Category: Mobile Computing

Belkin offers a USB-C car charger that ticks the boxes for that standard

Article

Belkin USB-C Car Charger press picture courtesy of Belkin

Belkin USB-C car charger – works tightly to USB expectations to make sure your gadgets work properly

Belkin’s new USB-C car charger will intelligently charge your phones and tablets | Android Central

From the horse’s mouth

Belkin

Product Page

Press Release

My Comments

Belkin have launched a USB-C car charger that can charge up one of the newer smartphones, tablets or ultraportable laptops that are powered through the USB Type-C connector, which is becoming the trend for today’s portable computing equipment. This also comes in handy if a passenger wants to use that tablet or 2-in-1 during that car journey without compromising the device’s battery runtime.  Think of activities like being on the Internet or even viewing online video material to while away the journey would be considered risky for your 2-in-1’s battery.

One may think that the Belkin USB-C car charger that plugs in to the cigar-lighter socket in the car and sells for US$50 is too expensive for this class of device but there is more to it to assure that the device it is connected to is properly and safely powered so it lasts a long time.

This car charger implements advanced universal-supply circuitry to stabilise its output current, which prevents the power surges associated with starting up the engine from getting to the equipment it supplies. As well, this circuitry matches the power supply to the equipment’s needs to prevent any risk of damage the that equipment.

It is also compliant to USB-PD to assure proper power supply to one of the new smartphones, tablets or ultraportable computers and can supply a load of up to 27 watts. The requirement for power supplies and cables to be compliant to this standard has come about because of the market’s awareness of substandard USB cables and power supplies placing the expensive personal-computing and communications devices we have at risk of damage. Here, Amazon have tightened their rules regarding the purchasing of USB accessories where they won’t procure these accessories for sale through their channels unless they are certified compliant by USB-IF.

The supplied cable which has a USB Type-C connector on each end has a length of 4 feet or 1.2 metres which would reach from the dashboard to the back seat of most cars or the first row of seats in a vehicle with multiple rows of seats. Of course, you could use it with existing smartphones and tablets when you use a USB Type-C adaptor cable – a USB-C to Micro USB cable for most Android and Windows devices or a USB-C to female USB-A cable along with an Apple Lightning cable or an Apple USB-C to Lightning cable for your iOS devices.

This USB-C car adaptor could earn its keep with powering or charging the newly-released portable computing equipment on a long journey so you have enough power to use it at the destination.

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Google makes an app that makes animated GIFs out of Apple Live Photos

Articles

Google’s Motion Stills app lets you create the best-looking GIFs on the web | ZDNet

Motion Stills, la nouvelle appli de Google qui transforme vos Live Photos en Gif animés | O1Net.com (French language / Langue Française)

From the horse’s mouth

Google Research

Blog Post

Download from iTunes App Store (iOS)

My Comments

Google Motion Stills "before and after" demonstration output image - press image courtesy of Google Research

Google Motion Stills “before and after” demonstration output image – filmed from a car

Previously, I wrote an article about creating “visual wallpaper” for your electronic display including the creation of “cinemagraphs” which are still photos with a small amount of background animation. This was being made feasible by Apple’s Live Photos feature that came to iOS 9 where you could take a photo with a key still image but having a small amount of motion.

The Live Photos concept was restricted to the Apple platform and the social networks that hosted any Apple Live Photos typically either had to present a still or turn them in to animated GIFs.

Google have answered this problem through an editing and conversion tool called Google Motion Stills which allows you to shoehorn an Apple Live Photo to something that appeals as well as being able to export it as an animated GIF image. The software has integrated video stabilisation logic that comes in to play in keeping a still background but allowing certain parts to move. But it can also “smooth out” panoramas including images shot from a moving vehicle. The Motion Stills software also has the ability to optimise short videos to create video loops or cinemagraphs that appear infinite.

All this functionality is based on Google’s research through the creation of their Google Photos software where they could do things like create animations from photo bursts uploaded to that service. This also includes their effort with stabilising videos uploaded by users to YouTube where a lot of amateur video tends to be very shaky.

