Author: simonmackay

Some apps on your Android device crashing lately? WebView may be the culprit

Article

Android main interactive lock screen

Apps crashing frequently on your Android smartphone or tablet? Check out Webview – it may be the culprit.

Android apps like Gmail are crashing and ‘WebView’ is to blame | Engadget

My Comments

You may have found that with your Android phone some apps like news apps, email apps or online banking apps are crashing lately. It will also affect apps or games that use advertising and the app or game crashes when an ad appears.

This is to do with the Webview system app that allows a native Android app to utilise Google Chrome’s logic to show Web-based HTML content within the app’s user interface. But a recent version of this app has been found to be buggy and is responsible for causing these software crashes.

A temporary fix that has been put forward is to uninstall the latest Chrome updates on your Android device. Or you go to the Google Play Store or the Settings – Apps menu to uninstall Android System Webview.

But Google have lately worked on a bugfix for this problem and are now rushing this out as a software update for Chrome and Webview. These are expected to be delivered as part of the latest Google Play software updates and should be delivered by 24 March 2021. On some devices, you may find that these updates are delivered as separate packages.

Once these are updated, you shouldn’t find your apps that use Web-based content crashing frequently.

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Zoom to provide privacy notifications for video conferences

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Zoom to introduce privacy disclosure for enhanced functionalities during a video conference

Zoom

Zoom Rolls Out In-Product Privacy Notifications – Zoom Blog

In-Product Privacy Notifications – Zoom Help Center (Detailed Resource)

Previous Coverage on videoconferencing platform security

A call to attention now exists regarding videoconferencing platform security

My Comments

As the COVID-19 coronavirus plague had us homebound and staying indoors, we were making increased use of Zoom and similar multi-party video conference software for work, education and social needs. This included an increased amount of telemedicine taking place where people were engaging with their doctors, psychologists and other specialists using this technology.

Thus increased ubiquity of multi-party videoconferencing raised concerns about data-security, user-privacy and business-confidentiality implications with this technology. This was due to situations like business videoconference platforms being used for personal videoconferencing and vice versa. In some cases it was about videoconferencing platforms not being fit for purpose due to gaping holes in the various platforms’ security and privacy setup along with the difficult user interfaces that some of these platforms offered.

During August 2020, the public data-protection authorities in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Switzerland and the UK called this out as a serious issue through the form of open letters to the various popular videoconferencing platforms. There has been some improvement taking place with some platforms like Zoom implementing end-to-end encryption, Zoom implementing improved meeting-control facilities and some client software for the various platforms offering privacy features like defocusing backgrounds.

Zoom has now answered the call for transparency regarding user privacy by notifying all the participants in a multi-party videoconference about who can save or share content out of the videoconference. This comes in to play with particular features and apps like recording, transcription, polls and Q&A functionality. It will also notify others if someone is running a Zoom enhanced-functionality app that may compromise other users’ privacy.

There is also the issue of alerting users about who the account owner is in relation to these privacy issues. For corporate or education accounts, this would be the business or educational institution who set up the account. But most of us who operate our personal Zoom accounts would have the accounts in our name.

Personally, I would also like to have the option to know about data-sovereignty information for corporate, education or similar accounts. This can be important if Zoom supports on-premises data storage or establishes “data-trustee” relationships with other telco or IT companies and uses this as a means to assure proper user privacy, business confidentiality and data sovereignty. A good example of this could be the European public data cloud that Germany and France are wanting to set up to compute with American and Chinese offerings while supporting European values.

Another issue is how this will come about during a video conference where the user is operating their session full-screen with the typical tile-up view but not using the enhanced-functionality features. Could this be like with Websites that pop up a consent notification disclosing what cookies or similar features are taking place when one uses the Website for the first time or moves to other pages?

It will be delivered as part of the latest updates for Zoom client software across all the platforms. This may also be a feature that will have to come about for other popular videoconferencing platforms like Microsoft Teams or Skype as a way to assure users of their conversation privacy and business confidentiality.

