Internationaler Funkaustellung 2014–Part 1

IFA LogoThe Internationaler Funkaustellung trade fair that happens in Berlin is seen as a launch point for consumer electronics and home appliances being sold primarily in to the European market but also covering to some extent the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Ocieania markets. Typically what is launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas during January may be premiered in Europe during this show.

Personal and home computing

Laptops, notebooks and tablets

ASUS Eeebook X205TA 11" notebook courtesy of ASUS

ASUS Eeebook X205TA – an example of the new cheap Windows notebooks that are appearing

There are two main trends affecting the laptop computer and tablet computer here that you couldn’t really have them as separate product classes. One is an increased proliferation of the detachable and convertible classes of products that become either tablets or laptop computers at any one moment. The other is the available of 11” Windows notebook computers at really low prices to compete with the Chromebook products that run the Google ChromeOS operating system.

As far as the cheap-end laptop is concerned, ASUS, HP and others have been pushing products in this class with ASUS drawing on the EeePC “netbook” heritage with their specimen that has an 11.6” screen, an Intel Bay Trail Atom processor, 2Gb RAM and 32Gb solid-state storage.

Toshiba Satellite Click 2 Pro detachable notebook press image courtesy of Toshiba

Toshiba Satellite Click 2 Pro detachable notebook

The convertibles and detachables are coming strongly in the 13” screen size with Toshiba fielding the Satellite Click 2 Pro P30W detachable Ultrabook and the Dell Latitude 13 7000 for the detachable form factor. Acer have shown up with a 13” “flip-down” convertible in the form of the Aspire R13. The 13” screen size is still perceived as a size to keep with this product class because of a larger screen that can be good as a large “sharable” tablet and the keyboard comfortably large enough for typing up large chunks of copy while you deal with a compact portable computer.

Other trends affecting this space include laptops having 4K UHDTV resolution screens which have been brought on by the concept of the Apple Retina display in the MacBook lineup. This is making the concept of high-dot-per-inch displays become the norm in this class of computer which will put pressure on software developers and Webmasters to cater to these screens.

An example of this is the Toshiba Kira 102 13.3” Ultrabook which sports an Intel i7 processor and 256Gb SSD along with a touchscreen resolution of 2560×1440. Let’s not forget that Toshiba were refreshing the popular Satellite L Series of 15” and 17” laptops with them having either Intel or AMD processors.

The tablets are becoming available either as Windows 8.1 units or as Android 4.4 KitKat units. Here, I have had to class tablets with the laptops because they are being positioned as a competitor to the small laptop as a personal computing device although some people could position them more as media-consumption devices. This has been made easier with Microsoft licensing Windows 8.1 at no cost for the small tablet devices.

As well, it was a time when Microsoft was premiering the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet but, really a detachable notebook. Samsung has used this show to promote the Galaxy Tab S which is the first tablet to implement an OLED screen, causing it to be more lightweight as well as show pictures with increased contrast and brilliance.

Sony used this show to premiere the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact which is their “coat-pocket” tablet. As well, they have premiered their PocketBook Android-driven e-ink readers which also includes a 13” model that is pitched at CAD and architectural use. This one also is able to connect to a computer to serve as a Wacom-compliant graphics tablet.  Thomson fielded the THBK-1-1- which is capable of booting between Android or Windows 8.1. Acer was also running a Windows-based 8” tablet in the form of the Atom-powered Iconia Tab 8W.

Peripherals

As for desktop monitors, the 4K resolution is appearing in the premium end of this product class. LG fielded a curved ultrawide 4K unit with a 34” 21:9  screen, along with the 31” Digital Cinema 4K monitor and a 24” gamer-grade monitor.

Smartphones

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge press image courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge – a new trend for smartphone displays with the wraparound display

The key trends for the smartphones include moving towards the 5”-6” 16:9 screen size with the display size hitting the golden maximum for the product class. This is where the product is similar in size to a larger highly-functional pocket calculator where it has a large screen yet it is comfortable to hold in one hand and operate with the other. It has been underscored by the so-called “phablet” class of smartphone with the large 6” displays and having that “golden maximum”.

