Mobile Computing Archive

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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A call-for-help program has been developed for Microsoft Band

Article

Microsoft Band App Provides Discreet Reporting For Domestic Violence  | SuperSite For Windows

Previous coverage on this topic

Doncare has launched a mobile-phone app to help people in domestic-violence situations

From the horse’s mouth

Band Aid

Home Page

My Comments

Previously, I had given some space to an iOS mobile-platform app written in conjunction with Doncare Community Services in Doncaster to provide domestic-violence survivors access to the necessary information. This app provide the one-stop information shop functionality but could be quickly deleted from a mobile device if the user is in danger of ending up in trouble for seeking help, which can happen in an abusive relationship.

For those of you who are based in the UK, this has recently become a cause celebre thanks to it being woven in to BBC’s “The Archers” radio serial which highlighted an abusive relationship that was taking place in to one of its storylines.

But another project has been finished where a wearable is used as a tool for summoning help in these situations.  This is in the form of “Band Aid” which is an app that works with the Microsoft Band to detect when the wearer is under undue stress and invite them to have the paired smartphone call the national emergency-services number or a user-determined help number like a trusted friend or domestic-violence helpline. The user can override the software to bypass stress-sensing during exercise or similar situations.

There is further development taking place with this software such as working alongside support and refuge centres for domestic and relationship violence sufferers. There is also some work taking place with “social listening” and machine-learning to identify the behaviour of one who is under threat.

The “Band Aid” project has been developed as part of the “HackForHer” hackathon which is a programming challenge for software solutions that can help and enable women. Here, these kind of hackathons can flesh out ways that technology can help particular user groups in particular situations.

Personally, I would like to see this program be “taken further” to facilitate help in other situations like independent ageing (fall detection), living with chronic illnesses with a high fall risk like diabetes or epilepsy, or living with mental illnesses. The sensors in wearables like the Microsoft Band, the Apple Watch and the Android Wear smartwatches are able to monitor body signs along with the wearable’s gyroscope sensor being able to detect falls and similar situations while machine learning that is part of the software can identify what is normal compared to what is abnormal.

Here, it could detect if one is about to have a diabetic coma or epileptic seizure, or needs help because they as an old person fell. Having this kind of software work with the “Internet Of Everything” can work well for identifying risk-taking behaviour such as a person who is living alone not entering the kitchen to feed themselves or making sure that a person has taken medicines that they have to take.

What is happening is that it is the first time devices in the platform wearables or Internet-Of-Things class, along with the concept of machine learning, are being exploited as a personal-welfare device rather than as a wellness or “keep-fit” device. Here, this avoids the need to wear extra clutter to achieve a goal of ideal personal safety or health.

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QNAP releases an ultra-compact SSD NAS

Article – From the horse’s mouth

QNAP QNAP logo courtesy of QNAP

TBS-453A NASBook Ultra-Compact SSD NAS

Product Page

My Comments

QNAP has just lately offered the TBS-453A NASBook which is an ultra-compact 4-drive NAS that is designed to work with solid-state drives rather than hard disks,

But this solid-state-drive NAS is a different breed to the portable NAS units offered to mobile users who exchange data between laptops and tablets. This is about Ethernet rather than Wi-Fi connectivity along with a 4-disk RAID array for performance or data safety, and increased functionality thanks to a desktop-grade NAS app store offered by QNAP.

The drives that are preferred for this device are the M.2 type that are typically used for Ultrabooks and 2-in-1s with this device being about the size of a B5 notebook. As well, it is powered by a 19-volt power brick but can accept voltages between 10 volts and 20 volts DC. This makes it suitable for a wide range if industrial and similar uses and could appeal to automotive and marine use, if there was a way to support externally-switched power control expected for such use.

It also has a 4-port Ethernet switch for one network along with a single Gigabit Ethernet socket for another network and this can be set up to work effectively like a router or to serve its own network.

