Mobile Computing Archive

Smartphone Version of TwonkyMedia’s DLNA / UPnP Server Now Available | eHomeUpgrade

 Smartphone Version of TwonkyMedia’s DLNA / UPnP Server Now Available | eHomeUpgrade

Now the Android platform is moving closer to the DLNA Home Media Network. Other platforms like the Symbian S60 (Nokia N-Series) and the Apple iPhone have had software solutions that expose content held on their storage location to the DLNA Home Media Network, either as native software in the case of the Symbian S60 platform or as an “app” available through the platform’s usual software resources.

This implementation is very similar to TwonkyMedia Server in that it doesn’t have a “media controller” which could allow the user to “push” media to a “MediaRenderer” device like one of the Sony BRAVIA TVs.  It may come about if TwonkyMediia port the TwonkyMedia Manager program or a developer ports one of the iPhone DLNA controller apps to the Android platform.

It will be interesting to see who will come through with a media controller which will become more realistic with the Android smartphone and MID platform.

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The Apple iPad Tablet computer is now real

Apple unveils the iPad | The Age (Australia)

Apple’s iPad: It’s Real, and It’s $499 | Internetnews.com

iPad d’Apple : magique et révolutionnaire ? | DegroupNews (France – French Language)

From the horse’s mouth

Apple’s iPad Website

My comments about the Apple iPad and Apple’s current direction

Over the past few months, there was a lot of talk about Apple releasing a “slate” computer. This was both in the computer press and amongst computer enthusiasts, including Apple Macintosh users. Most of the suspicions included tight hardware and software integration, including where you can purchase the software from as well as the form factor. Apple was positioning the iPad as an intermediary computing device between their iPhone / iPod Touch platform and the Macintosh computers, especially the MacBook Pro laptops. One Apple enthusiast that I know of was considering deploying it as a “simple computing device” for his mother to use when writing e-mails and doing similar activities,

Now that the Apple iPad is on the scene, I have noticed that most of these suspicions are real. For example, the computer is a larger version of the iPhone or iPod Touch and operates in the same manner as these devices. Like most Apple products, it will only work with a limited Apple-approved ecosystem of accessories like an “iPad desk stand” and an “iPad keyboard stand”. As well, the user won’t be able to replace anything in the computer, which will lead to the computer having to go to an Apple-approved repairer if the battery habitually fails to keep its charge for example.

As for software, you will need to go to the Apple iTunes empire to buy apps, music, video or “iBooks” which are Apple’s e-books. I was skimming through the CNET liveblog and they reckoned that there were many credit cards associated with the iTunes empire due to the many iPods and iPhones out in circulation. Apple had even ported their “iWork” productivity suite to this platform and made the individual pieces – the Keynote presentation program, the Pages word-processing program and the Numbers spreadsheet program – available as individual apps or as a package through the App Store. The plethora of existing iPhone apps – an app for every part of your life – can work “out of the box” with this device, but Apple had revised the SDK to allow App Store developers to design the app to work in a “best-case” manner with either the iPad or the iPhone. This may happen more so if the developer revises the app as part of upgrading it.

These facts about the hardware and software availability have had a few Apple enthusiasts that I know of worried that Apple was becoming a “dark emplre” – a monopolistic monolith of a company —  in a similar manner to what Microsoft was accused of becoming with the Windows platform. Some of these enthusiasts were even considering moving to other platforms like Windows or Linux. No mater what, there will still be the Apple enthusiasts who will prefer that their iT solution in their life has that Apple logo on it.

I also reckon that government bodies like the European Commission and the US Department Of Justice weren’t seeing the recent iTunes-iPod-iPhone-driven anticompetitive behaviour that Apple was showing in an “anti-trust” light, yet they see Microsoft as being anticompetitive with its integration of Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player in to the Windows platform.

The iPad works on an A4 processor which is optimised for this kind of computing and uses the same touch-screen and accelerometer-driven input as the iPhone. It uses a larger QWERTY software keypad for text entry but you will have to use the aforementioned keyboard stand which has a “chiclet” keyboard if you want to use a hardware keyboard/

There will be two levels of connectivity available for the computer – one with 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth and one with 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth and 3G wireless broadband. The latter version will most likely be available through the iPhone dealers. most likely as a subsidised device that is part of a 3G wireless-broadband contract. In the US, this would be with AT&T as they are Apple’s US partner. Each level of connectivity will have the standard memory levels that are available with the iPod Touch – 16Gb, 32Gb and 64Gb.

This unit will integrate in to a home network in a similar manner to how the iPhone and iPod Touch integrated in to such networks. This means that it will work with any 802.11g or 802.11n segment, but may not offer native support for UPnP Internet Gateway Device management. The iTunes software will be optimised to work with other Apple devices, but you can use iPhone apps like PlugPlayer to integrate this unit with a DLNA-based home media network.

Whatever way, I reckon that the iPad may build up a class of “internet tablet” devices from the main platforms and make basic computing and Internet-access tasks easier for most people.

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Internet radio in the car – why not?

A few weeks ago, a young teenager friend of mine had the Kogan internet radio, which I previously reviewed a sample of and had bought, “tuned” to an Iranian pop-music station that was broadcasting via the Internet. This youth, who had just turned 18 and was about to get his driver’s licence, was asking whether Internet radio in the car would be a reality.

Issues that limit this concept

One of the main issues would be for the wireless-broadband standards like 3G and WiMAX to support media-streaming in a reliable manner and at a cost-effective rate. Recently, there were issues with AT&T raising concerning about Apple iPhone users drawing down too much data, especially multimedia and another 3G provider wrote in to their subscriber terms and conditions a prohibition against media streaming.

The main issues were how these networks handle real-time content and whether they can stream this content reliably when the vehicle is travelling at highway speeds or faster. This also includes how to achieve this cost-effectively without limiting users’ ability to enjoy their service.

