The CyberGarage iMediaSuite program that I have mentioned earlier on in my blog has been revised and is now at 1.0.1 . Some of the improvements have brought about improved stability by fixing a memory leak; and there has been some improved functionality like a “clean screen” for the media player. It would still be available at the same URL at the iTunes App Store.( http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=293809842&mt=8 )
Last year, Bill Gates stepped down from the chair at Microsoft because it was his time to retire. Now, this year, Steve Jobs had just stepped down from the chair at Apple due to ill health. Now that the two biggest personal-computing ships who started up in the late 70s and set the direction for ubiquitous desktop-based computing are changing leaders, what could become of the world of personal and small-business computing?
There are possibilities of newer leadership causing a change in how the companies operate as far as their product portfolio and consumer relationships go. On the other hand, the companies could just work as they have been going. They could lose their mantle in this class of computing as newer startups get themselves going and improve on the technology.
Other things to watch for is how the workforce in the companies reacts to the changes that are taking place and whether established companies in the same industry are likely to change leadership, thus causing a different wave to sweep across this class of computing.
These next few years will be very interesting to watch as far as the small-form computing scene is concerned.
Kitchen / laundry appliances, building control and security
Unlike the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2008 in Berlin, this show hasn’t headed towards exhibiting kitchen / laundry appliances and building control / security devices. But a show like this could head down that direction under various mandates like the “green” energy-efficiency mandate and the “smart home” mandate.
The main reason that this has been put off is because of the financial downturn in the US where many of these companies who rely primarily on the “new building” market are simply not selling many of these devices, therefore cannot afford to spend on this kind of activity.
Windows 7 Goes Beta
This has meant a major milestone for Microsoft in having Windows 7 legitimately enter the public beta stage. It has allowed the blogosphere to talk about improvements to the way Windows will be working under this operating system.
One major improvement will be the Device Stage where there will be an integrated user interface for all of the peripherals that the computer benefits from. It doesn’t matter whether the device is connected by a USB or other peripheral-connect cable or is accessed over a wireless peripheral link or the IP network the computer is a member of. This interface will provide access to the standard tasks for managing the device as well as any manufacturer-specified tasks for that device.
Another highlighted connectivity improvement is the Windows 7 “Home Group” which simplifies how a home network is set up and represented. This also includes any “non-computer devices” like network media players, network-attached storage units, games consoles and IP cameras.
Large colour bit-map display as a preferred user-interface display for “fixed” consumer electronics
Previously, we have seen “fixed” consumer-electronics devices like stereo / home-theatre equipment, computer network equipment and similar hardware having either a vacuum fluorescent display, monochrome liquid-crystal display, monochrome LED display or lately an OEL display as their user-interface display. Such a display would take up a small area of the device’s front panel and typically show textual information. If they show graphical information, it would be a low-resolution display which represents a “current-function” icon or a bar-graph representing a quantity like sound level.
Now manufacturers are supplying some of their devices with high-resolution colour LCD or OEL displays. Examples of this include the D-Link DIR-685 Wireless-N router / electronic photo frame / UPnP Media Server; Linksys’s Network Home Audio products and Linksys’s new media-focused DLNA NAS boxes. This has been because of high-resolution colour LCD modules of sizes up to 17 inches becoming more cost-effective.
This has allowed the “fixed ”consumer-electronics devices to have a user interface that is very similar to that provided by the coolest portable devices. It has also allowed manufacturers to look towards equipping their devices with touchscreens and iPod-style “spinwheels”. The user-interface menus on these devices are starting to have the same kind of experience that is accepted on the latest set-top boxes or portable media players.
It will certainly make those monochrome user-interface displays look so tired and “yesterday” as far as product user-interface design is concerned.
SDXC – the next-generation high-capacity SD card
The standard SDXC card can hold up to 2Tb, and being part of the SD Card lineup, be available in the three physical card sizes available for these cards. This iteration of the SD card would primarily appeal to portable devices like laptops, DSLRs, HD camcorders, etc. Could the SD card be the replacement for the hard disk especially in small portable computers like netbooks or as a large firmware storage for electronic devices?
The only limitation about this technology would be that SDXC cards wouldn’t be able to be read in the existing SD or SDHC devices.
Thinner flat-panel displays based on the common large-screen technologies are appearing. This will allow for improved consolidation for the display unit, thus allowing also for lighter sets and reduced “bill-of-materials” costs for this class of electronics. Manufacturers can allocate more room for extra functionality and there will be less of the overheating that occurs in these sets because of improved airflow over the chassis. This also leads to improvements in operational efficiency thus reducing the accusation about the large-screen flat-panel TVs being as inefficient as a 4-wheel-drive “Toorak tractor”.