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Google to participate in setting standards for mobile app security

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Google

A standard and certification program now exists for mobile application security

A New Standard for Mobile App Security (Google Security Blog post)

Internet Of Secure Things Alliance (ioXT)

ioXt Alliance Expands Certification Program for Mobile and VPN Security (Press Release)

Mobile Application Profile (Reference Standard Document – PDF)

My Comments

There is a constant data-security and user-privacy risk associated with mobile computing.

And this is being underscored heavily as a significant number of mobile apps are part of “app-cessory” ecosystems for various Internet-of-Things devices. That is where a mobile app is serving as a control surface for one of these devices. Let’s not forget that VPNs are coming to the fore as a data-security and user-privacy aid for our personal-computing lives.

Internet of Secure Things ioXT logo courtesy of Internet of Secure Things Alliance

Expect this to appear alongside mobile-platform apps to signify they are designed for security

But how can we be sure that an app that we install on our smartphones or tablets is written to best security practices? What is being identified is a need for an industry standard supported by a trademarked logo that allows us to know that this kind of software is written for security.

A group called the Internet of Secure Things Alliance, known as ioXT, have started to define basic standards for secure Internet-of-Things ecosystems. Here they have defined various device profiles for different Internet-of-Things device types and determined minimum and recommended requirements for a device to be certified as being “secure” by them. This then allows the vendor to show a distinct ioXT-secure logo on the product or associated material.

Now Google and others have worked with ioXT to define a Mobile Application Profile that sets out minimum security standards for mobile-platform software in order to be deemed secure by them. At the moment, this is focused towards app-cessory software that works with connected devices along with consumer-facing privacy-focused VPN endpoint software. For that matter, Google is behind a “white-box” user-privacy VPN solution that can be offered under different labels.

This device profile has been written in an “open form” to cater towards other mobile app classes that need to have specific data-security and user-privacy requirements. This will come about as ioXT revises the Mobile Application Profile.

Conclusion

The ioXT Internet-of-Secure-Things platform could be extended to certifying more classes of native mobile-platform and desktop-platform software that works with the Internet of Everything. The VPN aspect of the Mobile Application Profile can also apply to native desktop VPN-management clients or native and Web software intended to manage router-based VPN setups.

At least a non-perpetual certification program with a trademarked logo now exists for the Internet of Everything and mobile apps to assure customers that the hardware and software is secure by design and default.

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The Internet fridge–still considered very mythical

Samsung Family Hub Internet fridge lifestyle image courtesy of Samsung USASince the “dot-com” era of the late 1990s, there has been a very mythical home appliance often cited by Internet visionaries. This is the Internet fridge or “smart fridge” which is a regular household refrigerator equipped with Internet connectivity and a large built-in display.

It is expected to provide access to a wide range of online services like online shopping, online photo albums, email and messaging, and online music services. It is also expected to keep track of the food and drink that is held therein using a simple inventory-management program.

In the context of the smart home, the Internet fridge is expected to be a “dashboard” or “control surface” for lighting. heating and other equipment associated with the home. Often the vision for the smart home is to have as many control surfaces around the home to manage what happens therein like setting up HVAC operating temperatures or turning lighting on and off according to particular usage scenarios.

The Internet-fridge idea is based on the concept of the typical household refrigerator’s door ending up as the noticeboard for that household thanks to its role as the main food-storage location for the people and pets therein. There is the thriving trade in “fridge magnets” that people use to decorate their fridge’s door. Let’s not forget that some households have even put a radio or TV on top of the fridge that they can flick on for information or entertainment in the kitchen.

Who is making these appliances?

At the moment, Samsung and LG are making Internet-fridges in production quantities available to the market. These are typically positioned as American-style wide-format fridges that also have the integrated ice makers. Samsung offers theirs in a few different compartment configurations with the cheapest being a two-door fridge-freezer arrangement.

But most of the other white-goods manufacturers exhibit examples of these Internet fridges at trade fairs primarily as proof-of-concept or prototype designs. These are typically based on common fridge-freezer designs already on the market but are modified with Internet functionality.

But the Internet-fridge idea has not become popular with most people. Why is that so?