The software has to export to animated GIF images because this file format has become the defacto standard for short silent video clips and these GIF files can be used anywhere image files are used. Of course, the animations can be saved as QuickTime movies which would work with most other video-editing software, especially that which is in the Apple world.

…. only if we can get animated GIFs to work with DLNA-capable smart TVs

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Dell now offers the first 17” 2-in-1 convertible laptop

Articles

Dell announces new Windows 10 2-in-1 laptops starting at $249 | Windows Experience Blog (Microsoft)

Dell Debuts World’s First 17-inch 2-in-1 | Laptop Mag

Laptop Mag Video – Click or tap to view

Dell zeigt 2-in-1-Geräte mit 17-Zoll-Display | Netzwoche.ch (Switzerland – German language / Deutsche Sprache)

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

Computex 2016 Press Release

My Comments

Dell Inspiron 17 (Model 7778 Starlord B) 17-inch Touch notebook computer.press image courtesy of Dell

Dell Inspiron 17 (Model 7778 Starlord B) 17-inch Touch notebook computer.

Dell took advantage of Computex 2016 in Taipei to launch the Inspiron 17-7000 which is the first 2-in-1 laptop to have a 17” screen. It is a 360-degree Yoga-style convertible with a Full-HD (1920×1080) wide-angle display and backlit keyboard. Dell also offer 13” and 15” variants of this computer which would also suit most peoples’ needs and are part of their high-end laptop computer lineup.

The question that would often be raised about a 2-in-1 computer with a 15” or 17” display is whether these screen sizes are considered too large especially when used as a tablet. This is because most of us are used to the 10”-13” tablets like the iPad or the small 2-in-1s. Personally, I would see them earn their keep in a tablet form whenever you are in a chair, couch or bed and are using the system by yourself or with someone else. But the Yoga-style convertible approach also opens up other usage arrangements like a “tent” view or a “viewer” arrangement with the keyboard facing downwards, which can appeal to activities like viewing photos, videos or presentations with the computer on the table

Dell Inspiron 17 (Model 7778 Starlord B) 17-inch Touch notebook computer.press image courtesy of Dell

Dell Inspiron 17 (Model 7778 Starlord B) 17-inch Touch notebook computer.

It also ticks the boxes for a computer having newer expectations like USB Type-C connectivity and the ability to work with an 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless network segment while having an expected battery runtime of 6 hours. The horsepower behind these computers is mostly of the 6th-generation Intel Core variety and you can spec it with an NVIDIA discrete-graphics setup fit for gaming or video editing.

What is happening with Windows 10 and our exposure to the mobile-platform tablets of the Apple iPad ilk is that we are becoming more accustomed to the idea of touch-based computing and the tablet computer style rather than thinking of a clamshell style just for content creation. As well, the “Continuum” style of multi-faceted computing which shows up in the Tablet Mode on a Windows 10 computer underscores the ability to work between those modes.

Who knows whether more of the 2-in-1 laptops at the 15” and 17” will show up on the market as a way to challenge the likes of the Microsoft Surface range.

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Google’s Project Ara modular smartphone is for real

Article

Google Project Ara modular phone - for real

Google Project Ara modular phone – for real

Google’s Project Ara: build your dream phone | The Age

My Comments

There has been some previous coverage about Google’s “Project Ara” modular smartphone, but there was some doubt about this phone being for real.

This mobile phone, like the LG G5 smartphone, can be improved by you buying and adding extra modules that offer additional or better functionality. It is very similar to how the IBM PC evolved where it was feasible to add on extra parts to improve the computer’s functionality.

Google had put the Project Ara concept smartphone on the slow burner and LG advanced their take on a smartphone in the form of the G5 having an improved camera or a hi-fi-grade audio DAC module available as options. Now they have come forth with a firm proof-of-concept to be offered to developers so they can design the modular hardware and to have a system ready for the masses by next year.