MoCA being launched to the consumer
Mostly this will manifest in the form of “Ethernet-Coax” bridges in a similar form to the common “homeplugs” which are simply “powerline-Ethernet” bridges. Read more about MoCA in this article in this blog.
US-market TVs equipped with Netflix and similar service
In the US, Netflix and similar video-on-demand companies are “buttering up” to the “brown-goods” companies to integrate support for their service in their TV sets and similar devices. Similarly, some TV manufacturers are moving towards providing mid-range and premium equipment with built-in large-screen Internet viewing functionality. This will typically require the TVs, PVRs or set-tops to have Ethernet ports or WiFi connectivity.
If a customer wants to use this kind of feature, they should use the wired means (Ethernet, MoCA, HomePlug) rather than WiFi because this will provide increased reliability with these services.
An ideal feature for these sets would be to have DLNA / UPnP AV functionality with “Play-to” support. This can allow one to view or listen to their own media library whether it is held on their own PC or network-attached storage unit. It is more so because a lot of the NAS units pitched at the home market are being equipped with DLNA server functionality.
Linksys DLNA-compliant music systems and NAS boxes
1 music system with CD player, 1 network music system and 1 network audio receiver, all able to be controlled by a Linksys WiFi remote controller. Linksys is also selling “media-optimised” DLNA-compliant NAS boxes, one of which has a memory card slot for “dump to NAS” ability and a colour LCD display.
The “dump to NAS” memory card slot featured on the mid-range and deluxe units could come in handy with digital-camera memory cards and SlotMusic cards by making the content that exists on these cards available to the home network at all times.
Premiere of USB 3.0
The first few devices will be out, mainly in the form of external hard disks. Could this be an alternative to eSATA as an external hard-disk connection? Could it work as a “fat pipe” for a WiFi-N network adaptor.
The situation will be the same as what has happened with the launch of USB 2.0 where it will be available in a “retrofit” form for existing computers. This option will then end up being available as part of computer hardware introduce from next year onwards.
Premiere of eCoupled
Fulton Innovation had officially promoted the eCoupled inductive power-coupling system, providing it as an alternative to corded power for portable devices. They had set up a proving ground at the CES for wirelessly charging mobile phones, cordless power tools and remote controllers.
This technology will benefit portable entertainment and IT devices by achieving a standard wire-free power source for these devices. They also had proven the idea of “parking” a remote control on a set-top box or TV set so it can be charged quickly. It could allow for the TV or set-top box to perform required tasks like shut-down whenever the remote is parked on or removed from the unit.
Intel Demonstration video of vPro Anti-Theft technology in action
Linked through from the IntelChannel YouTube channel
My comments in relation to small businesses and home setups
The Intel vPro anti-theft technology as presented in the above YouTube video is promoted for use by larger companies or schools who have a fleet of notebook computers and people in their regular hire who manage their IT needs. This is typically represented by the segment where the user is working at a software or Web-based “console” to administer the “poison pill”.
This kind of facility may not be available to households or small organisations who manage their own IT needs unless the remote management functionality is available as a cost-effective service. Such a service could be offered by security firms who sell their services to residential and small-business customers and these firms could integrate the “secure notebook” as part of their business-security packages or as a stand-alone service.
There hasn’t been a standard for defining the quality of service that one should expect from their residential or small-business broadband Internet service but this is one key issue I have talked about in the blog at its current location and its previous location. Typically this may concern those of us who want a service not of minimum bandwidth but of bandwidth that is considered reasonable by today’s standards.
Factors that may affect the broadband service quality typically will include the quality (and age) of the telephone infrastructure in an ADSL setup and the number of households sharing the same bandwidth in a cable-modem setup. Wireless installations like 3G tend to vary in quality because they are simply radio-based and can be subject to “distance from base” issues, material being between the base aerial and the customer’s modem; and simply interference.
What needs to happen is a defined minimum service standard for broadband Internet and operators being encouraged to achieve the standard at all service points. Often this is because there isn’t a universal service obligation for the Internet in that country as I have mentioned in a previous article. This issue may be more of concern with country areas or poorer communities where there is little desire to invest.
One factor that is often missed when WiFi in the car is mentioned is the idea of network-hosted media in the car. This should cover access to Internet-hosted media like Internet radio through the car stereo, the ability to sync to the master media library at home whether the vehicle is at home or away and DLNA functionality at home or away.
The last function would cover DLNA media play through the car audio system whenever there is a DLNA media server in or near the car. A situation that would be covered in this setup would be to play music files held on a DLNA-enabled laptop or mobile phone or a home network’s DLNA server through the car speakers. Similarly, music could be downloaded to a hard disk installed in the car from these sources for later playback. In a similar vein, the car stereo could be a DLNA media server for RV (caravan) and holiday-home setups where the media library could be available through a UPnP AV-compliant media client device in the RV or holiday-home. This same setup can also please tradesmen who don’t want to hear the usual radio content on the job.
