Internet radio in the car – why not?

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

Issues that limit this concept

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

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

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

Ways of bringing Internet radio to the speakers

Internet radio functionality integrated in car audio equipment

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

Wireless broadband modem integrated in or connected to car audio equipment

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

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

Use of an external wireless-broadband router

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

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

Internet radio functionality integrated in an Internet-access terminal

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

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

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

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

Further comments

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

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

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Switchable graphics – an “overdrive switch” for PC graphics

Articles

 NVIDIA’s Optimus Technology Brings New Level of Switchable Graphics – Windows Experience Blog – The Windows Blog

From the horse’s mouth

NVIDIA’s article about the Optimus graphics system

My comments and explanation

The common graphics setup

The “IBM PC”-based computing platform started off with a “discrete” graphics setup where the system used a separate display card to put up data on the screen for the user to see. This allowed users to buy the graphics capability that they needed at the time of the system’s purchase yet upgrade this capability when their needs changed.

Then motherboard manufacturers and graphics-chip vendors moved towards placing the display circuitry on the motherboard, a practice that most other computer manufacturers engaged in for their platforms. This was preferred for computers that had an integrated display; as well as computers that were based on smaller stylish chassis designs. It also became a cost-saving measure for computer resellers whenever they designed their budget-priced models.

This method required that some of the system’s RAM (primary memory) was to be used for the graphics functionality and, in some cases, made use of the system’s CPU “brain” for some of the graphics work. This typically limited the performance of computer setups and those of us who valued graphics performance, such as gamers, designers or people involved in video production preferred to use the original “discrete” graphics arrangements.

Most systems, especially desktop systems, that had the integrated graphics chipsets also had an expansion slot for use with graphics cards and these setups typically had the graphics card that was in the expansion slot override the integrated graphics functionality. As well, a user who was upgrading a computer to discrete graphics also had to disconnect the monitor from the motherboard’s display output and reconnect it to the discrete graphics card’s display output.

As for laptop computers, there was a limitation in using discrete graphics there because it would lead to the computer running for a short time on its batteries, whereas a computer with low-end integrated graphics could run for a long time on its batteries. This also affected other applications where it was desirable to conserve power.

What does “Switchable Graphics” provide for the Intel-based computer platform.

The NVIDIA Optimus technology has brought around the concept of “switchable” graphics where a computer can have both integrated and discrete graphics. This practice is similar to a car that is equipped with an overdrive or “performance/economy” control.  Here, the driver runs the car in the “economy” mode or disengages the overdrive when they do their regular driving so they can conserve fuel. On the other hand, they engage the overdrive or set the transmission to “performance” mode if they want that bit of “pep” in the driving, such as for highway runs.

These computers will have a graphics chipset that can perform in a “discrete” manner for performance and use dedicated memory or in an “integrated” manner for power economy and use “spare” system memory. This will be accomplished with NVIDIA software that comes with computers that have this technology and run Windows 7. There is a special program in the software that works like the overdrive or “performance/economy” switch in the car. The program can be set up so the user switches modes manually or can be set to change modes dependent on whether the computer is running on external power or whether certain programs like games or video-editing software are being run.

Further comments

At the moment, the technology has just had its first public airing. This will usually mean that certain reliability issues will surface as the bugs get ironed out. It is also just optimised for laptop use but could be implemented in a “dual-chipset” manner for desktop and similar applications. In the desktop environment, the integrated graphics subsystem could work alongside an discrete aftermarket graphics subsystem and share outputs. This could allow, for example, a “gaming rig” to be less noisy and power-demanding while it is not being used for games and other graphics-intense tasks because the integrated graphics chipset could come in handy for the Windows shell or office applications.

Once this concept is worked out, this would allow users to avoid power and system heat tradeoffs if they want high-end graphics in their computing environment.

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Why I value the UPnP AV / DLNA Home Media Network standards

If anyone is wanting to question why my blog is geared towards UPnP-based network management standards, especially the UPnP AV / DLNA Home Media Network standards, I am writing this piece to state what I am about.

