Apple iPod Touch Archive

Smartphones and tablets now working with sensors and controllers

Introduction

A trend that we may be seeing with smartphones and similar devices is that they work with various third-party sensor or controlled devices through the use of various apps written by the sensor’s or controlled-device’s vendor. A main driver for this trend has been the “There’s an App for that” mentality that has been established around the Apple iPhone with that smartphone becoming the centrepiece of most people’s lives.

Examples of this include the recently-launched Parrot “ARDrone” remote-control helicopter that uses a dedicated Wi-Fi link to an iOS device running a special app that is its controller; a barbecue thermometer being launched at the Consumer Electronics Show 2011 that uses a Bluetooth link to an iOS device that acts as a remote temperature display. There were even other examples like the Nike running-shoe pedometer that uses a dedicated wireless link to an iPod Nano running an exercise-tracking application.

These applications may be novelty ideas of implementing an iOS or Android smartphone as a SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) device but there will be more applications that will become more real in our lives.

Examples application fields will include:

  • Food safety (thermometers that measure temperature for areas where perishable food is stored)
  • Personnel health and wellbeing (blood pressure and heart-rate monitors)
  • Building automation and security (dashboard apps that work with HVAC, security systems, smart meters and the like; garage door openers that work with a touchscreen smartphone)
  • Automotive and marine instrumentation (engine monitoring and diagnostics)

The current situation

The main problem is that whenever an application that works with an outbourd sensor or controlled device is developed, a lot of code is added to the program to work with the sensor or controlled device. This extra “bulk” is written by the app writer usually because the writer is the one who designs the device. The communications between these device and the host smartphone or tablet is typically using USB for wired connections; Bluetooth, dedicated or network-integrated Wi-Fi for wireless connections and the application developer has to work with the link that is appropriate to the device.

If the device designer wants to build a lively application-programming environment around the device, they have to either prepare a software development kit which usually requires the distribution of a runtime module with the application. This can take up memory and can put a strain on the battery life of the device.

What can be done

An improvement to this situation that would improve the lot for device designers and application developers who write SCADA for smartphones and tablets would be to establish a “driver” model for sensor and controlled devices.

Here, the operating system could run a “driver” for the application in a similar vein to how peripherals are managed by desktop operating systems. Here, the operating system can do things like manage the polling cycle for sensors or transmission of events to controlled devices, including responding to sensors that are set to trigger software events for the device class.

This can help with conserving battery power by disconnectiong from a sensor or controlled device if the destination apps aren’t run; or sharing data between two or more apps benefiting from the same sensor data. This could benefit some platforms, most notably Android, where one can write lightweight indicator applications like “widgets”, notification-area icons or active wallpapers which just benefit from sensor data or respond to certain conditions.

The problem is that the smartphone operating systems such as iOS and Android don’t support the same kind of programmatic modularity that desktop computing has permitted due to limitations placed on them by battery-operated handheld device designs with constrained memory and storage size. This issue may have to be examined whenever a subsequent major revision of the smartphone operating system is being worked on; and could include whether a separate “driver store” is maintained at the platform’s “app store” or that drivers are supplied as “apps”. This can then allow the manufacturers to update drivers as necessary, for example to add new functionality.

Conclusion

The idea of controlling or monitoring devices from computers or mobile devices is going to becoming something more mainstream rather than just a novelty and the operating system designers may have to factor this in to their designs.

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PROMISE Technology’s contribution to the DLNA Home Media Network

News Article

PROMISE Technology Announces General Availability of SmartStor Zero and Its Fusion Stream DLNA Digital Media Apps | DMN NewsWire

From the horse’s mouth

SmartStor Fusion Stream

My comments and notes

SmartStor Fusion Stream app

The SmartStor Fusion Stream app is another program that integrates a smartphone or tablet computer based on the iOS or Android platforms in to a standards-based DLNA Home Media Network.

It is capable of what is nowadays expected for a smartphone-based DLNA network media app. That is it can play or show media held anywhere in the DLNA Home Media Network on the device itself or a DLNA Media Renderer device capable of accepting media that is “pushed” to it from a control device.

Another key feature is that it integrates the local storage with the DLNA Home Media Network. Here, you can upload pictures or videos taken with the device’s camera to a DLNA-compliant media server that supports the upload function. It can also download media held in the DLNA Home Media Network to the device’s local storage so it can be enjoyed “on the go”.