Google will push the idea of requiring the modules to be certified by themselves in order to assure quality control and the user experience for installing or upgrading any of these modules will be very similar to replacing a microSD card in your Android smartphone. This is where you tell the operating system that you wish to remove the card before you open up your phone and swap out the card, something I do with my Samsung phone when I want to play different music because I see the microSD cards as though they are cassettes or MiniDiscs that contain music ready to play.

Like with computers, the modular phones will still appeal to those of us who are tech enthusiasts and don’t mind customising our phones to suit our needs. Personally, I would like to see this same modularity looked at for tablets, 2-in-1s and laptops pitched at this same user class who values modularity and customisability.

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Apple CarPlay and Android Auto need to face automotive infotainment realities

Android Auto in Chevrolet Malibu dashboard courtesy of © General Motors (Chevrolet)

Android Auto in Chevrolet Malibu – could work more tightly with the vehicle’s infotainment system
© General Motors

I have read a few online reviews about the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mobile infotainment platforms but some issues have come up concerning how these platforms work.

One key issue is to allow Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to work with the car infotainment system’s existing functionality. Typically, if you want to listen to broadcast radio, a CD or other source that the infotainment setup provides, you have to “switch out” of the Apple or Android platform to a “normal” car-radio mode. To the same extent, if you want to adjust the way your music sounds, you may have to switch away from these platforms.

It is also underscored with an increasing number of vehicles which implement the infotainment LCD screen for a trip-computer, secondary-gauges, HVAC or similar functionality. Then, if you want to use your smartphone in this level of functionality, you have to run an app supplied by the infotainment system’s manufacturer or vehicle builder.

This problem may have to be answered through the use of a “hook” app that works with the CarPlay or Android Auto platforms to provide access to existing sources and other functions provided by the infotainment system.

Such an app would require the creation of a virtual “source” for CarPlay or Android Auto multimedia apps that exists alongside the broadcast radio, the optical-disc player and other similar sources. An “information” source could exist for navigation, and notifications while a “communications” source works with the phone,  over-the-top communications apps like Viber and Skype, and the voice-driven personal assistant.

Realistic car stereo radio-cassette (12-1892) - 1981 catalog shot - RadioShackCatalogs.com

An example of one of the Realistic car stereos that came alive when you pushed a tape in irrespective of whether you had the radio on or off

This may have to cause behaviour like some car radio/cassette players of the late 70s and early 80s like just about all of the Pioneer, and Realistic (Radio Shack) model ranges. Here, these car stereos came alive and started playing a tape when you pushed that tape in the slot irrespective of whether you had the radio on or not, and completely shut down when you ejected that tape if you didn’t have the radio on before you had the tape playing. In the context of the AirPlay and Android Auto setups, if you did something like get Spotify, Pandora or TuneIn Radio going, the “hook” app would come alive with the sounds of that streaming audio app whether you had the car radio going or not.

It may also be about gaining control of the radio or other sources like tuning in stations, selecting preset stations or playing particular songs on a CD or USB stick. Similarly, it could be about adjusting the way the system sounds such as implementing a sound preset or increasing the bass or treble. The integrated systems may also have to be able to show information about the heating or trip computer such as fuel range or current temperature.

Apple and Google could improve this further by providing an application-programming-interface and driver model for managing local sources, sound adjustment and other functionality. This can open up paths to permit the creation of app-store apps that exploit these sources and functionalities further.

For example, the PowerAmp music player software for Android, which has integrated graphic-equaliser functionality could gain the ability to exchange equaliser presets with a car sound system’s graphic equaliser. Similarly, a radio app could support “universal dial” behaviour to allow you to tune to local radio stations using the car radio’s tuner but when you are away from your vehicle, it will choose the station’s Internet stream.

So what needs to happen is that Google and Apple need to work on ways to tie in their automotive extensions to their mobile operating platforms to simplify the way these platforms work with the infotainment systems and their extant sources.

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Acer uses liquid cooling in their latest 2-in-1

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Acer

Switch Alpha 12

Press Release

My Comments

Acer Switch Alpha 12 tablet press image courtesy of Acer

Acer Switch Alpha 12 tablet

Acer has raised the bar in the face of the Microsoft Surface Pro when it comes to releasing the Switch Alpha 12 “Surface-style” 2-in-1 tablet. The baseline model of the pack is being pitched at prices like US$599 or EUR€699 which makes for something that is keenly priced amongst its peers.