I am not a spokesman for UPnP or DLNA or any of the companies that are behind these standards, but do place a high value on networks, network hardware and network media software supporting any of the UPnP AV / DLNA Home Media Network Standards. One of the main reasons I value these standards is that they work across any IP-standard subnet and allow hardware manufacturers and software developers to integrate the home media network in to their creations without reinventing the wheel.

Due to the nature of UPnP, the user doesn’t need to “run backwards and forwards” between devices to make sure devices are pointing to the correct network shares and that usernames and passwords are correct on both the client device and the server. This can become more of a headache for devices that don’t have the full QWERTY keyboard on them and require the user to use “SMS-style” or “pick-n-choose” text entry which can increase room for user frustration and mistakes. They also make the establishment of these multimedia networks as idiot-proof as possible, which would benefit home and small-business users where there isn’t a dedicated IT team available..

I also agree that a standards-based IT environment encourages hardware and software innovation as well as encouraging a “common-sense” approach to technology. It can also lead to these concepts being implemented in the most cost-effective manner, which makes the device affordable for most people, yet there is the ability to provide premium-grade equipment. This has led to hardware that is compliant with this standard becoming increasingly ubiquitous.

I know that Windows supports the standard through Windows Media Player 10 and has full “three-box” implementation in Windows Media Player 12 which is part of Windows 7. As well, I have noted that the open-source community have developed servers and similar software that can work with a Linux system. This feature is now considered “par for the course” for nearly all consumer and small-business network-attached storage units.

As well, the Microsoft XBox360 and the Sony PS3, which are considered “must-haves” as far as games consoles are concerned, have support for this technology. Samsung and Sony are also gradually implementing UPnP AV / DLNA in to their “main lounge area” televisions, with Sony nearly implementing the technology in to all television applications. Most of the big-time electronics manufacturers who have a line-up of home-theatre receivers have this feature in at least the high-end models, with some manufacturers pushing the feature in to the mid-range models. As well, nearly all Internet radios can play audio material held on DLNA-based media servers.

So the main reason I place a lot of value in the UPnP AV / DLNA Home Media Network is because of the ease that there is in establishing a heterogeneous multimedia network with products that suit what you want to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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New UPnP standard for inter-network connection

UPnP Forum standard page – RemoteAccess:1

The UPnP Forum have this week released a Device Class Profile for setting up networks for inter-network operation and remote access. This is mainly to permit:

a) UPnP devices to work across multiple logical networks and

b) UPnP methods to be used for inter-network configuration

What is involved

The standard encompasses public-network-discovery mechanisms like STUN for determining the type of upstream NAT device in the Internet network and dynamic DNS for establishing the IP address for the main network’s fully-qualified Internet name. Some of these standards are implemented through VoIP setups to permit discovery of the VoIP network.

It also involves the establishment of secure VPN or DirectAccess (IPv6 over IPv4) tunnels between networks for this purpose. This doesn’t depend on a particular tunnelling method like PPTP, IPSec or SSL, but is more about establishing the tunnels between the networks.

There is also the establishment of UPnP “device relays” at each end of the tunnel so that UPnP entities (devices or services) in one network can be seen by similar entities in another network.

The standard also includes methods to permit replicated setup and teardown of devices and services between both networks. This would happen when the link is established or torn down or as UPnP devices come on line and go off line while the link is alive.

Abilities

The-access or client network can be a simple single-subnet private network such as a home network, small-business network or public-access network. Larger corporate networks can qualify if the firewall at the network’s edge doesn’t specifically exclude UPnP Remote Access.

The master network which the remote device is visiting must be a simple single-subnet private network such as a home network or small-business network. The remote access server can be part of the network-Internet “edge” device like the typical "VPN endpoint” router sold to small businesses or can be a separate piece or hardware or software existing on that same network. In the latter case, the server would have to work properly with a UPnP-compliant router (which most routers sold through the retail channel are) and obtain the network’s outside IP address and set up port-forward rules through that same device. 

