Author: simonmackay

Free-to-air TV in the online age

Article

ABC News 24 coronavirus coverage

Traditional TV will maintain relevance but is to integrate Internet as a means of delivery

Industry group to lead access of Free to Air on connected TVs | TV Tonight

My Comments

Free-to-air TV is still seen as highly relevant. This is more so in countries like UK, Europe and the Asia/Pacific regions due to a well-known and well-loved public-service broadcaster funded primarily by government line-funding of some sort of a public-service-broadcasting levy like a TV licence fee. In most of these countries, commercial private free-to-air TV came later while some of these countries don’t place value on cable or satellite pay-TV services.

As well, in those countries that value free-to-air TV, single-family houses have a TV aerial installed on their rooftops. Or multiple-premises buildings like apartment blocks along with buildings like hotels and hospitals have a subsystem based around a common TV aerial that effectively services each TV within the building with the broadcast signal from the free-to-air broadcasters. In some geographical areas like Europe, the satellite dish or cable-TV infrastructure is used as an alternative means of delivering free-to-air TV with Germany adopting an “RF-medium” agnostic approach to delivering free-to-air TV. Let’s not forget that the TV set’s own tuner or a tuner integrated in a retail-supplied set-top box is preferred as the device to watch TV with.

TV aerial and satellite dish on house roof

DVB-I and allied technologies may reduce reliance on RF infrastructure like TV aerials or satellite dishes even for free-to-air TV

In most countries, the free-to-air TV channels are considered a “sacred cow” where they are guaranteed frequency allocations on the VHF or UHF TV wavebands. As well, there is a legal guarantee to assure availability of these channels through cable, satellite or IPTV platforms such as through “must-carry” requirements or a platform-independence mindset for running TV services. This typically assures access everywhere or allows “one-remote” operation for your TV viewing experience.

There is also legal protection in most of these countries for access to the sports and cultural events that matter via free-to-air TV. This is in the form of “anti-siphoning” regulation that proscribes pay-TV providers from gaining exclusive broadcast rights to these fixtures, with some countries wanting to apply the same prohibition to subscription-driven online streaming providers as well.

Let’s not forget that the free-to-air channels in most of these countries work on a unified platform like Freeview which provides common technical, marketing and advocacy support for the free-to-air TV experience.

Watching TV, especially free-to-air TV, has been associated with a known and loved user experience. This includes channel surfing with the “up” and “down” buttons on the remote control, keying in a channel number commonly associated with that channel on a numeric keypad or using a button to flip between the last two viewed channels.

In the online era

Traditional free-to-air TV has had to implement online strategies in order to stay relevant. This is more so as younger people are drifting away from traditional media to whatever media is being served up on the Internet, especially social media or YouTube videos.

10Play with MasterChef as an example of a BVOD service offered by a free-to-air TV broadcaster

Could this also open up an extra feature for gaming-ready 4K TVs?

The connected-TV experience in most countries has been augmented through free-to-air TV broadcasters running an online video-streaming platform of their own, known as a “BVOD” (Broadcaster Video On Demand) service. This typically provides “catch-up” viewing of prior shows and has lately provided for binge-viewing of TV series and even has provided supplementary video content for some shows.

This service is currently furnished through a Website ran by the TV broadcaster themselves in addition to native apps for mobile or connected-TV platforms. They are also extending the BVOD apps towards providing “free streaming TV” channels which don’t exist on the TV broadcaster’s RF platforms. These channels are also known as “FAST” channels, short for “Free Ad-supported Streaming TV” because most such operators are in a position to sell advertising time on these channels. It allows them to provide supplementary traditional linear TV content without needing to license extra RF spectrum.

In most countries, free-to-air TV broadcasters who run advertising have been considered a brand-safe area for advertisers to advertise within. This is because of long-time legal and social expectations associated with the privilege of using the airwaves to broadcast. It is an issue that has come forth thanks to issues like fake news, disinformation, propaganda and hate speech and advertisers don’t want to tarnish their brand image by being associated with that kind of material. These values also extend to the BVOD platforms that these broadcasters run.

Technically, standard have been released to allow for hybrid Internet-and-broadcast TV with the goal of providing the same traditional TV installation and user experience. The first of these is the DVB-I and DVB-HB standards that allow reception of TV content via a local-area network whether from the Internet or a broadcast-LAN server device.

Let’s not forget that these standards are also about providing a seamless user experience between broadcast and broadband TV experiences thanks to HBBTV, ATSC 3.0 NextGenTV and DVB-I TV. This brings with it the idea of interactive TV or access to supplementary content on TV. There is even research in to companion-screen integration for editorial and advertising content so as to provide seamless access to relevant services on your smartphone or tablet when you watch TV.

Issues with free-to-air TV in the connected age

Issues currently seen with free-to-air TV are that all services aren’t consistently available across the country with a desirable consistent quality of service. This can apply to countries that have large rural areas like Australia or countries that have a lot of mountainous terrain like Switzerland.

Add to this that not all areas have access to a decent standard of Internet service, whether via a fixed-broadband or a mobile-broadband means. This is typical primarily of rural areas but can also extend to poorer urban areas where there has been some “redlining” taking place.

As well, not every room in a house would have its own conveniently-located TV-aerial socket to assure reliable reception of free-to-air TV around the house. This typically leads to the use of indoor antennas that aren’t really reliable for TV reception, especially antennas that are offered at the cheap end of the market.

An issue of concern to the free-to-air TV community is that TV manufacturers and smart-TV platforms give priority to subscription video-on-demand or advertising video-on-demand services that offer the most money to the platform or manufacturer. It can also include electronic programme guides not featuring the local free-to-air TV channels in a prominent position. This causes free-to-air content including BVOD services to be placed at the bottom of the pack.

