Mobile Computing Archive

Samsung implements auto-focus on the Galaxy S8 to make it a selfie smartphone

Article

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge press image courtesy of Samsung

The front camera on the next premium smartphones could end up being equipped with auto-focus technology

The Galaxy S8 may provide better selfies thanks to autofocus implementation | Android Authority

Previous coverage on “selfie” smartphones

What Makes That Smartphone A “Selfie” Smartphone

My Comments

Increasingly smartphone manufacturers are paying attention to the kind of photos a smartphone’s or tablet’s front-facing camera takes. This has been driven by the phenomenon where young people are using these cameras to take “selfies” – pictures of themselves. Even venue owners and event hosts are catering to this trend by providing “selfie photobooths” with the appropriate decorations and props so they can take the funniest-looking selfie.

The way most of the manufacturers have approached this issue includes front-facing cameras with a resolution not dissimilar to the rear-facing camera, use of a wide-angle lens on the front-facing camera or even integrating software logic to remove blemishes from the photos that are taken.

But Samsung has gone further with their front-facing camera by implementing an auto-focus mechanism. Typically, a smartphone would be equipped with auto-focus on the rear-facing camera because this is the one used for general photography but the front-facing camera gets a fair bit of use for both videocalls and selfies. But implementing an auto-focus camera for both of the smartphone’s cameras would be costly and not worth it due to the close proximity of the subjects.

Here, they have implemented an auto-focus cameras on both the front-facing camera and the rear-facing camera for their new Galaxy S8 Android smartphone. This will be seen as a way to differentiate their premium smartphones from the rest of the pack due to the ability to yield that sharp videocall image or selfie.

As the cost of auto-focus cameras for smartphones and tablets that yield acceptable resolution goes downhill, it could become a trend for front-facing cameras on the smartphones, tablets, laptops and similar devices to have this feature for the best Skype videocall or selfie.

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Clipsal offers a built-in USB charger that fits most Australian wall plates

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Clipsal

Clipsal Saturn USB double power outlets press image courtesy of Clipsal

Clipsal Saturn USB double power outlets

USB Charger Mech Product Page

Press Release

My Comments

Clipsal have recently issued a packaged-short-form USB charger module that can fit in most, if not all, Australian electrical wall plates. Here, it occupies the same space and cutout as a switch mechanism or module used on any of the recent-issue wall plates that are commonly used in Australian buildings. But they also offer this as a solution that can be integrated into control panels where the goal is to have a USB charger that can be wired to 240V AC wiring that exists behind that panel.

They are pitching it as an alternative to people plugging USB chargers in to power outlets so we can charge our smartphones, or to create multiple USB charging outlets which can be a bonus in rooms like the kitchen, office, hallway or bedroom where many of these devices and their accessories are charged at once.

The classic household example would be a kitchen where you want to free up standard power outlets for those benchtop appliances like the KitchenAid mixer or the kettle, but you still want to charge that iPhone or iPad. Here, you can have the best of both worlds by installing a double USB power outlet where you can plug in a coffee machine, kettle and charge your iPad without dealing with an easy-to-lose double adaptor and USB charger.

This USB charger module serves one smartphone or tablet per module and serve a USB charging current of up to 1.2 amps. This would charge most smartphones and provide enough power to an iPad or similar tablet to avoid compromising battery runtime. As well, it is compliant to the USB Battery Charging Specification 1.2 and also factors in the length of the cable between the charger and the device, with the resulting resistance and voltage drop.

They are pitching it as a standalone module that can be fitted to existing or new wall plates or panels; or as part of different pre-assembled ready-to-install packages with one or two power outlets and / or multiple USB chargers. Here, they even describe the packages that have the regular power outlets and the USB charger outlets as “USB power points”. They also are offering different-coloured bezels for this module to allow them to be matched to the plate or panel they are installed in, something that will be considered of importance when it comes to décor.

