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

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

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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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The classes of computers to be blurred–is this the trend?

Article

A dual Windows-Android machine: PC industry savior or non-starter? | Mobile – CNET News

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Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

A computer that slides to become a tablet or laptop

Previously, a computer with a screen greater than 11”, having a physical QWERTY keyboard and running a desktop operating system like Windows, MacOS X or Linux was a separate class of computer from something that had a smaller screen, no physical keyboard and running a mobile operating system.

Now we are starting to see these classes become blurred by the arrival of 7” and 10” tablets running Windows 8.1 on Intel x86 microarchitecture, along with a plethora of ultra-portable laptops with integrated physical keyboards that convert to tablets whether by folding the keyboard under the screen or detaching the keyboard. This is now augmented with a new trend where computers can boot between Windows 8.1 and Android or run both operating systems concurrently; and Android is being ported to work on the classic Intel microarchitecture.

HP Envy X2 Detachable-Keyboard Hybrid Tablet

The HP X2 family – showcasing the trend for a detachable-keyboard tablet computer

What is happening for both consumers and business users is that they will find it hard to determine which kind of computer is exactly the right one for them to use for their needs. Operating systems and baseline hardware configurations may lose their position as a factor for determining a computer’s suitability to a particular task.

Rather I see factors like the screen size which typically affects the computer’s size and form factor; the graphics or audio chipsets; the existence of a physical keyboard and its actual size; as well as the unit’s connectivity, primary RAM and secondary-storage capacity along with the presence and runtime of an integrated battery being what determines the computer’s suitability for particular tasks and operating conditions that a user may put it to.

Sony VAIO Fit 15e on dining table

The 15″ mainstream laptop will still earn its keep as an option for one’s “digital hub”

For example, if you are creating a lot of documents and other textual content, a full-sized physical keyboard would be considered important. Similarly the size of the screen along with the computer’s form factor and the battery integrated in the computer would also affect its portability and suitability to certain tasks.

In a lot of cases, you may end up with multiple devices where each device suits a particular task or activity. For example a 7”-8” tablet that you can stuff in to a coat pocket may come in to its own when you want something that has material you refer to when you are on the road. This is while you keep a 10”-14” ultraportable computer for when you are “doing a bit more” like taking notes or creating content “on the road”; or you may keep a 15”-17” laptop or a larger-screen desktop computer as your “main digital hub”.

Desktops of a sessile nature like traditional 3-piece desktops and “all-in-one” desktops will typically end up just for applications where the computer is used in one place only. Whereas the “adaptive all-in-one” computers of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 ilk, along with 15”-17” high-end laptops will end up for those situations where the computer will be shifted as required.

What will become of this is to look at particular features and the size and form-factor of a computer to rate its suitability for a task you are targeting it at rather than thinking that one computer would suit all your needs.

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Should you worry about your USB charger’s current output for your gadgets?

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Pay Attention To Charger Amperage To Juice Up Your Gadgets Quickly | Lifehacker

My Comments

AC USB charger

You shouldn’t have to worry about the current output from your USB mobile-device chargers anymore.

Most AC and car-powered USB chargers and USB external battery packs are being available at different current-output levels, typically 500mA, 1A or 2.1A . In most cases, if a charger comes with a particular device, it typically comes with one that is rated to the device’s needs such as a tablet coming with a 2.1A charger.

Connecting a device to a more powerful charger will typically speed up its charging time whereas a less-powerful charger will cause the device to take longer to charge. The classic example is one connecting a smartphone to a high-power 2.1 amp charger that comes with a tablet or an additional 2.1 amp 2-USB charger and finding that this device charges up more quickly than with the charger that comes with the smartphone.

But this kind of connection used to affect older devices which had batteries that couldn’t accept higher charge currents without adverse effects. The recently-designed batteries and device-side charging circuits are now designed to handle higher currents and permit quicker charging. With external battery packs, the amount of power drawn by a device can affect the number of times you can charge the device’s own battery off that pack or the run-time available for your device with that pack if you are using the pack to extend your device’s run-time.

It is also worth noting that if a charger has the standard USB Type-A socket on it, you can use a USB charge/data cable that has the device’s connection (microUSB, Apple legacy 30-pin Dock or Apple Lightning) on it so you don’t need to have chargers for different device types. An increasing number of 2.1A chargers are equipped with two or more USB sockets mainly to allow you to charge two devices at once and the current budget that these chargers put up is shared amongst the devices connected to it. This would typically allow for two smartphones to be charged at a normal rate.

So you can really get by with using higher-powered chargers to charge up your gadgets quickly especially as today’s models are more tolerant of the higher current. Similarly, the use of the 2-USB 2.1A chargers can go a long way with saving on power outlets for charging multiple smartphones.

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A4WP and Bluetooth wireless-charging agreement

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Bluetooth SIG

Wireless, Wireless Everywhere

My Comments

Wireless charging for smartphones can become a point of innovation for smartphone and app developers

Wireless charging for smartphones can become a point of innovation for smartphone and app developers

The Association For Wireless Power have liaised with the Bluetooth SIG to integrate Bluetooth abilities in relationship to wireless charging of gadgets such as the typical smartphone.

This will lead to Bluettoth Device Profiles that relate to supply of power to gadgets in a similar manner to what is being achieved with USB when it became the preferred external power source for portable gadgets. Primarily this can lead to energy management as far as the device and charger are concerned

This can lead to the ability to prioritise the power supplied to multiple devices using the same charging point such as supplying more power to a tablet compared to a small smartphone. Or a smartphone could support a “quick wireless charge” option that a user can engage if they need the phone in a hurry and the charging point supplies more of the power to that phone while in that mode for the duration of the session.

