Category: Mobile Computing

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

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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

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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

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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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Facetime on the big screen with Apple TV

Old lady making a video call at the dinner table press picture courtesy of NBNCo

You can have a FaceTime videocall on the big TV screen with your Apple TV

Those of you who use an iPhone or iPad and have contacts that use these Apple iOS devices will no doubt have engaged in a Facetime videocall at some point. Facetime is Apple’s own over-the-top VoIP / videocall platform that works alongside the their iMessage messaging / presence platform.

But you may want to use the big screen for a Facetime videocall. This may be to have a large group like your family participate in the videocall with a distant relative or friend or you may find that the large screen offers you a way to see your correspondent easily and comfortably. How do you do this?

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

The AirPlay network-based video-streaming method brings more utility to the Apple iPad

The same instructions will also apply with people who use any other mobile-messaging platform that uses an iOS client like Skype or Facebook Messenger, especially where the platform offers videocalling or video messaging functionality.

Most likely, you will have purchased an Apple TV set-top box perhaps to use the iTunes video-on-demand services or use its Netflix or other video-service front-ends. This device can also earn its keep in bringing Facetime to the big screen.

This Apple TV device exploits Apple’s Airplay network-based streaming protocol especially for video applications and will work alongside any iPhone or iPad running a version of iOS newer than iOS 5. Both these devices need to be on the same logical network as each other, which is simple for most home and other small networks looked after by one router.

How to have Facetime on the big screen

  1. Start a Facetime session on your iPhone or iPad as you normally would and advise the caller you will be linking to the big screen
  2. Double-click the Home button to bring up the “Fast Application Switcher” and select the iOS Home screen then expose the control panel by “pulling up” from the bottom of the screen
  3. Tap Airplay button and select Apple TV as your AirPlay target device and enable AirPlay mirroring

    Apple TV - Mirroring on - iPad

    Set up iPad for mirroring to Apple TV

  4. Switch back to Facetime by double-clicking on the Home button and selecting the Facetime window which should be the last or second-last window.
  5. Continue your call but see your caller on the big screen and hear them through the TV’s speakers. You may find it easier to place your iPhone or iPad atop or in front of the TV screen for natural conversation.

When I was doing research on this topic, I noticed that commentators were raising the idea that Apple could integrate Facetime in to the Apple TV platform in a similar way to how some smart-TV manufacturers integrated Skype in to their smart-TVs and video peripherals. This would be in the form of supplying a camera kit as an optional accessory or describing one of these kits as part of the MFi peripherals program that Apple runs along with developing a Facetime app for the Apple TV.

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You can have Night Shift and Low Power modes together on your iOS device

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Use Night Shift Mode And Low Power Mode On iOS At The Same Time With Siri’s Help | Lifehacker

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Apple introduced in to iOS 9.3 the “Night Shift” mode which tints the iPhone’s or iPad’s display to a yellow colour to allow you to sleep better at night. But you can’t invoke this function on your iOS device if you are running it in Low Power mode to “spin out” your battery runtime or facilitate quick charging.

But the video accompanying the article has shown that there is a way to have both these functions working together. This is through telling Siri, Apple’s voice-driven personal assistant for the iOS platform, to “turn on Night Shift”. Once you tell Siri to do this even though your iOS device is in Low Power mode, it will switch the display to Night Shift mode. You can regret this change by telling Siri to “turn off Night Shift”.

Personally, I would improve on this through a point upgrade by allowing both functions to work together and, perhaps, using Night Shift as a “master command” to optimise your iOS device for evening and night-time use such as reducing sound output or invoking Low Power as a way to run your iOS device on reduced power overnight.

I would see it lead to Apple offering a selection of situation-specific operating modes that affect display, sound and other operational parameters with the ability for users to vary the parameters themselves. Users could at least invoke these modes through an app or the Settings function. But this could be taken further by them asking Siri to invoke these modes or the modes coming in to play under certain conditions like time periods.

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Apple is starting to see reality with the iPad

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

Apple is now seeing the reality with how the iPad is being used

Apple have released iOS 9.3 which has as part of its Education feature package the ability to allow multiple users to use the same iPad.