One way that it could be mitigated would be for mobile carriers and ISPs to look towards providing “sweeter” wireless-broadband deals, such as integrating voice and data in to single plans. Similarly,the providers could optimise their services to cater fir this kind of use.

Ways of bringing Internet radio to the speakers

Internet radio functionality integrated in car audio equipment

In this setup, the car-audio equipment, whether as part of the in-dash “head unit” or as an accessory tuner box, has access to a TCP/IP LAN and Internet through a modem or an outboard router. It uses any of the common Internet-radio directories like vTuner or Reciva to allow the user to select any of the audio streams that they want to listen to.

Wireless broadband modem integrated in or connected to car audio equipment

The car-audio equipment would have a wireless-broadband modem integrated in the unit or connected to it. The latter situation could be in the form of a USB “dongle” plugged in to the unit, or a mobile phone that supports wireless broadband being “tethered” by USB or Bluetooth to the unit. If the setup involves an integrated modem or an attached USB “dongle”, the setup may use authentication, authorisation and accounting data from a SIM installed in the unit or “dongle”; or simply use the data from a phone that uses Bluetooth SIM Access Profile.

This practice had been implemented in a Blaupunkt car stereo which was being used as a “proof-of-concept” for Internet radio in the car.

Use of an external wireless-broadband router

This method involves the use of a mobile wireless-broadband router which has an Ethernet connection and / or USB upstream connection with a standard “network-adaptor” device class along with a WiFi connection. Of course, the device would have a wireless-broadband connection on the WAN side, either integrated in to it or in the form of a user-supplied USB modem dongle or USB-tethered mobile phone. A typical example of this device would be the “Autonet” WiFi Internet-access systems being pitched for high-end Chrysler vehicles or the “MyFord” integrated automotive network that gains Internet access with a user-supplied USB wireless-broadband dongle.

Here, the car-audio equipment would have a network connection of some sort, usually an Ethernet connection or a USB connection that supports a common “network interface” device class and would be able to “pick up” Internet radio as mentioned before.

Internet radio functionality integrated in an Internet-access terminal

At the moment, this will become the way to bring Internet radio to most car setups in circulations for some time. The setup would typically represent a mobile phone or laptop computer with an integrated or connected wireless-broadband modem. This would have software or Internet access to the Internet-radio directories and stream the audio through Bluetooth A2DP, an FM transmitter or hardwired through a line-level audio connection, a cassette adaptor or an FM modulator.

Increasingly, there is interest from car-audio firms and Internet-media software firms to establish an application-programming interface between a computer or smartphone running selected Internet-radio directory software and the car sound system. This would typically require use of Bluetooth or USB and use a control method of navigating the directory, in a similar manner to how most current-issue car-audio equipment can control an attached Apple iPod.

The primary platform where this activity may take place would be the Apple iPhone, because of it being the most popular programmable smartphone platform amongst the young men whom the car-sound market targets.The setup was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show 2010 in the form of Pioneer and Alpine premium head units controlling a front-end app for the Pandora “custom Internet radio” service installed in an iPhone connected to the head unit via the special connection cable that comes with that unit.

On the other hand, if a smartphone or MID that is linked to the head unit via Bluetooth A2DP does support the AVRCP profile properly, an Internet-radio application installed on that smartphone could achieve the same goal. This would require that the directory applications are able to expose links to the AVRCP commands and requests.There will also have to be requirements to allow “source selection” between multimedia applications through the AVRCP protocol.

Further comments

This concept will become part of the “connected vehicle” idea which provides real-time access to navigation, telematics, communication and entertainment in a moving vehicle or craft, especially as companies involved in this segment intend to differentiate their offerings. It may also be very desireable as an alternative to regular radio in those areas where most regular radio broadcasts leave a lot to be desired.

Once the cost and quality of wireless broadband Internet is brought down to a level that is par with reasonably-priced wired broadband service, then the concept of Internet radio in the car will become reality.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2010

I have written some other posts about the Consumer Electronics Show 2010, mainly about the rise of Android and about Skype being integrated in to regular TV sets. But this is the main post about what has been going on at this show.

TV technologies

The main technologies that were present at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show were those technologies related to the TV set.

US consumers are in a TV upgrade cycle due to the country undergoing a digital TV switchover and are preferring flatscreen sets over CRT sets. This is even though there are digital-TV set-top boxes being made available at very cheap prices and through government subsidy programs. The main reality is that the older sets will be “pushed down” to applications like the spare bedroom with the newer sets being used in the primary viewing areas.

Screen Technologies

The main technology that is capturing the CES show floor is 3D TV. This has been brought on by the success of “Avatar” and requires a 3D-capable TV and, for Blu-Ray discs, a 3D-capable Blu-Ray player. In the case of broadcast content, some HD-capable set-top boxes and PVRs that are in the field can be upgraded to 3D functionality through an “in-the-field” firmware update.

In most cases, viewers will need to wear special glasses to view the images with full effect and most implementations will be base on the “RealD” platform. Some eyewear manufacturers are even jumping in on the act to provide “ready-to-wear” and prescription glasses for this purpose.

Vizio had also introduced a 21:9 widescreen TV even though activity on this aspect ratio had become very dormant.

Blu-Ray

The US market has cracked key price marks for standalone lounge-room players and there is an increase in the supply of second-tier models, especially integrated “home-theatre-in-box” systems and low-cost players.

US ATSC Mobile DTV standard

You may not be able to get away from the “boob tube” at all in America with portable-TV products based on the new ATSC Mobile digital TV standard which has been released to the market this year.