We are also seeing more stylish designs for the premium models along with upscaling of the devices’ processor, camera and similar abilities.

Samsung were pushing their premium Galaxy line at this show. The headline products were the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini and Galaxy Note Edge with screen edges that wrap over side of phone and exposes software-determined options,

Alcatel were exhibiting their One Touch smartphone which uses e-ink as a battery-saving display technology. HTC also exhibited the Desire 820 which was the first Android smartphone to implement a 64-bit ARM processor. This may impact software development for the Android platform because of a requirement to compile 64-bit packages of the apps to take full advantage of this processor’s abilities.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 press picture courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – the latest iteration of the phone that started the phablet phenomenon

Companies that are normally dormant when it comes to handheld devices are surfacing with smartphone products of their own. Examples of these include Acer launching their “Leap” smartphone range along with Lenovo launching their Vibe smartphones with some of the products being pitched at the “selfie” culture.

The phablets are emerging in the form of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, which is the latest iteration of the Galaxy Note lineup that opened up this product class. Sony answered with the Z3 product range while LG fielded the G3 Stylus 5.5” Android phablet.

As for the emerging markets, Technisat were promoting a dual-SIM Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean smartphone with Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth and FM radio. This runs on a 1500mAH battery with 512Mb RAM and 4Gb main storage at EUR€115.99. LG were running the L Fino and L Bello 3G smartphones for these markets.

The home network

Two main trends that are affecting connectivity on the home network are 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless connectivity and HomePlug AV2 MIMO powerline connectivity.

More of the current-issue broadband routers are being equipped with 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity with more concurrent wireless streams this allowing for increa

Devolo dLAN 1200+ HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor press picture courtesy of Devolo

Devolo dLAN 1200+ HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor (Continental Schuko plug)

sed Wi-Fi throughput. For that matter, we are seeing such equipment in the order of the AC1900 specification with three radio streams.

Examples of this include TP-Link’s Archer C9 performance broadband router and the NETGEAR NightHawk X4 with the four-stream AC2350 802.11ac Wi-Fi.  As well, TP-Link also fielded the RE200 AC750 dual-band wireless range extender.

As for HomePlug AV2 with its MIMO abilities, Devolo have released their kit for this specification as the dLAN 1200+ which requires the power outlets to be compliant to the Continental “Schuko” plugs at each end of the connection. These have a filtered Continental “Schuko” mains socket in them so you don’t forfeit the AC socket you used for your HomePlug AV2 connection, along with a Gigabit Ethernet socket for your network connection. There are even plans for Devolo to release local-specific variants of this kit for other European countries like UK and France. TP-Link are fielding the PA8030 HomePlug AV2 SISO (two-wire) adaptor which has a Gigabit 3-port Ethernet switch.

There have been a few “Mi-Fi” routers with 4G LTE WAN technology at the IFA 2014. One of these is the NETGEAR Aircard 785 Hotspot which also has a dual-band Wi-Fi LAN connection. TP-Link has fielded a the M7350 Mi-Fi which also works as an SD-card file server.

In the next part of the series, I will be covering the consumer AV technology, the wearables and home appliances technologies.

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Apple to look at launching larger iPads next year

Article

Report: Apple to Launch Huge 12.9-Inch iPad Next Year | Mashable

My Comments

As people see competing manufacturers offer larger mobile devices, Apple is finding it difficult to keep their fanbois loyal to their brand and wanting to flock to their stores at midnight on the day that an iOS product is launched.

They are doing this by showing intent to launch iPhones with larger screens but now they have to achieve this same goal with the iPad. Here, the rumour mills are starting to come alive with talk of a 12.9” iPad which would be close to the size of a small laptop. Part of the game is to court the enterprise market by working with IBM to provide line-of-business apps on devices that are delivered in to large organisations as corporate-owned fleet devices.