Chromecast and similar devices are being used as an alternative to smart TVs

You can do more with your Chromecast with Google TV if you use a USB-C hub or dock that offers Power Delivery pass-through

Then there is the popularity of Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku and Amazon Fire TV as set-top-based alternatives to the smart-TV approach. Such platforms are being valued as a way to add this kind of functionality to any TV with an HDMI socket no matter its age. This is more so about the integration of those platforms with a user’s desktop, mobile or smart-home computing environment and brand loyalty. As well, these devices cater to the reality that older TVs are moved to secondary lounge areas or bedrooms when you buy a newer TV that has the latest technology.

Even the broadcaster video-on-demand services don’t really understand “multiple adult households” easily when they ask for user login details to create a personalised user experience. This is something I have previously covered in a separate article about supporting many different user logins on online media services when used on smart TVs and the like.

Lenovo Yoga Tab Android tablet

Tablets like this Lenovo Yoga Tab Android tablet are an example of a screen-based device that could show TV but doesn’t have a TV tuner for this purpose.

Not all screen-equipped devices have TV tuners and may have to support Internet / LAN delivery of TV content with standards like DVB-I and DVB-HB. Such standards could provide for a traditional TV user experience and access to free-to-air TV. This doesn’t just relate to regular desktop and laptop computers or mobile computing devices but is encompassing a new breed of computer monitors and small lifestyle TV-type devices that have “smart-TV” functionality but don’t have a broadcast-TV tuner of any form.

What can be done

Mobile and desktop software for free-to-air TV

Free-to-air TV platforms could work on mobile-platform apps and desktop software that provide access to this kind of TV content, including “broadcaster video-on-demand” services from the Internet through a single interface. This could include a “virtual-remote” interface to allow channel surfing or direct-entry channel selection along with the electronic programme guide so you can know “what’s on”.

Increased support for TV via your home network

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 and are in a position to benefit from TV delivered by the Internet

TV via your home network or Internet service could be encouraged in may ways.

For the ATSC 3.0 NextGenTV standard used primarily in North America, there has to be work on standardising free-to-air-TV via the Internet and home network. There was some work being achieved for the North American market as far as “broadcast-to-LAN” is concerned, mainly as a way to achieve market competition for cable-TV set-top boxes. But this was effectively scuttled during the presidency of Donald Trump thanks to him installing FCC commissioners who protect the established pay-TV companies.

Smart TVs of or greater than a certain screen size like 32”  could be required to receive TV via a broadcast tuner and Internet / home network facilities. For Europe, Asia, Australia and the like, this would mean support for DVB-I and DVB-HB standards alongside DVB-based RF-delivery broadcast TV standards.

The “broadcast-LAN” product segment could be developed further with more companies offering such server devices to the market. Here, this would be about making sure that such devices are working to particular standards like DVB-HB. Value-priced “broadcast-LAN” devices could be offered with multiple tuners so that multiple household members can receive TV content from different channels concurrently.

As far as UK, Europe, Australia, Asia and other countries who value the DVB TV standards go, they could place importance on DVB-I as an important part of the free-to-air TV broadcast platform. This would include a requirement to simulcast “socially-protected” free-to-air TV channels through DVB-I as well as traditional RF technologies.

Examining interactive TV technologies and making best use of them

Where the TV platforms support interactivity, this feature needs to be exploited and developed further.

This could be about working on a quick-to-operate simplified link to the “supplementary screen” like your smartphone, tablet or computer. Or it could be about facilitating transactions in a 10-foot “lean-back” environment including knowing what would work well in such an environment. It may even include the ability to use driverless printing to obtain hard copy from interactive TV resources.

Add to this things like targeted advertising so that it underscores local relevancy without being too invasive or threatening. This includes establishing policies for political advertising that is targeted towards specific electorates or neighbourhoods.

Redefining broadcast-TV market-area policies

Broadcast policies would also need to factor in situations where metropolitan economic areas that are a broadcast market in themselves sprawl in to neigbbouring communities that are part of other broadcast markets.

This is facilitated when urban areas build or upgrade transport infrastructure to bring the city’s periphery closer to the main economic centre as far as travelling time is concerned. It makes the city’s periphery or neigbbouring city attractive to commute to the other area for work, study or to benefit from what that area offers.

Or it can be the creation of additional attractive economic hubs on the outskirts of the city in order to increase more varied economic activity there. This can include adding commercial and industrial activity to what was a commuter town to diversify its economy.

In the same context, there are the neighbouring country towns with tourist attractions that are up to three hours’ drive from the metropolitan area being considered attractive for holidays, remote working or retirement. This leads to strong interest from the town’s community and the government in investing in these towns.

Examples of this include two or more cities facing conurbation or towns and cities on the edge of a city’s metropolitan area forming part of that area’s commuter belt. In a significant number of federation countries like Australia or the USA, there are alt least a few of these conurbations or commuter belts that straddle at least one state border and some countries with land borders may face this situation.

Typically, the TV broadcasting for the different geographic areas may be different as far as news content or advertising is concerned. As well, some areas may benefit from different programming of local interest like sports fixtures or rural-interest programming that is shown in its own time window. In a significant part of continental Europe, this is also represented by the public-service broadcasters running a TV channel such as a “third channel” that is dedicated to programming local to a particular geographic region.

But for those communities, there has to be some support where users can select content pitched at a neighbouring area especially where there is a significant difference in the content available. This could be facilitated through IP-based technologies like DVB-I that allow the creation of channels and channel lineups relevant to areas like commuter-belt communities.

Here, there has to be a willingness to re-examine broadcast market areas where it is noticed that one or more towns and cities are growing significantly or becoming “closer together”. This may also include providing special support when it comes to handling broadcast services for commuter belts and similar neighbouring regions while preserving programming peculiar to particular areas.

Conclusion

Traditional free-to-air TV will still be relevant in the online age in many forms. This could be about using the Internet as a complementary means to distribute the broadcasts. Or it could be about using online services to augment the editorial or advertising broadcast material.