A question that will soon surface is whether there will be a USB Type-C charger module compliant to the USB Power Delivery specification become available for this same kind of installation. This is as we see more computing devices come on the market that are being equipped with this newer connection as a power source. Similarly, a 2.1 amp variant of these modules could earn its keep with households who have many tablet devices or want their smartphones charged up very quickly.

What is happening at last is that integrated USB-charger solutions are arriving to the Australian market in a highly-flexible manner. It is worth asking your regular “sparkie” if they have these devices available to install when you next have him around so as to reduce the chaos associated with the many chargers.

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Android Auto now for every car independent of the head unit

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Android main interactive lock screen

Your Android phone could become its own driver-friendly interaction screen for Android Auto

Google

Android Auto Available In Every Car (Blog Post)

My Comments

Android Auto provides a driving-friendly “extension” for your Android-based smartphone on your car’s dashboard. This yields a simplified user interface for audio, navigation, communications and allied apps so you can use them at the wheel.

Increasingly most of the vehicle builders are offering Android Auto compatible infotainment setups for most of the models with a few car-audio manufacturers running with aftermarket head units that have this functionality. But not everyone can benefit from this technology at the moment, perhaps due to a vehicle builder like Toyota not providing support or you maintaining an existing car that doesn’t have this functionality.

Google has answered this problem with version 2 of Android Auto which has the ability to use your Android phone’s screen as an Audroid Auto user interface. This is being rolled out during the current major update cycle for the Android Auto app.

Cassette adaptor in use with a smartphone

An Android phone running Android Auto 2.0 can bring this cassette-adaptor-based setup for classic car stereos to current expectations

Here, you would install your phone on an in-vehicle mounting kit such as the kind that uses a suction cup to anchor to your vehicle’s windscreen. This will allow for your phone to be operated in a stable and road-legal manner while you are driving.

But you can have the sound come through your car’s speakers via a hands-free kit or car stereo that has Bluetooth communications-level or multimedia-level audio compatibility. Or you can use a 3.5mm auxiliary cable or cassette adaptor connected to your smartphone to have its sound through your car stereo. For those of us who have the Bluetooth-based setup, you can set the app to start automatically when your phone connects to the Bluetooth in-car audio device.

This update is infact taking advantage of the Android phablets and smartphones that have the larger display, making it viable for us to use them as a control surface for Android Auto setups. As well, some accessory builders are even taking advantage of this ability by offering Bluetooth-capable mounting kits that provide automatic enablement for Android Auto setups.

I also can see this benefiting the “two-wheeled” community once appropriate mounting kits become available for installation on to bikes and motorcycles. Here, they could use a Bluetooth headset or helmet and benefit from the reduced-interaction abilities that Android Auto offers so their hands are effectively on the handlebars and their eyes on the road all the time.

A good question to raise would be whether Android 2.0 could support a dual-device setup where an Android tablet could serve as a Android Auto display/control device, which could please those of us who want to integrate a 7”-8” tablet to bring Android Auto to our vehicles. Similarly, implementing Android Auto over a MirrorLink setup could open up paths for increased compatibility with infotainment setups.

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A Surface Book variant is actually a portable gaming rig

Article

Should you buy the Surface Book with Performance Base for gaming? | Windows Central

My Comments

Microsoft Surface Book press picture courtesy of Microsoft

A performance variant of the Microsoft Surface will show up as the stealth gaming rig

There have been the rise of gaming-grade laptops that have enough CPU and graphics-processing acumen to handle the latest games on the market with the full performance expectations. Here, most of the manufacturers are releasing at least one model with these abilities but most of these are styled like a muscle car or street rod.

But a few manufacturers are approaching this by offering performance computers that have a “stealth” look where their looks don’t betray the performance under the hood. Microsoft has now joined the party with a performance variant of the Surface Book which works with a “performance base”. This uses a keyboard base with the same graphics ability as the baseline variant of the Surface Studio all-in-one PC.

