Author: simonmackay

Apple, Google and Amazon create home theatre setups around their platforms




Apple Amazon Google (coming soon)
Set-top device Apple TV (tvOS 11 or newer) Fire TV Stick
Fire TV Cube (2nd Generation or newer)
Chromecast with Google TV
Audio Devices HomePod or
AirPlay-compliant audio devices
Echo (2nd Generation), Echo Dot (3rd Generation) or newer Echo smart speaker devices Nest Audio smart speakers
Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

The Apple TV set-top box – part of a HomePod / AirPlay enhanced audio setup for online video content

Apple, Amazon and Google have or are establishing audio-video platforms based around their smart speaker and set-top devices. This is in order to allow you to stream the audio content from video you are watching through their companion audio devices.

The idea with these setups is to “gang” the platform-based set-top box and the speakers together to provide improved TV sound for online services like Netflix. Some like Amazon describe this approach as home theatre but what happens is that if you have a pair of like speakers ganged with the set-top device, you have stereo sound with increased separation at least. It is based around these companies building it to their platforms the ability for users to have two like speakers in one room set up as a stereo pair for that same goal. Amazon’s setup also allows you to use their Echo Sub subwoofer module to improve the bass response of their setup.

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

These new Amazon Echo speakers can work as part of an enhanced-audio setup for the Amazon Fire TV set-top platform

It is in addition to being able to stream the sound from an online video source you are watching using these set-top devices to a smart speaker of the same platform for remote listening.

The current limitation with these setups is that they only work with online sources provided by the set-top device that is the hub of the setup. This is because neither of these devices support HDMI-ARC functionality in any way, which allows sound from the TV’s own tuner or video peripherals connected to the TV to be played via a compliant audio device.

These companies who are part of the Silicon Valley establishment see the fashionable way to watch TV content is to use online video-on-demand services facilitated by their own set-top devices. But some user classes would benefit from HDMI-ARC support in many ways.

For example, the TV’s own tuner is still relevant in UK, Europe, Oceania and some other countries due to these areas still placing value on free-to-air broadcast TV. This is centred around the ingrained experience of switching between channels using the TV’s own remote control with the attendant quick response when you change channels. It is also becoming relevant to North America as cord-cutting picks up steam amongst young people and they look towards the TV’s own tuner alongside an indoor antenna to pick up local TV services for current news or local sport.

Google to have Chromecast with Google TV work with their Nest Audio speakers at least

As well, some users maintain the use of other video-peripheral devices with their TVs. This will apply to people who play games on their TV using a computer or games console, watch content on packaged media like DVDs, use PVR devices to record TV content or subscribe to traditional pay TV that uses a set-top box.

It will be interesting to see whether this operating concept regarding set-top devices and smart speakers that is driven by Apple, Google and Amazon will be developed further. Here this could exist in the form of set-top devices and platforms that are engineered further for things like HDMI-ARC or surround sound.

There will also be the question about whether these setups will ever displace soundbars or fully-fledged home-theatre setups for improved TV sound. On the other hand, they could be placed as a platform-driven entry-level approach for this same goal.

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Microsoft to support Android on Windows further

Articles

Computer - smartphone interlink concept

Android and Windows are getting closer with Microsoft working on having Android apps run on Windows 10 in a virtual machine

Microsoft’s ‘Project Latte’ aims to bring Android apps to Windows 10 | Windows Central

Microsoft is working on an Android subsystem for Windows 10 | Bleeping Computer

My Comments

Microsoft is intending to have Windows able to run software written for the Android mobile operating system.

There was a previous attempt in the form of Project Astoria to simplify the process of porting Android apps to Windows 10. But recently the “Your Phone” subsystem offered to people who use certain Android phones the ability to run their apps in Windows. This worked around having Windows 10 working as a graphical terminal for your Android phone in order to run the Android software.