Muting your XBox’s audio while using a headset

Article

XBox One games console press image courtesy Microsoft

How you can set up the XBox One or newer consoles so you have better control over your gaming sound

How to mute Xbox TV audio when using a headset | Windows Central

My Comments

You may need to know how to mute the game audio from your TV speakers, soundbar or home-theatre setup when you are using a headset.

Why

There is a risk of an audio-feedback or echo loop being created when you play an online game and are engaging in voice chat during that game.

As well, you may be wanting to be considerate of others by keeping the game’s sound effects and music to yourself but not lose the audible feedback that these sounds give you through the game, such as knowing how close the enemy is in the game. This is more so when others are likely to be resting or sleeping and you want to have that late gaming session.

With the latter situation, the TV, soundbar or home-theatre setup may not support headphones operation properly, if not at all. As well, the default behaviour with headsets for the XBox is to run the game soundtrack via the TV or audio peripheral but have online audio chat via the headset.

Here, when I am talking of an audio peripheral, I am talking of a soundbar, stereo amplifier or home-theatre AV receiver that is connected to your TV to improve its sound. These would be typically connected via HDMI-ARC or via an optical-digital-audio connection on the TV.

Enable automatic TV / audio-peripheral muting when headset is connected

  1. Select the Settings option (Settings button on XBox Dashboard or Profile and System tab in XBox Guide)
  2. Select General
  3. Navigate to and select “Volume and Audio Output” page
  4. Select “Additional Options” in Advanced Category
  5. Select and enable “Mute speaker audio when headset attached”

This affects the TV audio including audio from soundbars and other audio peripherals connected to the TV or from the HDMI connection when you are using a headset connected to the XBox console.

Adjust TV volume from console and enable simplified operation

This procedure works with XBox Series X or S consoles which support HDMI-CEC. As well, TVs and audio peripherals like soundbars and AV receivers have to be connected by HDMI and support and be enabled for HDMI-CEC control. This feature may be known as Simplink, Anynet+ or one of many other trade names.

Most likely, all recent TVs at least will support HDMI-CEC operation, most likely if they also support HDMI-ARC connectivity to audio peripherals. It may be so that the major brands will have supported HDMI-CEC for flat-screen TVs designed since the mid 2000s with this under manufacturer-specific names like Simplink, EasyLink, Aquos Link, Anynet+ , VIERA Link or Bravia Sync. As well audio peripherals that are connected to the TV using HDMI-ARC are likely to support HDMI-CEC operation like you using the TV remote control to regulate the volume or them coming alive and selecting the HDMI input when you turn on the TV.

To set up

  1. Go to your TV’s and audio peripheral’s setup menus and enable HDMI-CEC if it isn’t already enabled
  2. On the XBox’s Settings menu, select TV and Display Options in General tab
  3. Select Device Control
  4. Enable HDMI-CEC. This setting will also allow “one-touch start” for your console so that when you turn it on or press the large Xbox button on a controller, the TV and audio peripheral will come on and the correct inputs are selected for the XBox. As well, turning off the console also turns off the TV and audio peripheral.
  5. Enable “Console sends Volume Commands

Thiss means that the XBox console effectively provides a fixed-level audio signal via HDMI. As you select the “Volume Up”, “Volume Down” or “Mute” options that now appear on the Audio and Music Page, these “system volume” commands are transmitted to the TV or audio peripheral via the HDMI cables to adjust the sound level appropriately. You still can use the TV’s remote or audio peripheral’s remote to adjust the volume and this can come in handy if you have to instantly drop the volume during gameplay.

The limitation here is that you have to bring up the Audio and Music Page by pressing the XBox button then selecting that option to adjust the sound. This is also where you may want to, for example, turn down the game’s music volume but keep the effects volume up so that you don’t get tired of the in-play music loop during the game.

Conclusion

Here, the XBox One’s menu options can yield ways to have the sound work properly for your gaming session, whether that be to allow a headset to work properly or for you to use the console’s user interface to adjust the sound volume.

What is prebunking in the context of news accuracy?

Facebook login page

Prebunking is used to rebut potential disinformation campaigns on social media

As you hear about how different entities are managing fake news and disinformation, you may hear of “prebunking” in the war against these disinformation campaigns. Here, it is about making sure the correct and accurate information gets out first before falsehoods gain traction.

Fact-checkers operated by newsrooms and universities and engaged by media outlets and respectable online services typically analyse news that comes their way to see if it is factual and truthful. One of the primary tasks they do is to “debunk” or discredit what they have found to be falsehoods by publishing information about rebuffs the falsehood.

But the war against fake news and disinformation is also taking another approach by dealing with potential disinformation and propaganda in a pre-emptive manner.

Here, various organisations like newsrooms, universities or government agencies will anticipate and publish a line of disinformation that is likely to be published while concurrently publishing material that refutes the anticipated falsehood. It may also be about rebutting possible information manipulation or distortion of facts by publishing material that carries the accurate information.

This process is referred to as “prebunking” rather than debunking because of it forewarning the general public about possible falsehoods or information manipulation. It is also couched in terms analogous to inoculation or vaccination because a medical vaccine like one of those COVID jabs establishes a defence in your body against a pending infection thus making it hard for that infection to take hold in your body.

Prebunking is seen as a “heads-up” alert to a potential disinformation campaign so we can be aware of and take action against it. One way of describing this as prebunking as the “guardrail at the top of the cliff” and debunking as the ”ambulance at the bottom of the cliff”. These efforts are also a way to sensitise us to the techniques used to have us believe distorted messaging and disinformation campaigns by highlighting fearmongering, scapegoating and pandering to our base instincts, emotions and biases.

Prebunking efforts are typically delivered as public-service announcements or posts that are run on Social Web platforms by government entities, advocacy organisations or similar groups. Other media platform like television or radio public-service announcements can be used to present prebunking information. Where a post or announcement leads to any online resources, this will be in the form of a simple-language landing page that even provides a FAQ (frequently-asked questions) article about the topic and the falsehoods associated with it. Examples of this in Australia are the state and federal election authorities who have been running posts in social media platforms to debunk American-style voter-suppression disinformation that surfaces around Australian elections.