One issue is to do with the computer hardware associated with the Internet-fridge concept. These setups typically have a separate computer from the microcontroller circuitry associated with keeping the appliance’s compartments to the appropriate temperature or managing ice-maker or chilled-water functionality. But this computer hardware is effectively integrated in the appliance in a manner that makes it hard for users to upgrade to newer expectations.

This means that if this computer fails or gets to a point where it is “end-of-life”, the user loses the full functionality associated with the Internet fridge. The same thing can happen if, for example, the touchscreen that the user uses to interact with the Internet fridge’s online abilities fails to work.

It is underscored by the fact that a household refrigerator is in that class of appliance that is expected to serve a household for many years. As I have seen, many households will buy a new fridge when an old fridge fails to operate properly or when they are making a new house and want to upgrade their fridge. This is even though a lot of consumer IT equipment isn’t expected to provide that length of service thanks to rapidly-advancing technology.

Another factor is the software and online services associated with the Internet fridge. Typically this is engineered by the appliance manufacturer to provide the “branded experience” that the manufacturer wants to convey to the consumer.

The questions associated with the software focus around the appliance manufacturer’s continual attention to software security and quality over the lifetime of the Internet fridge. It includes protecting the end-users’ privacy as they use this appliance along with allowing the appliance to do its job properly and in a food-safe manner.

I would also add to this the competitive-trade issues associated with online services. Here, appliance manufacturers could easily create exclusive agreements with various online-service providers and not allow competing service providers access to the Internet-fridge platform. It can extend to online-shopping platforms that tie in with the inventory-management software associated with the Internet fridge platform.

Such exclusive partnerships with online service providers or online-shopping platforms will make it difficult for customers to use their preferred online-service or online-shopping platform with an Internet fridge. In the case of online-shopping platforms, it will become difficult for smaller, specialist or independent food suppliers to participate in these platforms especially if the platform has “tied up” a significant customer base. That can be achieved with excessive fees and charges or onerous terms and conditions for the merchants.

Let’s not forget that the Internet fridge ended up, like the Aeron-style office chair, being seen as a status symbol associated with the dot-com bubble.

For that matter, householders are using alternative approaches to the same goal touted by the Internet-fridge suppliers. Here, they are using smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home or, if they are after a display-driven solution, they will use a smart display like Amazon Echo Show or a Google-Assistant-based smart display. Let’s not forget that the iPad or Android-based tablets are offering the idea of a ubiquitous control / display surface for the smart home.

What can be done to legitimise the Internet fridge as far as consumers are concerned?

As for the hardware, I would recommend a long-tailed approach which is focused on modularity. Here, newer computer, connection or display modules can be installed in the same fridge by the user or a professional as part of an upgrade approach. It could allow the appliance manufacturer to offer a cheaper range of standard-height household fridges that can be converted to Internet fridges at a later time when the user purchases and installs an “Internet display kit” on their appliance.

Furthermore, if the hardware or connectivity is of a standard form, it could allow a third-party vendor to offer this functionality on a white-label basis to appliance manufacturers who don’t necessarily want to reinvent the wheel. It can also apply to those appliance manufacturers who offer products in a “white-label” form under a distributor’s or retailer’s brand.

One approach I would recommend for software is access to ubiquitous third-party software platforms with a lively developer ecosystem like Android. The platforms should have an app store that maintains software quality. This means that users can install the software associated with what they need for their Internet fridge.

The problem that manufacturers may see with this approach is providing a user interface for controlling how the fridge operates such as setting the fridge, freezer or other compartment temperatures. Here, this could be facilitated by an app that runs as part of the Internet fridge’s display ecosystem. It may also be preferred to provide basic and essential control for the Internet fridge’s refrigeration and allied functionality independent of the Internet display functionality and create a secure firewall between those functions to assure food safety and energy efficiency.

Using open-frame approaches for building Internet-display functionality in to fridges may help with reducing the cost of this kind of functionality in these products. It could also encourage ubiquity in a low-risk form as well as encouraging innovation in this product class.

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Identifying the end-of-support date for your Chromebook

Article

Dell Chromebook 13 press image courtesy of Dell Inc.