What interests me further from the point of innovation would be the ability to have charging-point-specific functions. Obviously this may appeal to people who operate these points in public locations and want to make them pay or prevent a device “hogging” that charger.

But it can also open extra functions like, in a car, enabling quick Bluetooth connection to the vehicle’s infotainment system and setting up integrated operation with that infotainment setup. This can lead to where if you enable the infotainment system using the vehicle’s key, the phone will play the currently-playing music through the speakers or a call currently in progress continues through the handsfree subsystem.

In the home, a speaker dock or music system with the wireless charging surface can enable one to simply integrate the phone with that system just by placing it on that surface. Or a tablet or regular computer can be unlocked by you placing your phone near that device. This can extend to an improved software-security interface where a user session with a particular program or online service like Facebook on another computer is considered more trusted if they have the phone near that device.

This agreement is one where I see greater paths for innovation taking place where smartphones, wireless charging surfaces and apps can work as a system. But there needs to be support for a secure operating environment which prevents the installation of malware or access to untrusted Websites by implementing a level of user-controlled trust for device-app-charger relationships.

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The AV connection panels in hotel rooms–a very useful amenity for the connected user

In-room AV connection panel

In-room AV connection panel at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

A feature that is starting to appear in an increasing number of hotel rooms is the AV connection panel. Sometimes known as a “jack pack”, ”media panel”,  “aux panel” or something similar, these are wall-mounted connection panels or connection boxes located near the TV which provide a simplified way to allow you to connect your portable computing equipment to the TV and make use of it as a display and amplified speakers.

Here, these panels are a way to provide a “walk-up” method for guests to connect their technology to the TVs while the TVs remain anchored in place on the wall or in the cabinet. It also avoids the need for guests to grope around the back of the set to find the appropriate connections and risk unplugging existing equipment or plugging something in the wrong hole, which can cause an unnecessary maintenance request. This is in response to guests “bringing their own content” with them and wanting to view it from their gadgets on the large-screen TV in the room rather than watching regular TV or pay-per-view movies.

I have used one of these when staying overnight at Rydges Melbourne to connect my Galaxy Note II smartphone to the TV’s speakers to play music that is held on the smartphone. Here, this is a wall-mount panel that is equipped with RCA and S-Video sockets for stereo audio and analogue video, a VGA input and a 3.5mm audio input for computers alongside an HDMI input for most of the recent crop of laptops and other video equipment. There is also a USB “plug ’n’ charge” socket where you can connect your smartphone or other gadget to charge it. As I had previously mentioned, you can use the 3.5mm audio-in jack to connect your smartphone or other personal-audio device to amplify it through the TV’s speakers.

This particular setup has you selecting the different inputs as though they are “virtual channels” where you enter a particular channel number to select that input, similar to how some TVs and video recorders had you select a particular channel number to use the video inputs. Here, these “virtual channels” are listed on a reference card that is usually kept on the desk near the media panel.

If you are playing an audio device, you will find that the TV will show the blue screen and a reference to that channel as a way of showing that the selected input is working.

Who would benefit from these setups?

Laptop / notebook computer users

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook at Intercontinental Melbourne On Rialto

An Ultrabook that can easily benefit from these AV connection panels

Connecting your laptop or notebook computer to the TV via the media panel’s HDMI input or, for older laptops, the VGA input for display and 3.5mm audio input for the sound, can open up increased functionality for these computers.

If you use the Internet service provided by the hotel, you can take this further by playing online media services like “catch-up TV” / video-on-demand services through the big screen. You also have the same benefit when you play video files that exist on your computer’s hard disk or use an integrated or USB-connected optical drive to play DVDs and Blu-Ray discs.

Those of you who like to play games on the laptop as a form of relaxation can benefit from the hotel room’s TV serving as a large screen for that game. It would be something that could impress business associates who do like to see these games as a way to rest between delivering those presentations.

Speaking of which, the large screen can come in handy for reviewing that presentation you have to give so you can be sure the graphics are in the right place and that each slide doesn’t look too overcrowded or dull. You are also at a better position for seeing the presentation from how your audience would see it. It is also a good chance to “dry-run” that multimedia presentation that you are running on your laptop so you are sure it is going to go to plan without things going wrong.

Similarly, the large screen will earn its keep with videoconferencing applications like Skype and Lync. Here, you can see your correspondent’s face on the large screen and hear your correspondent’s voice through the better-sounding speakers which may make their voice easier to understand.

Tablet and smartphone users

Toshiba AT300 10" Android tablet computer

Toshiba AT300 10″ Android tablet computer – can benefit from the large screen when you are watching online video

If your tablet or smartphone has an HDMI or composite video output, you can benefit from the TV being a large screen for these devices when it comes to gaming or playing online or stored video content. Here these devices will most likely use an MHL jack which works with these panels if you use an MHL-HDMI active patch cable. Older smartphones may also use the 3.5mm headset connector as a video / audio output and you would need to use a 3.5mm – 3xRCA breakout cable to play composite video from these smartphones.

As well the TV can simply serve as amplified speakers for these devices simply by you connecting the 3.5mm audio-input jack on the panel to your smartphone’s or tablet’s headphone jack using one of those 3.5mm plug-3.5mm plug cables..

Digital still and video cameras

You can preview your still images or footage you have taken on that large screen if your camera or camcorder has an HDMI or composite video output. Most of the recent digital cameras will implement a “mini HDMI” connector and/or composite video output via a 3.5mm multi-conductor jack due to their low-profile design.