But Microsoft is using Windows Subsystem for Linux, currently used to run text-based UNIX/Linux environments on Windows,  as a basis to run Android software on your Windows computer. Firstly, Android is a Google-based fork of Linux intended for mobile-platform devices and this may make Microsoft’s job more easier.

Here the Android app will be run within an Android virtual machine on your Windows computer. This is in conjunction with WSL gaining support for X11 (X Window) and Wayland GUI subsystems for UNIX/Linux computing so that graphically-rich software for those platforms, including shells like GNOME can run on Windows 10.

There will be a requirement to make the Android app independent of Google Play Services because Google won’t release this functionality to devices other than native Android or ChromeOS devices. But this could be part of repackaging the software for the Windows platform.

This kind of compatibility will encourage Android software developers to write software that takes advantage of devices with large display surfaces like tablets and Chromebooks as well as smartphones. It will also make this software relevant to people who use Windows-based 2-in-1s like the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 or the Lenovo Yoga range.

There will be some app classes that will benefit from being made available through the Microsoft Store to run on Windows computers. Some apps like native clients for video-on-demand services will be about being able to enjoy these online video services on your laptop. The same holds true for sports scoreboard apps and mobile-platform “guilty-pleasure” games. Also there will be the idea of having Instagram, Snapchat and co running on your regular computer which will be valued by those of us who see a social media presence of importance for ourselves or our business efforts. Let’s not forget taxi and rideshare booking apps where there is the desire to use them from a regular computer perhaps to book rides for others.

Another use case is software written to make your Android phone a control surface for the smart home. It is primarily exhibited through “app-cessory” software that is written to convert your smartphone in to a control surface for various devices with the link facilitated using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. But it can be software written to manage a smart-home platform like Amazon Alexa or Google Home and there may be the desire to have this run on a regular Windows computer.

Microsoft will need to have extra people to vet software that comes in to the Windows Store in order to keep malware out. This is because Google was overwhelmed with Android-based malware creeping in to their Play app store and they had to increase the number of people taking control over what ended up there. This danger will increase especially if it is feasible to “write once run anywhere” for both Windows and Android.

It is part of having Microsoft Windows 10 as the most flexible open-frame desktop operating system thanks to it supporting a wide range of software types: Progressive Web Apps, Win32 native Windows apps, Universal Windows Platform apps, UNIX/Linux software via Windows Subsystem for Linux and, to come, Android through Project Latte.

Having Windows, desktop Linux or ChromeOS on the desktop and Android on the mobile devices could be about building out a computing ecosystem that is totally about flexible open-frame computing.

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Zoom even makes it easier to deal with Zoombombing incidents

Article

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Zoom to give more control to meeting hosts

How to stop a Zoombombing | Lifehacker

From the horse’s mouth

Zoom

3 New Ways We’re Combatting Meeting Disruptions (Blog Post)

My Comments

During the COVID-19 pandemic causing us to work or study from home, we have been seeing increased use of videoconferencing platforms like Zoom.

It has led to the convergence of business and personal use of popular multiparty videoconferencing platforms; be it business platforms of the Zoom and Microsoft Teams ilk serving personal, social and community needs; or personal platforms like Skype and WhatsApp being used for business use. This is more so with small businesses, community organisations and the like who don’t have their own IT team to manage this software. The software developers even support this convergence through adding “personal and social” features to business users that also gain free social-user tiers or adding business features to personal platforms.

But this has brought along its fair share of miscreants. A key example of this is “Zoombombing” where these miscreants join a Zoom meeting in order to disrupt it. This manifests in disruptive comments being put in to the meeting or at worst all sorts of filth unfit for the office or family home appearing on our screens. Infact there have been a significant number of high-profile Zoom virtual events disrupted that way and a significant number of governments have encompassed this phenomenon as part of raising questions about videoconferencing platform security.

This has been facilitated by Zoom and similar business videoconferencing platforms allowing people to join a videoconference by clicking on a meeting-specific URL This is compared to Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and similar personal videoconferencing platforms operating on an in-platform invitation protocol when joining these meetings.