Personally, I could see this behaviour replicating what had happened in the early 90s when Apple deprecated the Apple II platform and focused on the Macintosh platform. Here, they could put more energy in to the iOS mobile platform by courting the enterprise market with the “sealed-secure-device” angle that this platform stands for.

It is difficult to determine what role Apple will have for the Macintosh desktop platform as they add larger screens, and improved processing to the iPad to give it some “desktop” abilities and users pair up their iPads with Bluetooth keyboards. This also is true and is symptomatic of a trend where IT device manufacturers “blend” regular-computing and mobile computing abilities in their current and future computing-device designs such as through dual-boot laptops and tablets that run Android or Windows or the race to provide highly-strung processors and graphics chipsets on mobile devices.

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Using QR codes and NFC to take tourist attractions further

Article

QR Code And NFC Talking Statues | 2D Code

My Comments

London is using QR codes and NFC tags that head to Web-based links as a way of enhancing the visitors’ experience with the well-known characters’ statues. Here, the links provide experiences like Sherlock Holmes talking to you or where you can experience the Bow Bells call associated with the Dick Whittington legend.

But this could be used for various goals like having interpretation boards that “read out” the text to you, show the text in another language or provide extra detail on the attraction. Sometimes you may be able to engage in multimedia content or have the device’s GPS navigate you to another point in a pre-defined tour as part of a tour app.

It just requires the use of QR codes which work with all mobile platforms or NFC “touch-and-go” tags that work with Android and Windows 8 / Windows Phone 8 platforms linking to micro-sites that “take the attraction” further. These would them make the smartphone or tablet become more relevant when you tour an area rather than just as toys.

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Intel Broadwell to provide real computing power in the size of an iPad

Article

Intel’s Broadwell Chips Will Make Full-Fledged PCs As Tiny As Tablets | Gizmodo

My Comments

Intel Broadwell chipset compared to current Haswell chipset - Press image courtesy of Intel

Intel Broadwell chipset compared to current Haswell chipset

Intel is marching on with chipsets and processors that effectively put a pint in to a teapot when it comes to computing power.

They had done it with the Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge and Haswell chipsets based around the Core I series of CPUs and are increasing the power density and ability with the Broadwell Core M series of processors. The goal they are achieving now is to work on a 9mm-thick fanless portable computer design that has the lower power needs and the ability to run cool for a long time without needing a fan while also having improved battery runtime. This is without sacrificing real computing power. These goals have been satisfied using a new microarchitecture along with newer manufacturing processes and is although the fanless goal has been achieved with the Bay Trail and other tablet-specific processors.

9mm fanless tablet concept with regular computing power - Press image courtesy of Intel

9mm fanless tablet concept with regular computing power

This activity is shown up with the latest crop of mobile workstations and gaming laptops like the Dell Precision mobile workstations and the Lenovo ThinkPad W Series mobile workstations, or the Razer Blade and the Alienware gaming laptop that can handle intense graphics, multimedia and gaming tasks, that wouldn’t be traditionally associated with a laptop.

This could effectively mainstream the concept of the ultraportable such as the convertible or detachable tablet and have it as being fit for a lot more computing tasks. Even product classes like the larger Adaptive All-In-One tablets can also benefit from having effectively “more grunt” and those portable computers that are engineered from the outset for performance like mobile workstations or gaming laptops may become lighter or be able to run longer on their own batteries.

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Product Review – Braven BRV-X Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker which is effectively the “out-and-about” equivalent of the Braven 710 Bluetooth speaker. This unit is designed for rugged outdoor operation and even has a sound-optimisation mode for use when outdoors and you want to cover a large area. As well, it has the ability to charge other devices, mostly smartphones, Mi-Fi routers and the like, from its own battery as what most of the Braven speakers could do.