The benefit you have with this is that it makes it easier to have “many eyes” looking for imperfections in the images and footage you have taken or have the benefit of a large screen to review those images or footage more easily. Even the speakers built in to these TV sets would do rings around the cameras’ integrated monitor speakers

Other personal audio and video players

Those of you who use portable DVD players or portable media players can have these devices play through that large screen in your room as an alternative to what is available on the pay-per-view movie service.

Similarly, your iPod Classic, MP3 payer, Discman or other legacy-media personal player (think cassette or MiniDisc) can benefit from being able to be played through the TV’s speakers with a louder sound. If you are using a handheld “note-taker” recorder, whether tape-based or digital, the TV speakers may allow you to hear the recording of that meeting that you made more clearly compared to the small integrated speakers that these recorders have. This could allow you to hear the muffled or soft voices, the voices with hard-to-understand accents or the distinctly-important background sounds more clearly.

Tips to get the most out of these connection panels

  • Keeping a supply of cables handy
    A good practice to gain advantage from these media panels is to keep a supply of cables with you when you travel. These should allow you to connect your gadgets either to 3.5mm stereo jacks or RCA jacks for audio or HDMI, S—Video or RCA composite video for video applications. A good starting point when it comes to smartphones is my article on “essential smartphone accessories” where I mentioned about making sure you are equipped with a 3.5mm-2.5mm stereo patch cord along with a 3.5mm – 2xRCA patch cord for your smartphone’s audio needs.
  • What sound playback device is this
    The HDMI input's audio function serves as its own soundcard

    The HDMI input’s audio function serves as its own soundcard

    Laptop users who use the HDMI connections on these media panels will find that the HDMI audio connection is enumerated as a separate sound device. Here, they may have to use the Sound Devices option in their operating system or application to direct the sound through the TV’s speakers with this connection.

  • Avoiding distorted sound through the TV speakers
    To avoid distorted sound from these setups especially if using the RCA or 3.5mm connections, adjust the sound volume at your device to 75%-90% volume level and turn off any equalisation or sound-processing on the device if the device or software has this kind of adjustment. Here, you could get by with turning your device up to maximum volume and backing the device’s volume adjustment off slightly to set the input volume. Then you adjust the sound volume to your taste or programme content using the TV’s remote control. Some mobile devices implement a “Line-out” mode which bypasses all tone controls and sets the device’s output level to a nominal level so it works with external amplification.
  • Setting up effective wireless operation
    Pure Jongo A2 network media adaptor

    A Bluetooth audio adaptor can allow you to wirelessly play the music on your smartphone or tablet from your bed or armchair

    You can set up a level of wireless operation with these media panels using an A2DP-compliant Bluetooth audio adaptor for music from your Bluetooth-capable laptop, smartphone or tablet; or a Wi-Fi-Direct-based Miracast adaptor for audio and video with Miracast-compliant laptops and Android devices.

  • What are the channels to select for your equipment when you stay at that hotel?
    If you are a regular guest at a particular hotel, it is a good idea to make note of the “virtual channels” used for particular device connections in your travel notes. This is more so as you bring particular gadgets, especially newer gadgets, on to the scene when you travel.
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The three-platform tablet race is now on

Toshiba AT300 10" Android tablet computer

Toshiba AT300 10″ Android tablet computer

Previously, if anyone though of a mobile-platform tablet device, they thought of an Apple iPad which was a 10” tablet that had its success driven by a large quantity of apps along with ease of use that made it appeal to those of us who didn’t have much for computer skills.

Very shortly after, the Android platform, driven by the 3.0 “Honeycomb” version of this operating system, came to the fore as far as mobile-platform tablets were concerned. Some of the manufacturers offered the tablets in two different screen sizes – a 7” size that can be kept in a coat pocket or handbag or a 10” that can be rested on the lap like the iPad.

This has continued on with Blackberry having a “bite at the cherry” with their Playbook “business-pitched” tablet to go with their business smartphones. But Microsoft stepped forward with Windows 8 and its Modern UI (née Metro UI) and this saw the arrival of the Surface tablet under their banner along with other PC vendors offering 11” tablets and convertible computers. Now Microsoft released a mature Windows 8.1 operating system with the ability to work on 7” displays along with a mature Surface 2 series of tablet computers. This has been underscored with other manufacturers offering keenly-priced 7”-8” Windows 8.1 tablets that run the Intel “Bay Trail” Atom processors.

This is very similar to what has come about with the regular computing market where three main platforms have surfaced in the form of the Apple Macintosh, Microsoft Windows and the open-source “desktop Linux” platform. The latter two have focused on the use of commonly-available hardware designs with commonly-available peripheral and network interfaces, thus allowing for low-cost systems to be built around these platforms.

Bridge devices

Convertible laptop-tablet devices

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

Sony VAIO Duo 11

Since Windows XP offered “tablet with stylus” support, there have been a few so-called “convertible” laptops that become tablet computers. These computers appeared very much in a trickle of highly-priced business computers which were hard for most of us to come by. But Windows 8 with its touchscreen user interface,along with Android underscored this need for the “convertible” tablet-computer device.

These came in either a form with a fixed keyboard but having a screen that either swivelled or slid out, which is underscored by the Sony VAIO Duo 11; or a detachable-keyboard form where the keyboard was able to be unclipped from the tablet computer; which is underscored by the ASUS EeePad Transformer Prime or the HP x2 series. They legitimised the ability for one of these to work as a small content-creation laptop or a tablet that comes in to its own for browsing content.

The “phablet” or large-screen smartphone

Android users are also seeing more of the 5”-6” large-screen smartphones which are being referred to as “phablets” because the screen size is close to that for a small tablet. This was brought on by Samsung with their Galaxy Note series but Sony, HTC and others are pitching in to the game for this screen size. What is being valued here is more or less the small handheld device that comfortably works as a phone for making and taking calls.