As well, like other QNAP NAS units, this implements the QTS operating system with an increasing array of apps for business and personal use. But it also can be set up as a Linux computer by implementing a virtualised dual-operating-system setup and has the necessary “console” connections for this purpose. That is HDMI for display and audio connection along with USB connections for keyboard and mouse purposes. Like some recent QNAP NAS units, it also has its own audio interface which makes it appeal as a multimedia computer in its own right.

You can also expand this book-size NAS to work with a regular disk array by installing UX-800P and UX-500P multi-disk expansion modules this allowing you to create RAID disk arrays with these disks.

Tool or toy?

This kind of “far-fetched” cutting-edge network-attached-storage device could be easily dismissed as a toy rather than a tool, but there are some applications where it could earn its keep as a tool.

One would be to exist as a highly-capable Ethernet-connected portable NAS or server device that you use in a “mobile-office” setting. Similarly, you could see this being used with a home network where you want the multimedia functionality like DLNA Network Media Server functionality looked after but without dealing with a noisy or power-inefficient device. This would also win favours with home-AV manufacturers and distributors who are showcasing their network-capable hi-fi and home-theatre equipment at the hotel-based hi-fi shows like what the Chester Group are running. As well, QNAP are pitching this device in the Internet Of Things and building-security applications scenarios where this NAS could record data from sensor-type devices or visual images from network cameras yet be able to work with low power demands.

QNAP could see the TBS-453A as an effort to approach vehicle and marine applications for NAS devices along with courting mobile workgroups, remote data collection or other setups where portability, low power consumption or reduced operating noise are highly valued.

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Why support mobile messaging apps on a regular computer?

Facebook Messenger for Android

Facebook Messenger – native to the Android platform

Increasingly, the iOS, Android and Windows 10 Mobile / Windows Phone app stores are being inundated with over-the-top messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. These work well and provide a better experience for handheld text and voice messaging but they don’t offer a native option for access to these platforms using a regular Windows, Mac or Linux computer.

The Internet-based instant-messaging services started off with the regular Windows, Mac and Linux computers as the main endpoints and it was the arrival of the iPhone that shifted the direction of consumer-focused instant messaging towards mobile devices.

Social networks and mobile messaging

Some of the mobile messaging platforms including social networks with mobile messaging

But the best examples to see of messaging platforms that offer a native client for a regular computer are both the Skype and Viber platforms. Skype has offered a desktop client for their over-the-top communications platform ever since it started and I have seen many laptops run with this program. As well, Viber recently put a strong effort towards creating native desktop clients for their VoIP / messaging service which was initially targeted at mobile users. Viber even added videocalling to their desktop clients before they rolled it out to the mobile clients.

How do you gain access to these services on a regular computer if you don’t have a native client?

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 connected to Wi-Fi hotspot at Bean Counter Cafe

These computers are being used for mobile messaging and social networking

Most of these messaging platforms provide a Web front which allows you to use the platform to communicate using your preferred desktop Web browser but this is fraught with problems. In some cases where there isn’t a Web front for the platform, you may have to use an Android mobile-platform emulator along with the Android mobile client to run the messaging-platform app.

Facebook and Dropbox desktop

This is how we are using Facebook Messenger on the regular computer

These options don’t provide the same kind of experience that a native client would provide for a messaging platform. For example, you would have to keep a browser session alive and dedicated to your messaging platform and all of the user interface would be focused within that session. Or you would have to face performance and reliability issues with the emulator software.

What can a native client offer for the regular computer?

Reduced computing overheads yet taking full advantage of the computer’s abilities

The native client program yields a great benefit in the form of reduced computing overheads required for it to run. This is because there isn’t the need to run a full browser program to use the messaging program. Rather the developer can tune the program to run as smoothly as a regular piece of software for that computing platform.

The main benefit you gain from this is the fact that you can multi-task easily on your regular computer including having your chat with your correspondent without the system underperforming or failing. The more-powerful regular-computer processors can even make light work of the tasks needed to support the messaging platform’s multimedia-communications or encryption capabilities which could lead to a reduced time penalty for encrypting messages or to allow smooth videocalling.