You can find out the end-of-support date for that Chromebook or other Chrome OS computer

How to check a Chromebook auto-update expiration date before you buy – CNET

Resource

Auto Update Expiration date for most Chrome OS computer models (Google)

My Comments

Google has defined for your Chromebook or other Chrome OS based computer an end-of-support date where they will stop providing software updates to that computer. This date, known as the Auto Update Expiration date, is agreed by Google and the device manufacturer due to Google not being able to guarantee Chrome OS support for particular hardware setups after that date.

This is important if you are passing on a Chromebook to someone else or buying one on the secondhand market. As well, there is a common issue especially with Chrome OS devices where manufacturers, distributors and retailers get rid of excess inventory representing last-year’s models during the peak shopping seasons.

You may find that some systems, especially those that are part of a “managed” Enterprise or Education setup may have longer support lives as far as software-quality updates are concerned. But this kind of extended support may only apply while the machine is part of that setup which can be of concerned when a school or workplace sells its Chromebook fleet as part of a tech upgrade.

Google maintains an ongoing list of Chromebook, Chromebase and Chromebox models that are in circulation and are approved by them on this page. If you are dealing with a Dynabook-branded device, you will have to look for the Sharp brand because Toshiba had sold their personal computing business to Sharp under the Dynabook brand.

But if you have access to the Chromebook in question, you can check the AUE date for that particular machine.

  1. Open the Settings menu by clicking on the time then click on the gear-shaped Settings icon.
  2. On the left navigation panel which you may have to bring up by clicking the three-bar icon, you should see the “About Chrome OS” information. Click that option to see more details about the current version and other details of your Chrome OS setup on your Chromebook.
  3. The Additional Details area in that screen, which you may have to click on, will show the AUE date for your particular Chromebook.

In November 2020, Google has realised that the Chrome OS platform is a viable third force when it comes to the regular computer. Here, one of the changes they are offering is that Google will assure longer support lives for newer Chromebooks typically in the order of 7 or 8 years. But they should also look at ways to extend this date for earlier Chromebooks that are in current usage.

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A USB-C hub may take your Chromecast with Google Play further

Article

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

Use a USB-C Hub to Upgrade Your Chromecast With Google TV (gizmodo.com)

My Comments

The Google Chromecast with Google TV device is actually an Android TV set-top box which has a lot of what Android can offer.

This includes being able to work with external peripherals thanks to device class support for some peripheral types that are connected via USB. It is thanks to Android TV having class drivers built in to the operating system in order to support these peripheral types.

What do I need?

USB-C hub must have Power Delivery pass-through connection

Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt dock product image courtesy of Dell

USB-C hubs and docks can be used to expand your Google Chromecast with Google TV set-top device

The USB-C hub or dock must have at least one USB-C port set up for Power-Delivery pass-through connectivity. This connection arrangement, which may be known as “Charge-through”, passes power from a USB-C PD charger to the host computing device that is connected to the upstream connection. This is in addition to providing power to the hub itself and any USB bus-powered peripherals connected to that hub.

USB PD-compliant charger with at least 45 watts power output

The USB charger that came with your Chromecast with Google Play device would not be able to power anything beyond the Chromecast device itself. This is because it is rated just for that device.

Rather you use a USB-PD compliant charger that offers at least 45 watts output and is something you would get with most of today’s ultraportable laptops that just use this connection. Using a USB-PD charger offering 65W or more may give you more flexibility especially if you are dealing with USB mass-storage devices or Webcams.

You may find that some if not most business-grade USB-C hubs and docks have their own power-supply arrangement and can provide power to the host computer in a USB Power-Delivery compliant manner. That is typically to provide power to an ultraportable laptop that is connected to these docks. These can be used without the need of a separate charger to connect to these hubs or docks – you just use the hub’s actual power supply and associated transformer to power your Chromecast setup.

What can I do?

Play multimedia files held on USB mass-storage devices

If the USB hard drive, memory key or other mass-storage device (including memory cards in a memory-card reader) is formatted to FAT32, you may be able to view or play image, audio or video files held on that storage.