As with other Surface Book variants, the tablet detaches from the keyboard base so it can simply be a Windows 10 tablet but, when attached, it becomes a convertible laptop. Microsoft could provide the Performance Base not just as part of a system variant for how you wish to order the Surface Book, but as an upgrade option for existing Surface Books for those of us who want to upgrade them as a full-bore gaming or multimedia PC.

It is very similar to what can be done with Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C where manufacturers can offer a graphics module that connects to portable, all-in-one or low-profile computers to enhance their graphics performance. But this idea could be taken further with the use of coprocessors that are part of “performance modules” that could improve existing computers’ performance for gaming and multimedia tasks.

Personally I would find that the trend for portable and “all-in-one” computing is to offer gaming-rig performance as a model variant in one or more product lines rather than as its own product line. This is even though the manufacturer will offer a dedicated premium product line or brand that is focused towards gaming. Such products would appeal to those of us who value the performance angle for multimedia creation or gaming but don’t think of it like owning a “street-machine” car.

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What will Bluetooth 5 be about

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Bluetooth SIG

Press Release

My Comments

Bluetooth are to release the 5th major version of their wireless personal-network specification by between late 2016 to early 2017. But what will this offer?

This is more about increasing broadcast capacity, data bandwidth and operational range for Internet of Things applications while working with the unlicensed 2.4GHz ISM waveband. The extended range will be seen in the smart-home context as reaching beyond the walls of a typical house while there is the improved operational robustness affecting this class of application.

One of the key benefits is to reduce the need for “device + app” setup for Internet-of-Things setup. This typically requires that you go to the mobile platform’s app store to download a special “enablement” app for your Internet-Of-Things device to your smartphone or tablet and then logically associate that device with your mobile device before you can benefit from that device. This applies also to “beacon” setups where the venue has to develop a mobile-platform app to make sense of the beacons that they use for indoor navigation / location setups.

The question that could be raised is whether this will lead towards a “Web-app” setup where beacons and Internet-of-Things devices will run their own mobile Web pages for showing data about themselves or their current status. Similarly, could this also lead to the creation of a platform-detecting “interface page” which leads people to install mobile-platform apps from the correct mobile-platform app store.

There will also be the question about assuring the privacy and data security for end-users and their mobile client devices so as to prevent Bluetooth 5 beacons and IoT devices from being a malware-distribution vector. Here, it may be about implementing a “trust-based” system which is based on factors like suppliers, venues, software developers and the like. Similarly, it may be more valuable to have this kind of setup based around “pull-based” content acquisition where the end-user is involved in the process of acquiring the data rather than the data being automatically delivered to the end-user’s mobile device.

There are other use cases that can take advantage of this large data capacity in the context of beacons and the Internet Of Things especially if the “device+app” setup is still maintained. One of these would be to allow field-based software and data maintenance where a new Webpage or firmware could be supplied to a Bluetooth 5 IoT device from a mobile client. Similarly, you could upload and download operational data between the IoT device and a mobile client or portable computer with building security, data-logging or smartwatches being a key application. For example, it could be a simple and quick task to deploy a rich watch-face or app to a smartwatch while syncing data like contacts-lists and health data to your smartphone at the same time.

The Bluetooth 5 technology will benefit the smart-home, enterprise and industrial applications. Some of the use cases being called out in the form of indoor navigation for airports and shopping centres, asset or warehouse-inventory tracking, improved emergency response like the “enhanced 911” service that benefits mobile-phone users along with the ability to assist visually-impaired people around the cities. An advertising-based application may involve a beacon-type device at an event being used to provide further information like a PDF or HTML “e-brochure” hosted on that device.

Like with every evolution of the Bluetooth standard, this will require newer Bluetooth 5.0 compliant hardware on the client device and this will typically be provided with newer client devices after mid-2017. Regular computers could be upgraded to this standard thanks to USB Bluetooth modules which could be seen as a way to upgrade Windows laptops, 2-in-1s or tablets. This also applies to some embedded devices that provide some form of “after-the-fact” functionality upgrading like the Yale and Lockwood smart deadbolts that use a wireless-connectivity module for smart-home functionality.

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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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