LG are launching a mobile phone and a portable DVD player with mobile DTV reception capability. They are also releasing a mobile ATSC DTV tuner chip that is optimised for use in in-car tuners, laptops and similar designs. Vizio are also releasing a range of handheld LED-backlit LCD TVs for this standard.

A key issue that may need to be worked out with this standard is whether an ATSC Mobile DTV device can pick up regular over-the-air ATSC content. This is more so if companies use this technology as the TV-reception technology for small-screen transportable TVs typically sold at the low-end of the TV-receiver market. It is also of concern with computer implementations where a computer may be used as a “one-stop entertainment shop” with TV-reception abilities.

There is a small Mobile-DTV – WiFi network tuner, known as the Tivit, that was shown at the CES. It is a battery-operated device that is the size of an iPhone and uses the WiFi technology to pass mobile TV content to a laptop, PDA or smartphone that is running the appropriate client software. It has a continuous “battery-only” run-time of 3 hours but can be charged from a supplied AC adaptor or USB port. I consider this product as being a highly-disruptive device that could be deployed in, for example, a classroom to “pass around” TV content, but it also has its purpose as something to show the ballgame on a laptop during the tailgate picnic. The main question I have about this is whether it can be a DLNA broadcast server so that people can use them with any software or hardware DLNA-based media playback client.

Network-enabled TV viewing

This now leads me to report on what is happening with integrating the TV with the home network.

More of the “over-the-top” IPTV and video-on-demand solutions (Netflix, CinemaNow, Hulu, etc) are becoming part of most network-enabled home video equipment. In the US, this may make the concept of “pulling out the cable-TV cable” (detaching from multichannel pay-TV services) real without the users forfeiting the good content. They could easily run with off-the-air network TV or basic cable TV and download good movies and television serials through services like Netfilx or Hulu.

The main enabler of this would be the “Smart TVs” which connect to the home network and the Internet, thus providing on-screen data widgets, YouTube integration, DLNA content access, as well as the “over-the-top” services. Even so, the TV doesn’t necessarily have to have this functionality in it due to peripheral devices like home-theatre receivers (Sherwood RD-7505N) and multimedia hard disks (Iomega ScreenPlay Director HD) having these functions. Of course, games consoles wouldn’t be considered complete nowadays unless they have the functionality.

RF-based two-way remote control

Some home-AV manufacturers are moving away from the regular one-way infrared remote control, mainly in order to achieve increased capability and increased reliability. These setups are typically in the form of a hardware remote control or software remote control application that runs on a smartphone and they use Bluetooth as a way of communicating with the device.

These setups will typically require the customer to “pair” the remote control or the smartphone as part of device setup, which will be an experience similar to pairing a Bluetooth headset with a mobile phone. They have infra-red as a user-enabled fallback method for use with universal remote controls, but this could at least foil the likes of disruptive devices like “TV Turn-Off”.

The main driver behind this form of two-way remote control is to provide a secondary screen for interactive video such as BD-Live Blu-Ray discs. Infact, Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” Blu-Ray disc implements this technology in the form of an iPhone app which links with certain Blu-Ray players to use the iPhone’s user interface as a jukebox for the title.

Smartphones and MIDs

Previously, I had done a blog article on the rise of the Android platform as a challenger to the Apple iPhone market share as far as smartphones are concerned.. There is even talk of Android working beyond the smartphone and the MID towards other device types like set-top boxes and the like, with some prototype devices being run on this operating system.

There is an up-and-coming MID in the form of the Adam Internet Tablet MID. This Android-based unit which can link to WiFi netwoks and has a 32Gb SSD, also has a new display-type combination in the form of an anti-glare LCD / e-ink display

This year. the “smartbook” is gaining prominence as a new general-purpose computing form factor. It is a computer that looks like a netbook but is smaller than one of them. It is powered by an ARM-processor abd could run integrated 3G or cellular calls; and its functionality is more equivalent to that of a smartphone.

There have been some E-book readers shown but these are mostly tied to a particular publisher or retail chain.

Connected Car Media

Pioneer and Alpine have equipped their top-of-the-line multimedia head units with “connected radio” functionality. This function works with a USB-tethered iPhone running the Pandora Internet Radio app. Both these solutions act as a “controller” for the Pandora app, with the iPhone pulling in the online content through that service. The Pioneer solution also offers a “virtual-DJ” function in the form of an extended-functionality app that works alongside iTunes. All these solutions are intended to appeal to the young fashion-conscious male who sees the iPhone as a status symbol and likes to have his car “thumping” with the latest tunes. These solutions don’t seem to go anywhere beyond that market, whether with other mobile-phone platforms or other online-media applications like Internet-radio streams.

Ford  have developed the MyFord sophisticated dashboard and online telematics system and were demonstrating it at this show. This will work with a user-supplied 3G modem and also supports WiFi router functionality. Typically, this will be rolled out to the top-end of Ford’s US market, such as the Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.

Digital Photography

The new cameras of this year have seen improved user-interfaces, including the use of touchscreen technology and some manufacturers are toying with the use of fuel-cell technology as a power-supply method.

As far as network integration goes, Canon have enabled their EOS 7D digital SLR with this functionality once equipped with the optional Canon WiFi adaptor. This solution even provides for DLNA media-playback functionality.

The aftermarket Eye-Fi WiFi SD memory card was shown as a version, known as the Pro Series, that can associate with 802.11n networks.

The unanswered question with network-enabled digital photography hardware is how and whether these solutions will suit the needs of many professional photographers.  The main questions include whether the units will associate with many different wireless networks that the photographer visits without them having to re-enter the network’s security parameters. Another question is whether these solutions can work with higher-security WPA2-Enterprise networks, which is of importance with photographers working in most business, government and education setups.