You may have to use a higher-powered USB PD charger if you are dealing with something like a portable hard disk or SSD. As for apps, software like VLC media player that can navigate the Android directory tree can work for finding content. There are also file managers available to the Android TV platform so you can see what is there on the storage devices.

A question that can be easily raised is whether this Android-TV-based Chromecast can support USB mass-storage devices that represent themselves as multiple volumes in one physical device. It is a situation that will come true with multi-slot memory-card readers, USB devices that have internal and external storage or USB storage devices partitioned in to multiple logical volumes.

Similarly, Android TV would need to support exFAT and the other open-source ext-based file systems in order to handle the high-capacity mass-storage devices as they should be handled.

Use of keyboards and mice as input devices

Connecting a USB keyboard or mouse, including a wireless one that uses a USB receiver dongle, provides an alternative input method for your Chromecast with Google TV.

For example, a keyboard can avoid the need to “hunt and peck” with your remote control when logging in to something like Netflix. This can also apply if you make heavy use of the search functionality within your favourite video-on-demand platforms. It can even apply if you are using an Android-TV-optimised Web browser to work the Web on the big screen.

This may even encourage Google to see Android TV as a viable TV-based gaming platform especially if they provide device-level support for wired or wireless games controllers be it USB Human Interface Device class controllers or device-specific support for XBox or PlayStation controllers. It also can lead to the creation of Android-TV-based hardware that has real gaming performance along with games that can take advantage of this performance.

To the same extent, Android TV support for USB-MIDI music devices could open up support for music-based applications and games on that platform. This could be ranging from music-based games through computer-based music training apps to music performance software.

Chromecast with Google TV as a group videophone

You can connect a Webcam to the USB-C hub so you can run this device as a group videophone. But you may find that some Webcams do need a bit more power and will need a stronger USB-PD charger on your setup.

As for software, Google’s Duo is the only videocall platform capable of supporting Android TV with the proper 10-foot “lean-back” user experience. You do need the app to be open and in the foreground when you are expecting a videocall on the Duo platform.

Google needs to encourage software developers who have videoconferencing software for the Android platform to write in Android TV support with the “lean-back” user experience. This could then have any TV or set-top device based on the Android TV / Google TV platform work well as a group videophone.

Infact Skype should reinstigate support for TV-based videocalling after they had many group videophone clients written for various smart-TV platforms.

More reliable Internet connectivity for your Chromecast

An increasing number of USB-C hubs are being equipped with Ethernet ports, primarily so that you can connect that ultraportable laptop to an Ethernet or HomePlug powerline network segment.

Let’s not forget that Google offered an Ethernet adaptor for their previous Chromecasts so these devices can be run from a more stable wired network segment. But they omitted an official Ethernet adaptor for the Chromecast with Google TV as part of its official aftermarket accessories lineup.

But the Ethernet connection on a USB-C hub is also available to the Google Chromecast with Google TV. It would be useful as a means to bring a reliable wired network connection to this device, especially if your home is wired for Ethernet, you have a HomePlug powerline network setup or your TV is next to your home network’s router.

Conclusion

Once you have USB-C hubs and docks that support common standard device classes for their internal connections or allow connection of peripherals honouring standard device classes, this could make Internet-of-Things and similar devices become very capable.

But these setups show a few glaring weaknesses within the Android TV ecosystem like lack of support for high-capacity file systems. It can be a chance for Google to take the Android TV platform further and turn it in to a highly-flexible large-screen set-top platform.

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TP-Link jumps in to Wi-Fi meshing with HomePlug AV2 backhaul

Articles (Product Reviews on other Websites)

TP-Link Deco P9 distributed Wi-Fi kit with HomePlug AV2 powerline backhaul press image courtesy of TP-Link

TP-Link Deco P9 distributed Wi-Fi kit with HomePlug AV2 backhaul

TP-Link Deco P9 mesh router review: blanket your whole home in speedy Wi-Fi | T3

TP-Link Deco P9 Powerline Mesh WiFi System Review – Blacktubi

From the horse’s mouth

TP-Link

Deco P9 Wi-Fi / HomePlug AV powerline Mesh Network set (USA Product Page)

My Comments

A problem with most distributed-Wi-Fi setups is that certain building materials and construction techniques can reduce their performance. Examples of this include where an extension is built on to a house that has double-brick or sandstone walls, or you have foil-lined insulation or metai-based window tinting as an energy-saving measure.