The ability to download content held on a DLNA Media Server to the local storage of an iOS or Android device with this software could be handy especially for iOS users who want to add selected pictures to their device without having to perform special sync routines. This is because iTunes doesn’t seem to support “drag-n-drop” syncing of pictures that a user selects to an iOS device – a feature that can come in handy if an iPod Touch or iPad is put in to service as an electronic photo album or digital photo frame.

A main question that I would have at the moment would be whether pictures and videos that come in to a smartphone that runs this software can be shown via a DLNA screen or uploaded to a DLNA Media Server if they came in via email, MMS picture or Bluetooth? Similarly, I would like to be sure that the program doesn’t impair the performance of the smartphone or device; or doesn’t take too long to browse the a DLNA media collection on a server.

This program could raise the bar when it comes to DLNA interface programs for mobile phones and internet tablets.

SmartStor Zero

The SmartStor Zero is another two-bay network-attached storage device which is optimised to work as a media server. As well as serving media to DLNA equipment and iTunes clients, it can accept content that is uploaded from mobile devices that are equipped with DLNA-Upload software like most of the DLNA-integration software for the Android platform and the abovementioned Fusion Stream app for the iPhone.

This device’s Web-based user interface has the ability to become an access point for the media held on the NAS. But it supports the ability to allow one to directly upload selected pictures to Facebook whether to a new album or as extra images for an existing album.

Another bonus is that the Installation software doesn’t add any drivers or other components to allow a computer to gain access to the NAS. Instead, the software works with the host operating system’s network-storage capabilities to “find” the NAS and provide a mount point or mapped drive letter for the storage resources.

One feature that I would like the DLNA software to benefit from is to support the photo tags that are part of iPhoto or Windows Live Photo Gallery. This could even include the People Tags and Geotags that Windows Live Photo Gallery supports so as to allow one to search or browse for people in the photo library using the user interface provided by a DLNA-compliant media player or control point.

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Apple iOS 4.2 beta becoming enabled with handset-driven printer access

iOS 4.2 beta hits Apple’s developer portal, wireless printing dubbed ‘AirPrint’ – Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

HP ePrint enabled printers first to support printing direct from iOS devices |  The HP Blog Hub

My comments

A function that most of us who own smartphones long for is the ability to print documents from the smartphone using a regular printer. The main problem with this is the requirement for the computing device i.e. the smartphone to have drivers for the various printers that it will encounter. Typically this has been achieved through printer manufacturers providing free single-purpose apps through app-store platforms like iTunes App Store that only do a task like printing photographs on the manufacturer’s printer.

Now Apple have taken up the initiative by establishing a one-size-fits-all printing mechanism as part of the iOS 4.2 operating system. This mechanism is intended to work with the HP ePrint-enabled printers like the HP Photosmart Wireless-E printer that I previously reviewed but is intended to be rolled out to more printers offered by other manufacturers.

There are a few questions that I have about this wireless-printing platform. One is whether the platform is really reinventing the wheel that standards like UPnP Printing have established or simply is a way of allowing a manufacturer to market one of these standards under their own name?

Another more serious question is whether other handset operating systems and platforms like Android will implement the wireless-printing platform in a universal way at all. It may be easy to accept the status quo with Apple providing support in the next version of iOS but if this feature is to work properly, it has to work for other handset operating platforms and devices made by other manufacturers.

Other issues worth tackling include support for public-access printers, including secure job submission and collection as well as support for paid operation models.

This concept may open up a new field of access to hard copy for devices like smartphones and tablet computers as well as dedicated-function devices.

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A UPnP AV / DLNA media gateway for the Apple MobileMe service

I have had a look around the iTunes App Store to find out if there are any more programs that bring the iPod Touch or iPhone to the DLNA Media Network in any capacity, and this program had peeked my interest.

It is the ceCloud iPhone app which brings photos held in the user’s MobileMe account to a  DLNA-capable electronic picture frame, TV or network media adaptor. The MobileMe service is a content-syncing service run by Apple as their platforms’ answer to the Microsoft Exchange, Windows Live SkyDrive and Mesh services. This app can be useful if you maintain the MobileMe service as a primary photo library or use it to just hold pictures captured using your iPhone’s camera or downloaded from your digital camera to your Macbook laptop; yet want to make them available to the DLNA-compliant equipment.

For the program to work, the iPhone will need to be connect to a WiFi network segment which is in the same logical network as your DLNA-compliant media playback device. It would also be a good idea to keep the iPhone or iPod Touch connected to AC power at all times while you run the program.

What had impressed me about this program is that there was the idea of building in a UPnP AV / DLNA media gateway in to a smartphone in order to connect to a “cloud” service that the smartphone’s platform can benefit from.