But these Weblinks bave been posted on the Social Web for every man and his dog to see. There have been some online forums that have been hurriedly set up for people to solicit others to disrupt online meetings.

Zoom recently took action by requiring the use of meeting passwords and waiting-room setups and operating with that by default. As well meeting hosts and participants have been encourage not to place meeting URLs and passwords on any part of the Web open to the public. Rather they are to send the link via email or instant messaging. As well, they are encouraged to send the password under separate cover.

They also have the ability to lock the meeting so no further attendees can come in, which is good if the meeting is based around known attendees. There is also the ability for the host to control resource-sharing and remote-control functionality that Zoom offers. Let’s not forget that they also added meeting-wide end-to-end encryption for increasingly-secure meetings.

But Zoom has taken further action by offering meeting hosts more tools to control their meeting, a feature available to all client software and to all user classes whether free or paid.

There is the ability for the Zoom meeting host to pause the meeting. Once this is invoked, no activity can take place during the meeting including in any breakout rooms that the meeting has spawned. They also have the ability to report the meeting to Zoom’s platform=wide security team and to selectively enable each meeting feature. They can also report users to Zoom’s platform security team, which allows them to file the report and give the disruptive user the royal order of the boot from that meeting.

Another feature that has been introduced thanks to the “join by URL” method that Zoom supports is for meeting hosts to be alerted if their meeting is at risk of disruption. Zoom facilitates this using a Webcrawler that hunts for meeting URLs on the public Web and alerts the meeting host if their meeting’s URL is posted there such as being on the Social Web. Here, they are given the opportunity to change the URL to deflect any potential Zoombomb attempts.

But this year has become a key year as far as multiparty videoconferencing is concerned due to our reliance on it. Here, it may be about seeing less differentiation between business-use and personal-use platforms or the definition of a basic feature set that these videoconferencing platforms are meant to have with secure private operation being part of that definition.

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Intel to launch a white-label Tiger Lake based laptop design

Articles

Intel NUC M15 Tiger Lake white-label laptop design press image courtesy of Intel

Intel NUC M15 Tiger-Lake-based white-label laptop design for small-time manufacturers to work from

Intel Shows Off New NUC M15 Whitebook Laptop | Tom’s Hardware

Intel’s NUC M15 laptop to launch in 2021 | TechRadar

My Comments

Intel has just premiered a design for a white-label laptop that implements their Tiger Lake silicon.

This computer, which is a mainstream productivity laptop and known as the NUC M15, is intended to be offered by small-time manufacturers and retailer or distributor private labels. Intel previously offered a white-label laptop design in the form of the XPG Xenix 15 gaming laptop.

This will use what is expected of a Tiger Lake laptop and will be used as a machine for smaller operators to have Intel Evo-certified products in their lineup. This means it will come with 11th Generation Core i5 or i7 CPUs, Xe integrated graphics, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5 and Thunderbolt 4 as part of the feature set.

The small-time manufacturer or retail / distributor private label can be in a position to compete with larger manufacturers like HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer and Microsoft. But there should be the ability to vary the design to suit particular needs. It is also seen as a way for these kind of manufacturers to have Intel Evo-certified laptop products in their lineups.

A question that can come about is whether this is seen as a fertile ground for a small-time partner manufacturer or private label to use this as the basis for a bespoke design. It is especially where there are small-time manufacturers who focus on equipment for specialist use cases. An example of this could be a manufacturer whose niche is a highly-ruggedised computer setup.

But could these systems also be about “working out” a Tiger-Lake-based reference design for a mass-market laptop product. The machines that I am thinking of are similar to HP Pavilion or Dell Inspiron product ranges for ordinary households, HP Probook or Dell Vostro product ranges for small-business consumers, or HP Elitebooks, Acer Travelmates and Dell Latitudes for enterprise users. These are usually with 15” screens, have average graphics expectations and aren’t necessarily thin and light.