The value of UPnP Remote Access with corporate networks needs to be assessed, both in the context of network security for high-value data as well as interaction with established VPN setups. This can also include issues like the “other” network gaining access to UPnP devices on the local network or particular devices or device classes being visible across the tunnel.

What needs to happen

This standard needs to permit the user to establish or simple yet secure credential-delivery method for VPNs that extend the small networks. This may involve implementing methods similar to either use of a PIN when pairing Bluetooth devices, “push-push” WPS –style configuration or, for “deploy then establish” setups, an email-based system similar to what is being used to confirm user intent when people sign up for Internet forums and social networks; or other similar practices.

The latter situation would appeal to setups where, at one end of the link, there isn’t likely to be a regular client computer in place, such as CCTV and telemetry applications or remote servers.

Compliant systems may also need to support two or more different methods to cater for whether the logical networks are in the same building or afar; or for whether the user prefers to deploy the equipment then configure it remotely or configure all the equipment at one location before deploying it.

Why would this technology end up being useful

One main reason for this development would be to extend the UPnP technologies to VoIP setups. This would then allow for home and small business to benefit from corporate-class telephony setups like tie-lines, common phone books, logical extensions and the like as well as easy-to-implement VoIP telephony.

Another application would be to enable access to existing UPnP devices in other locations. The common reason would be to benefit from multimedia content held at home from a hotel room or to synchronise such content between NAS boxes installed at home and a vacation property. Other applications that come to mind would include remote management of UPnP devices that are part of building control, safety and security such as central heating or alarm systems.

Parts of this standard may be implemented by router and remote-access software vendors as a way of establishing a “box-box” or “box-PC” VPN setup between two small networks like a home network and a small-office network. This could allow the small-business operator to benefit from the VPN setup that big businesses often benefit from, thus allowing for increased yet secure network flexibility.

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The Apple iPad Tablet computer is now real

Apple unveils the iPad | The Age (Australia)

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

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

From the horse’s mouth

Apple’s iPad Website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A laptop that will directly please the Beo-enthusiasts

ASUS NX90: Bang & Olufsen ICEpower Laptop [CES 2010] | Laptop at Hardware Sphere

Dual-touchpad laptop from Asus and Bang & Olufsen – CNET Crave

My comments

Beosound Ouverture There are those of you who may own or have used Bang & Olufsen hi-fi systems or TVs and have become amazed at the beauty of these Danish design masterpieces. Then when you switch on any of these masterpieces, your experience with them is so special, with such benefits as high-quality sound and pictures and a distinct “feel” and user experience.

You may be wondering when this kind of experience will appear on your computer and may have thought of using the Apple Macintosh as a way of coming closer to this experience.

Now Asus have brought this experience closer to the Windows PC user through the release of a laptop computer that has been designed in conjunction with this company. David Lewis, who is a freelance industrial designer who has designed most of the classic B&O masterpieces such as the Beosound 9000 music system and the Beovision LX and MX series of television sets, has been responsible for the key aspects of this design. Similarly, the pictures of this computer when it was open reminded me of the Master Control Panel that was part of the Beosystem 6500 music system, especially with the black keyboard area and the polished-aluminium palm rest. The screen bezel had the speakers integrated in it and was wider than the keyboard area. This made it have the look of one of B&O’s newer flatscreen TVs.

None of this design is complete without there being improvements in the sound-reproduction department. Here, they also used the B&O’s ICEPower Class-D switch-mode power amplification technology, which is known to be one of the few amplifier designs of this type that yield high-quality sound.  The main reason that the speakers are in the screen bezel, rather than facing upwards from the keyboard area, are to focus the sound at the user. This is the common setup practice for sound playing to the audience and is used for hi-fi, TV sound, desktop PCs and other common speaker-based sound reproduction tasks.