This is a feature that the iPad is sorely missing because of a common reality that I have noticed with this tablet where many household members are using the same device. It happens more so with the 10” standard iPad rather than the iPad Mini which is used more as a “personal” device. For example, I have seen one iPad being passed around four different household members in our household for email, video-content viewing, gaming as in Plants vs Zombies, and information lookup. Another iPad that I have seen in action is one that became the common Internet (or should I say at times Facebook) terminal in a “family house“. Similarly, businesses have used the iPad as a mobile computing device ranging from a communal image-viewing device through a POS terminal to a kiosk device.

It is in contrast to Steve Jobs vision for this device where he sees it as a personal companion device i.e. as a large-screen companion to the iPhone that each of us use. This is why Apple refused to integrate multiple-user support in to the iPad variants of the iOS platform. It is in contrast to how Google integrated multi-user functionality in to Android Honeycomb to benefit tablet users and Microsoft carried through the multi-user abilities of the Windows regular-computer operating system to tablets that ran that operating system.

iPad users had to be very scrupulous that they log out of email, Facebook and similar services if the tablet was being used as a communal device and they wanted to keep their data private and unadulterated. There wasn’t the ability to have a distinct operating environment for individual users like a different wallpaper or exclusive access to personal email and other accounts. Businesses would even have to run extra third-party apps to achieve a multi-user login setup which became very important through the lifespan of the tablet.

But Apple woke up by offering multi-user abilities for iOS 9.3, but only as part of an “Education” feature set which is an extension of Apple’s strong efforts for courting the education market since the Apple II era. This was because schools, especially primary schools (elementary schools in North America), would buy fewer iPads and pass them around a class, yet they want to be able to track progress through various courseware apps that are written for this platform.

When iOS users and the computer press heard about this, they thought that Apple would answer these needs “across the board” but at the moment, it is only being targeted to the education market. There is a hope being expressed that when Apple issues a subsequent major iOS update like iOS 10, they will provide proper multi-user support for this platform. But it may require a rewrite of the iOS operating system in order to make sure that the extra functionality doesn’t weigh the iPad’s performance down.

Some users may find that the login user interface may not cater to the multiple-user scenario but it may have to be about supporting a user list similar to the way Windows works and supporting different user PINs and fingerprints as login credentials. Similarly, Apple may have to realise that there can be multiple Apple IDs associated with the one iPad and factor that in with account management / password vault features and iTunes purchases. This could lead to the ability to provide Windows-8-style cross-device portability where apps, settings and libraries can be carried across multiple devices.

What may have to be looked at is to integrate a full multi-user ability in to the iOS distribution packaged for the iPads, perhaps implementing some of the techniques used in Windows or Android.

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LG to introduce a smartphone that receives DAB digital radio

Articles

LG Stylus 2 DAB+ Android smartphone press photo courtesy of LG

LG Stylus 2 DAB+ Android smartphone

LG’s New Smartphone Can Pick Up Digital Radio | Gizmodo

LG Stylus 2 is the world’s first smartphone to feature DAB | What Hi-Fi

LG’s digital radio smartphone will come to Australia | The Australian

From the horse’s mouth

LG

Press Release

Digital Radio Plus (DAB+ campaign in Australia)

Press Release

My Comments

Most of you may want to listen to radio via your smartphone but the options typically are using one equipped with an FM radio tuner or using an Internet radio app like TuneIn Radio.

The latter option can eat in to your mobile data allowance very quickly and wouldn’t be worth it for those of us who have an entry-level mobile data plan. The former FM-based option denies you access to the AM stations which are still considered a goldmine of information in countries like Australia as well as not assuring you reliable radio reception when you are on the go, which could make it hard to enjoy classical music for example. This is because the headphone cable on personal “Walkman-type” radios including FM-equipped smartphones and Bluetooth adaptors serves as the radio’s FM aerial.

Previously, DAB digital radio in a personal-stereo context was offered in the form of a “Walkman-style” radio with FM and DAB digital radio reception and these radios typically had a small LCD display as their main user interface. They weren’t offered as a “combo” device with a media player of some sort or other functionality and the introduction of DAB-based digital radio was occurring at the same time that Apple effectively took over the personal-audio market with their iPod and iPhone devices.