You might consider it to be an ordinary 2-in-1 that tries to copy the Microsoft Surface product range but this raises the bar through the use of a regular Intel Core series CPU. These processors will show up with cooling problems if they are used with a thin-and-light portable computer design like a detachable-keyboard 2-in-1 or tablet so Acer addressed this issue using a closed-loop liquid cooling system which works in a similar way to your car keeps its engine cool or how your fridge keeps the food or drink inside it cold and fresh. But this cooling setup is designed to obviate the need for a fan, thus allowing for quiet operation.

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1 with keyboard press image courtesy of Acer

With keyboard – as a laptop

Of course, it ticks the boxes when it comes to what is expected for a current-issue “2-in-1” detachable including the use of a standard USB Type-C connector for charging and data transfer rather than a proprietary connector which the Microsoft Surface uses, as well as being supplied with the basic keyboard cover. The 12” (2160×1440) touchscreen along with a full-size keyboard makes for a system that appeals to creating content rather than a glorified iPad. As for the kickstand, it has the same look as the kind of handle that an “old-school” portable radio-cassette was equipped with – the U-shaped metal handle with a rubberised grip in the centre. This allows for the tablet to be kept stable on a desk or table when you are using it with the keyboard.

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1 tablet rear view press picture courtesy of Acer

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1 tablet – rear view

You can purchase the Acer Switch Alpha 12 in various configurations that have either 4Gb or 8Gb of RAM and a secondary-storage option of either a 128Gb, 256Gb or 512Gb solid-state storage device. The removeable storage option for this computer is a MicroSDXC card slot and, as I have mentioned before, you have a USB Type-C port and a USB Type-A port for connecting thumbdrives or SD card adaptors.

The wireless-connectivity options come in the form of a Bluetooth 4.0 link or an 802.11a/g/n/ac dual-stream Wi-Fi network link. This will allow for high throughput data transfer when you are on the go.

Acer have pitched the Switch Alpha 12 at both the consumer market and the business market by making business-focused variants of it available through its value-added resellers and independent computer stores who court the business market. Here the business variants come with the Trusted Platform Module along with being loaded with Windows 10 Pro as the operating system.

They have also provided a range of accessories such as an optional backlit keyboard along with two “expansion-module” docks. The first one is the USB Type-C dock that connects via USB-C to DisplayPort and HDMI video ports along with two USB 3.1 Type-C ports and 3  USB Type-A ports. This is in addition to an audio-in and an audio-out jack to serve its own sound module. There is also the Acer ProDock Wireless that connects to the computer via the 802.11ad Wi-Fi short-range peripheral wireless to an 802.11ac Wi-Fi network segment, along with video displays that have either HDMI, DisplayPort or VGA connections as well as USB devices.

From what I have read about the Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-in-1, it underscores the role where it could ideally serve as the “all-purpose” work-home-travel portable computer including the ability to use it as a tablet for reading content. This is more so if you are thinking of using a system that doesn’t use either an entry-level or mobile-focused CPU but uses a laptop-grade processor.

What is happening is that the battle-lines are being drawn when it comes to the kind of computers that represent the multipurpose 2-in-1 product class. Here, I would see some of these computers implementing the mainstream Intel or AMD processors with a goal to achieve long battery runtime while software developers write the kind of programs that exploit the touchscreens that these computers offer. As well, I would see some of these computers appear at a price that isn’t stratospherically expensive.

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Why call for the 3.5mm headphone jack to be replaced on mobile devices

Article

Intel Thinks USB-C Should Replace the Headphone Jack | Gizmodo

My Comments

Could this be the new audio connection for your smartphone?

Could this be the new audio connection for your smartphone?

Intel has raised the possibility that the common 3.5mm headphone jack not exist on a smartphone or similar audio device. Here, they would rather that the USB Type-C connection serve as the phone’s audio connections.