It may be a step to see decent performance and battery life available for laptop users no matter the class of portable computer they are working with, thanks to Intel’s latest iteration in its persistent innovation for this type of computer device.

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Microsoft integrates the Trusted Platform Module in to computer CPUs

Articles

Microsoft brings Trusted Platform Module functionality directly to CPUs under securo-silicon architecture Pluton | The Register

Microsoft reveals Pluton, a custom security chip built into Intel, AMD and Qualcomm processors | TechCrunch

Microsoft Pluton is a new processor with Xbox-like security for Windows PCs | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Meet the Microsoft Pluton processor – The security chip designed for the future of Windows PCs (Blog Post)

My Comments

Most recently-built desktop and laptop regular computers that run Windows, especially business-focused machines offered by big brands, implement a secure element known as the Trusted Platform Module. This is where encryption keys for functions like BitLocker, Windows Hello or Windows-based password vaults are kept. But this is kept as a separate chip on the computer’s motherboard in most cases.

But Microsoft are taking a different approach to providing a secure element on their Windows-based regular-computer platform. Here, this is in the form of keeping the Trusted Platform Module on the same piece of silicon as the computer’s main CPU “brain”.

Microsoft initially implemented a security-chip-within-CPU approach with their XBox platform as a digital-rights-management approach. Other manufacturers have implemented this approach in some form or another for their computing devices such as Samsung implementing in the latest Galaxy S smartphones or Apple implementing it as the T2 security chip within newer Macintosh regular computers. There is even an Internet-of-Things platform known as the Azure Sphere which implements the “security-chip-within-CPU” approach.

This approach works around the security risk of a person gaining physical access to a computer to exfiltrate encryption keys and sensitive data held within the Trusted Platform Module due to it being a separate chip from the main CPU. As well, before Microsoft announced the Pluton design, they subjected it to many security tests including stress-tests so that it doesn’t haunt them with the same kind of weaknesses that affect the Apple T2 security chip which was launched in 2017.

Intel, AMD and Qualcomm who design and make CPUs for Windows-based regular computers have worked with Microsoft to finalise this “security-chip-within-CPU” design. Here, they will offer it in subsequent x86-based and ARM-based CPU designs.

The TPM application-programming-interface “hooks” will stay the same as far as Windows and application-software development is concerned. This means that there is no need to rewrite Windows or any security software to take advantage of this chipset design. The Microsoft Pluton approach will benefit from “over-the-air” software updates which, for Windows users, will come as part of the “Patch Tuesday” update cycle.

More users will stand to benefit from “secure-element” computing including those who custom-build their computer systems or buy “white-label” desktop computer systems from independent computer stores.

As well, Linux users will stand to benefit due to efforts to make this open-source and available to that operating-system platform. In the same context, it could allow increasingly-secure computing to be part of the operating system and could open up standard secure computing approaches for Linux-derived “open-frame” computer platforms like Google’s ChromeOS or Android.

Here, the idea of a secure element integrated within a CPU chip die isn’t just for digital-rights-management anymore. It answers the common business and consumer need for stronger data security, user privacy, business confidentiality and operational robustness. There is also the goal of achieving secure computing from the local processing silicon to the cloud for online computing needs.

Microsoft hasn’t opened up regarding whether the Pluton trusted-computing design will be available to all silicon vendors or whether there are plans to open-source the design. But this could lead to an increasingly-robust secure-element approach for Windows and other computing platforms.

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Samsung launches two monitor models that have Smart TV abilities

Articles

Samsung M7 Smart Monitor press image courtesy of Samsung

The new Samsung M7 and M5 monitors also double as Internet TVs with direct access to Netflix & co

Samsung’s latest monitor is a smart TV with PC features | Engadget

Samsung’s new Smart Monitor is like a TV for your PC | The Verge

Samsung’s M7 Is A Monitor And A Smart TV All-In-One | UberGizmo

Samsung Releases its New M7 Smart Monitor | ETeknix

From the horse’s mouth

Samsung

Samsung Announces Global Availability of New Lifestyle Smart Monitor (Press Release)

Samsung 32M70A M7 32″ 4K UHD Smart Monitor (Product Page)

My Comments

Samsung is launching two computer-monitor models that have Smart TV capabilities. It is similar to the likes of LG offering some computer monitors with integrated broadcast-TV tuners.