But LG have raised the bar as smartphone radio is concerned by offering the Stylus 2 smartphone which integrates a DAB+ tuner capable of receiving DAB and DAB+ digital radio stations. These digital-radio standards, especially DAB+, which are being implemented in most of Europe and in Australia offer a highly-robust radio-listening experience. There is also the ability to tune stations by selecting from a list of the stations’ names rather than trying to remember frequencies which also makes the experience very much “part of” the smartphone.

The LG Stylus 2 smartphone will have the expected features of one of today’s Android smartphones and will use a variant of the LG Internet-radio app for station navigation. This phone will be made available in markets where there is an active DAB-based digital radio service like most of Europe, Australia and some of Asia.

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A way to improve mobile-device lock-screen management

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphone

Basic “essential-data” lockscreen (provided by ICE)

All mobile devices like smartphones and tablets will maintain a lock-screen which you interact with to unlock the device in order to use it. This is a security measure and also to avoid accidentally making calls or sending messages which can lead to embarrassment or a dint in you pocket due to long phone calls.

But there are situations where you need to maintain a lock-screen as a display or “instant-access” screen where you don’t necessarily have to unlock your phone. This can be either to display certain incoming messages, provide quick access to adjustments like operating modes (sound modes, flight mode, etc) or even provide access to emergency information. Even something like being “wired for sound” and listening to music from your smartphone may require you to have access to the controls for your music-player software to start and stop the music.

Android main interactive lock screen

Main interactive lock screen on Android where you enter the PIN

Some Android applications like ICE create another lock-screen for direct access to their functionality, with a widget or slider that drops through to the main interactive lock-screen where you enter your PIN. These app-created lock-screens can interfere with your phone’s normal behaviour, especially if you are starting to use your phone or putting it through a shut-down and restart cycle.

What could be implemented would be a two-level lock-screen. Here, when you “wake up” your phone, you see a “first-level” screen with widgets and display information that you need to be able to interact with at all times such as emergency contact information, notifications, operating-mode selection, and music player or torch control. Then a slide gesture or a slider widget leads to the “main” lock-screen where you enter your PIN to gain access to the phone’s main screen. This level could also have one or more widgets or information panels alongside the PIN keypad.

Most mobile operating systems could implement this through a multiple-page lock-screen as well as a notification screen which shows up when the device isn’t interacted with for a long time. The apps would then show icons or publish detailed information on the notification screen and provide widgets for the lock-screen as well as the home screen if the platform supports it. These widgets and their existence can be configured through a lock-screen configuration option similar to a home-screen configuration option.

This can also open up the option of creating environment-specific lock-screens such as a music-focused lock-screen when you have your headphones or another audio device plugged in to your phone or have it paired with a Bluetooth audio device. Or a “smart-home” app could be made available when you are connected to your home network.

I see this ideal as a way to extend what a smartphone is about – something that you can customise for your own needs/

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Freeview now aggregates Australian FTA TV Internet streams in a mobile app

Article

TV networks to launch aggregated streaming app | AdNews

Previous Coverage

Broadcast TV via the Internet

My Comments

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 tablet

Tablets and smartphones could end up as the place to watch TV and you don’t need a tuner module

Previously, I covered the issue of regular TV broadcasters running Internet-video streams of their traditional broadcast output. This has been offered as part of a Web-front or native app that the TV network supplies, typically to facilitate access to their catch-up TV service.

This is about not needing to use a USB or broadcast-LAN TV tuner device to watch TV on your smartphone, tablet or laptop. It underscores the goal of having one of these devices take over the role of that small-screen TV you would have in the kitchen to watch “Days Of Our Lives” while you do the ironing.

One of the issues I had raised with this approach was that you had to switch between apps if you wanted to view content on other networks and this didn’t play well with the classic TV channel-surfing experience of being able to switch between the channels using the same “control surface” on the TV set or remote control. This is where you would immediately landed on some content when you changed channels.

Freeview Australia, who represent Australia’s free-to-air TV networks, had established a hybrid-broadcast-broadband TV platform that integrates catch-up TV offerings and the real-time TV content from all of these networks under the Freeview Plus platform. This platform required you to purchase a new compliant Smart TV or set-top box and you weren’t sure whether your existing Smart TV could work with this, especially in the context of TV sets being considered durable items.

Now they have extended this Freeview Plus platform to mobile devices by creating an aggregated experience where you can switch between channels on the same app. It also allows for content to be searched across the live streams and the catch-up services so it is easier to pinpoint what you are after on your tablet.