There was a similar outcry when Apple proposed this idea for a newer iPhone design by requiring the use of their proprietary Lightning connection as the audio connection.

The problem is that the 3.5mm phone jack has been established as the common way to connect mobile devices to headphones and audio equipment.

The Intel approach requires the use of the USB Type-C connector which implements standards accepted by all of the industry. It is different to Apple’s approach because the Android and Windows platforms place a high expectation on the concept of “open-frame” computing where there is a preference for hardware and software standards and specifications accepted by many different vendors rather than the one vendor.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

High-end headphones like these noise-cancelling headphones could be powered by your smartphone or laptop

Firstly, there is the USB Audio Device Class which has allowed for USB sound modules and USB DACs to exist without the need to add extra drivers. This can allow for a high-grade digital-analogue converter to be integrated in a high-quality USB headset or supplied as a phone-powered USB sound-module accessory that you plug your high-quality headphones in to.

For headphones, this could lead to ideas like surround-sound processing such as to use hardware to convert Dolby Digital or DTS surround sound to Dolby Headphone surround sound. It could permit the headphones to implement sound processing such as equalisation or echo cancellation so they sound their best in all situations. Even when you speak in to the phone, the newer technology will provide some benefit such as using a microphone array to catch your voice better.

To the same extent, a USB sound module that works with high-grade microphones could open up paths for your smartphone to make good recordings for your podcast or video.

Technics Grand Class G30 hi-fi system with media server press image courtesy of Panasonic

You may soon find amplifiers and stereos equipped with a USB Type-C connection on the front so you can play our new smartphone through the speakers

Another path is to use the Multimedia Transport Protocol that operates over the USB connection to play music through your car stereo or home stereo system, using the music system’s control surface to navigate your audio content while the currently-playing music details show up on the music system’s display.

Intel’s idea also investigated the possibility of an analogue-audio connection via the USB Type-C connection to cater to the budget end of the accessories market. This is to allow for headsets and audio adaptors that have no digital-audio functionality to exist.

Another common device class is the USB Human Interface Device Class which is used primarily with mice and keyboards but there is a subset of “called-out” control types that highlight consumer-electronics and business device control applications like transport control or call control. This could open the path for USB headsets and adaptors to have full control for calls and music like the full AV transport-control quota or two-button call control.

The power-supply option that USB Type-C offers allows for the phone to power active-noise-cancelling headphones or headphone amplifiers. Similarly, an audio accessory like a stereo system or an audio adaptor that has a high-capacity battery could provide power to the phone.

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor - one of the Bluetooth adaptors that may be necessary for newer smartphones

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor – one of the Bluetooth adaptors that may be necessary for newer smartphones

Bluetooth will still exist as a wireless audio-accessory connection alternative as long as the phone and accessory still work to the established Bluetooth Profiles for their applications.

Kingston HyperX Cloud II headset USB adaptor

This USB audio adaptor could be considered as a way to connect existing headphones to your new smartphone

The idea that we will lose the ability to use our favourite audio systems and headphones that depend on the classic 3.5mm phone jack when we get a newer handset can be nullified when we use a USB sound module for a wired connection to our smartphones. As I mentioned before, those of us who appreciate the high-quality sound could end up benefiting from this kind of accessory especially where it is optimised for that kind of sound. An example of a USB sound-module device that I had dealt with was one that came with the Kingston Hyper-X Cloud II gaming headset that I previously reviewed, which presented itself to Windows as a USB Audio input and output device. If we want the wireless link, we could look for that Bluetooth audio adaptor typically sold with a pair of intra-aural earphones and connect our favourite headphones to this device like I do with the Sony SBH-52.

If this proposition is to work properly, the sound-processing circuitry need also to be power-efficient so you don’t end up draining your smartphone’s battery or depending on external power supplies to use your smartphone. Similarly, other accessory vendors may need to add USB Type-C hub functionality to their accessories like USB battery packs so that these headphones can work while the smartphone is being powered from the battery pack. Or the smartphone vendors may have to concede to having 2 USB Type-C ports on their phones to support USB headphones and USB external power supplies for example.