Computer equipment

“New Computing Experience” alive and well in the US market. Market interested in powerful lightweight laptops that are slightly larger than netbooks. These will be driven by processors that are energy-efficient but are powerful. They could become an all-round portable computer that could appeal to college students and the like or simply as a desktop replacement. The machines that I think of most with this market are the Apple Macbook Pro comoputers that are in circulation, the HP Envy series or the smaller VAIO computers.

Nearly all of these computers that are being launched at the show are running Windows 7, which shows that the operating system will gain more traction through the next system-upgrade cycle.

USB 3.0

There has been some more activity on the USB 3.0 SuperSpeed front.

Western Digital had released an external hard disk that works on this standard, which is known as the MyBook 3.0. This my typically be slow as far as peripherals go because of not much integration in to the computer scene. VIA have also shown a USB 3.0 4-port hub as a short-form circuit, but this could lead to USB 3.0 hubs appearing on the market this year.

ASUS and Gigabyte have released motherboards that have USB 3.0 controllers and sockets on board. These may appeal to system builders and independent computer resellers who may want to differentiate their desktop hardware, as well as to “gaming-rig” builders who see USB 3.0 as bragging rights at the next LAN party. None of the laptop OEMs have supplied computers with USB 3.0 yet.

As far as the general-purpose operating systems (Windows, MacOS X, Linux) go, none of them have native USB 3.0 integrated at the moment but this may happen in the next service lifecycle of the major operating systems.

Some more benefits have been revealed including high-speed simultaneous data transfer (which could benefit external hard disks and network adaptors) and increased power efficiency, especially for portable applications.

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Google takes on the iPhone with the Android platform

Over the past few years, the coolest phone to be “seen with” was the Apple iPhone and and you were even considered “more cool” if your iPhone was filled with many apps downloaded from the iTunes App Store. Some people even described the iPhone as an “addiction” and there has often been the catchcry “an app for every part of your life” for the iPhone. I have covered the iPhone platform a few times, mainly mentioning a few iPhone-based DLNA media servers and controllers and the “I Am Safe” iPhone app. Other smartphone platforms like the Symbian S60 and Windows Mobile platforms fell by the wayside even though hardware manufacturers and the companies standing behind the platforms were trying to raise awareness of the platforms.

Then, over the last year, Google was developing a Linux-based embedded-device platform known as the Android platform, with a view to making it compete with the Apple iPhone. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show has become awash with smartphones, MIDs, smartbooks and other hardware based on this platform.

The main advantage of this platform is that it is a totally free, open-source platform which allows for standards-based smartphone and embedded-device development. At the moment, there is only one phone – the Nexus One – available on the general market. Other phones that have been talked about include the Motorola “Droids” which have their name focused on the Android operating system. But if these other devices that are being put up during the show are made available on the market, this could lead to a competitive marketplace for smartphone platforms.

Even the app-development infrastructure has been made easier for developers in some respects. For example, developers are able to design a user-interface that works properly on different handset screen sizes. This makes things easier for Android handset builders who want to differentiate their units with screen sizes. A good question to ask is whether a developer is allowed to bring their technology like a codec that they have developed or licensed to their project without having to make the technology “open-source”. This may be of concern to the likes of Microsoft if they want to port their technology to the Android platform. Similarly, would an app developer have to make their projects “open-source”, which may be of concern to games developers who have a lot at stake?

Once the Android platform becomes established, this could “spark up” Microsoft, Symbian and Blackberry to put their handset platforms on the map and encourage further innovation in the handset and embedded-devices sector.

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Application-distribution platforms for smartphones and other devices

At the moment, there are an increasing number of PDAs, smartphones and mobile Internet devices that can be given extra functionality by the user after they buy the device. This is typically achieved through the user loading on to their device applications that are developed by a large community of programmers. This practice will end up being extended to other consumer-electronics devices like printers, TVs, set-top boxes, and electronic picture frames as manufacturers use standard embedded-device platforms like Android, Symbian or Windows CE and common “embedded-application” processors for these devices. It will be extended further to “durable” products like cars, business appliances and building control and security equipment as these devices end up on these common platforms and manufacturers see this as a way of adding value “in the field” for this class of device.

From this, I have been observing the smartphone marketplace and am noticing a disturbing trend where platform vendors are setting up their own application-distribution platforms that usually manifest as “app stores” that run on either the PC-device synchronisation program or on the device’s own user-interface screen. These platforms typically require the software to be pre-approved by the platform vendor before it is made available and, in some cases like the Apple iPhone, you cannot obtain the software from any other source like the developer’s Web site, competing app store or physical medium. You may not even be able to search for applications using a Web page on your regular computer, rather you have to use a special application like iTunes or use the phone’s user-interface.

People who used phones based on the Windows Mobile or Symbian S60 / UIQ platform were able to install applications from either the developer’s Website or a third-party app store like Handango. They may have received the applications on a CD-ROM or similar media as the mobile extension for the software they are buying or as simply a mobile-software collection disc. Then they could download the installation package from these sites and upload it to their phone using the platform’s synchronisation application. In some cases, they could obtain the application through the carrier’s mobile portal and, perhaps, have the cost of the application (if applicable) charged against their mobile phone account. They can even visit the application Website from the phone’s user interface and download the application over the 3G or WiFi connection, installing it straight away on the phone.

The main issue that I have with application-distribution platforms controlled by the device platform vendor is that if you don’t have a competing software outlet, including the developer’s Web site, a hostile monopolistic situation can exist. As I have observed with the iPhone, there are situations where the platform vendor can arbitrarily deny approval for software applications or can make harsh conditions for the development and sale of these applications. In some cases, this could lead to limitations concerning application types like VoIP applications being denied access to the platform because they threaten the carrier partner’s revenue stream for example. In other cases, the developer may effectively receive “pennies” for the application rather than “pounds”.