With Asus becoming involved with one of the few “audio companies of respect” to design a high-end laptop computer, this certainly shows that there is effort being taken in improving the sound quality of these computers. If this happens further, the quality of the sound that emanates from this class of computer could be improved rather than us having to stick with the usual weak tinny sound or connect these computers to external speakers for better sound reproduction.

These computers also used a “dual-touchpad” design which is often described as being similar to how a master DJ cues up records on his two turntables. This then allows for increased control of the computer, especially when scrolling through material.

Of course, the specifications and software provision are not dissimilar to a high-end multimedia laptop running Windows 7.

This also means that people who work with the Windows operating system can still benefit from classy and elegant computer designs. Once we see computers like this appearing on the market, there will be the desire to offer something that bit extra when it comes to the business-personal laptop computer.

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Internet radio in the car – why not?

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

Issues that limit this concept

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

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

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

Ways of bringing Internet radio to the speakers

Internet radio functionality integrated in car audio equipment

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

Wireless broadband modem integrated in or connected to car audio equipment

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

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

Use of an external wireless-broadband router

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

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

Internet radio functionality integrated in an Internet-access terminal

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

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

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

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

Further comments

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

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

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Initiatives in France to provide access to broadband Internet to the poor

Article

L’ADSL social, bientôt une réalité ? – DegroupNews.com (France – French language)

My comments and summary on this topic

The French government have taken a few positive steps in subsidising broadband Internet access to poorer communities by encouraging the provision of “tarifs sociaux” or “social tariffs”.

Through France Télécom, they are running a broadband plan of €6.00 per month for 43,000 of the most disadvantaged households rather than the traditional basic plan of €16.00 per month. The government are also looking at subsidising ADSL-based “triple-play” plans to the tune of €5-10 per month for poorer households based on a “social allocation” system. On the other hand, they will work with the industry to establish an industry-established “social fund” which can help with access-enablement programs.

They are describing it as a plan to end the social digital divide. But, in my opinion, there is still the issue of providing equipment of a reasonable standard to enable these programs. If the plan includes the price of any customer-premises equipment, the plan should include a router capable of 4 Ethernet ports and 802.11g WiFi access. Other issues that may need to worked on include whether the person has to supply their own computer or whether they could have access to modest equipment such as a netbook, nettop or low-end desktop or notebook for a low monthly fee. On the other hand, these people may end up with secondhand computer equipment that is supplied “as-is”.

As well, there would need to be some form of community assistance for people who are computer-illiterate. This includes help with the common computer skills such as sending and receiving emails, Web browsing, word processing and file management.

At least France has outlined some steps towards providing affordable Internet access to the poorer communities within the cities.

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A “CD-less” way of setting up printers

The current situation

Typically, a printer or “all-in-one” comes with a CD that has a monolithic driver and application set for the device. The files on this disc are also available at the manufacturer’s Website in their latest form and / or ported to different operating systems.

The current problem with this method of printer installation is that it is assumed that every computer has a working optical drive built in to it. The situation here is different in reality because a computer like a netbook or nettop may not have an integrated optical drive and there is a common situation where optical drives are likely to fail. This is more so with the slimline “carriage-load” optical drives that are part and parcel of most laptops that are in the field and are becoming part of the equation with small-footprint desktop computers.

The market might prefer the use of a USB memory key that has all this software, especially due to netbooks and “thin-and-light” notebooks that don’t have optical drives becoming commonly available. But this memory key, like the CD, may end up being lost through the life of the printer simply due to common misplacement. There is even the factor that the files may be wiped by accident as a person intends to “stuff” a memory key with more data to take with them.

What can be done

Use of fixed onboard storage

I would prefer the printer, especially any device that offers network or fax functionality, to use fixed onboard storage. A lot of the “all-in-ones” support local removeable storage in order to permit “there-and-then” printing of digital images held on a camera’s memory card or to support “scan-to-memory” functionality, but the fixed storage could take things further.  The USB host port on a lot of these printers may be able to be used beyond connecting PictBridge-enabled cameras. In most cases, this port may be available for one to plug in a USB memory key to print documents or images held on that memory key.