Samsung M7 Smart Monitor press image courtesy of Samsung

Good enough for that personal space where you work and live in

This class of computer monitor addresses use cases where one would put one of these monitors to service not just with their computer for work or advanced gaming but also for ordinary entertainment purposes. The classic examples of this use case include a bedroom or den that serves as one’s office and personal space; or a person who moves in to a small apartment or bungalow where one large room serves as their living room, dining room and office.  It also includes university students who live on campus in a student-accommodation facility like a dorm or residence hall or workers who live in employer-provided accommodation facilities as part of their job.

I did some previous coverage on this topic in an article about having a TV serve as a computer monitor or using a computer monitor as a TV and nowadays some TV manufacturers are offering large-screen TV models that are optimised for computer games with the video electronics equivalent to what is offered in a current-spec gaming monitor. This is due to a realisation that one could be bringing that Windows-based gaming rig or that current-spec games console in to the living room to play games on the big screen TV.

But the Samsung M7 (32” 4K UHD) and M5 (27” or 32” Full HD) monitors have Samsung’s Tizen-OS-based Smart Hub smart-TV platform. These include access to apps for locally-popular video-on-demand entertainment services delivered through that platform. Both sets connect to your home network via Wi-FI 5 technology and they support peripheral connectivity via Bluetooth 4.2 or USB. The Wi-Fi functionality even goes further to work with Wi-Fi-based mirroring technologies and allows the monitor to be part of your DLNA Home Media Network. As well you can stream audio and video from supported Apple devices using the AirPlay 2 protocol.

There is even support for Samsung’s Wireless DeX capability where your Samsung Galaxy S8 or newer Android phone uses the TV as a desktop-style interface. Add to this a virtual-machine which works with Microsoft Office so you can work with Office-based documents stored in the cloud.

The monitors have a remote control so you can manage the smart-TV interface in a “lean-back” manner. This even has the ability to work with the Samsung Bixby voice assistant thanks to a microphone integrated in the remote control. As well, they have two HDMI inputs that support HDR10 and HDMI-CEC. That means you have room to connect your computer and another video peripheral like a set-top box or games console. The M7 model also has USB-C with 65W Power Delivery, Display Port alt connectivity and USB-hub functionality to boot.

A question that will come up is whether the monitors will have an integrated broadcast-TV tuner of any sort. As far as I know, they don’t have that kind of feature although the initial models are being launched in to Canada, the USA and China. But this may be a feature considered of importance for customers in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. This is because these countries place significant importance on access to free-to-air TV especially from their national public-service broadcasters.

On the other hand, the DLNA ability that they offer may work hand in glove with broadcast-LAN boxes and PVRs that support this standard. Or Samsung could build SAT>IP client support in to these monitors where they are targeted to British and European markets at least. This is due to this standard being supported for satellite broadcast-LAN devices and, in some cases, terrestrial and cable TV within those markets.

But what I do see of Samsung’s effort with the M7 and M5 monitors is that they are maintaining interest in the market niche where a computer monitor is expected also to serve as a TV for entertainment purposes. This market niche can be further supported through having a wide range of these types of monitors including some game-ready variants and units that can work well with multi-display setups.

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A business Thunderbolt 3 dock that is also an external graphics module

Article

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock product photo (UK package) courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics dock – a Thunderbolt 3 business docking station that has external graphics module functionality

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock review: Glorious external NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics | Windows Central

My Comments

In the average business context, Thunderbolt 3 is seen primarily as a powerful “connection pipe” for port-replication docks. The external-graphics-module benefit isn’t considered an advantage in this use case unless the user is doing multimedia editing, computer programming or number-crunching workloads involving large data sets.

