Category: Smartphones

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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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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