Answering this trend

Something that can easily fall short in the “three-horse race” which describes the tablet market is the availability of apps for each of these platforms. This is manifest with the app stores for the iOS and Android platforms having more software available than what is currently available in the Windows Store for Windows 8.1 .

SBS and Facebook had made positive efforts to reach all the tablet platforms especially with Facebook offering a comprehensive “dashboard” app to the Windows Store for Windows 8 and 8.1 users.

But a problem that may affect the short-order and custom app-development scene, where apps are turned out for particular events and locations is that they will have to develop apps for three platforms each with their different interface abilities and needs. This same problem can affect the so-called “app-cessory” scene where devices are linked to a tablet or smartphone via USB, Bluetooth or the home network and benefit from an app that provides extended functionality.

As far as designing hardware accessories is concerned, it will be easier to design for the Android and the Windows 8.1 platforms. This is through these platforms encouraging an open-frame attitude when it comes to developing accessories and software for these tablets. Here, most of the connections used on devices that work to these platforms are designed around common industry standards. For that matter, it could allow the availability of low-cost tablets and similar devices that work on these platforms.

What I see of this

Once manufacturers present tablets that offer more that what the Apple iPad offers for a reasonable price but without a steep learning curve especially for computer novices, this could displace Apple’s market lead in this product space.

Similarly, a company offering a product form factor that impresses customers more than what is out there, whether in looks or functionality, can allow a particular tablet platform to break through more easily.

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RCA to deliver an Android-powered three-piece AV system

Article

RCA’s Internet Music System blends detachable Android tablet, boombox | Engadget

My Comments

RCA is intending to turn the classic 3-piece bookshelf music system design on its head by using a touchscreen tablet as the centrepice of the system’s design.

This unit has what is expected for a bookshelf music system such as a CD player, an FM broadcast-radio tuner as well as a line input for other audio devices. But it usies an Android-powered 7” dockable tablet with access to the Google Play Store as its key feature.

When you detach the tablet from this music system, it implements a Bluetooth wireless link for sending the sound to the speakers while this tablet can link to the home network via Wi-Fi wireless technology. There is also an HDMI output so that one can put images or video like those YouTube videos or Facebook or Instagram pictures on a large flat-panel display.

Installing apps like Twonky Mobile or Bubble UPnP to this music system’s tablet will allow you to play what is on the NAS using the DLNA technology while adding TuneIn Radio, Spotify or last.fm brings online music services to the music system’s speakers.

From what I see, who know who else will put up a small music system that allows for this customisability through the use of an Android tablet.

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Gadget List–Best bets for setting the family house up for the Internet

Introduction

You may have read “Is it worth it to put full broadband in the family house”, which is an article that I wrote about going about setting up a fully-fledged home-network setup with wireline broadband at a house which ends up a “common property” for a family. Typically this place may be a house resided in by one or both of the parents or an occasionally-occupied “resource” property like a holiday house or city apartment.

Here I raised issues like the amount of “online” activity that would take place at this location, the availability of the full broadhand services including the packages and what kind of hardware to get if you go about this.

Your home network

Full broadband service

Netgear DG834G ADSL2 wireless router

A router that is part of a full broadband service

Firstly, identify whether there is either a landline telephone service or a cable TV service in place at the “Family House”. To the same extent, it is worth identifying whether next-generation broadband is available at this location.

A landline telephone service with a regular telephone may be considered highly important due to the desire for a robust ermergency contact arrangement and will be essential to the operation of a medical-alert system if you are dealing with elderly parents who are at a fragile point in their life.

Here, look at the information provided by the telephone service provider or cable-TV company for packages which include the broadband Internet service along with the telephone or cable-TV service.  Some of these packages may also integrate mobile service for your parents or relatives living there. This is more so when you have elderly parents who are loyal to a particular service provider for most of their lives and are hesitant to change providers.

The cheapest Internet-service packages may only suit very casual Internet use such as daily email checking and Web-browsing where regular use of online games (Facebook games, MiniClip, MSN Games, etc) or multimedia (YouTube, Spotify, etc) aren’t part of that activity. A mid-tier service may be more relevant with a busy household, or regular use of Internet-based communications and entertainment like Skype, YouTube, Spotify or Internet radio is expected to be the order of the day. This also includes a “Family House” situation that has relatives or friends who are regularly stopping by as part of business travel or you have teenagers and young adults who regularly visit that location.

Internet Gateway Devices

This is an important piece of equipment when you are getting the “Family House” on to a full broadband service. Here, if you are supplying your own modem router for a cable or ADSL service, you can opt for “wires-only” / “bring-your-own-device” services where the provider can enable the device at the office rather than supplying the equipment.

Most modest retail-grade broadband routers and ADSL modem routers with simultaneous 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi LAN connectivity and four Ethernet LAN sockets would answer this need. If next-generation broadband is becoming very imminent, I would suggest that the router being purchased has Ethernet WAN connectivity and preferably have Gigabit Ethernet connectivity throughout.

You can get by with carrier-supplied equipment if it is known to work to a similar standard to the retail-supplied equipment. For example, if you are in France, you could get by with one of the newer triple-play “n-boxes” offered by Free or any of the other carriers there.

Network equipment

HomePlug AV segment

Western Digital LiveWire HomePlug AV Ethernet switch connected

The WD LiveWire HomePlug AV switch that fills in the network gap

A good practice with setting up the home network in this location is to create a HomePlug AV segment which uses the house’s AC wiring as its medium. This can be compliant to either the HomePlug AV 200Mbps standard or the newer HomePlug AV 500Mbps standard. The advantage of this medium is that it works on a wired medium without you needing to lay new wires, thus allowing you to set up a reliable semi-permanent network for fixed devices.