But in 2018, Lenovo issued to the US market and some other markets their Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock (model: G0A10170UL) that has external-graphics-module functionality as well as port-replication dock functionality which includes RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. This uses a soldered-in NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics processor and 4Gb display memory, with this GPU considered as the economy model in NVIDIA’s desktop-class dedicated graphics processor lineup.at the time of release.

The Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock is not just seen as being fit for a desktop workspace but also being fit for travel. This is due to its relatively small size compared to the typical “card-cage” external graphics module. It is because the device has the same size and weight as the typical business-class port-replicator dock with the power supply unit being of a similar size to those that accompany this class of product.

The article mentioned that, at the time of review, there were issues with software bugs including not cooperating with onboard dedicated graphics setups in some laptops. Usually this will have been rectified through firmware, BIOS and driver updates that should have taken place by now.

But, like a lot of small external graphics modules that have soldered-in graphics silicon, the capability may be enough to give your laptop a bit of extra “pep” for some non-demanding graphics-based tasks. This may be about lightweight photo and video editing or people who aren’t really “core” gamers.

The Windows Central article also raised the prospect of number-crunching activities with large data sets. But the problem that shows up here is that regular office productivity software, especially spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel, doesn’t offer the ability to take advantage of high-performance computing setups like discrete graphics processors.

As I have mentioned before, the combination of Intel integrated graphics and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity for a laptop computer can encourage the use of external graphics modules as a fit-for-purpose upgrade path. This is being underscored with Intel Tiger Lake silicon that comes with Intel Xe integrated-graphics silicon that is highly capable compared to before along with Thunderbolt 4 connectivity compatible with Thunderbolt 3 hosts and peripherals.

It is also another example where Lenovo thought outside the box when it came to offering external graphics modules. Here, the Lenovo Legion BoostStation “card-cage” external graphics module didn’t just come with the space to install a graphics card, but it also came with space to install a 2/5” or 3.5” SATA-connected hard disk or solid-state drive. This is compared to a lot of “card-cage” types that only have capacity to install a graphics card and can woo those of us moving away from desktops to laptops.

By seeing the idea of external-graphics-module products pitched towards everyday business users and their cost-conscious IT departments, it could legitimise this product class towards mainstream computer users. But further work needs to take place to see a wider range of business-class eGPU docks with differing peripheral-connection and graphics-silicon options, including whatever offers mid-tier multimedia-creation abilities, and to see multiple vendors offer these docks to the market.

Mainstreaming these external-graphics-module devices can also make them appeal to user classes who don’t necessarily have the disposable income to spend on high-performance computing. This is due to downward pressure on these devices’ prices and can be facilitated by Intel becoming a third force when it comes to performance-level graphics silicon.

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Alternative “free-speech”social networks are coming to the fore

Article Parler login page screenshot

‘Free speech’ social networks claim post-election surge | Engadget

My Comments

A new breed of social networks are becoming popular with user groups who see Facehook, Twitter, YouTube and co as being equivalent to mainstream media, especially the popular TV channels.

These networks are based in North America, yet outside Silicon Valley. This means that they don’t subscribe to the perceived groupthink associated with Silicon Valley / Northern Californian culture.

As well, they came to the fore in response to Facebook, Twitter and Google responding to the issues of fake news and disinformation with these online companies implementing fact-checking mechanisms and flagging questionable material. Let’s not forget that there is social and business pressure on the established social media companies to clamp down on racial and similar hatred. That meant they had to implement robust user and content management policies to manage what appeared on these sites which is something that can be very difficult with large networks.

Previously the only way to offer content that isn’t controlled by the social media establishment was to set up and run a blog or forum. This required a fair bit of technical knowhow and you had to also have a domain name and a business relationship with a Web hosting service. Then you would have to run something like WordPress, phpBB or vBulletin so you can concentrate on running the blog or forum.

