

La ville de Berlin lance une application «contre les nazis» | La Figaro (French language | Langue Française)

From the horse’s mouth

Berlin Against Nazis (Berlin Gegen Nazis)

Press Release (German Language / Deutsche Sprache)

My Comments

Another smartphone app has been developed for the community good, this time in Germany. Here, it is a notification app to distribute information about the issue of neo-Nazism to people who live in Berlin.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 press picture courtesy of Samsung

Smartphones are being seen as activist tools even with custom apps

“Against Nazis” (“Gegen Nazis”), which this fully-free app is called, serves more as a bulletin-board app which shows what is going on around town concerning neo-Nazi activity through the use of push notifications and an interactive map. Through these technologies, this information is distributed effectively real-time. This app allows users to act on the information in order to show solidarity against the neo-Nazi activity that is going on near them or to effectively strengthen the network’s activity. This app has been delivered in German, English and Turkish because of Germany having a distinct presence of Turkish people.

It has been developed by the “Berlin Gegen Nazis” (Berlin Against Nazis) network which is supported by the Berlin local government. This was brought on by a member of this network who was engaged in an anti-Nazi march in Rudolf Hess’s home town when a far-right group effectively took over that march.

The neo-Nazi groups still maintain a presence in Germany although they have a low impact on the national polls and on Berlin’s polls. In relation to Berlin, they have presence in poorer areas of the city like Schöneweide in the former East Berlin. It is also known that people who lived in the former East-Germany areas were soft towards the extreme-right ideology.

This is another way where the mobile phone platforms are being used for the public good especially due to the ease of access that these platforms provide. It also involves creating an information-delivery backbone which is cost-effective for these community organisations.

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NEC implements your smartphone’s camera to detect knock-off goods

Article

NEC smartphone tech can spot counterfeit goods | PC World

NEC wants you to spot counterfeits using your phone’s camera | Engadget

My Comments

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphone

The camera on these smartphones could work towards identifying whether that handbag at the flea market is a knock-off

Previously, I had covered some applications where commodity-priced camera modules have been used for machine vision. These applications, which were mostly based around the cameras that your typical smartphone or tablet are equipped with, were more than just reading and interpreting a barcode of some sort in order to look up data. Rather they were about interpreting a control stick typically soaked in liquid that is used as part of urinalysis or to observe the character of blood vessels on one’s face to read one’s pulse.

But NEC is implementing machine vision using one’s smartphone to determine whether an object like a luxury handbag or a pair of name-brand sneakers is a “knock-off” or not. Here, they use the camera with a macro-lens attachment to identify the “fingerprint” that the metal or plastic material’s grain yields through its manufacture. This typically applies to items made of these materials or where an item is equipped with one or more fasteners, trim items or other fittings made of these materials.

NEC wants to see this technology not just apply to verifying the authenticity of new goods but also be used to allow the manufacturers to check that repair and maintenance of goods is “up to snuff” or follow the distribution and retail chain of these goods.

The manufacturers have to “register” these items in order to create the “reference database” that relates to their goods. As well, users would have to use a macro-equipped device such as a smartphone equipped with a macro-converter attachment or a “clip-on” camera with this kind of lens. They will offer the lenses as a 3D-printed attachment to suit most of the popular handsets and tablets. It could also open up a market for small-form Webcams and similar cameras that come with macro lenses or multi-function lenses.

A missing part of the question would be whether the technology would apply to goods made out of soft materials like cloth or leather. This would take it further with identifying clothes, footwear and “soft-material” luggage or checking whether the material used to upholster furniture reflects what the manufacturer or customer wants for the job.

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