What needs to happen with application-distribution platforms for smartphones and similar devices is to provide a competitive environment. This should be in the form of developers being able to host and sell their software from their Website rather than provide a link to the platform app store. As well, the platform should allow one or more competing app stores to exist on the scene. It also includes the carriers or service providers being able to run their own app stores, using their ability to extend their business relationships with their customers like charging for software against their customers’ operating accounts. For “on-phone” access, it can be facilitated in the form of uploadable “manifest files” that point to the app store’s catalogue Website.

As well, the only tests that an application should have to face are for device security, operational stability and user-privacy protection. The same tests should also include acceptance of industry-standard interfaces, file types and protocols rather than vendor-proprietary standards. If an application is about mature-age content, the purchasing regime should include industry-accepted age tests like purchase through credit card only for example.

Once this is achieved for application-distribution platforms, then you can achieve a “win-win” situation for extending smartphones, MIDs and similar devices

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Britt Lapthorne Inspired I Am Safe IPhone App By Tim Hine

Britt Lapthorne Inspired I Am Safe IPhone App By Tim Hine | The Age Digital Life

I Am Safe – Home Site 

iTunes App Store Direct

My comments

The “I am safe” application was written primarily in response to Britt Lapthorne’s disappearance in Croatia, but may have been brought about by the kidnap and murder of British tourists, Peter Falconio and Joanna Lees, in Northern Territory, Australia during July 2001.

It effectively “copies” the primary panic-alarm function on the typical monitored security system to your smartphone by sending out e-mail messages, SMS and / or voice messages to designated contacts as well as recording sound and providing a real-time update of the iPhone’s location on a Google map once you start this app.

There is a two-tiered delay arrangement where, after a few seconds, the phone will ring to indicate that it is gaining the location and starting recording. Then it will wait a few more seconds before sending out the e-mails and SMS messages. The messages will have a URL with reference to a “monitoring” Web page that hosts the Google map and an audio feed from the phone.

Equivalence to “panic” mode in a building alarm system

I had thought about this application further and related it to the “panic” or “hold-up” mode available on most, if not all, building alarm systems. This is usually where the user can press a dedicated “PANIC” key or, on most 12-key codepads, the * and # keys at the same time, to cause the alarm to signal to the monitoring service that the user is under threat. Similarly, some installations may use a remote panic button or wireless transmitter to fulfil this function. Some of the installations may also cause the local siren to sound in this condition.

From what I read, I also found that there are risks that can become real if tourists are faced with a nervous or paranoid attacker. One main issue is that the tourist could be forced to cancel the alert cycle or shut down the phone if the assailant is aware that the device could “rat on” them.

Possible software improvement ideas

An improvement that I would be wanting to see for this software is a PIN-to-cancel option where the user must key in a user-defined PIN number or the phone’s PIN number to cancel the alarm cycle. This would prevent the attacker from immediately cancelling the alarm cycle.

As well, I would like to see a “duress code” function as part of the PIN-to-cancel option where the user keys in a “decoy code” to immediately start the alarm cycle and transmit a special “attempt to cancel under duress” message as part of the alert message. This is again similar to most building alarm systems offering this function where the user knows a “decoy code” or "decoy modifier” for the user code that they use when they are disarming the system under duress. These systems then send a “duress” signal to the monitoring station and, in some cases, cause the local alarm to sound.

Need to port to other smartphone platforms

As well as addressing the security issues with the author, I also raised the issue of porting the program to other smartphone platforms. It’s too easy to agree that the Apple iPhone is the only smartphone on this earth but there are other platforms like the Blackberry, the Symbian S60 (Nokia phones) and the Windows Mobile platforms out there in the field. Some of these platforms, such as the Blackberry, have won hearts with the business community; and the Nokia phones have won hearts with European users. In fact, I have used Nokia Symbian S60 phones over the last two 24-month mobile-phone contracts with Telstra and am using a Nokia N85 on another 24-month plan, again with Telstra.  As well, the Google Android platform is coming up as a serious contender for the Apple iPhone.

The various “ports” could provide for platform-specific features like use of the phone’s hardware keypads that are common in some of the platforms; as well as use of series-specific hardware switches. For example, the software could allow the user to press and hold down * and # together on the phone keypad or press and hold down a button on the phone’s side to instantly start the alarm cycle.

Conclusion

The “I am safe” application has definitely provided the concept of adding the equivalent of a monitored alarm’s “panic” or “hold-up” function to a smartphone for use around town or around the globe. It would certainly provide peace of mind for all travellers, their loved ones and their business partners / employers.

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Product Review – Nokia N85 3G Multimedia Phone (Symbian S60 version 3)

Introduction

Nokia N85 smartphone I am reviewing the Nokia N85 3G Multimedia Phone, which is part of Nokia’s high-end “N-series” multimedia phones. It has been positioned as a second-tier model in their lineup and is one that can be easily missed in the crowded multipurpose mobile phone market, especially where this market is dominated by the Apple iPhone for personal use and the Blackberry phones for business use.

Software availability

This phone is part of the Symbian S60 Version 3 platform which has a wide availability of software from different places. This means that additional functions can be added “off the Web” by visiting Handango, software providers’ Web sites and S60-themed Web sites as well as the Ovi application store. This puts it as a decent alternative to the Apple iTunes App Store model that is being implemented by the “King Of Cool” with the iPhone.

As a multimedia phone terminal

High-contrast OLED 2

The N85's high-contrast OLED display

The display is based on OLED technology rather than the usual LCD technology which makes it easier to read in all light. The display is very bright and can be seen at extreme angles. Infact, I consider this display the “vacuum-fluorescent display for battery-operated devices” because it has the same brightness and consistency as the vacuum-fluorescent displays used on most home-installed consumer-electronics devices, especially Panasonic or Sony equipment. A disadvantage that this display may have is that this may lead to some pictures, especially some photographs, appearing too saturated and with a bit too much contrast but it may be how the OLED display reproduces the pictures. It may be a boon with text or diagrams such as the Ovi Maps.