It also included exposing your content amongst your desired audience which may require you to use established social networks but use codified dog-whistle language in your posts. As well, you would have to make sure that your presence on the established social networks exists simply to draw traffic to your site. To “make it pay”, you would have to set up a shopfront on the Website to sell merchandise, offer advertising space typically to small businesses, or even run the site on a freemium model with a subscription-driven membership system.

The networks are Parler and MeWe which also have iOS and Android native clients available through Apple’s and Google’s mobile app stores. Gab also exists but Apple and Google won’t admit native clients for this service to their app stores. Rumble offers a video-focused service that works similarly to YouTube, with this service being cross-promoted on Parler, MeWe and Gab.

These alternative social networks implement business models that are less dependent on advertising like subscription-driven “freemium” setups. Along with that, the networks adopt “light-touch” policies regarding the management of users and the content they share, with them billing themselves as “free-speech” alternatives.

There has been strong interest in these networks over the past year which has been highlighted in the number of accounts created and the number of native mobile clients downloaded from the mobile-platform app stores. This is due to the USA’s knife-edge Presidential election and the COVID-19 coronavirus plague and there are some people wanting to seek out information that isn’t “fit for television” i.e. accepted by traditional media and the main Silicon Valley social networks.

Unlike previous alternative-media setups like community broadcasting, small-scale newspapers, computer bulletin boards and the early days of the Internet, these networks are gaining a strong following amongst the hard right including conspiracy theorists and Trump loyalists. There is even interest amongst the USA’s Republican Party to shift towards these services as a way to move from what they see as the “left-leaning media establishment”, something that is symptomatic of how hyper-partisan the US has become.

A question that will be raised is how large these networks’ user bases will be in a few years’ time after the dust settles on Donald Trump and the COVID-19 pandemic. But I see them and newer alternative social networks maintaining their position especially for those who relate with others that have opinions or follow topics that are “against the grain”.

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ARM to introduce new performance chip design for laptops

Article

Lenovo Yoga 5G convertible notebook press image courtesy of Lenovo

More powerful CPU designs await ARM-based computers like the Lenovo Flex 5G / Yoga 5G Always Connected PC convertible notebook which runs Windows on ARM

Here’s how Arm’s latest CPU targets laptop and handheld console performance | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

ARM Holdings

Arm Cortex-A78C CPU: Secure and scalable performance for next-generation on-the-go devices (Blog Post)

My Comments

With some computer manufacturers offering regular computers that use ARM microarchitecture, there had to be a time for ARM Holdings to introduce a performance variety of their RISC-based computer chipset design.

This is in the form of the Cortex A78C CPU design number which is increased performance over current ARM-based CPU designs used in some Chromebooks or the Always Connected PC that runs Windows 10. It is being seen as an upgrade path for use cases with these systems where increased performance is being desired like games or multimedia.

Snapdragon smartphone electronics in 2-in-1 laptop press picture courtesy of Qualcomn

This will give Always Connected PCs that run Windows on ARM silicon more credibility

This is not really about clawing back the position that RISC-based microarchitecture held during the late 80s and early 90s as having increased multimedia prowess, even though this was facilitated with Motorola silicon. Rather this chip design is about blending performance and power efficiency making it appeal to a performance class of highly-portable computing device. Think of devices like the Always Connected PC notebook or Chromebook computer, a mobile-platform tablet with gaming or advanced multimedia prowess or a handheld gaming console.

Here the idea may be to keep the same battery type and thermal design for the device in question but allow more performance out of that device. This will be very similar what happened with portable audio equipment through the 1970s where manufacturers improved on the device’s design while keeping the power-supply requirement the same across the years for the device class. This led to amplifier and speaker designs that could allow for increased sound quality that led to increased product differentiation and improvement.

But where do I see this taking place for something like an Always Connected PC laptop that runs Windows 10 on ARM, or an ARM-based Chromebook or even a mobile-platform tablet? I would see this come about in the form of product differentiation in the context of CPU-level performance where manufacturers can offer device models that factor in performance. This avoids computers in the Always Connected PC or Chromebook class being relegated to “baseline duty machines” and allow them to be on a par with traditional Windows 64-bit x86-based computers when it comes to gaming or multimedia.