Such campaigns are in response to the disinformation risks that are presented by the 24-hour news cycle and the Social Web. In a lot of cases, these campaigns are activated during a season of high disinformation risk like an election or referendum. Sometimes a war in another part of the world may be the reason to instigate a prebunking campaign because this is where the belligerent states will activate their propaganda machines to make themselves look good in the eyes of the world.

But the various media-literacy efforts ran by public libraries, educational institutions, public-service broadcasters and the like are also prebunking efforts in their own right. For example the ABC’s “Media Watch” exposes where traditional and social media are at risk of information manipulation or spreading disinformation with this show, for example, highlighting tropes used by media organisations to manipulate readers or viewers. Or the ABC running a “Behind The News” video series during 2020 about media literacy in the era of fake news and disinformation with “The Drum” cross-promoting it as something for everyone to see. A similar video-lecture series and resource page has also been made available by the University of Washington on this topic.

What prebunking is all about is to disseminate correct and accurate information relevant to an issue where there is a strong likelihood of misinformation or disinformation in order to have people aware of the proper facts and what is likely to go around.

Samsung to roll out a “valet key” for your smartphone

Article

Samsung Galaxy A52s 5G Android smartphone

Samsung smartphones will end up with a “maintenance mode” for your data protection when you have them repaired

Samsung rolls out One UI 5 ‘Maintenance Mode’ to keep your data safe during repair (9to5google.com)

New Samsung Maintenance Mode protects your data during phone repairs (bleepingcomputer.com)

My Comments

For a long time, most of the good cars came with a “valet key” arrangement of some sort. This especially benefited sedans (saloons), coupes and similar cars that had a lockable trunk (boot), but also benefited any car that had a lockable glove box.

Here, the car would come with one key that can only open the doors and start the engine but can’t open the boot or glove box. You could still open the boot or glove box with a separate dedicated key or another key that can open everything. This was about allowing you to had over your car to a mechanic’s, a valet-operated car park or a similar facility knowing that the staff at the facility can’t steal valuables from the glove box or boot.

Samsung is introducing the “Maintenance Mode” as part of its One UI 5 / Android 13 update for their recent Android smartphones. Here, it is to achieve this same goal by locking your personal data in a separate account not available to technicians who repair or service your phone. These technicians then have access to an account specifically created for testing and repairing the phone.

White Jaguar XJ6 Series 2

.. just like cars such as this Jaguar XJ6 did to limit access to the boot (trunk) and glove box when the vehicles were repaired or at valet parking

As well, they can install utility software on your phone as part of the maintenance work but once you log in to your phone again with your normal account, this software is removed. A question that can come up here is what happens if the repair requires the installation of software updates or patches, perhaps to provide driver support for replacement hardware and this has to operate with your own normal account.

Samsung are initially offering this to selected Galaxy phones sold within the USA as part of a beta-test for One UI 5 but are wanting to roll this out across the world through 2023.

Most of us would find this of benefit as we use our smartphones as the digital equivalent of our wallets, photo albums and keyrings. The well-founded fear we have with this is technicians taking advantage of our personal data especially if they see value in it for them.

I would see the “Maintenance Mode” feature being of interest to computing-device vendors and operating-system developers as something to add as a significant feature for an operating system. Here it may be offered during a major feature update cycle for the operating system or as part of a security package.

Such a feature could give all of us peace of mind when we relinquish a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer to technicians that we don’t know for repair.

Google Nest video doorbell could introduce the concept of custom sounds to this product class

Articles

Google Nest Doorbell press image courtesy of Google

Google Nest video doorbell – to support season-specific custom sounds

Special Ringtones Coming to Your Google Nest Doorbell for Halloween, Diwali, Oktoberfest – CNET

More festive doorbell chimes arrive on Google Nest | ZDNET

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Learn how we fine-tune the Nest doorbell ringtones (blog.google)

My Comments

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook at Rydges Melbourne

Desktop operating systems started using audio customisations since the late 1980s

From the late 1980s to the mid 1990s, regular computers and their desktop operating systems introduced various multimedia abilities including file-based audio recording and playback. This came along with various user-experience customisation options like background wallpapers and interface elements that can be set to a user’s preferred colours.

These functions came together in the form of the ability for users to determine what kind of sound the computer makes for particular events like the startup sound, error sound or new message notification.

This kind of customisability was extended in the 2000s with mobile phones supporting ringtone customisation including downloadable ringtones. This feature was seen as important as a way for people to know if it is their phone that is ringing when it rings.

But Google has added this kind of customisability to their Nest Doorbell which is a video doorbell that works via your home network and Internet. Here, they have started offering special ringtones for this product that people can use for particular occasions like Halloween, Thanksgiving or Diwali. This goes hand-in-glove with you decorating your house in particular ways for particular seasons.

These devices would support the seasonality of particular occasion thus allowing the customised sound to play for the duration of that occasion. This avoids the audible equivalent of leaving decorations up beyond the applicable season which can look tacky.

I most likely would see a lot of companies who sell network-connected doorbell / intercom systems start investing in ringtone customisations for these devices. This could include user-supplied ringtones usually in common audio file formats, enabling ringtones to be applicable for particular seasons or user-defined periods, or bringing in brands and talent to create custom ringtones.

You just never know what other “Internet-of-Things” devices and platforms will end up with user experiences that are customisable by the end-user in the same way that computers and smartphones have been customised by their users.

Digital key management and sharing to be part of mobile operating systems

Article

August Smart Lock press picture courtesy of August

Apple to lead the way with having smart lock and digital key management as part of a smartphone’s operating system.

Apple to add digital key sharing to iOS • NFCW

My Comments

Apple is the first mobile-operating-system developer to integrate the management of digital keys for buildings or cars within its iOS operating system. This includes the ability to share keys to others or revoke shared keys within your iPhone’s user experience.