Web site: http://www.ceapps.com/cecloud/

iTunes App Store Direct

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UPnP AV (DLNA) for the Apple Macintosh platform

Introduction

I am writing this to help Apple Macintosh users know what is available when it comes to integrating their computers with the UPnP AV / DLNA Home Media Network, especially as a way of providing cost-effective way of distributing music, pictures and video over the home network. This is also because most of the DLNA-compliant equipment is available at prices that most people can afford and that most manufacturers that sell premium-grade consumer AV equipment like Linn or Loewe are running at least one unit capable of playing at least music from a DLNA-compliant media server.

Similarly, the article is also pitched at people who have decided to move to the Apple Macintosh platform from other computing platforms that would provide inherent DLNA MediaServer support like Windows.

Apple doesn’t provide any software to bridge the Apple Macintosh platform to the DLNA Home Media Network, whether as a server, playback or control program. One of the primary reasons is to keep the platform tightly integrated with Apple’s multimedia products like the iPod, Apple TV and Apple Airport Express. As well, some Apple Macintosh diehards may consider the UPnP AV / DLNA Home Media Network as an anathema to the “purely Apple” IT lifestyle that they desire.

So this need is fulfilled by software written by third party developers. The software is primarily in the form of media servers that can provision user-defined libraries or the iTunes and iPhoto libraries to the DLNA Home Media Network. Programs that provision user-defined libraries can be pointed to iTunes and iPhoto libraries once you know where these programs store their files.

DLNA software for the Apple Macintosh platform

TwonkyMedia are supplying a version of the TwonkyMedia Server to MacOS X, which can work from any user-defined folders. This program is available through www.twonkymedia.com .They are intending to port the TwonkyMedia Manager to the Apple Macintosh platform in the near future.

Allegrosoft have had Allegro Media Server for a while and this works directly with the iTunes Music Library. This program is available from www.allegrosoft.com/ams.html .

Elgato EyeConnect is available at any Apple Macintosh dealer who sells Elgato EyeTV TV tuner cards and is tightly integrated with the Apple iLife system. This means that it can share the folders used by iTunes, iPhoto and other Apple software over the DLNA Home Media Network in a more polished manner.

NullRiver Connect360 and MediaLink. These shareware products are pitched at integrating iTunes and iPhoto with the XBox360 and PlayStation 3 games consoles, but can provision content to DLNA Home Media Network devices. Infact, some friends that I know are using the NullRiver MediaLink to bring their online video collection which is held on their Apple Macintosh to a PS3 to view on their flatscreen TV in the main lounge area of their home. They are available through www.nullriver.com .

Songbook Mac is another iTunes UPnP AV / DLNA server, but this program also is one of the first UPnP AV Control Point programs available for the Macintosh. It is mainly targeted at people who run any of Linn’s network media players on their network, but can be run on with any UPnP AV MediaRenderer device. It is available at http://www.bookshelfapps.com/songbookmac.php ,

Yazsoft Playback is another program that is highly integrated to the Macintosh platform and can handle all of the high-definition video that a lot of Mac users will be dealing with. It can also work with user-nominated folders and is available at www.yazsoft.com.

Use of third-party NAS devices

If you use a third-party (non-Apple) network-attached storage device like the Netgear ReadyNAS, the QNAP units or the Buffalo TeraStations, you can use these devices as a UPnP / DLNA media server. They will also offer iTunes music server functionality as well as Time-Machine backup.

DLNA Media Controller Software for the iPhone

Most of you who own an Apple Macintosh will own or are wanting to own an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch by now and these devices can work as Media Controllers for Media-Renderer Devices that accept “pushed” content. They are the iMediaSuite (iTunes direct) and iNetFrame (iTunes direct) (blog mention) by CyberGarage, PlugPlayer (iTunes direct) (blog mention) and Songbook Touch (iTunes direct), which are all available through the iTunes App Store.

Conclusion

Staying loyal to the Apple platform doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on the abilities that the DLNA Home Media Network offers, especially now that more and more consumer-electronics manufacturers are making DLNA-compliant networked media equipment available at all price points and markets.

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The Mobile Internet Devices becoming the trend for this year

O2’s Joggler, formerly OpenFrame, launches in UK this April

Over the past few months, a new device category has started to emerge in the form of the Mobile Internet Device. It would have the functionality of one of today’s smartphones except for cellular voice and data communications.