Here, your distributed-Wi-Fi system may support Cat5 Ethernet as a backhaul option in lieu of Wi-Fi wireless technology. But you may find problems with, for example, having Cat5 Ethernet pulled through the double-brick wall. Or you simply are renting your premises and cannot easily have additional wiring installed there.

You would then have to consider using HomePlug AV2 powerline technology to create a wired backbone for your setup. Most setups would require you to buy a pair of “homeplugs” which simply bridge the powerline network segment to a Cat5 Ethernet segment and use these devices to create that wired backhaul. Only a handful of manufacturers have dabbled in the idea of mixing HomePlug-based powerline technology and distributed Wi-Fi technology at the moment.

TP-Link Deco P9 Homeplug AV2 distributed Wi-Fi operation diagram courtesy of TP-LinkAVM offered a firmware upgrade for their Fritz! devices including their Fritz!Powerline HomePlug adaptors and access points for this purpose. Here, you could manage the distributed Wi-Fi network through your Fritz!Box Web management interface and this exploited the different backhaul options like Wi-Fi, Ethernet or HomePlug powerline that the devices offered.

Now TP-Link has implemented Wi-Fi 5 and HomePlug AV2 1000 to create a credible flexible distributed-Wi-Fi setup. This system, known as the Deco P9, can work with other TP-Link Deco distributed Wi-Fi devices using the best Wi-Fi backhaul or, where applicable, Ethernet or HomePlug AV powerline wired backhaul that the device offers. It does combine the wired and wireless technologies for use as a wider-bandwidth backhaul or as a failover measure.

One of these review articles said that the HomePlug setup offered by the TP-Link Deco P9 system excelled when it came to latency which they considered for gaming use cases. The other review described the P9 system as being fit for purpose with houses that have cellars and garages, more as a way to do away with those range extenders. I would add this this as being fit for extending Internet to bungalows, granny-flats, converted garages or similar outbuildings that have AC wiring to the main house — the HomePlug AV2 technology may do this job better due to its increased robustness. This kit’s use of HomePlug AV2 technology may even come in to its own with that static caravan or campervan used as a sleepout and connected to the main house by AC wiring.

Cable TV in the man-cave

.. and may work well for that man-cave garage or barn

More companies could come on board with distributed-Wi-FI devices that use HomePlug AV2 MIMO technology as a backhaul option to answer these needs. Similarly, they could offer HomePlug AV2 adaptors that can work in tandem with their distributed Wi-Fi devices that offer Ethernet as a backhaul option.

At least there is another company offering HomePlug powerline network connectivity as a wired backhaul option for their distributed Wi-Fi setups.

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When should you spontaneously make that videocall

Article

Amazon Echo Show 10 in videocall - press image courtesy of Amazon

You may need to be careful about spontaneously making or taking that videocall if you want to use this communications medium effectively

Don’t spontaneously FaceTime people and expect them to pick up | Mashable

My Comments

Most of us have a preference for seeing people face-to-face but people who are from the Generation Z or younger generations increasing are interested in making and taking videocalls.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its associated stay-at-home requirements enacted by many a jurisdiction has had us wanting to make more of the videocalls. This includes participating in multiple-party videoconferences for work, learning or social life using platforms like Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams.

How presentable do you look?

As a kid who has shown interest in science-fiction and futurist-technology material, I had seen plenty of reference to videocalls as part of what communications would be about in the future. A lot of this material talked of videocall technology as a “Picturephone” or videophone and illustrated regular use of this mode of calling.

At times I had engaged in conversation about this technology and how it would fit in to our lives. An issue that was raised by some girls and women I talked to was having to “look beautiful or handsome enough” for the videocall. We raised issues like having the need to dress up or to get your hair or face right for that call.