You can get going with this by purchasing a HomePlug AV kit and connecting one of the adaptors to the router and the other to another network device that uses an Ethernet connection in another room. These adaptors simply plug in to the nearest power outlet.

Here, the HomePlug AV multi-port switches like the WD LiveWire can come in to their own with clusters of AV equipment such as the TVs. This device provides a single on-ramp to the HomePlug AV segment for equipment like a smart TV, PVR and Blu-Ray player. As well, a spare single-port or multi-port “homeplug” adaptor can come in handy when you need to bring in a network-capable device on an “ad-hoc” basis. The example that I outline below is the situation where an adult child brings around a games console to either entertain the grandchildren or show off a game to his brothers.

HomePlug AV adaptor

A typical HomePlug AV adaptor that is worth keeping as a spare

Improving the Wi-Fi wireless segment

You may find that you don’t get good Wi-Fi wireless coverage across the house. This may be due to construction issues such as a thick brick or stone wall or extensive use of metal in the construction of a wall. Even the use of some heat-reflecting materials like Pilkington glass treatment or aluminium-lined insulation may affect radio waves that are part of a Wi-Fi wireless network.

You can answer this problem through the use of a Wi-Fi access point that is connected to your Internet router via a wired backbone such as the HomePlug AV segment. Infact there are some access points that connect directly to a HomePlug AV segment and effectively do their job as an extension access point.

On the other hand, you can repurpose an older router with the same wireless-network technology as your current Internet router as an access point. Here, you have to disable DHCP and allocate it a unique IP address within your network.

Computer equipment

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

Sony VAIO Duo 11

Most portable and transportable computer equipment can work well in the “family house” to underscore the notion of lifestyle computing there. Here, I am thinking of the idea of using these computers around the house and out in the garden to manage email, news, media and similar activities.

  • Apple iPad (tablet, iOS, 10” 4:3 screen)
  • HP Envy x2 (detachable tablet, Windows 8, 11” widescreen) – review
  • Dell XPS 12 (convertible notebook, Windows 8, 11” widescreen)
  • Sony VAIO Duo 11 (slider convertible notebook, Windows 8, 11” widescreen ) – review
  • Toshiba Satellite U920t (slider convertible notebook, Windows 8, 12” widescreen)
  • Sony VAIO Duo 13 (slider convertible notebook, Windows 8, 13” widescreen)
  • Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet (tablet, Android, 10” widescreen) – review
  • Sony VAIO Tap 20 (adaptable all-in-one tablet, Windows 8, 20” widescreen)
    Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer as a desktop

    Sony VAIO Tap 20 – an example of an “adaptive all-in-one” computer

    - review

  • HP Envy Rove 20 (adaptable all-in-one tablet, Windows 8, 20” widescreen)
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 series (tablet, Android, 8.9” widescreen)
  • Google Nexus 10 Series (tablet, Android, 10” widescreen)

Printers

Network-capable multifunction printers work well for turning out hard-copy documents. Here, features like the availability of extra-yield cartridges as an option and auto-duplex (double-sided) printing are a must. As well, pay attention to units that use four or more ink cartridges and make sure that you can choose between standard-capacity and high-capacity cartridges so you can choose the capacity that suits the amount of usage your machine is going to have but cater for particular seasons of use.

Fax-capable printers can work as a good substitute to those economy “plain-paper” fax machines that use a thermal-transfer ribbon to print on to the paper which can be costly to run.

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one printer

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one inkjet printer

  • HP Envy 120 inkjet all-in-one (review) – a neat stylish all-in-one with duplex printing and its own email address
  • HP Photosmart 7520 inkjet all-in-one with fax – an elegant option that can offers photo printing, colour faxing and separately-replaceable cartridges so you can get rid of that old half-dead costly-to-run fax
  • Brother DCP-J925DW inkjet all-in-one without fax (review)  – an elegant machine that has basic A4 duplex print and a photo tray
  • Brother MFC-J825DW inkjet all-in-one with fax – similar to the DCP-J925DW but is equipped with the colour fax functionalityBrother DCP-J925DW multi-function printer
  • Brother MFC-J4410DW inkjet all-in-one – low-tier version of the MFC-J4710DW reviewed on this site

DLNA Home Media Network

The home network offers up plenty of resources for entertainment and, in some cases, communications. Here, it could be to create a reserve of content that can be “pulled up” and played at a moment’s notice or you simply pulling in content from an online resource like a catch-up TV service, Spotify or an Internet stream hosted by a radio station in your home country or country you love so much.

Network Attached Storage with DLNA

Seagate GoFlex Home NAS - an example of an entry-level NAS

Seagate GoFlex Home NAS

A network-attached storage device allows you to store and retrieve data via the network without having to keep a computer switched on all the time. Similarly, the computer doesn’t underperform due to it handling data that it keeps for other devices.

The ability to use common standards to add and view content is very important. For example, using the SMB standards to transfer content to and from a NAS is important if you use a portable computer based on a regular-computing operating system like Windows, Mac OS X or Linux. Similarly, you can add a file manager to most Android and iOS devices so you can transfer files out between these devices and a NAS.

The DLNA requirement is important for whenever you want to gain access to audio, photo and video files from that smart TV or Blu-Ray player.

  • WD MyBook Live
  • Seagate Central
  • Seagate GoFlex Home (review)

Some Internet gateway devices have the ability to be connected to a USB hard disk and work also as a network-attached storage device. These typically provide SMB-compliant file transfer from regular computers and also have DLNA and / or iTunes media server functionality.