But whatever happens, this could open another path for innovation to take place when it comes to the supply of accessories for portable audio and video equipment.

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How to effectively establish that Wi-Fi-based mobile network

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wi-Fi mobile printer – one of the mobile peripheral devices pitched to smartphone and tablet users

A major trend that has become strong over the last few years is the arrival of mobile network devices that connect to each other and to client computer devices via Wi-Fi wireless networking technology.

These are represented in the form of:

  • mobile network-attached-storage devices
  • mobile printers
  • wireless speakers, and
  • mobile broadcast-LAN tuners that work with terrestrial or satellite broadcast systems,
Network setup for mobile NAS and smartphone

Network setup for Wi-Fi-based mobile peripheral devices

What is common about all of these devices, and is treated as a key marketing feature by their vendors, is that they can be set up to be their own access point with their own DHCP server as well as being client devices to existing wireless networks. Some of these devices like most mobile NAS devices are able to work effectively as bridges or routers between an existing wireless network and the network that they create.

This may work well if you are just using the one mobile peripheral device with your mobile client devices but may not work well when you intend to run two or more mobile peripheral devices. Here, you will end up switching between different wireless networks just to benefit from the different mobile peripheral devices.

Mobile NAS as bridge setup

Wireless NAS as a bridge between mobile client devices and another Internet-providing network

But you may want to run one or more of these wireless mobile devices together to serve multiple laptops, tablets or smartphones. Situations that may come about that will call for these setups would be where you are using a mobile NAS and, perhaps, a camera that has Wi-Fi functionality or one of the new Wi-Fi-capable mobile printers. This will call for you to create a proper mobile wireless network for all of these devices.

Use a router-class device as the main device

Here, you would have to run one wireless network device as a DHCP server and “master” access point and this function can be best served by a router-class device.

"Mi-Fi" portable wireless router

A typical “Mi-Fi” portable wireless router for a mobile-broadband service

The most common examples of devices of this class that apply to “on-the-road” use are the “Mi-Fi” mobile routers that work with a mobile broadband service or one of the travel routers pitched to work with a hotel’s wired Internet service. Some mobile NAS devices may also do this wireless-bridging functionality in an adept manner and could be the hub of your “travel network”. Similarly, one of the mobile-broadband wireless routers being integrated in to some new cars by the likes of BMW and Chrysler may also answer these needs.

You may think of using your smartphone’s Wi-Fi mobile-broadband-router functionality but this may encumber your smartphone for what you want to really use it for.

Some highly-sophisticated “Mi-Fi” and travel-router devices may also expose an Ethernet connection for LAN use, perhaps through an optional extended-functionality dock. This can come in handy if you want to increase your coverage area with another wireless access point or want to use devices like games consoles with your mobile network.

You may find that you don’t need to run the Internet connection on the Mi-Fi or travel router if you are simply establishing a link between multiple mobile peripheral devices and client devices and aren’t reliant on Internet functionality for their operation. Similarly, by having your mobile devices working this way, you avoid the need to authenticate with a Wi-Fi hotspot that implements Web-based authentication to do something like gain access to your mobile NAS’s data from your iPad.

Set up known wireless network parameters

Mobile network wiht "Mi-Fi" router and 2 Wi-Fi-capable mobile peripheral devices

Mobile wireless network for two or more mobile devices and mobile client devices – uses a router-class device like a “Mi-Fi” router

When you set up your “Mi-Fi” or travel router, you make this device the hub of your mobile network and have every device “point” to this device’s local-network by associating with its SSID (wireless network name) and security parameters.

Most of the mobile network devices that work on an “open-frame” approach can be quickly associated to this “mobile hub” thanks to WPS-based push-button setup. For devices that don’t support this quick setup mode like most Apple devices, you will need to note down the “mobile hub’s” SSID and security passphrase. Some “Mi-Fi” devices that have a display may be able to show these details on their display, perhaps at the request of the user.