WhatsApp desktop with videoconference support press image courtesy of WhatsApp

Not all times may be right for those videocalls

The Mashable article referenced the situation of the author being in nightwear when the Facetime call came in. This could extend to being dressed in everyday clothing you wear around the house versus the more impressionable clothing you wear when away from home or receiving visitors.

Here you can take a voice call in a flexible manner. For example, you could be out and about, you could be doing other activities at home or not worrying about being fully dressed up to take the call. The person on the other side of the line doesn’t know what you are doing or how you look.

How emotionally prepared are you?

Another factor raised is how emotionally prepared you should be. Here you would make sure you are emotionally prepared to meet someone face-to-face, similarly you should be emotionally prepared for that videocall. This is the analogy of when someone drops in at your home unexpected with this sudden arrival being very stressful for them.

This is because a videocall can be like a long face-to-face conversation rather than something that can take place quickly. Some callers can use these videocalls to pick up on any facial expressions that you exhibit during the call. As well, if you use a handheld device like a smartphone or a tablet to make or take the videocall, any shakiness that happens with your hands due to nervousness can be magnified as far as the caller is concerned.

Some people even see those Zoom multi-party videoconferences that they take part in for work as something that is very tiring. It can become aggravated where there are frequent videoconferences taking place during the workday for example. This can be about having to concentrate on how each other comes across and the messages they are conveying

How comfortable are you and what impression do you want to convey?

You may also be thinking of making sure you are comfortable before the videocall. It may be whether to sit at a desk or table or relax in lounge furniture like an armchair during the videocall.

Then you think of what the caller sees around you during the videocall as in whether the space conveys the right impression that you want to convey. This may be about having a particular bookcase or picture window behind you during the videocall or whether to go in to the garden or on to the balcony for that videocall.

Some parents of young children may want to leave the toys that their children are playing with lying around. This would be to “set the scene” about their children happily engaging in play. Or someone who loves cooking may leave food they are preparing out but in a neat manner in order to convey their love of food and cookery.

An example often seen on TV news and information programming during the COVID-19 lockdowns was how different presenters set up their “home studios” for their TV appearances when they broadcast from home. A financial presenter on ABC Australia’s nightly news bulletins had a picture window behind him and a set of different books in front of him. Then, on the same channel, an infectious-diseases expert who regularly appeared with commentary about how COVID-19 was to be managed had a large bookcase behind her.

It will also include the privacy of other members of your household especially where the background would show a thoroughfare or area of activity within your home. That is very common with the idea of open-plan interior layouts or having the front door opening directly in to the lounge area.

Even the device you use for a videocall may be important to you. This could be about using a laptop versus a tablet or smartphone for the purpose or even to use that Webcam for the videocall.

What can you do?

A good practice with making videocalls is to make a voice call or send a text message asking whether the caller wants to engage in a videocall with you before making that videocall. Here, it may be about having some warning time to get ourselves ready to make or take the call.

You may want to create an exception to this rule for those times where you and a certain caller may want to engage in impromptu videocalls and do not mind doing that. For example some parents may want to make a point of having their child take part in a videocall with that doting relative or friend perhaps as part of a family ritual.

Conclusion

It is important to consider the videocalls and multi-party videoconferences as a different kettle of fish compared to audio calls or text messaging. Then it simplifies the process of adapting your communications strategies to these different modalities.

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ARD takes interactive audio content to Germany

Articles (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

ARD is now on to interactive audio drama for Amazon Echo and similar smart speakers — this time based on Tatort

INFODIGITAL – Der Tatort wird interaktiv: ‘Höllenfeuer’ (infosat.de)

Tatort Interaktiv (ARD Gruppe)

Previous coverage on interactive audio content

BBC introduces interactive radio drama using Alexa

My Comments

The BBC have used their world-famous radio-play craft to create an interactive audio drama that works hand-in-glove with the Amazon Alexa platform. The listeners interact with their Amazon Echo or Alexa-based smart speaker to direct how the story goes.  Here it intermingled the radio-play expertise with those “Choose Your Own Adventure” storybooks or the text-based adventure computer games.