TV or video peripheral with DLNA and / or Skype

Here, I am covering either Internet-enabled TV sets which come in to their own if the goal is to upgrade one of the TV sets, especially any set installed in any of the main living areas. On the other hand, I would recommend using Internet-enabled video peripherals like Blu-Ray players / home-theatre systems, games consoles or Skype cameras where a TV is working very well and satisfying the current needs for the area it is installed in.

  • Most recently-built Samsung, Sony, LG or Panasonic smart TVs. These sets come with online video, DLNA player / renderer, and Skype functionality on most currently-built units, if not all of the units of the popular screen sizes. You could even consider the Skype cameras that the manufacturers make available for these sets so you can run them as a large-screen Skype videoconferencing terminal which is a feature I recommend for families separated by distance.
  • Panasonic Blu-Ray players especially the DMP-BDT220 which offers Skype and DLNA at a reasonable price for a good-quality machine even with the TY-CC20W Skype camera. The Panasonci SCC-BT480 Blu-Ray home-theatre system and similar models in the Panasonic lineup are enabled for Skype and DLNA, which can be of value if you are factoring in a home theatre system with the speakers in to the equation. These use the same Panasonic Skype camera to work as a Skype terminal and exploit the speakers so you can hear the people whom you are talking to clearly. More expensive models in this lineup offer the Viera Cast smart-TV functionality so you can enable other TVs to become smart TVs and have access to online content.
  • The Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray player (review)
    Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

    Sony BDP-S390 Network Blu-Ray Player – a Blu-Ray player that adds DLNA to an existing TV

    and the newer Sony Blu-Ray home-theatre systems add smart-TV functionality and DLNA connectivity to existing TV sets. But they don’t offer Skype connectivity which may put you back if you are thinking of Skype on your TV at affordable costs. The mid-range and premium Sony Blu-Ray players also are Skype ready with the same optional Sony camera if you are considering this function for your TV set.

  • The Logitech TV Cam HD Skype camera which simply adds Skype functionality to most flat-screen TVs.

Games consoles

Sony PS3 games console

Sony PS3 games console – best brought around as needed

You may think of keeping a games console connected to a TV at the “Family House” but this may work if you have a TV in a secondary lounge area and the console is going to be used by the grandchildren. On the other hand, one of the adult children who owns a games console can bring it to the “Family House” on an as-needed basis and connect it up to the TV there especially if the idea is to entertain the younger children.

But they would need to have it be part of the “Family House’s” home network and this setup routine for the Wi-Fi network only needs to be done the first time a Wi-Fi-equipped console is used there. On the other hand, the previously-mentioned spare “homeplug” can come in handy for linking a console that has an Ethernet socket on it to the home network. Of course, some older people may find that the games console would be difficult to use, including playing a game or navigating the user interface. These are best used when you are with the younger people who regularly play games on these devices.

Network-enabled music systems, wireless speakers and receivers

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled micro music system

Sony CMT-MX750Ni 3-piece music system

These music-system and receiver suggestions can fit the bill of you want something that can play content held on the DLNA-capable NAS or take advantage of online media resources such as Spotify or the “new short wave” i.e. Internet radio.

  • Sony CMT-MX750Ni music system. (review) This system has FM and DAB+ for regular broadcast radio, a CD player as well as an iPod dock. But it can work with DLNA-hosted media content as well as online music services including Internet radio.
  • Sony CMT-SBT300WB music system – This is anther 3-piece music system that follows on from the CMT-MX750Ni music system but uses Bluetooth local connectivity as an audio path as well as being able to connect to your home network and supporting AirPlay functionality for Apple devices.
  • Denon CEOL and CEOL Piccolo music systems (review).
    Denon CEOL music system (Image courtesy of Denon)

    Denon CEOL music system

    These systems work as part of the DLNA Home Media Network and can pull in online music sources including Internet radio and Spotify. They also have an iPod dock and support Apple AirPlay but the CEOL also has a CD player and FM radio tuner.

  • Onkyo TX-8050 Stereo receiver. If you are thinking of a stereo receiver rather than a home-theatre surround receiver, this Onkyo unit can also provide access to
  • Most home-theatre surround-sound receivers that are placed in the mid-tier of the market also come with home network abilities including DLNA, Spotify, Internet radio and the like.  But listening to audio-focused content on a lot of these systems typically requires you to use the TV to navigate for the content.
  • Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock (review).
    Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

    Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

    This is one of a few iPhone speaker docks that connect to the home network as a wireless speaker for Airplay and DLNA-capable mobile devices or an Internet radio, yet yield that high-grade sound.

  • Boston Acoustics MC-i200 Air wireless speaker (review). One of a few wireless speakers that excel on the sound but works primarily with your home network.
  • Denon Cocoon speaker docks – A more affordable speaker-dock setup that doubles as an Internet radio or can accept the popular iPhone 4S or iPod Classic.
  • Sony SA-NS410 wireless speaker (review) – A DLNA / AirPlay wireless speaker that can be used around the house and doubles as an Internet radio
  • Sony SA-NS510 portable wireless speaker (review) – A highly-portable DLNA / AirPlay wireless speaker with Internet radio functionality that runs on its own batteries thus being appealing for the garden or other outdoor use.

Network audio devices

NAD C448 network media tuner

NAD C448 network media tuner connected to an amplifier

These units can be connected to a regular stereo or home-theatre system via a vacant line-level input to serve as an audio-focused network media player. They also have an integrated broadcast-radio tuner which you may use in lieu of the FM or AM tuner that is part of your system or could replace a regular tuner component for broadcast-radio reception.