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax AUD $299.99

Form Factor

Single-piece speaker

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo socket
Digital Audio Input Bluetooth
Network  
Bluetooth A2DP and Hands-Free Profile with NFC setup

Speakers

Output Power Watts (RMS, FTC or other honest standard) per channel Stereo
Speaker Layout Not known Not known

The unit itself

 

Braven BRV-X Bluetooth speaker screw cap that covers connections

Rear view with screw cap that covers connections and NFC touch-to-pair area

The Braven BRV-X Bluetooth speaker is designed from the outset to be rugged and suitable for use outside. It is housed in a rubber enclosure with a metal perforated grille and some rubber pads act as the speaker’s control surface. The screw cap, which reminds you of a jar’s cap protects the sockets on the back of the speaker from water and other contaminants. These lead to another Bluetooth speaker that excels when it comes to build quality. As well, they supply a carry strap which you thread on to the speaker to make it easy to carry. Unlike the Braven 710, this unit is charged using a supplied “wall-wart” power transformer rather than being connected to a computer or USB charger.

 

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker connections - USB power out for phones, AUX IN for wired audio connections, battery level indication, INDOOR-OUTDOOR tone switch

Connections – USB power out for phones, AUX IN for wired audio connections, battery level indication, INDOOR-OUTDOOR tone switch

The unit is easy to set up and integrate with your phone, tablet or computer. Here, you can pair your Android or Windows NFC-capable device to the speaker using NFC-based “touch-to-pair” setup. On the other hand, you would have to pair Apple devices and other devices that don’t implement NFC by holding down the PLAY button until you hear a distinct tone before scanning for it using your device and the speaker will show up as “BRAVEN BRV-X” on the device list.

Like other Braven speakers such as the previously-reviewed Braven 710, you can pair the BRV-X with another Braven speaker to establish a wirelessly-linked stereo speaker pair for better stereo channel separation. As well, it can work as an external battery pack for most smartphones, “Mi-Fi”devices and the like, whether to offer “boost-charging” or extended run-time. This has the same power capabilities like the Braven 710 previously reviewed.

Sound quality

The Braven BRV-X speaker does sound clear but doesn’t come across with tight bass even for today’s bass-heavy popular music. It can be set for indoor or outdoor operation through a simple two-position switch. When set for indoor operation, it can come across as being a bit rich for bass while the outdoor position gives a brighter sound, apparently to cover a larger area.

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker rubberised control buttons

Rubberised control buttons for your smartphone, tablet or laptop

I can adjust the speaker to just about the maximum level before it sounds awful but this would cover a small room or be good enough for listening while you are close to that speaker. Most likely, I would say it comes across as sounding like a lot of mid-sized portable radios commonly available during the 1970s or like a lot of the Internet radios previously reviewed on this site.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

As I have said with the Braven 710, this could be released as a variant with an integrated radio tuner to serve as an FM or, perhaps, DAB+ digital radio.

Braven could implement an easy-to-attach carry-strap setup to improve on the useability of this unit with its carry strap. This could be achieved in a similar manner to the way the seatbelts work in your car where they clip in to place but are released when you push a button on the buckle.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Braven BRV-X Bluetooth speaker as a unit that would appeal to those of us who engage in a lot of outdoor activity and want to see it as a Bluetooth answer to the typical small portable radio that ends up being used outdoors.

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Computing to head down the increasingly-mobile path

Article

PC market won’t stink as much this year, says Gartner | CNet

My Comments

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

This kind of computing is becoming the way to go

I have often heard the remarks that the PC market has nosedived or is “bottoming out” in the face of the iPad and similar devices.

But the article I am referring to is based on a Gartner analysis that is underscoring the increased relevance of devices that have a sense of portability about them. The figures that are showing the downward trend are more the traditional desktop and notebook designs. Compared to this, various classes of equipment where portability was the key design factor were shown to be driving upwards.