But one feature I would provide for is to be able to determine the live streams that you want to be able to switch between so you can maintain the traditional viewing experience with your smartphone or tablet. This includes being able to switch between the channel you last viewed and the current channel which would play well with the after-Christmas ritual of watching the Boxing Day Test and the Sydney-Hobart yacht race, switching between them when the advertising plays.

At least what is happening is that a free-to-air integration platform like the different “Freeviews” operating in the Commonwealth countries is tackling the issue of free-to-air TV channels running Internet streams and providing an integrated viewing experience for mobile devices.

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The Nickname field is now of use for mobile assistant platforms

Article

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphone

Android and iOS can support contacts’ nicknames with Google Now and Siri

Use Nicknames With Siri And Google Now To Reach Contacts Faster | Gizmodo

My Comments

Most smartphone operating systems have in their contact list a field called “Nickname”. This is typically of use when you have a personal nickname, relative-shortcut name like “Mum” or similar name for a contact. But in most cases, this field isn’t shown up on call logs or contact lists.

Now Siri and Google Now make use of the Nickname field to interpret instructions to call particular people. Google Now does provide inherent support for relationship-shortcut names but you can use the Nickname field for manually determining a contact’s nickname. Both voice assistants can query which person a nickname pertains to which can come in handy if you are calling one of many siblings or someone with an obscure nickname or a nickname that is spelt a certain way but pronounced another way.

How could this be improved upon?

Nicknames appearing in the contact-display context

At the moment, the nickname functionality only works in the contact-search context but I would like to see it also work in the contact-display context especailly when a call or text comes in from the contact or you browse through your contact list or recent / missed call logs. This could be facilitated through the use of a “Display As” field which shows a user-chosen field or combination of concatenated fields for a particular contact.

Support for a phonetic representation of a nickname

These systems could support the ability to store a phonetic representation of a nickname which can come in handy when you say that nickname one way but have it written another way. The phonetic representation would be used for voice-based search and voice-based call announcements.

Security issues with nicknames

Nicknames may expose security issues when they fall in to the wrong hands. It is because people use these nicknames as a “password” or “word of trust” within their community.  But confidence tricksters using familiar nicknames as a way to “get in to someone’s mind” and have them acquiesce to their inappropriate scheme. In some cases, a nickname that is a symbol of endearment may be used as a weapon against one or both of the participants.

Having nicknames as a “secure” field which is only shown to trusted users is important to preserve this kind of security. For example, if a phone shows a list of missed calls or text messages on the notification screen, it could show a standard “first-name last-name” or “company-name” while locked but show the nickname while unlocked. Similarly, voice-level biometrics can be used to authenticate a user who is “searching by nickname” using a voice-based personal assistant.

Further improvements needed for phone contact lists

Handling of common phone numbers

Another area where a lot of contact list programs miss out on is handling phone calls or other communication that comes in from pbone numbers, emails or other contact addresses common to two or more contacts.

The most common example is a landline phone number that serves as a “catch-all” number for a household, workgroup or business. In this case, you may instruct the voice assistant to call a person on that landline by saying “person-name Home” or “person-name Work” or something similar. This will place the call to that landline. The same thing will happen if you contact someone else who lives or works behind that common phone number.

The problem rears its ugly head when a call comes in from that phone number or you review your call logs and you see the first alphabetically-listed contact related to that “catch-all” number even though other contacts in your contact list are behind that number. Here you don’t know whom it was who called you or whom you placed that call to.

This could be facilitated using a dynamically-concatenated display field for phone numbers with something like [<company-name>(caller-name-1. caller-name-2, or caller-name-n] for callers with a populated company-name field; or [caller-name-1, caller-name-2 or caller-name-n] for callers missing a company-name field i.e. households. Or you may create a dedicated contact entry for the “catch-all” phone number such as a distinct “name-address-number” entry for a company or household. Then you add “common fields” like work number, home number or company name to the entries associated with the people with that same “roof” in common. The name associated with the dedicated contact entry shows up in the call log when you call that number or on your phone’s screen when they ring you from that “catch-all” telephone.

Conclusion

At least something is being done to make sure that the contact management software and voice-activated personal assistant software  is tied in to how we view our contacts so we see our contacts our way.

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