  • Sangean WFT-1 FM/DAB+/Internet network audio tuner – An economical way to add digital broadcast radio, Internet radio and network-hosted audio to your sound system
  • NAD C448 FM/AM/DAB+/Internet network audio tuner – The first “full-band” hi-fi tuner and network audio adaptor with serious hi-fi credentials
  • Onkyo T-4070 FM/AM/DAB+ Internet network audio tuner – Onkyo’s “full-band” tuner and network media adaptor for the hi-fi system
  • Denon DNP-720AE FM/AM/Internet network audio tuner – A similar “FM/AM/Internet” tuner with network media playback for the hi-fi system.
  • Yamaha CD-N500 Network CD player – This CD player can come in handy with a sound system or speaker dock by being able to play CDs as well as tuning in to Internet radio or playing content held on your network-attached storage

Conclusion

Of course, there are better and newer devices that would fill the needs for a house that either serves as an older parent’s residence or commonly-resource property as well as a family hub.

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2013

IFA LogoThis year’s Internationaler Funkaustellung has been about strengthening the personal IT space especially with the “phablet” smartphones, newer tablet-laptop hybrid computers and the smartwatch. Similarly, there has been some concerted activity in the living-room space with the 4K ultra-high-definition TV technology amongst other things.

Personal IT

Over the last year, the Android platform has gained ground with some very impressive mobile devices that have come through from Samsung, Sony, HTC and others. This has been underscored through various platform-exclusive features like an open development environment, the use of NFC “touch-and-go” functionality, large high-resolution screens amongst other features and one observer at Samsung’s “Unpacked 2” press event which was part of this show described the up-and-coming Apple iPhone 5S as being “fool’s gold”.

Smartphones

The rise of the “phablet”

Nearly every manufacturer is offering a “phablet” – a smartphone with a 5”-6.5” screen that is pitched as a bridge between a tablet and a regular handheld smartphone. These handheld devices, typically the size of one of the pocketable scientific or financial calculators exploit the large screen as a user interface feature yet can be held in one hand.

Samsung, who had launched the first of these devices and defined this product category through the Galaxy Note family, has launched the Galaxy Note 3 which is the third-generation. This Android 4.3 smartphone has a 5.7” Super AMOLED screen, the ability to film video in 4K UHDTV resolution with a 13 megapixel rear camera, 2.5Gb RAM, Wi-Fi connectivity that even reaches to the 802.11ac wireless segments amongst more desireable features.

Sony had fielded their “phablet” which is the 6.4” XPeria Z Ultra. Alcatel have fielded the “One Touch Hero” which has a 6” Full-HD screen, 2Gb RAM, 8 or 16Gb storage, 13 Megapixel rear camera / 2 Megapixel front camera and Android 4.2. It is able to come with accessories like an E-ink cover or a wireless-charging cover. Not to be missed, HTC have launched the One Max 6” Full-HD phablet.

Sony raises the bar for smartphone photography

Sony has launched the XPeria Z1 which has its rear camera able to be as good as a standalone compact “point-and-shoot” digital camera.

Similarly, they have sold two “lens-cameras” which clip on to and pair with most smartphones. These are cameras that have a proper lens structure equivalent to that of a digital camera but send the photos to the smartphone using their own Wi-Fi network that is created with the host phone. They will work with handler apps for both the iOS and Android platforms so you can get the pictures you took with them off the lens camera to your phone’s storage and on to Facebook. The QX10 has a fixed-focal-length prime lens while the QX100 has a 10x optical-zoom lens.

For Android users, these lens-cameras implement the NFC “touch-and-go” setup to reduce the hassle involved with getting them going.

Other smartphone products

Lenovo had tendered their first smartphone which was known as the Vibe X which is a 5” Android model.

Tablets and Notebooks

Rather than 7” and 10” tablets being focused on mobile operating platforms like iOS or Android. we are seeing some of the tablets in this size range being available to work with the up-and-coming Windows 8.1 operating system. These are becoming effectively like a regular computer that is pitched to the consumer rather than a “toy” or an “enterprise workflow / kiosk” tablet. As for the Windows-based computers, most of these will be released with Windows 8.1 from the factory or may allow you to upgrade to the operating system in October if it cam with Windows 8.

Even the connvertible tablet-notebook computers and the detachable keyboard “hybrid” tablets have finally grown up and been considered a valuable part of a person’s or business’s computing “arsenal”.

Different forms of convertible or detachable-keyboard tablets showing up

The convertible tablet-notebook computer grows up.

This class of device also is encompassing an increased range of convertible laptop-tablet computers of the 11”-13” size as well as 20” adaptive-all-in-one desktop-tablet computers answering the Sony VAIO Tap 20. What we are seeing here is that there are two paths for a primarily-touch-based computing experience – a unit with an ARM-based RISC processor that runs the Android operating system or a unit with an Intel-Architecture processor that runs the Windows 8.1 operating system.

Sony has taken another path for a convertible tablet which is known as the VAIO Fit Series. These 13” and 15” computers work in a similar manner to the Lenovo Yoga convertibles where they can fold the keyboard outwards to become a tablet. This hasn’t been seen as a way to displace the Duo slider-convertible design as shown with the VAIO Duo 11.. As well, Sony have launched the VAIO Tap 11 which is a Windows 8.1 tablet that uses a magnetic detachable keyboard and is claimed to be the world’s thinnest Windows 8 tablet coming in at 9.9mm thick. Like the Duo that I reviewed, this also implements the Full HD display which is said to be a benefit for photos and movies alike.

Lenovo have also pitched newer or refreshed computers in the Yoga and Flex lineup of convertible tablet-notebook computers. Infact Lenovo’s latest ThinkPad Yoga has given the convertible Ultrabook form-factor some “balls” by being something that can do most computing tasks very adeptly rather than being a second-rate performer. This is due to it being kitted out with some serious horsepower in the form of the Haswell graphics chipset and an i7 processor.