For example, they were showing that ultra-mobile computers or what I would call ultraportable computers which are thin and lightweight laptops are intending to become popular. This also is extended to encompass the premium-class equipment. As well, most casual readers may consider the “tablets” as just being the 7”-10” units of the iPad ilk while detachable and convertible laptops were classed as “ultra-mobile” computers. This is although the tablets encompass the “adaptive all-in-one” devices of the same ilk as the Sony VAIO Tap 20 which effectively is a large 21” tablet that would appeal to multiplayer one-machine gaming.

Similarly the figures don’t represent whether a device is being bought as the only computer device that you use, a primary computing device where you do most of your computer-based activity and store most of your data, or as a supplementary computing device that is used for some computing activities such as “on-the-road” use or reading in bed.

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The trusted-environment concept to become a key mobile security trend

The trusted-environment concept for mobile devices

The trusted-environment concept for mobile devices

At Google I/O 2014, it was a chance for Google to premiere the next version of Android for the smartphones and tablets; along with officially releasing Android Wear for wearables and Android variants for the car and the TV.

One feature that Google was promoting was the concept of a “trusted environment” for your Android smartphone where you don’t have to unlock the phone with your PIN or “pattern” routine to use it in that environment. Similarly, Apple just lately put forward a patent to implement this same “trusted-environment” concept in their iOS devices. Applications that were highlighted included you home, car or work and this was determined by one or more conditions being true.

For example, using a “voice unlock” routine can equate your voice as being a trusted user. Similarly, being connected to a particular Bluetooth watch or headset which is on and alive, or being in a particular location by virtue of association with a known Wi-Fi network segment or within range of a GPS “bearing” could also relate to a “trusted” environment.  Apple’s implementation also is about about context-based behaviour such as bringing forward or disabling apps that relate to a particular environment, such as showing up a video-on-demand app when at home or disabling apps not safe for use when driving. It could extend to bringing forward a business-specific app like a “handheld electronic menu” for your favourite restaurant or an “online concierge” for your favourite hotel.

A good question is whether this concept of the “trusted environment” could be integrated with the Internet Of Everything? For example, the concept of having your mobile device near a computer or building-security device could be considered trusted as long as you authenticated with that device within a certain timeframe and/or with a particular key such as your own keycard or code.

This concept may not be considered appropriate in locations where there is a risk of your smartphones or similar device being stolen or accessed without your knowledge or permission. Examples of this may be a workplace where public and staff-only areas aren’t clearly delineated or a party or gathering that is happening at home.  Personally, these setups also have to be about user privacy and about working totally to a user’s needs and habits.

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CableLabs have given their blessing for DLNA CVP-2 standards for premium-content delivery in the home

Article – From the horse’s mouth

CableLabs

DLNA CVP-2: Premium Content to Any Device in Any Room

My Comments

Sony PS3 games console

Consoles like these could be able to pick up pay TV from a DLNA CVP-2 gateway device

CableLabs have cemented their approval for the current iteration for DLNA Commercial Video Profile 2 to provide for improved in-home pay-TV setups using the home network. This leads effectively to an FCC goal that requires device-independence for cable-TV setups in the home rather than users being required to lease a set-top box for each TV in the home or install a “TV Everywhere” app provided by the cable company on each mobile device if they want cable TV on the extra screens.

What is DLNA CVP-2?

This is a super-standard defined by DLNA which uses a group of standards to assure pay-TV networks that their content is being delivered securely and surely to the display device via the home network. Here, the display device can be a Smart TV or video peripheral with “Connected TV” capabilities or software in a regular desktop / laptop computer or mobile device (tablet / smartphone) to show the TV content on the screen.

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

.. as could these Blu-Ray players

It will typically require a so-called “gateway device” connected to the cable system, satellite dish and/or Internet service, such as a broadcast-LAN tuner, router with broadcast-LAN capabilities or a PVR in the customer’s home while display devices and software would have to authenticate over the home network with the standards that are part of the package. The PVR solution may typically be connected to the main TV set in the lounge or family room where most TV viewing is done while TVs installed in other rooms like the bedroom can use the home network to “pull down” live or recorded TV content using “smart-TV” abilities integrated in the set or a games console / Blu-ray player.