For that matter, a good practice would be to assign a unique SSID for your “mobile hub” device i.e. your Mi-Fi or travel router. This is important when you use these setups in campgrounds, caravan parks or hotels where many of these devices will be used at once.

All wireless devices to link with router-class device

It will also mean that the mobile NAS, mobile printer or other similar device has to work as a client device rather than as its own access point. This also applies to your computing devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones which also associate with the “mobile hub” device.

When positioning your mobile-network devices, make sure that they are in the range of your “mobile network hub” device i.e. the Mi-Fi or the travel router. All the wireless traffic that goes between these devices will pass through the “mobile network hub” device rather than between the devices themselves.

You may find that if you want to avoid draining your “Mi-Fi” router’s battery too quickly, it may be a good idea to have it run from a USB charger that runs from house current or your vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket. Similarly, a high-capacity USB power-pack can also earn its keep with these devices if you are away from power.

What I stand for when reviewing or researching mobile devices

When I review any device for this Website that is capable of being its own wireless network such as a mobile NAS or mobile printer, I test the device with my home network’s Wi-Fi wireless segment as if it is a client device. This is so I am sure they can work in this kind of setup as well as the highly-promoted “own access point” setup. As well, as part of researching a mobile device that uses Wi-Fi wireless technology as part of its link with client computer devices, I verify that it can work as part of an existing wireless-network segment as well as being its own segment.

Similarly, when I research a mobile router-class device like a Mi-Fi or travel router, I would expect the device to support WPS single-push connectivity along with other essential Wi-Fi connectivity and security standards. Similarly, such a device would have to be easy to configure including setting up the SSID and passphrase. As well, the Mi-FI device can’t be very thirsty with its battery if the goal is to have it as a “hub” device.

Conclusion

Once you are able to set up a mobile multi-device network, you can then be able to use it to store or print data while you are “on the road” without needing to constantly switch networks for each different task.

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Popular Internet-based communications platforms to be secure

WhatsApp Android screenshot courtesy of WhatsApp

WhatsApp – the pioneer for security-focused online communications for consumers

Some of the popular over-the-top messaging and VoIP platforms are being equipped for personal privacy and security.

This was a feature typically pitched at high-stakes business users but is now being pitched at everyday consumers thanks to the saga occurring in the USA between FBI and Apple where the FBI were wanting the encrypted data held on a suspect’s iPhone.

At the moment, WhatsApp and Viber are offering secure-communications features but this could be rolled out by other messaging/VoIP/videocall platform vendors like Skype, Facebook or Apple. For that matter, WhatsApp have recently made their platform from a subscription-funded platform to a free-to-user platform. They will continue to raise money by offering business-focused WhatsApp communications services.

Platform-wide best-case encryption by default

One of the main features is platform-wide end-to-end encryption which is implemented to “best-case standards” by default.

This means that the data that represents your calls and messages is encrypted by the end devices. Along with that, the user’s public and private keys associated with the encryption algorithm don’t stay on the company’s servers, thus not being at risk of a subpoena or other court order or government mandate. Rather, these are created by the end-user’s device and kept there.

The reference to “best-case” operation in this situation is that if the users are communicating with the latest version of the software that supports newer encryption algorithms, these algorithms are used for the encryption process. This even applies to group conversations where the “best-case” encryption method is implemented if all the correspondents are using the client apps that support that algorithm.

Authentication of contacts and their devices

As part of key exchange between contacts, there is an emphasis on authenticating one’s contacts with some systems like WhatsApp preferring a “face-to-face” method or others like Viber requiring you to read and confirm a password during a call. The former method that WhatsApp implements is for you to scan a QR code

Here, this is about whether you are really talking with the user on their device, in order to circumvent situations like lost or stolen phones, users installing their SIM cards in different devices and “man-in-the-middle” attacks. It was highlighted in Graham Cluley’s blog article about improving your security with WhatsApp.

This will typically be highlighted through the use of an indicator in your contact list that shows if a contact has been authenticated or if they have switched devices.