Another issue that needs to be raised is to have wireless broadband service at a cost-effective rate so that more people can think of benefiting from the technology.
Recently semiconductor manufacturers like Intel and members of the Bluetooth consortium have been working on reference circuit designs for Bluetooth and WiFi network hardware that is designed around reduced power consumption and small circuit footprint. They will still have the same power output as current-generation wireless-network devices.
Ozmo and Intel are now looking at using the physical layer standards of WiFi beyond the local area network. They are looking at competing with Wireless USB and Bluetooth by using it as a “personal area network” or linking peripherals, typically user-interface peripherals, to a computing device. Their idea is that if a computing device like a laptop, mobile phone or portable media player has WiFi functionality for network access, the same WiFi electronics can be used for connection to wireless peripherals. It is in a similar sense where one uses a Bluetooth-capable laptop computer and uses that Bluetooth functionality for connection to a mobile phone as well as using a Bluetooth mouse.
Initially this technology will work as a way of allowing gadgets like mobile phones and MP3 players that have Bluetooth or WiFi functionality to work for longer sessions without “running out of juice” or needing to spend significant amounts of time being hooked up to external power. It could even lead to the feasibility of running this class of devices on commonly-available batteries like AA alkaline batteries. In the case of “small-form-factor” devices like watches or key-fob / card-size remote controls, they could be able to benefit from WiFi or Bluetooth technologies while running for their expected battery life of at least 3 months on one or two “button-cell” batteries.
Subsequently, the technology will allow the WiFi LAN technology to be considered useful for device control subsystems like handheld or key-fob remote controls and control / display units that are part of any building control and security application. Such devices could then be able to run on the same power quota as devices of this class based on current technology i.e at least 6 months on a set of 2-4 AA or AAA alkaline batteries or 1-2 “button cells” rather than manufacturer-specific rechargeable battery packs that require the device to live in a charging cradle. This can give RF-based remote control the ability to work in a home network that is optimised for the building. It also permits one to design a network device that has only a wired (Ethernet or HomePlug powerline) network connection but can exchange control signals with an optional WiFi-based controller that works through the wireless home network hosted by the wireless router that the device is connected to using a wired network connection. Similarly, a central HVAC system could use one or more wireless-linked temperature sensors to gain a proper measurement of house temperature instead of referring to the thermostat located in the hallway or kitchen.
As we se more of the semiconductor manufacturers and the wireless networking standards bodies work on the ultra-low-power wireless client device, there could be many new applications for WiFi and Bluetooth being made real and a huge gateway of innovation could open up.
There have been a few features that make this router be different to the typical Wireless-N broadband router. One is the implementation of a colour LCD display that makes you think of the unit being like the typical personal electronics device. This could lead towards the network-Internet “edge” router having a user-interface display with lots if information on board rather than a box with a row of flickering lights.
Another feature that is differentiating this router is the use of the display as an electronic photo frame. This may typically work with pictures held on a hard disk attached to this unit rather than discover pictures existing on the network. This functionality can appeal to the unit being typically placed in the office or den and working as a picture display. Another factor of interest is that if the unit only shows images on the locally-attached hard disk, it can present the pictures over the local network to any DLNA-capable media player.
At least there is a step in the right direction in making the network-Internet “edge” router more special for the home network and could lead to one considering whether to replace the ordinary-old Internet edge.
One thing I have seen as a benefit from cyberspace and the World Wide Web is the ability to build a world-wide library of information. It had also given the Internet its breakthrough or “killer” application, in a similar vein to VHS videotape being given its breakthrough application in the form of video-movie rental in the ‘80s. This concept was talked about by Bill Gates in his first book, “The Road Ahead” (Amazon shortcut).
It has eventually led to the use of the HTML-based user interface for controlling network devices from PCs in the home and beyond and the ability to regard the Web browser as an “applications terminal”.
Some governments, most notably the UK government, are implementing crack-house or disorderly-premises close-down procedures where they can close down premises which are used for crime or disorder.
This incident where McColo, an ISP frequented by malware distributors and spammers, has been closed down because of the malware and spam that has emanated from that domain means that someone is looking towards using this kind of action in cyberspace. This would be similar to the effect on a neighbourhood whenever a crack house or a bar frequented by criminals is closed down, whether through official mandate or not.
If this kind of thing happens frequently with the Internet, through the watchfulness of the netizens, this could lead towards a safer Internet environment with fewer malware existing and mailboxes free of “fly-by-night” spam.
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