DLNA media directory provided by server PC

.. as could these Smart TVs

There is the use of DTCP-IP secure-content-delivery specifications for IP-based home networks to authenticate the access of content to cable-TV / content-studio / sports-league requirements. As well setups that implement DLNA CVP-2 implement RVU which provides the same kind of user interface expected when you use pay-TV services, which could facilitate things like access to video-on-demand and pay-per-view content, access to the service provider’s TV-hosted storefront and magazine, or ability to schedule PVR recordings.

Another benefit provided by DLNA CVP-2 is to support endpoints that implement a very-low-power standby mode and allow them to use wakeup and network-reservation mechanisms to allow the efficient-power modes to operate but provide for proper useability and serviceablility. This avoids service issues that are likely to happen if a device goes to an ultra-low-power quiescent mode when not needed and finds that it has to create a brand new connection to the network and its peers when it is needed.

Do I see this as a change for delivery of the multichannel pay-TV service?

One reality is that DLNA CVP-2, like other technologies affecting TV, won’t change the calibre of the content offered on pay-TV services. You will still end up with the same standard of content i.e. a lot of channels with nothing worth viewing.

But it will affect how a pay-TV company delivers services pitched towards a multiple-TV household. They could offer, either as part of the standard service, as part of an upsaleable premium service or as an optional item, a “multiple-TV” service. This would allow a person to have the pay-TV service appear on all suitably-equipped screens instead of paying for each TV to be equipped with a set-top box.

Similarly, the main device could change from an ordinary set-top box with PVR abilities to either one with the “gateway” abilities integrated in to it or a “headless” gateway device with broadcast-LAN and PVR abilities. In this case, the main TV would either be a suitably-equipped Smart TV or be connected to a video peripheral that has this kind of “connected TV” functionality built in. It could also change the focus of the value of the customer’s bill towards the content services rather than the customer-premises equipment.

For consumers, it could be a path for those of us who move between pay-TV or triple-play services whether due to moving location or moving to a better offer. This is because there isn’t the need to mess around with set-top boxes or create infrastructure for a pay-TV service that implements different methodologies.

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Venice’s independence referendum is the proving ground for e-voting

Article

E-voting comes of age in Italy with Venice independence referendum | PCWorld

My Comments

Venice - Creative Commons  2.0 - Courtesy of word_virus

Venice – a city that could be legitimising the online vote

As you think of wafting down those canals in Venice in a gondola, or listen to that piece of classical music by Vivaldi who was born in Venice , you don’t know that this area has just been a turning point for a change that could affect how you vote.

This neighbourhood became fed up with the way the Italian state was taxing them but not putting much back in to that area. The sentiment whipped up some interest in the secessionist movement and, due to an increase in the IT industry in that area, the idea came across to run a referendum for secession using the Web.

This required that each person registered to vote receive a unique identity number for that election where they logged in to a Web page using that number to cast their vote online with a computer, tablet or smartphone. There was also the ability to use a regular telephone to cast your vote for the referendum. There were measures in place to detect and prevent voter fraud using this system and it would also have used the SSL technology to assure a secret vote on the Web front.

Of course, the mainstream Italian media, most of whom was controlled by Silvio Berlusconi, called the vote a farce but this was able to be seen in Italy and other areas as a mature proving ground for the Internet-driven e-voting concept. Other areas like Switzerland have implemented e-voting for various referenda and Norway has eyed this technology as something to implement in their municipal elections.

Some countries may still cast doubt over the idea of electronic voting technologies, usually due to breaking perceived “comfort zones” or fear of an increased risk of electoral fraud. Even postal voting in Australia has been considered acceptable only as an “away-from-home” voting option or on a municipal level by all but a minority of councils.