The phone’s battery life is very good even when used as a music player as well as a phone. If you use 3G or WiFi data connectivity or the integrated navigation functionality for a significant amount of time, you can compromise the battery life. You can get around this problem while getting the most out of the phone while you are out and about but cannot readily use the supplied charger by investing in an external battery pack such as one of those “AA-battery”-powered mobile phone chargers. The phone’s MicroUSB socket is its power socket, which means that USB=based power devices used along with a micro-USB flylead can become the phone’s external power supply. The only problem with this is that some USB hubs may not be logically seen by the phone as a charger.

The phone as a GPS unit

The phone has integrated GPS but I am using this function with Ovi-based Maps 3.0 with City Guide subscription. For people who do a lot of walking, the subscription is very good value. One thing that I would like to see in the maps data is public paths for use by low-speed traffic like pedestrians, cyclists or horseback riders; but this is an issue with Navteq and the data they provide to Nokia. The GPS function can be used by other S60 3rd Edition location-driven applications like Nokia’s Sport Tracker GPS pedometer / workout diary or Google’s S60 siftware.

The phone as a Walkman

This phone beats the iPhone when it comes to personal-stereo functionality. This is demonstrable in the FM radio and the integrated music player, especially in how you can add music to the phone.

The phone has an integrated RDS FM radio which works only with wired headsets because the headset’s wire also is the radio’s aerial. There are a few discrepancies when it comes to working with RDS-enabled FM stations. If you preset an RDS radio station, the callsign details that are supplied through RDS aren’t used as a default station reference name. Instead, you have to manually copy the station’s name in to the station’s preset details. The phone doesn’t work with the so-called “dynamic RDS” features like TA/TP/EON traffic-information priority – a feature which can be a boon to public-transport users; PTY program-type functionality (including news priority) or RadioText dynamic text display. It does work with Visual Radio, which is an interactive radio service with 3G or WiFi as data backhaul.

The built-in music player is definitely flexible when it comes to handling music content because it works from music held on the microSDHC cards up to 16Gb / card in capacity. These can be exchanged at will in a similar manner to the classic cassette or MiniDisc formats. Similarly, you can enlarge the storage capacity by upgrading the memory card to a higher capacity. It is compatible with the SlotMusic “musicassette” idea that Sandisk put forward; and the MicroSDHC cards can be loaded with music through a “drag-drop” method via the file system and Nokia PC Suite or directly on to the microSDHC card in an SDHC card reader with the use of an SD card adaptor; or the phone can be synced through Nokia PC Suite or Windows Media Player.

As well, you can download content from a DLNA music server that you are connected to via the WiFi network. This yields a lot more flexibility than the Apple iPod / iPhone system when it comes to adding newer music to your portable collection  As far as codecs are concerned, the phone works with MP3, WMA and AAC codecs and can work with WMA up to 192kbps and MP3 up to 320kbps. The music player is operated in a manner similar to most MP3 players and if you make or take a call, the music pauses and resumes from where it left off. There is even the nice touch of the music fading up gracefully when you finish the call.

The integrated camera

The integrated camera is capable of high-resolution pictures and works well as an auxiliary camera if your main digital camera is out of action. It also works very well for video photography and will use the available memory on the microSD card for the footage rather a particular time limit.

One main problem with it is that if you intend to take pictures to send as MMS messages, it will prefer to send the high-resolution pictures which may not work with most mobile phones. To send an MMS, you would have to set the camera to work at a lower resolution before you take the picture. The picture you save would be a low-resolution picture. A point of improvement that could exist would be to have downscaling for MMS images when an image is sent as an MMS message.This is where a downscaled copy of the image is sent out as an MMS image.

Other than that, pictures and video that you take with the built-in camera can be transferred or printed out using PTP, Picthridge or Bluetooth or a PC can import pictures using Nokia PC Suite and any of the picture import functions that are part of Windows.

There is also a low-resolution camera on the front of the phone which comes in handy if you make a 3G videocall, but you can select to use the main camera during the videocall if you intend to show the other caller something rather than yourself.

Connectivity

As far as regular mobile-phone connectivity goes, this phone offers whatever is expected from a high-end mobile phone or smartphone.

The phone has a MicroUSB data and power socket and a 3.5” 4-conductor jack for headphones / AV lineout and headset / audio adaptor use. I use the phone with a Nokia-supplied headset audio adaptor with built-in microphone that is connected to a set of premium headphones so as to gain good-quality sound. The phone can connect to cassette adaptors for use with car cassette players or classic ghetto blasters; either directly or through an audio adaptor.

The main problem I have had with the audio adaptors is their flimsy tie-clips anchored to these adaptors that break under typical use. If this happens to you, I would suggest using either a metal “bobby-pin” or tie-clip; or a regular plastic clothes-peg from the laundry, attached to the audio adaptor with a rubber band. The only problem is that it may look a bit ugly especially in conjunction with formal wear or good headphones; and, for women, may be uncomfortable against the cleavage. To do this, wrap the rubber band around the audio adaptor making sure it isn’t pressing any of the buttons. Then open the clothes-peg, tie-clip or “bobby-pin” and pass one of the jaws of the clip through the rubber band. You then are able to clip the audio adaptor to your collar, lapel or tie with the tie clip, clothes peg or “bobby pin”.

The phone has a built-in PLL-controlled FM transmitter which you can use alongside an FM radio for music playback. If it was able to use this FM-based link for handsfree calling, I wouldn’t use that functionality at all because of having to set up the radio to handle the call every time a call comes in – one step too many.