The same also holds true for mobile-platform tablets of the same ilk as the iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab S. Here, it could be feasible for manufacturers to open up interest in gaming or multimedia-focused Android tablets that are about performance. That is especially where a tablet’s larger display surface can make it appeal as a gaming companion device to a smartphone.

Let’s not forget companies like Nintendo who have a strong legacy with the handheld games consoles from its Game & Watch devices of the early 80s through the Game Boy devices of the 1990s to the current Nintendo Switch. Here, they could work towards more powerful iterations of their current platforms, whether you consider them as a “timewaster” or a “guilty pleasure”. These platforms could even show some more highly-capable games as well while even using higher-resolution displays.

What will need to happen is for the likes of Qualcomm and Samsung to build this design into the actual CPU processors in order to have it appear in newer computer devices. As well, Microsoft would have to encourage the creation of games and similar software for ARM-based Windows setups especially those that use more powerful silicon.

This could then place ARM-based and x86-based mobile computing on a par with each other when it comes to performance but allow ARM to gain the edge in power efficiency for portable use cases.

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Google Nest thermostats to have HVAC fault notification

Article

Nest Learning Thermostat courtesy of Nest Labs

These Google Nest thermostats will be able to let you know if the heating or cooling is about to break down

Nest thermostats in the US and Canada can now monitor your HVAC system | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Behind the scenes with the new Nest Thermostat (Blog Post)

HVAC Monitoring from Google Nest (Support Article)

My Comments

Google has added a notification function to their range of Nest smart room thermostats to let you know if the heating or air-conditioning is failing.

This has been a side project of theirs as part of the main Nest Smart Thermostat effort but is now finished. It will be available not just to the latest Nest thermostats but also for older models installed in the US and parts of Canada. The functionality will only work with forced-air systems that we in Australia often refer to as “ducted” systems, most likely because they are the most common type of residential heating / cooling setup in the US.

The functionality detects anomalies in how quickly the home heats up or cools down to the temperature the thermostat is set at. For example, it will alert you if it is becoming colder or taking too long to heat up while the heating is actually on; or becoming warmer or taking too long to cool down when the air conditioning is actually on. This will usually highlight a failing air-distribution fan or the burner in a heating system not staying alight while needed.

As well, it monitors the HVAC system’s control circuitry to identify abnormal shutdown activity or whether it is actually on and working as intended. Here, it observes conditions where the gas-fired heating may intermittently fail to light up or stay alight for the duration of the heating cycle or the air-conditioning fails to start cooling or runs longer than expected,

You receive the reports via e-mail or the Google Home App or a “heads-up” alert can be indicated on the thremostat itself. In most cases, you will have to call out your HVAC technician to rectify the problem. The “early alerts” functionality can be of use if you have your HVAC technician service your system regularly so it is working reliably and safely for the seasons that matter.

At the moment, Google encourages the use of “Nest Pro” technicians who partner with them to supply and install the thermostats or the “Handy” tradespeople platform who partners with Google. This allows for you to book them to attend to your system at the times that suit you through these platforms.

Thanks to the use of standard heating/ventilation/air-conditioning wiring setups that the Google Nest thermostats use to interface with the heating and air-conditioning, there is no need for this kind of system-health monitoring to be dependent on the use of a particular brand, model or series of HVAC system. This factors in the reality that “durable” products like these systems are expected to last many years and there is the requirement to allow newer thermostats like these to work with the older systems that are still in service.

Here, what I am pleased about is the idea of Google allowing a smart thermostat to be able to alert you to your heating or cooling system being at risk of underperforming or failing to make it through the seasons that matter. Hopefully they will have this kind of functionality for other types of heating or cooling setup or available in other markets. I also see this as a direction for smart thermostats from other manufacturers to alert you to the state of your HVAC setup.

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