It is because of an increasing number of security solutions for buildings, vehicles and the like that use your smartphone as a virtual keyring for digital keys.

Previously, what happened with digital keys was that they were dependent on apps specific to a vendor, hotel or similar smart-lock platform and you had to work these keys from that app’s user interface.

This could lead to confusion about apps that you need to use and can get very messy when you have multiple places to think of and you aren’t sure which platform they are associated with. It can also lead to screen clutter associated with the apps and you may find that they take up too much internal storage space especially if you are responsible for many places.

The approach now is to implement the digital wallet functionality offered by Apple Wallet and is part of iOS. As well, you use what the operating system offers to share out keys or revoke shared keys. That means you can use first-party messaging software like Apple iMessage or Apple Mail to share the keys; or you could use third-party messaging software like Signal, WhatsApp or Outlook Mail to share these keys.

Most likely this will be facilitated with the “share / take-further” function offered as part of the operating system, represented in iOS with a square and triangle symbol.

The problem with this functionality is whether there is the ability to limit the shared key’s functionality when you share it out. That is to limit the number of times one can use the key or the time period they can use it for, or even to limit the doors or cars that the particular digital key can open. In some cases, it may also be about implementing multi-factor authentication for these keys.

hen there is the question about what kind of interface that this Apple Wallet key-management ability will support. That is whether to use NFC “touch-and-go” operation, Bluetooth LE wireless-link or similar techniques to link with the door lock or car.

The other issue that will come about is whether Google will integrated this kind of digital key management within Android, whether as part of the digital wallets available as apps for that platform or simply within the operating system. Also it can be about whether regular computers that run desktop operating systems could have this kind of digital key management built in to their operating systems, which can be of benefit for people who manage buildings or vehicle fleets.

It can also include allowing apps and Websites to add or remove digital keys to the smartphone wallet. This will be seen as important for corporate, hotel and delivery use cases where interaction with smart locks is part of a transaction, such as registering the delivery / collection of goods or as part of a time and attendance requirement for home care and allied workers.

What this will be essentially about is to provide a one-stop shop for managing digital keys for locations or vehicles you are responsible for using your smartphone.

USA to pry open mobile-app-store market

Article

Google Play Android app store

Legislation or regulation to come about to open up the app-store market on mobile devices to competing providers

How the Open App Markets Act wants to remake app stores – The Verge

What the Open App Markets Act means for future of Big Tech (fastcompany.com)

From the horse’s mouth

US Congress

Open App Markets Act (Follow this law through Congress)

My Comments

At the moment, if you want to add functionality to your smartphone or tablet, you have to use the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store to download the necessary apps. Some Android phone manufacturers like Samsung and Amazon run their own app stores with the former operating theirs alongside Google’s app store and the latter in lieu of that app store.

This process also affects post-download transactions like purchasing the software after a trial, subscribing to the services associated with the software or buying microcurrency for a game using real money. With services like Netflix or Spotify or mobile ports of some desktop software, you use the service’s desktop user interface to sign up and pay for subscriptions then you log in to the user account you created for that service using the mobile app to benefit from what you paid for.

The same approach is being used for the ChromeOS platform and Microsoft and Apple want to push this on to their Windows and MacOS desktop computing platforms. This is more so with Microsoft and the ARM-powered Windows laptops or offering lightweight “S” variants of Windows for cheaper computers. It is also implemented with games consoles, connected-TV/set-top-box platforms, printers, network-attached storage devices, routers, connected vehicles and the smart home as a way to add functionality to these platforms.

This may even apply to app stores on regular computers like the Windows Store

Here, some of the companies in Big Tech want to provide that same kind of walled garden that is expected with games consoles for other computing devices as a way of providing some perceived “simplicity” and security for these devices.

Concern has been raised about this approach due to frustrating competition for apps on these platforms. It includes a monopsony approach where software developers are disadvantaged due to the app store charging commissions on software-related transactions or exacting onerous terms and conditions on software developers who want to have their apps available on the popular mobile platforms.

This is an issue that has been brought about by the Fortnite saga where Apple frustrated Epic’s wishes to sell microtransactions, subscriptions or similar services for Fortnite independently of Apple even for iOS ports of that game. There is similar activity going on in the European Union with the Digital Markets Act to push for competition in the mobile-computing-device realm while the authorities in charge of market competition in the UK and Australia are examining this issue.

What is the Open App Markets Act about?

What the Open App Markets Act means is that competing app markets can exist on mobile and similar-use platforms like iOS and Android. It also requires that these platforms have a requirement to allow users to sideload apps to their devices and the platform can’t default to its own app stores.

Sideloading is primarily transferring software from a regular computer or external / network file storage to the mobile or other device in order for it to run on that device. This is similar to the way we have installed software on our Windows, Macintosh or Linux computers for a long time. Here, we have inserted a floppy disk or CD-ROM in to a computer and ran an installation from that storage medium to have the software on the computer. Or we downloaded the software from the developer’s Website or a download site to our computer’s hard disk and ran the installation program associated with that software to install it.

It could also extend to software developers making the software available to download or purchase from their own Web presences, including processing any post-download payment transactions there. This means that the software developer gains effective control over their software through its lifecycle.

If software developers wish to implement post-download transactions for their software such as converting a trial version to a full-service program, offering subscriptions or selling microcurrency for a game, they can use a competing storefront or facilitate their transactions on their own Websites.

Who would it primarily benefit?

A user group that would benefit from the competitive app market would be gaming enthusiasts. Here, they would benefit from games-focused app stores like Steam, Epic and GOG who run their own leaderboards, online game saving, and online forums. Similarly, games developers would be running their own app stores for their games titles, continuing to offer the same kind of integrated functionality.

I also see Microsoft behind this idea because of software development being their founding stone with an example being the XBox One designed from scratch to support home-developed games. This is because they want to run app stores as a way to make it easier for up-and-coming software developers to put their wares on their market.

What are the issues here?