What would be considered important for any online voting system would be to have a unique number for each registered voter relating to a particular election or referendum, not correlating to other “primary-key” numbers used as part of public service or commerce like tax numbers, social-security or public-health (NHS / Medicare) numbers. As well, this number is provided to each voter by regular post with one envelope for each voter even though multiple voters reside in one household such as parents and children of voting age. This would be considered a “use-once” number to assure “one person one-vote one-value” and not relate to the vote being cast.

As well, an online system would have to have highly-scrupulous security measures like use of SSL (https) Web pages with even the option of an on-screen keyboard to deter keystroke logging to assure everyone of the secret ballot. Even making sure that client-side software such as mobile-platform apps are approved would be considered important to avoid the creation of “Trojan horse” apps that work against democracy by betraying users’ votes.

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Show Report–Connect 2014

On Thursday and Friday this past week, I had visited the Connect 2014 technology convention as an expo visitor mainly to observe key trends affecting business and personal computing that were surfacing over the past few years.

IP-based telephony

A few companies had shown some IP-based telephony systems at Connect 2014. This is due to telephony moving from the traditional circuit between the local exchange (central office) and the customer’s premises towards Internet-based packet-driven end-to-end connectivity. The trend is being assisted by the goal for reduced operating costs, increased competition in the telephony space and the move towards next-generation broadband infrastructure. It is also being assisted by the prevalence of various “over-the-top” IP telephony programs for mobile devices like Skype and Viber.

One company even showed a desktop IP videophones with wired handsets along with  IP DECT cordless-phone bases. I even raised the issue of integrating Skype in these videophones because this is seen as the preferred “consumer, small-business and community-organisation” video telephony solution. One path that organisations would have to use is an IP PBX server with a Skype video “trunk” which likes Skype to the videophones. On the other hand, he showed me one of the desk videophones which had an app platform of some sort and mentioned that a Skype front-end could be deployed in these units.

Mobile-device computing in the workplace

A key workplace computing trend is to implement mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets. This can be as a fleet of equipment owned by the organisation or a “bring-your-own-device” model where employees bring their own devices to the workplace and use them for their job. Here, they may be seen as supplanting regular desktop and laptop computers or serving as a highly-portable adjunct to the regular computers.

If these devices were used in the workplace, they would either work with document-viewing and communications tools, and a Web browser to support office tasks typically performed on a regular computer. On the other hand, they would ether work with a purpose-built device-side app or a Web front (task-specific Web page) as part of a business-specific workflow or system.

A few companies were showcasing mobile-device management systems, typically pitched at large corporate and government customers. These worked on a platform-independent manner yet allowed data security whether by implementing a managed “business realm” and “business app store” on a BYOD device or providing a highly-locked-down device.

BlackBerry have set up presence at Connect 2014 in order to show that they are moving from a hardware-based operation to something that is more software-based. This means that they can provide managed mobile computing to all of the platforms such as iOS, Android and Windows and covering all management arrangements ranging from a totally managed and locked-down fleet to a BYOD setup with a managed “business space” on the employee’s device.

In my conversation with a BlackBerry representative, I raised the issue of small businesses and community organisations neither knowing nor defining their intellectual property. We were raising the issue in relationship to these organisations neither being careful or wise about their data security nor being interested in corporate-grade information-security products and services. He stated it in a simple way as being whatever information places your organisation at risk if it falls in to the wrong hands.

A lot of these systems don’t embrace what I covered in the last paragraph because they are pitched at a larger business with its own IT department and significantly-sized server equipment. An effort that I would like to see achieved is the development of “small-business” variations that can run on a hosted cloud service or on-premises using modest equipment like “business-in-a-box” servers or classic “tower-style” server PCs. They would also have to implement a user interface that simplifies this kind of management for a small-business owner.