Now the German ARD group of public-service broadcasters have taken on a similar effort but have carried their effort on the back of the “Tatort” crime-drama series that is a mainstay of German-language TV content. The effort would be very similar to the early Police Quest series of crime-themed graphic adventure games that Sierra launched through the late 1980s and early 1990s; or the LA Noire video adventure game released in 2011 and set in late-1940s post-WWII Los Angeles.

They have taken this further by making it work on both the Alexa and Google Assistant platforms including their mobile-platform assistant apps as well as the smart speakers. In addition to this, ARD even provides a Web-based interactive audio adventure so you don’t have to use Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant for this kind of game.

What is peculiar about Tatort is that this German-language crime series has different investigation teams that are each based in different cities or districts within Germany, Austria or Switzerland who solve the cases within that area. Each episode that comes on in the German-speaking countries through their public-service broadcaster on Sunday night 8:15pm local time will appear with a case from a different city.

This interactive audio play, called Höllenfeuer in German or Hellfire in English, has been prepared primarily by Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) with the help of WestDeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) and uses the Munich-based Tatort crime-investigation team. The player controls the character of Kommissarin Mavi Fuchs who works alongside Kriminalkommissar Kalli Hammermann to solve the case. You have to use voice commands to direct these protagonists in the interactive audio play which can be replayed if you are trying to “get the grip of it” further.

But what is happening is that some broadcasters are discovering the idea of mixing radio plays with interactive elements to provide the audio equivalent of classic adventure computer games. Then they are linking these products with voice-driven assistant platforms. The approach ARD have taken with Tatort is to use this new form of delivering audio content effectively to take their existing intellectual property, especially a tentpole TV show, further.

It can be seen as a way to take am existing content franchise further and implement it in a new form, especially an interactive audio play. This is more so as the smart speakers and other voice-driven-assistant devices become more popular.

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Using USB or Wi-Fi to tether your laptop to your smartphone–which is better

Article

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

You can use USB or Wi-Fi to tether your laptop like this Sony VAIO to your smartphone for Internet access with Android making it easier

USB vs WiFi – Tethering 4G Broadband to a Laptop via Android Phones – ISPreview UK

My Comments

You may be having to “tether” your laptop to your smartphone in order to gain access to the Internet. This can be done using a USB cable or wirelessly mostly using your phone as a Wi-Fi mobile-broadband router.

Android users can do this without the need to load additional software on their computer while iOS users may need to run iTunes if they wish to use a USB cable. As well, US-based users may have to have their mobile telco enable tethering and Wi-Fi hotspot use on their smartphone, with these companies likely to charge an extra fee for this service.

An ISPReview article did a comparison test on the performance of a USB-based tether setup compared with a Wi-Fi-based setup using the same late-model Android smartphone (running Android 10) and Windows laptop. The phone was set up with a 4G mobile broadband connection offered by Three UK that is typical of a UK mobile broadband service. Here, the setup was in the same urban area and using the same cell (mobile base station) for the tests.

As well, for each setup, there were two separate tests performed on different days with the results recorded in the article. This catered for different load factors that the Three UK network or the particular cell may be experiencing during the tests.

It was found that both the USB and Wi-Fi connection setups were on a par with each other. This was catering to the situation that the bandwidth offered by the mobile broadband service may not be great especially if you are dealing with 4G broadband.

But the article alluded to users having situation-specific needs for using particular connection types such as preferring to use USB for security, simple setup or where a lot of Wi-Fi connections could compromise performance. On the other hand, it may be about providing Internet to a device that doesn’t support USB-modem / USB-tethering connectivity but has Wi-Fi like a tablet; or creating a mobile local network using your phone.

Here, I would support these kind of setups if you are intending to purpose your smartphone for use as a modem and are not likely to be making or taking many calls with it. This is because you may find that a call may encumber your phone’s use as a modem especially if you like to walk about during that call.

As well, I wouldn’t expect good performance out of a tethered-smartphone setup if you are on a busy commuter train or bus. This is due to the increased competition for bandwidth from the various base stations serving the train’s or bus’s route as many people use their mobile devices while riding this route. This statement would also apply to use of mobile broadband in a rural area where the mobile base stations would be equipped with older technology.

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