One key issue that would come up in my mind is a replication of the “bulletin board” or “download site” era that existed before and during the early days of the Internet. This is akin to the “shovelware” magazine-cover CD-ROM era that existed in the early days of optical data storage. That is where you had online or offline collections of poor-quality software available for download or installation on your regular computer. It is something that has affected some app stores in their early days where they were replete with poor-quality apps.

Here, there was very little effort regarding quality control when it came to making software available on a bulletin board or download site or adding software to an optical disc that was attached to a computer magazine. This is compared to most app stores where the people who run the stores vet the software before it is published as well as running “editor’s choice” or “spotlight” programs to feature good-quality software,

Apple and Google challenge the competitive app store approach because they see exclusive app stores as a way to maintain standards regarding software for their platforms.

Here, they see this primarily with data security and user privacy. But they also see this with maintaining legal and social expectations regarding the kind of software available on personal devices. This ranges from issues like suitability for children and suitability to use in the workplace or around your family; along with being able to facilitate access to undesireable content like hate speech or disinformation.

How could these issues be answered?

Computing-platform, operating-system and device vendors, amongst other strong voices in the personal/business IT and cybersecurity world could implement one or more “seal-of-approval” systems on apps or app stores. There would even be various legal protections and requirements placed on the software and app stores like intellectual-property or media-classification requirements, Here, the software or app stores have to maintain certain quality and similar standards before acquiring that “seal of approval”.

Endpoint-security logic that is part of the operating system or a third-party endpoint-security program offered by a brand of respect would add extra friction to installing or running software that doesn’t have one or more of these “seals of approval”. As well, such software would be required to identify and easily remove such software.

Similarly, these companies could vet software developers’ access to software-development kits and application-programming interfaces so that the developer has to be in “good standing” to use the features that matter in an operating system. As well, software-authentication regimes will be implemented in a strong manner for any software that is distributed or installed on these devices.

Is there a risk of a limited rollout of open app-market features

There can be a risk of Big Tech creating versions of their app-store-driven computing platforms for particular geopolitical areas when each area enacts open-app-market legislation.

In this situation, when a user registers a new device or the device’s operating system is updated, there would be logic to test whether the device is within a country or region under an open-app-market mandate then deliver a compliant version of the software to those areas. That is while a noncompliant version of the software is delivered to new or updated devices in areas that don’t have the open-app-market mandate.

This is similar to an issue faced in Australia with the motor industry where vehicle builders are “dumping” vehicles that are less fuel-efficient in to that market. That is because there aren’t the fleet-wide vehicle-efficiency mandates there that are similar to those mandates affecting USA, Europe or South East Asia.

Here, the issue that would be raised is having markets that aren’t regulated with open-app-market mandates being areas to continue the status quo regarding anticompetitive behaviour. Add to this intense lobbying of government or political parties by Big Tech to continue the same kind of behaviour with impunity.

Conclusion

What may be coming about for smartphones, mobile-platform tablets and similar devices is that governments will be forcing open the app-store markets for these devices so that users can seek software from competing suppliers.

Troubleshooting in-app QR-code scanning on your phone

Service Victoria contact-tracing QR code sign at Fairfield Primary School

The Service Victoria QR-code contact-tracing system was one of those app-based QR code setups that may not work properly if your phone’s QR code recognition subsystem isn’t working

A situation that happened with my Android phone recently was that the Services Victoria QR code app failed to recognise a check-in QR code even though it has normally been doing that before. I had to then resort to entering the venue-specific manual-entry code printed below the QR code on the signage to begin the check-in process for that area.

This problem can also happen with something like WhatsApp, Signal or something similar when you are attempting to bind a desktop or other secondary client device to your service’s account. This also extends to Wi-Fi Easy Connect setups that allow you to enrol your phone or another device in to a desired Wi-Fi network.

It can also happen with book+app setups used with interactive books, second-screen apps that are part of interactive-TV setups, or some app-driven coupon systems that are dependent on recognising QR codes for their functionality. Even setting up app-based multi-factor or password-free authentication is dependent on QR codes when you are provisioning that mobile-based authentication app with an online service.

In use cases like WhatsApp, there may not be any alternative like a human-readable code or an NFC tag to use as an alternative to scanning a QR code. This would then make the app or function useless for its intended purposes.

The situation described here is that a QR-code-dependent app that was previously recognising QR codes for that associated system fails to recognise them.

But how did I troubleshoot this problem further?

A lot of these apps that have QR-code scanning functionality are dependent on functionality within iOS or Android that works with the camera to recognise these codes and make them useful for software on your phone. This is to avoid the need for the software developer to reinvent the wheel when it comes to adding this functionality to their apps.

WhatsApp and Signal's relationship with their desktop clients

.. as can setting up Signal or Whatsapp to work with your regular computer or iPad

But if this fails, the apps that depend on this functionality don’t perform as expected when you attempt to scan a QR code with them. This is even though they have enabled the camera and are passing through the vision to the app’s “viewfinder” window. Of course you might think that the rear camera’s lens is dirty or scratched or you are attempting to scan a poor-quality reproduction of the code.

One way to troubleshoot this kind of situation is to scan this kind of code with a dedicated QR-code scan app that is part of your phone’s operating system. Most Android users would have this as part of the Quick Settings menu. Here, this app has the camera behave in a manner optimised for scanning barcodes and QR codes as if it is called upon by one of these QR-dependent apps.

On some platforms, the Camera app’s QR-code recognition function may behave differently due to it using different in-app software from what is part of your phone’s operating system. This is due to the camera software working on a “photography first” approach rather than a “barcode scanning first” approach.

If this app fails to recognise any QR code, you are dealing with a situation where the software processes associated with QR-code recognition crashing or hanging. This situation may happen with other software on your phone underperforming or behaving in an abnormal manner. Here, you may find that it is a good idea to fully restart your phone, which will effectively get everything to a known point.

In this case, you would have to shut down then restart your phone so as to cause it to fully restart. You should see your phone’s manufacturer or operating system logo appear on the screen as part of the restart process.