The fixed onboard storage can extend printer functionality and increase operation efficiency in may different ways.  For example, it could come in handy for queuing documents that are to be printed thus taking the load off the host computers; or providing for enhanced fax functionality like “after-hours” fax transmission (to take advantage of off-peak call costs) or “hold-without-print” fax reception for whenever the machine is out of paper / ink or as a security measure. With the scanner, this could come in handy for “scan-to-email” or “pick-up-from-machine” scanning where you scan the hard copy to on-machine storage and use your computer to visit the on-machine storage when collecting the scanned images . In the case of “there-and-then” photo printing, the fixed storage can come in handy with holding the images that are to be printed so that the user can remove their camera card or PictBridge-connected camera and continue taking more pictures.

Relevance to printer setup

As far as the printer-setup routine goes, a part of this storage could be used for holding driver files for most platforms.

Local USB connection

If the printer is connected directly to the computer via a USB cable, the fixed storage could be presented as a Mass-Storage Device. Here, the storage would appear as another volume of the file system and the operating system would point to that volume whenever it has to load the drivers as part of its “plug-and-play” peripheral installation whenever a printer is connected to a computer running Windows or MacOS X. Linux users could find the necessary binaries and source files when they mount the internal storage to the “*NIX” file-system tree.

This practice is totally similar to how the drivers and supplementary software are stored on one of those USB wireless-broadband modems. Then, if the computer’s operating system doesn’t have native support for wireless broadband, the user loads this software directly from the broadband modem.

Network connection

If the printer is connected to an IP-based network like a home or office network, the fixed storage, especially the driver-files area, would be presented as a CIFS, FTP or HTTP network volume readable to all users and device-initialisation methods like “Point and Print”, UPnP, DPWS and Apple Bonjour to locate the drivers on this storage and load them in to the computers.

Keeping the drivers up to date

The user could keep the drivers up to date by running a “driver-update” program that exists on the printer’s fixed storage if the printer is connected directly to the computer. This program could poll the manufacturer’s Website for newer drivers for particular operating systems and upload the newer drivers to the printer.

On the other hand, the user could set a network-connected printer to poll the manufacturer’s Website at regular intervals for driver updates for the nominated platforms.

Benefit for installers and users

This setup method can reduce the amount of work required to commission a new printer or enable printer access to a computer that has just come on to their site. There is less need to remember where driver CDs or USB memory keys are or the Web download details for the drivers, whether for existing operating systems or for newer platforms.

It can also cut down on the number of helpdesk calls or service visits that are needed whenever someone is setting up a printer for the first time, because they have trouble with balky optical drives (common with a lot of laptops), scratched discs or missing printer-software media.

A wireless hotspot or other facility that provides public Internet access can also benefit from offering a document-printout service to their customers without having to help the customers with adding printer drivers to their computer or make a CD or USB memory key full of driver files available to their customers.

Cost and design impact for manufacturers

The fixed storage could simply be based on a hard disk or flash memory with a very low storage capacity, say up to 160Gb and which is of a small form factor like a microdrive. This can avoid the manufacturer having to vary the printer’s industrial design to suit integrating local storage and the cost to provide the storage becomes very minimal.

This feature offers another point for manufacturers to differentiate the products in their range. An economy model could just have a small amount of memory with just enough room for the drivers and perhaps queuing memory for an average document whereas midrange and high-end units could have increased memory space for all of the functionality that comes with these models.

As I mentioned before, the same feature can provide added value to the printer or “all-in-one” device such as the device taking the load off the host computers or offering a raft of extra functionality. Manufacturers can also save money on preparing and packing optical discs or USB memory keys with their printers and avoid needing to handle support issues concerning these items.

Summary

Once we work towards a method of setting up printers without any need for extra media to come with the printers, we can then see a true “plug-and-play” printing experience for all printer users.

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