The Bluetooth functionality is equally comprehensive in that is supports the Headset and Handsfree profiles for handsfree calling; A2DP / AVRCP audio playback profiles for music streaming functionality; and SIM Card Profile and Phone Book Profile for the increasing number of advanced in-car handsfree devices available with newer premium vehicles or on the aftermarket. This certainly means that the phone can partner with all of the good Bluetooth headsets and helmets as well as all of the good in-car handsfree setups.

Existence in the small network

WiFi Networks

The phone’s main method of connection to a small home or business network is through the built-in WiFi transceiver.

This transceiver works with 802.11g WPA networks that work purely to the WPA or WPA2 modes as well as to insecure WEP networks. This avoids routers or access points that are set up for WEP/WPA compatibility modes. For business and other high-security networks, the phone can work with most EAP-based enterprise security network setups; including SIM-based security. The phone can be programmed to work with wireless networks that have their SSID hidden, with use of a “hidden” option when you create an access point. The WiFi radio is very sensitive, which can come in handy whenever you use wireless hotspots.

The main gap the the phone has concerning WiFi-network connectivity is the lack of ability to support the WPS easy-enrolment setup that is becoming the norm for currently-issued wireless routers.

UPnP / DLNA Functionality

The phone works “out of the box” as a media player to the phone’s display and speakers or as a UPnP AV Control Point for pushing content held locally or on anther DLNA media server to another UPnP AV / DLNA Media Renderer device. It can also share content held on its memory card to a DLNA Media Network. Playlist management – can it push the contents of a container to a device?

Mail terminal

The built-in Symbian mail client supports IMAP4 and POP3/SMTP e-mail systems and uses a similar auto-setup routine to Windows Live Mail, where you just supply your fully-qualified e-mail address and password and the phone just works it out. The client is a similar standard to what is integrated in most smartphones but due to 12-key data entry, may be best used for reading e-mail and sending short replies or notes.

Web browsing

The web-browsing experience is similar to most other smartphones and is limited by the small screen. It can be viewed horizontally by selecting a mode to “view horizontal”. Password entry for social-networking and similar pages can be difficult due to the 12-key text-entry method primarily used in this class of phone.

Internet Radio

There is an integrated Internet Radio receiver function that can work with WiFi networks or 3G networks. If you want to use this function with a 3G network, it will need to work on an “all-you-can-eat” data plan if you want to do a lot of Internet-radio listening. The station directory is similar to that offered by Reciva or vTuner; which means having the stations sorted by country or genre. The phone can also “pipe” the Internet radio sound through the Bluetooth A2DP audio stream which allows you to play Internet radio broadcasts through Bluetooth speakers and similar audio accessories.

Conclusion, including the phone’s “cool factor”

This phone will appeal to the mature users who want a fully-functional yet flexible multimedia mobile phone but don’t intend to do a lot of text entry on it. As well, the phone “sets the cat amongst the pigeons” with the OLED display which is different from the LCD-display norm, thus can appeal to those who don’t have good eyesight.

What Nokia needs to do is to offer phones equipped with this OLED display and Symbian S60 to cut in to established smartphone markets like the QWERTY-keypad business phone (whether Blackberry-style or lengthways) or the touchscreen phone.

I have bought this phone on a published 24-month Telstra 3G “cap” contract under the regular terms and conditions for all customers who sign up to the contract. Therefore I am not writing this out of fear or favour.

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Possible improvement ideas for the new microUSB-based external-power standard for mobile phones

Introduction

As part of the “green ethos”, there has been a rethink concerning powering portable battery-operated devices from external power supplies. One issue that was raised was running a device continuously from a battery charger when the battery was charged. Similarly, every time someone bought a new portable device or upgraded their existing portable device, they would receive an AC adaptor or battery charger as part of the delivery. If they replaced the previous device, they wouldn’t be able to use the external power supply devices that was used with the previous device on the new device unless it was made by the same manufacturer or, in some cases, part of a particular series of devices.

This has led to the idea of powering or charging personal devices via a standard “microUSB” connection that would be use also for wireline-based data transfer. This allowed for a “one-size-fits-all” connection so that the user keeps one external power solution (AC-powered charger, car charger, etc) for their device even if they upgrade the device to a newer model. This avoids the need to junk AC adaptors and car chargers during a phone upgrade, although most of these power supplies are often stored in drawers around the home.

It has also led to devices using “pronounced” visual and audible alerts to let their users know that the battery is fully charged from an external power supply. This is with a view to encourage users to disconnect the device from the external power supply once the battery is full.

External-power-supply operation mode

There are other reasons why we may keep a device plugged in to an external power supply beyond the time required for battery charging. One common reason is part of a practice that has been commonly practiced since the 1960s primarily with portable radios, portable tape recorders, pocket calculators and other electronic devices that were commonly used with disposable dry cells. This is to run the device and use its primary functions from the external power supply, thus conserving battery runtime and allowing the user to use those functions that would compromise the battery runtime, like using the device’s lighting or fast-winding tapes in a portable tape recorder. In some cases, people connect their portable devices to car adaptors that plug in to a vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket so that the device can work from the vehicle’s electrical system while they are under way in the vehicle.

If a phone or other device that is being charged is meant to signal when the battery is full, the device should also have a user-selectable option to simply run from the external power supply rather than the battery when the battery is full and “fall over” to the fully-charged battery when the external power supply is turned off or disconnected. This mode could allow a user to run the phone from the external power as a way of conserving battery runtime and would be more relevant to smartphones and phones that can work as media players, GPS navigation units or handheld games consoles like my Nokia N85 or the Apple iPhone. The message could say “Battery full, Running on external power” as an alternative to a “please disconnect external power” message. As well, the device could show an “external power” icon like a “plug icon” that indicates it is running on the external power. It can also lead to "power-source-dependent” operating modes like the display being brighter and always on when connected to external power.