After the phone is restarted completely, attempt to scan any QR code with the above-mentioned dedicated QR-code scan app that is part of your phone’s operating system. Usually that will succeed after you have restarted your phone due to the necessary software processes being restarted.

You may have also had to deal with a software update for the QR-code recognition software as part of a software-quality or security update for your phone’s operating system. It is typically to rectify any bugs or security exploits in the affected software or simply to “tune up” the software for better performance.

If that succeeds, attempt to scan the QR code using the app you had problems with so you can identify whether that app is at fault or not. It is also a good idea to check for new versions of this app by visiting your mobile platform’s app store and checking for software updates.

The need for a software update for that app may be due to the app’s developers re-engineering it to take advantage of newer QR-code-recognition software libraries, and may also have to apply for any QR-code-dependent apps on your phone. It is although the revised software libraries are most likely written to support “legacy” application software but offer a “new way in” for newer apps.

In the case of your jurisdiction’s contact-tracing check-in app, you may have to do a Google image search for QR codes relating to that platform. Here, some of these images will represent a sharp-enough representation of a “production” QR code at a known place. Or a club or similar organisation may have set up and posted a “test” or “set-up” code to help members with the onboarding process for the contact-tracing check-in platform.

Conclusion

Your phone not working properly with QR codes may not be just a camera or lens problem but software associated with this functionality that simply had stalled or crashed. Here, you may find that you simply restart your phone to gain full functionality.

Why should I prefer a charger or power supply to use IEC-standard AC connections

Standard IEC AC cord connectors

IEC-standard AC cord equipment-side connectors on AC power cords

In the 1970s, the IEC defined a number of standard equipment-side connections as part of connecting appliances and equipment to the general AC power supply used at home and in the office using a detachable AC cord. The common types are the C5/C6 “cloverleaf“ three-pin connection used primarily on laptop chargers, the C7/C8  “figure-8” two-pin type commonly used with portable radios, the larger C13/C14 three-pin connector used on most desktop computers, office equipment or guitar amplifiers and the C15/C16 notched three-pin connector used on a significant number of electric kettles and similar appliances.

These standards have benefited appliance designers, manufacturers and users through the life-cycle of the equipment concerned. It has mad it easier to design something that will work worldwide and simply package the appropriate cord that has a nation’s particular AC plug on one end and the appliance’s IEC-standard equipment-side plug on the other with that appliance.

IEC C7/C8 figure-8 AC socket on a camera battery charger

IEC C7/C8 “figure 8” AC socket on a camera battery charger

This idea has been helped along by equipment designs that use multi-voltage power-supply approaches like switch-mode power supplies or user-switchable input voltages. Here, the equipment manufacturer would be encouraged to make devices that they can sell or the end-user can take anywhere in the world.

For example, a portable radio that receives the standard 540-1600 kHz medium-wave AM band and the 88-108 MHz FM band and equipped with a switchable AC input voltage and IEC-compliant AC power inlet would have world-wide utility value. That is because nearly all countries have their broadcast stations on these bands and the set could be used from AC power anywhere around the world. Even in the days when Europe didn’t have access to all of the standard FM band or countries didn’t open up the FM band for radio broadcasting, these radios still were of useful value in those affected territories.

Then if the user loses the AC cord for that appliance or that cord is damaged, they can cost-effectively replace that cord with a similar one. People who travel or migrate to other countries also benefit because they replace the appliance’s AC cord with one that has the same IEC-standard equipment-side connection on one end and their destination’s AC plug on the other. There is also that likelihood of one coming across a spare AC cord with an IEC-standard equipment-side connection fitting that appliance in their home or workplace and it continues to earn its keep.

IEC C5/C6 cloverleaf socket on laptop power supply

IEC C5/C6 “cloverleaf: AC input socket on a laptop charger

It has opened up ideas for AC cords that suit a particular user’s needs. Firstly, there are longer or shorter cords with these kinds of connection at the equipment side that may end up as the right length for the usage scenario.

Secondly there even have been the C15/C16 notched three-pin AC cords that are coiled like a traditional telephone cord and are offered as a safe approach to keeping kettles and their cords away from the edge of the bench to avoid the risk of accidental hot-water scalding.

Or some AC cords that are sold through computer retailers have two C13/C14 plugs on one end and the national AC plug on the other, typically in order to power a desktop computer and a monitor from the one power outlet. This came in to play as computer hardware designers did away with IEC C13/C14 power outlet sockets on their desktop computers that were typically used to connect display monitors to power.

But the problem I do see is that a lot of USB chargers and similar power supplies are being offered as “wall-wart” devices that plug in to the wall rather than a small power brick with an IEC-compliant equipment-side AC connector. To the same extent, some multiport USB “charging bars” use a captive AC cable with the nation’s AC plug on them for their AC connection rather than an equipment-side IEC-compliant AC socket.

This can be an annoyance in some ways for some people. For example, these “wall-wart” devices, once plugged in to a power outlet including a power board, can take up too much space on the power outlet. Then if a user decides to go overseas, they have to purchase a travel adaptor which can become too large for a single power outlet in a powerboard or double power outlet and the setup can become very unwieldy.

Having USB chargers and similar power supplies use IEC-compliant equipment-side AC connections like what is commonly done with laptop chargers can be a real boon.

Overseas travel

One could purchase an AC cord from a local electronics or computer store, or in some cases, a local supermarket for their device that has the appropriate equipment-side plug on one end and the national AC plug on other end. These cables are often sold for pennies’ worth so it is not a case of worrying about how much these will cost.

For example the C7/C8 “figure-8” cable is sold as a replacement AC cable for portable radios, the C5/C6 “cloverleaf” cable sold as a replacement cable for laptops or the larger C13/C14 three-pin cable sold as a computer, office-equipment or musical-equipment cable. In the first two cases, they are sold this way because of people losing AC cables that belong to portable equipment or such cables ending up damaged or faulty.