For PC gamers, they can set up a chat session amongst their gaming clan without having to deal with the resident trolls and foul-mouthed miscreants that inhabit the game’s text-chat or voice-chat “party-line” and without taxing their gaming rig’s system resources. With the native desktop messaging clients, the process is similar to what I have described previously for Skype.

Tight integration with the operating system

Most of these messaging programs offer a “store-and-forward” messaging functionality along with a presence indicator. These functions, along with call notification abilities, can benefit from being integrated with the operating system’s interface.

For example, the operating system’s notification area can be used to show new messages and the latest message can appear as a “pop-up” notification. Operating systems that implement task-bars, also known as “docks” in MacOS X, could take these interface elements further by, for example, showing conversation tickers emanating from the icons or representing each conversation as its own icon.

Similarly, you can use these messaging platforms to transfer photos or videos during a conversation with the photos and videos that you send or receive being available through the operating system’s file system.

This appeals to those of us who place value on soliciting video messages as a way to create “vox-pop” video content; or can appeal to those of us who want to print out pictures that we have received. In these situations, the video-editing and photo-editing software that is available for the regular computer is more capable that what is offered for the mobile platforms due to the fact that regular computers offer more processing power than their mobile cousins.

The prevalence of ultraportable computers running regular-computer operating systems

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible notebook (tent view) - press image courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible notebook – the way to use mobile messaging and social networking

Another factor that concerns the Windows 10 platform is that there is an increasing number of tablets and 2-in-1 computers being designed for that platform and running the common desktop variant of that operating system, the best example being the Microsoft Surface family. These computers, especially the ones with a screen size less than 11”, are being considered as a viable alternative to an iPad or Android tablet.

Similarly, the ultraportable laptops of the Macbook Air and the Ultrabook variety can show their appeal as a mobile communications endpoint especially if you are wanting to dabble with text messaging while you work on that document or want to engage in a videocall.

Users who use regular computers to create content

There is still a large number of users who use a desktop or laptop computer that runs a regular operating system rather than a mobile-platform tablet for most of their computing tasks. This happens both in the workplace and the home and appeals to those of us who spend a long time at the computer, whether to write and answer emails or create content.

It is because of such facilities as keyboards that are conducive to typing, especially touch-typing, and screens large enough for content creation. Similarly, some users even optimise a regular computer for longer working sessions like equipping it with a highly-ergonomic keyboard or one or more large screens to obtain an increased visual workspace.

Being able to manage a mobile-messaging platform on these computers could allow for the ability to start or continue a conversation hosted on these platforms using the larger screen area or improved keyboard. It can be conducive to multi-tasking especially if the goal is to copy data from a conversation in to a document or application; or share information from a document or Web page to a conversation.

Companies and their employees could see this of benefit when they want to establish or maintain a presence on a mobile-messaging platform. Similarly, a mobile-messaging app for a regular computer does have some appeal to PC gamers who want to chat with a small group of team-members while playing an online game.

How is this being made feasible

Apple and Microsoft, who have had strong presence in regular-computer platforms and have presence in mobile-computing platforms, are making it easier to target software for both mobile and regular computing hardware classes. The best example is Microsoft offering the Universal Windows Platform that came with Windows 10. This allowed a software developer to target a program for both the desktop (regular-computer) and mobile versions of Windows 10 with reduced effort and there have been some efforts to make it easy to port iOS apps to the Windows 10 platform.

This could encourage the software developers behind these over-the-top mobile-messaging platforms to support the regular-computer users with very little effort, allowing them to concentrate on making the necessary software play tightly with the operating system.

Conclusion

Providing native support for a mobile-messaging platform on a regular computer can:

  • allow improved performance on a regular computer thanks to reduced software overheads
  • provide tight integration with the host computer’s operating system that leads to use of the operating system’s user-interface and file-management assets
  • take advantage of ultraportable computers that are, in some cases, a viable alternative to a tablet
  • tightly integrate with one’s use of a regular computer whether for work or pleasure

As these mobile-messaging platforms of the WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger ilk are being developed, it could be time to work on native clients that work with the regular computer.

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