The device would link to a home or other network using 802.11g or 802.11n WPA2 wireless or use a Bluetooth-connected mobile phone as its modem when it wants to benefit from the Internet. They will work as a media player, a games machine or an Internet-based information device. Some of these devices may benefit from extra software being downloaded on to them through a Web portal set up by their manufacturer or supplier. The primary user interface on all of these devices is a touch screen, but they may have extra keys for access to regular functions. They would mainly use a standard or micro SD card and / or built-in flash memory as their user storage and have their software loaded on other flash memory.

Interestingly, Clarion, one of the most respected car-audio brands, had developed the ClarionMIND which is a combination of a portable navigation device and a mobile Internet device. This gadget provides in-car and on-foot satellite navigation as well as Internet information access and media playback. If it is installed in a matching dock, the unit works like a high-end portable navigation device, passes its audio through the car stereo system and matches its display to “day” or “night” mode according to how you operate the car’s headlight switch.

The iPod Touch was one such device that predicted this device-category trend. It had the ability to play or show media held within it and was able to benefit from a wireless home network by being able to browse the web or add on software through the iTunes App Store.

But could they make the smartphone or connected electronic picture frame / portable navigation device / portable media player redundant? Not really. I would see them as a companion device for all mobile phones and a device which can perform functions complementary to these other devices.

For example, a mobile Internet device could become a DLNA Digital Media Controller / UPnP AV Control point for the DLNA Home Media Network. Similarly, they could perform other control functions that are becoming part of networked home automation. As well, they could be seen as an alternative to handheld games consoles by being able to download games from the Web portal. Other applications would include Web activities where very little text entry needs to be done such as monitoring information pages.

It would be certainly interesting to see how the new Mobile Internet Devices fit in to the personal computing ecosystem as they start to appear on the market.

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PlugPlayer – A UPnP / DLNA media controller for your iPhone or iPod Touch

All of you who are using an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch have access to another DLNA media controller for these devices. The program, PlugPlayer, is able to play content that is compatible with these Apple devices from a UPnP Media Server or act as a control point for other UPnP / DLNA media players that support external control.

One feature that it will miss compared to the CyberMediaGate iMediaSuite program is for the iPod to be a MediaServer and use DLNA technologies to serve its media across the network. This may be something you may not need if what is on your iPod is a subset of the media library that is on your network. You can have an iPod running this program managed by another media controller like TwonkyMedia Manager or an iPod running iMediaSuite or this program.

This program is leading the Apple portable-device platform towards the DLNA-compliant media platform. Wake up, Apple and realise that the DLNA home media network is the way to go.

Links:

PlugPlayer – software information

PlugPlayer download link at iTunes App Store

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iMediaSuite for Apple iPod Touch and iPhone – new version

The CyberGarage iMediaSuite program that I have mentioned earlier on in my blog has been revised and is now at 1.0.1 . Some of the improvements have brought about improved stability by fixing a memory leak; and there has been some improved functionality like a “clean screen” for the media player. It would still be available at the same URL at the iTunes App Store.( http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=293809842&mt=8 )

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DLNA-compliant media software for the Apple iPod Touch and iPhone

http://cgimediasuite.sourceforge.net/ – Link to web site for the iPhone / iPod Touch UPnP AV / DLNA software

CyberGarage have released two programs that bring the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch into the UPnP AV / DLNA home media network environment. This is certainly in response to many Google searches for software that can pull off this function on these popular and trendy devices.

The first one, iNetFrame, is a network picture viewer that allows the user to view pictures in an online collection hosted on the Picasa or Flickr photo-sharing sites. But this one allows one to view pictures on any UPnP AV / DLNA server on the local network. This program makes use of these resources to turn the iPod Touch or iPhone into a network electronic picture frame with an optional clock display.

The other program, iMediaSuite, works as one of three functions:

· a media server for media files held within the iPod Touch or iPhone;

· a media viewer which allows one to view or listen to media files held on other DLNA media servers; or

· a control point for playing media collections held on any DLNA media server (including itself) through another UPnP / DLNA media client that supports external control.

There are some obvious limitations with this software, such as being able only to play the file types that the iPhone or iPod Touch support, and not being able to play Apple FairPlay DRM-protected files on any of the DLNA media devices out there. This doesn’t affect the program’s use as a control point if you are playing files on another DLNA device from another DLNA collection. At least this is the first step in bringing the Apple iPhone world towards the DLNA media network.

One application that I certainly would admire is the control-point function because it avoids the need to have the TV on if you are playing music on one of those many network media adaptors which don’t have any display on them. You can just “point to it to play it” on the iPod Touch or iPhone.

Apple iTunes App Store locations:

iMediaSuite : http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=293809842&mt=8

iNetFrame : http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=294937127&mt=8

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