Acer have even provided the  the Aspire P3 Ultrabook which is an 11.6” detachable-keyboard tablet and has today’s expectations for performance and storage for this class of computer. They also have launched the Aspire R7 which is a 15” convertible in a similar vein to the Dell XPS 12 but uses a pedestal-type arm as the support for the screen and is one of the few 15” mainstream laptops to be in the form of a convertible touch-operated computer.

Samsung, not to be outdone had launched the Ativ Q which is a slider convertible tablet  with a variable angle. But this unit is a dual-boot design capable of being operated on Windows 8 or Android operating systems.

Regular tablet computers

Of course, Samsung have launched a regular 10” Android tablet in the form of the Galaxy Note 10.1 which is implementing the Android 4.3 operating system. Thomson have returned to the personal IT fold by releasing the TO7 and TO8 Android tablets which have four-core processors and IPS LCD screens and is amongst a number of personal computing equipment including a laptop computer.

The adaptive all-in-one takes hold

They also released the VAIO Tap 21 which is really a current-generation “refresh” of the previously-reviewed VAIO Tap 20. This machine has been answered by a few other “adaptive all-in-one” models including the Panasonic ToughPad UT-M85 which implements a 4K display.

HP have also taken another spin on the “adaptive all-in-one” design by releasing the Envy Recline series of all-in-one computers. These are like a regular all-in-one computer with the pedestal but can be laid flat to be like a tablet rather than the separate tablet with integrated kickstand.

Toshiba have also pitched their detachable-keyboard hybrid tablet answer to the HP X2 family with a Satellite 30t and a Satellite 30dt which will also be known as the Satellite Click. These will have a 13.1” display. There is also the Encore which is an 8” tablet kitted out with Windows 8.1. The Satellite (Pro) N810 family of subnotebooks will have touchscreen on some models but also will be kitted out with today’s laptop computing expectations.

The rise of the smartwatch

The digital watch of the 80s returns with a vengeance

During the time when “Footloose”, “Holiday”, “Flashdance…What A Feeling”, “The Reflex” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” were hot on the mix-tapes, or when the “A-Team” or “Knight Rider” were on the TV; the thing to be seen with on your wrist was a digital watch where the more functions it had, the better it was. Sometimes, you invoked curiosity and a bit more if you were seen “jabbing” side of that watch to “pull up” the various functions.

Now these digital watches have returned with a vengeance in the form of the smartwatch which Samsung, Sony and a few others were premiering. These watches use a touchscreen to switch between the functions which are presented in the form of apps that can be loaded to these watches. They work hand in glove with your smartphone or tablet by making use of a Bluetooth link, serving as an extension display and control surface for the mobile device.

Samsung’s watch is in the form of the Galaxy Gear which works with the Galaxy Note 3 phablet and Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet but there is expected to be a software update that will make it work with other Samsung Galaxy phones like the S3 and the S4. It uses a Super AMOLED touchscreen as its man control surface and has an integrated microphone, speaker and band-mounted camera. Its stainless-steel band doesn’t just come in the natural finish but in different colours.

For that matter, Qualcomm are selling the Toq smartwatch which has been described as a “spitting image” of the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch.

Sony had launched the second-generation of their smartwatch which is simply known as the “Smartwatch 2”. This doesn’t have the microphone, speaker or camera but can last for 4 days compared to 1 day with the Samsung before needing to be charged up. It also uses NFC-based “touch-and-go” setup and can work with most Android phones.

Digital cameras

The IFA also has been a chance for Sony to launch the DSC-RX100 II which is the successor to the ‘RX100, considered to be one of the top dogs when it came to small digital cameras.

For Sony, it also became the point to launch an API which allows Wi-Fi-based control of their Wi-Fi-capable digital cameras from computers, smartphones and tablets. This allowed for functionality such as remote shutter release / movie start-stop, remote viewfinder, exposure configuration and other photography aspects as well as the ability to download the images from your camera via the Wi-Fi network.

Sony has also mad 4K UHDTV digital videography affordable for the serious hobbyist or the small video studio who videos corporate, school or family events like weddings by offering a camcorder affordable to these kind of users’ pockets. This is in the form of the FDR-AX1 which has what is needed to get in to 4K recording. It uses XQD memory cards, a noninterchangeable 20x zoom lens and a 1/2.3″ sensor and records with the XAVC S codec which will be available down the line with most desktop-video software.

Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and NFC in the personal-technology space

NFC “touch-and-go” technology has become increasingly relevant as a data-transfer technology for personal health and wellbeing thanks to Plus Prevention. Here, they had released the TapCheck range of personal medical devices such as blood glucose meters, blood pressure monitors and a pedometer that can transfer their data to your NFC-capable Android smartphone which runs one of two companion apps. The data can be sent onwards via email or SMS to your health-care providers or family members. The goal that Plus Prevention had with these devices is that the technology is on a level playing field to be available to everybody.

As for the trend with small speakers for use with personal IT equipment, these either connect via Bluetooth as an A2DP Profile audio device or connect via the home network or, in some cases, a local Wi-Fi access point created by the speaker itself using Apple AirPlay or DLNA. Most, if not all, of the Bluetooth-enabled speakers will come with NFC “touch-and-go” paring and connection.

Another key trend is the emphasis on “app-cessories”. This is where a device that exhibits connectivity with a smartphone or tablet through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or even USB-wired exploits this connectivity through the use of a manufacturer-developed app. I will be covering this in the next article on Internationaler Funkaustellung 2013.

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