Concealed text/image conversations

Viber - Hide This Chat

Viber with its ability to conceal a conversation

Viber introduced to their platform the ability for one to conceal a text/image conversation which can come in handy if you are exploiting their functionality to use tablets or regular computers as endpoints for Viber conversations.

Here, you can conceal the conversation so that others cannot see it unless they enter a user-set PIN or password. Situations where this can be necessary could include an innocuous activity like arranging that surprise event through a personal conversation held in a workplace to a traveller who leaves their iPad in their hotel room which can easily be visited by Housekeeping staff.

On the other hand, you could be able to specify whether a text/image chat is to be kept on each other’s devices or to disappear like what has been valued with Snapchat.

Features that could surface in the name of security

As other online-communications platforms jump on to the secure-communications bandwagon, there could be the rise of different features or variations on the above features.

For example, a communications-platform client could implement client-level user authentication where the software can be set up to require the user to log in to the client to start a conversation. Or the primary communications device like the smartphone has to be near a secondary communications client like a laptop before the user can run the software. This feature may be considered of importance with tablets and regular computers likely to be used by other users.

To some extent, an operating system that implements multiple-user operation could allow an online-communications client to switch user profiles and phone numbers so it works totally personally to the user.

There could be the ability for a user to mandate device-level authentication or encryption before a conversation takes place with a contact. This could allow for one to be sure they are talking to the right correspondent.

Other methods of verifying contacts and devices could surface such as the use of NFC “touch-and-go” or Bluetooth data exchange as a way of authenticating users’ devices. The software could also exploit other hardware or software “secure elements” like Trusted Platform Modules as an alternative to SIM cards for Wi-Fi-only tablets or regular computers.

This could even extend to such things as “trusted networks” or “trusted locations” where your caller can know that you are talking privately, based on factors like wireless-network parameters or proximity to particular Bluetooth devices.

Conclusion

What is now happening is that secure online conversations, once a feature that was enjoyed by big business and government, is now becoming available to every individual in the street for free. This allows them to have online conversations without being eavesdropped upon.

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Chromecast to find its way to your hotel room

Article

Chromecast is now getting built into hotel TV systems | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Sonifi

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

The Google Chromecast HDMI dongle is still seen as a way to throw video and audio content to your TV from your Android mobile device or Google Chrome browser with some support for it on an app level for iOS devices. Dedicated Apple users will see something similar going on when they use the Apple TV device and invoke AirPlay to run video content from their iOS device to their TV.

These devices can be used on a hotel room’s TV but there is a lot of difficulty getting them to work with a hotel’s Wi-Fi-based guest-access network. This is typically because most of these guest-access networks require a Web-based authentication routine for your device along with the proper design practice to isolate client devices from being discovered by each other.

Sonifi have answered this problem by developing the SoniCast technology which provides Google Cast (Chromecast streaming) services for a hotel guestroom TV. This requires the client laptop, tablet or smartphone to be connected to the hotel’s guest-access network as if to benefit from Internet access there. There is software in place that allows you to only discover and stream content to the TVs that are in your room or suite so you can’t stream to the TVs in neighbouring rooms.

Initially, a hotel could provision Netflix, Spotify, Hulu or the like by having support for these services on the guestroom TVs thanks to either a Smart TV or a set-top box. This required guests to enter their service credentials using the “pick-and-choose” method of typing in text on a TV – how long does that take to enter a typical email-address and password using that D-pad! These systems would “clear the slate” and log guests out when they check out of the hotel.

But this Chromecast-based solution allows you to keep your credentials for these services on your phone or tablet and the authentication for the services takes place at your device. As well, you are effectively working the online services like your Netflix queues or Spotify playlists using the apps installed on your mobile device.

A question I would like to raise is whether Sonifi will extend the SoniCast platform to work with Apple’s AirPlay streaming platform, Spotify Connect audio streaming or even the DLNA media-controller concept. With Apple, this may be seen as a difficult ask but DLNA and Spotify Connect could add extra value to the SoniCast “BYO media” platform.

At least I see this as a step in the right direction for tight integration between the hotel guestroom’s TV and a guest’s own computing devices.

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