Rydges Melbourne

It doesn’t hurt to ask the reception desk or Housekeeping at the hotel you are staying at if they have a spare AC cable for your laptop’s charger.

It doesn’t hurt to ask the place you are staying at whether they have a spare AC cord with the right equipment-side connection type for your device. This may be due to someone leaving behind the AC cord for their equipment or an appliance associated with that cord had failed but the cord is still serviceable.

Here, you are not worrying about if you have the travel adaptor with you or whether you are “tying it up” with a particular appliance. Rather you can use any power outlet within where you are staying to power your equipment using that cord.

This is infact more of value for those of us who are staying in holiday-rental houses or apartments including serviced apartments; or who are staying at relatives’ or friends’ homes. Here, you are able to take your laptop or charger in to the kitchen, living room or other common spaces and plug it in anywhere.

It also comes in to its own where your travels are primarily within geographic areas that use the same AC plug type. Here, you can rationalise down the number of AC plug types you need to cater towards when you pack accessory cables for your electronics.

Migration and long-term travel

Migrants and long-term travellers will also benefit very well because it is easier to move equipment between countries. Here, they reduce the number of travel adaptors they need to buy for all of their equipment. But they buy the AC cords compatible with their destination country’s mains sockets for their equipment when they arrive and settle down.

Migrants may even be able to leave behind their appliance’s AC cord that they used in their country of origin and pick up an AC cord in their destination country if their journey is primarily a one-way affair. That may help with cutting down on accessories that they need to worry about when they pack.

Choice of cables

You may find that the AC cable that came with your equipment may not be right for your needs.

This is more so with a charger you are using for your laptop, tablet or smartphone and it may be found that having a longer mains-voltage AC cable run means you aren’t losing low-voltage DC current at your device. In this case, an electronics store or online retailer may offer a longer AC cable, usually up to 1.8m, with the appropriate equipment side connection.

Similarly, you may find that you can purchase an AC cord of a particular colour or is designed in a particular way. For example, you may find that you want to have the cable blend in with or stand out against the interior design of the room you are using your equipment in. Or, as I have mentioned before, you may find a particular IEC-compliant AC cable that suits your situation like the aforementioned C13/C14 Y-cable that can power a desktop computer and a monitor from the same outlet.

Also be aware that some online sources do offer adaptors that have a C13/C14 power socket on one end and a C5/C6 plug or C7/C8 plug on the other end. This is typically used with a power cord that has a C13/C14 equipment-side connection to power equipment that uses the “cloverleaf” or “figure-8” AC connections, something commonly done with advanced computer setups where some low-profile equipment is being used.

Conclusion

A charger or power supply that uses IEC-standard AC-input connections does allow for increased device and AC-cable utility along with adaptability to different usage scenarios.

Wi-Fi to become strong as a location and range-finding technology

Article – From the horse’s mouth

D-Link DIR-X5460 Wi-Fi 6 router press picture courtesy of D-Link USA

Multi-antenna Wi-Fi 6 and similar routers like this D-Link router could be part of allowing Wi-Fi to work as a location-tracking, range-finding and way-finding technology

Wi-Fi Alliance

Wi-Fi Location™: Performance drivers for Wi-Fi® ranging technologies and its achievable accuracies

My Comments

Qualcomm is driving Wi-Fi further as a location and ranging tool through the use of its own silicon. This is in addition to the Ekahau effort to use Wi-Fi as a real-time location system for business.

But it’s more about making sure that the Wi-Fi network is capable to answer Bluetooth and UWB wireless technologies in this space. This is being facilitated by Wi-Fi devices having multiple antennas and operating on multiple bands, That can exploit different bands’ radio-frequency characteristics like transmission / reception range.

In the business world, this may be about staff or asset tracking, indoor navigation amongst other uses. It may even be about “pointing” a laptop, tablet or smartphone to the closest printer or similar peripheral so you cut down on the amount of time it takes to select that peripheral. Airports, shopping centres and similar places will benefit in the form of enhanced indoor navigation for staff and end-users.

But as far as the Wi-Fi home network is concerned, this could come in to its own in a strong way.

This would be facilitated by the use of most recent-issue value-priced and premium Wi-Fi routers having multiple antennas thanks to newer Wi-Fi iterations like Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 7 that implement various MIMO techniques; along with the ability to work on multiple wavebands.

Then there is an increased interest in multiple-access-point Wi-Fi networks thanks to Wi-Fi repeaters, distributed Wi-Fi (mesh) networks and access points that use Ethernet or wired “no-new-wires” networking technology like powerline networks as a backhaul. This is often implemented to fill in Wi-Fi dark spots within your home caused by things like highly-dense building materials or metal used as part of building materials or insulation.

NETGEAR Orbi with Wi-Fi 6 press picture courtesy of NETGEAR

Even distributed Wi-Fi setups like this NETGEAR Orbi with WI-Fi 6 system will serve the same purpose

One key use case for the home is the smart-home technology based on “Internet of Things” devices. The classic use cases would be the robot vacuum cleaners that move around your house, keeping the floors clean or the robot lawnmowers that keep your lawn mown down.

In the context of home and automotive security, it could be about geofencing and similar algorithms that limit the operation of smart locks or vehicle locking systems. It could even extend to preemptive control of heating / air-conditioning and lighting so when you are near home, the heating or lights come on.

To some extent, this could extent to healthcare at home including ageing at home. For example, this may be about fall detection or wandering detection for dementia sufferers. Or it could be about proof-of-presence and time/attendance records for paid carers.

The “nearest peripheral” location will come in to its own with the home network if you have multiple network-capable TVs or printers on your premises. Here, it could be about having the default printer being the one that is closest to you even if you take your laptop to the kitchen for example. It could also extend to use of Wi-Fi Aware for “across-the-room” use cases like transferring data between devices or user discovery with social media and online games.

Therefore in a lot of use cases, Wi-Fi will be valued as a location and ranging technology even if the network of concern is a small network that covers a house or small business.