3D Printing

3D printer in action

Heated 3D printer in action

A technology that has been given a fair bit of Web coverage of late is 3D printing. This is where a single-piece object is constructed using a special machine that builds up that object in layers. An analogy of this is the “3D Jigsaw” which had cardboard pieces that were stacked in a particular way to become a known object, typically a figurine.

There were a few companies who were presenting 3D printers that were in action turning out various pieces. One of these machines, which was a freestanding one the same size as those larger gas barbecues that have adorned may Aussie backyards, is able to “paint” colour on to a piece it is printing using an inkjet system. Another machine, this time about the size of a small fridge, used a heated environment to improve accuracy and reliability.

I had a conversation with a representative of one of the companies who do 3D printing and he and I reckoned that the technology would suit a wide range of short-order fabrication jobs. One application I was even thinking of was the ability to reconstruct a replacement part even though the part is no longer manufactured in quantity. One example that came to mind was a mechanism that has a highly-worn or damaged component that needs to be replaced, something encountered by people who are restoring late-20th-century consumer electronics, especially record players, tape recorders and the like, as a hobby. Here, he could scan the component using a 3D scanner and effectively “re-design” that component to what it was like when new, then make it with the 3D printer for reinstallation in that mechanical subsystem.

Similarly, the car-restoration scene could benefit from 3D printing at least when it comes to re-constituting vehicle detail-work such as marque badges and hood ornaments which have been often damaged or stolen from vehicles. This could allow a vehicle owner to make sure their pride and joy is still complete even if any of the detail-work went missing.

The connected home

It was often said that the connected home concept was “nearly there but not complete”. The problems hightlghted here were lack of a desire by industry to implement application-level standards for home-automation setups. This is manifesting in the form of manufacturers developing their own control apps for mobile platforms, making it harder for customers to use competing “smart devices” at the one location or establish task-appropriate control setups in a “smart-home” environment.

Similarly, the home-AV market is being centered around content producers tying up deals with smart-TV and video-peripheral manufacturers or connected-AV platforms. This affects consumers because they are not sure if their favourite content producers or distributors, or their favourite titles are going to appear on a particular connected-AV platform that they intend to buy into. Similarly, it affects content producers and distributors who want to run an IPTV or video-on-demand service because they have to obtain deals with various equipment manufacturers and connected-AV platforms.

Both these situations effectively have the manufacturers, content producers and other companies effectively owning the consumers and stifling innovation and competition in the connected-home space.

In-home telemedicine

tablet computer used as part of in-home telemedicine setup

A tablet used as part of an in-home telemedicine setup

One concept that was being shown at Connect 2014 was in-home telemedicine, known also as in-home telehealth or simply as telecare. This is something I have covered in this Website in relation to standing for access to proper broadband in rural and peri-urban communities. Here, this technology allows people in these sparse communities access to continual specialist medical care without the need for the patient or caregiver to frequently travel between home and larger towns or cities when clinical supervision is needed.

Bluetooth-connected medical sensors

Bluetooth-connected medical sensors

A functioning demonstration setup which is currently used in the field involved the use of medical-parameter sensors like a blood-pressure monitor or pulse oximeter linked to a tablet via Bluetooth with this setup at the patient’s home. This, in turn was linked to the clinic via mobile-broadband technology and the staff at the clinic were able to look at what’s going on using a Web-based dashboard that highlights critical conditions affecting patients in their care.

Bluetooth-connected pulse oximeter

A Bluetooth-connected pulse oximeter in action

It is being pitched at community-care organisations and would typically be seen as being useful for rural applications. But there have been some Melbourne hospitals implementing this as part of a “hospital-at-home” program for managing certain chronic diseases. But there was a setup being shown that allowed this kind of telemedicine setup to work as part of an “independent ageing” setup to assure older people the ability to live independently but know they are still being looked after, which is also being factored as the baby boomers become the ageing population.

Conclusion

These technologies that were presented at Connect 2014 are being more about what the connected work and home life is all about with the current technologies.

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