There could be an extension to the new micro-USB power-supply standard to cover external battery packs that supply power to devices either from common “AA, C or D” batteries or high-capacity rechargeable battery packs. These could signal to the device that they are an external battery pack and the device works as if on its own batteries when they are connected. This would lead to regular battery-mode operation like the display lighting up on demand; and could allow for “power-only, no charging” behaviour if the internal battery is full. It can also allow for the battery-level gauge to show a battery-level reading for either the internal battery or the external battery pack or a “combined” battery-level reading for both battery packs.

Self-powered multi-port USB hubs

I have tried using some self-powered multi-port USB hubs as battery chargers for my Nokia N85 mobile phone but sometimes the phone will treat the USB hub simply as a data uplink rather than a battery charger. I have also seen similar “hit and miss” behaviour with the Apple iPhone or recent-issue Apple iPods.

What needs to happen is that these hubs need to support “battery charger” / “power supply” mode when nothing is connected to the upstream (computer) port and the only thing connected to them is their AC adaptor. They would then need to provide the full power requirement for each of the ports and behave as if they are a power supply. They could switch off power to ports that don’t have anything connected to them so as to conserve energy. The AC adaptor would also have to be rated to provide the full power to each of the ports.

This is because a 7-port self-powered USB hub can appeal to being used as a “charging bar” for multiple personal-electronics devices, thus avoiding the need to use a powerboard to power many mobile-phone chargers.

Similarly, this idea can lead to the development of integrated “power-only” USB hubs that can be built in to various objects, including furniture and vehicles.

Speaking of vehicles, I may have mentioned this before, but there needs to be a reference design for a USB 2.0 or 3.0 self-powered multi-port hub that can work in an automotive environment. This involves support for a reference 5V 2.3A DC power supply circuit that can work from either a 12V or 24V DC power supply like what is found in a vehicle. The reference design should support power regulation so it can handle a “rough” power environment such as power “sags” and “surges” that occur when the engine is started. As well, it could support the concept of “ignition-switch control” where devices could be put in to low-power mode or turned off when the driver removes the key from the ignition switch.

Conclusion

Once these factors are looked at, they can allow us to provide better use of the new standards for operating our smartphones and similar devices in an optimum manner.

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Showdown on the handheld front

Two years ago, there was very little activity concerning the handheld PDA and smartphone front save for a few devices based on the Symbian S60 / UIQ platform and Windows Mobile (CE) platform.

Then Apple brought their touchscreen-enabled all-singing all-dancing iPhone on the market and businessmen became addicted to Research In Motion’s Blackberry smartphone with push e-mail functionality. Now Nokia (Symbian S60), Google Android and Microsoft have jumped on the same bandwagon as these previous companies. In the case of Nokia and Microsoft, they have released handset designs based on the iPhone-style “touchscreen” model as well as a QWERTY-style keypad. Some have even designed a handset that works sideways and uses a pull-out QWERTY keyboard. As well, Google had built up the Android Linux distribution for smartphone applications and a few manufacturers are releasing smartphones bast on this platform; while Palm, known for the classic “Palm Pilot” PDA, have come back from the dead with the Palm Pre smartphone platform.

This had stirred up things very significantly with the contract-driven high-end smartphone market. 

A new expectation was required for this class of device in the way they operated, the features they came with and how the additional software that extends their functionality is marketed. The devices will have 3G (or better) cellular voice and data interface, 802.11g WPA2 Wi-Fi networking, Bluetooth connectivity while being capable of working as a digital video camera, phone, portable media player, personal navigation unit and Internet terminal at least. Additional programs will be typically sold or provided through a PC-based or over-the-air application store hosted by the device’s manufacturer or platform provider.

As part of this showdown on the smartphone front, handset designers, operating-system and applications developers will start to develop very interesting handsets and handheld applications. The handset designers and operating-system developers will end up at the point which was common for consumer electronics in the 1970s and 1980s where manufacturers pitted themselves against each other to design the best product and as models evolved, the features that were in the top-end model gradually appeared on midrange and low-end models. Mobile service providers will also have to provide cost-effective mobile service plans which consider increased data usage on these devices as they become work and lifestyle information terminals for their users.

This could lead to inclusion of digital radio and TV reception in some of the models; 802.11n Wi-Fi networking; OLED user displays, improved battery runtime on “full-feature” use; and the like.

As far as applications are concerned, developers who write handheld applications, whether operating as a dedicated program or as a front-end to a Web page, will need to make the applications suit the different platforms and application stores. This may be easier for the Microsoft and Symbian platforms because the developer can have the option of providing the application through their Web site, a competing application store like Handango, or a mobile phone operator as well as the official application store for the platform.

There is a risk that certain features will be missing from the smartphone market during the smartphone platform showdown. One will be the support for WPS “quick-setup” functionality for Wi-Fi networks. These devices really need to benefit from this technology – how could you enter a WPA passphrase that is “security-ideal” in to a phone with a 12-key keypad or “picking through” a small QWERTY keypad. As well, most of the desireable wireless routers and access points that are being released at the moment are now equipped with WPS, These phones should have support for WPS, preferably as part of the operating system’s Wi-Fi functionality, but at least as a reliable application that the user downloads to the device for free.

As well, DLNA media-management support should be available across all of the platforms, preferably as a playback and download (to local storage) function and a media control point. Similarly, the phone could be set up to act as a media server so that pictures taken with the phone’s camera can be shown on larger screens. At the moment, Symbian is providing the functionality native to their S60 3rd Edition platform and third parties, mostly hobbyist developers, are developing implementations for use on the Apple iPhone and Windows Phone platforms.

It will be very interesting over these next few model years as we observe mobile phone manufacturers, smartphone operating-system developers, independent application developers and mobile phone service providers grapple with this new reality.

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