Current and Future Trends Archive

Ultrasound being used as a way to measure user proximity to gadgets

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Google Nest

How ultrasound sensing makes Nest displays more accessible {The Keyword blog post)

My Comments

Google is implementing in their Nest Hub smart-display products an automatic display-optimisation technology that is based on technology that has been used for a very long time.

Ultrasonic technology has been used in various ways by nature and humans to measure distance. In nature, bats and dolphins which don’t have good vision use this approach to “see” their way. It is used extensively in military and civillian marine applications to see what is underneath a boat or around a submarine and is also used as a common medical-imaging technique.

As well, in the late 1970s, Polaroid implemented ultrasound as part of their active autofocus system, which ended up as a feature for their value-priced and premium instant-picture cameras. Here, this was used to measure the distance between the camera and the subject in order to adjust the lens for proper focus. There were limitations associated with the technology like not being able to work when you photograph through a window due to the ultrasonic waves not passing through the glass.

But Google has implemented this technology as a way to adjust the display on their Nest Hub smart displays for distant or close operation. The front of a Google Nest Hub has an ultrasonic sensor that works in a similar way to what was used in a Polaroid auto-focus instant-picture camera.

But rather than the Polaroid setup being about using the distance measurement from the ultrasonic sensor to adjust a camera’s lens, this application adjusts the display according to the user’s distance from the Nest Hub. If you are distant from the Nest Hub, you would see reduced information but the key details appear in a larger typeface. Then if you come closer to the Nest Hub, you would see more detail but at a smaller typeface.

Nest Hub Directions display press picture courtesy of Google

The Google blog article described this as being suitable for older users and those of us who have limited vision. The fact that you have the ability to see key information in a large typeface at a distance can make the Nest Hub accessible to this user group. But others can’t see deeper information unless they are very close to the device.

End-user privacy is still assured thanks to the use of a low-resolution distance-measurement technology whose results are kept within the device. As well, there is a menu option within the Google Home app’s Device Settings page to enable or disable the feature.

At the moment, it is initially being used for timer and current-time display as well as displaying travel time and traffic conditions for a planned journey that you set up with Google Maps. But Google and other software developers who develop for the Google Home ecosystem will add distance-sensitive display functionality to more applications like appointments and alerts.

Some people could see this technology not just for optimising the readout on a smart display but could even be used to ascertain whether people are actually using these devices. This could then be used for such functionality like energy-saving behaviour where the display turns off if no-one’s near it.

But what Google has to do is to license out this technology to allow others to implement it it to other fixed-display-based devices. Here, it could become of more use to many who don’t go for a Google Nest Hub.

but to add more functionality like appointments, alerts, reminders

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Logitech improves on the XBox Adaptive Controller with a cost-effective control package

Articles

Logitech G Adaptive Gaming Kit press picture courtesy of Logitech International

Logitech G Adaptive Gaming Kit has what you need for the XBox Adaptive Controller

Logitech’s $100 kit for the Xbox Adaptive Controller makes accessible gaming cheaper | CNet

Microsoft went all in on accessible design. This is what happened afterwards | FastCompany

Previous HomeNetworking01.info coverage on the XBox Adaptive Controller

Microsoft runs a Super Bowl ad about inclusive gaming

From the horse’s mouth

Logitech

Adaptive Gaming Kit (Product Page, Press Release, Blog Post)

My Comments

Recently, Microsoft launched the XBox Adaptive Controller as an accessible games-console controller for people who face motion and dexterity-related disabilities. They even promoted it in a TV commercial ran during this year’s Super Bowl football match, which would have been considered to go against the grain for the usual sporting and video-game audiences.

This has been part of Microsoft’s step towards inclusionary gaming and I had written in the article about that controller not just to focus towards providing video gaming for disabled people. But I also called out the therapeautic value that some games can have for elderly people as well as disabled people with Microsoft offering a lower barrier to entry for independent game developers to create games that underscore that concept.

It has actually been underscored in a recent CNET video article about the XBox Adaptive Controller being used to help a US war veteran who lost some of his motion and dexterity in a motorcycle accident.

Click or tap here to play the video

But Logitech have taken this a step further by offering an accessory kit with all the necessary controls for US$99. This kit, known as the Adaptive Gaming Kit, makes it more affordable for these people so you can have an accessible gaming setup to suit your particular needs without having to choose and buy the necessary accessories. Here, it is important especially if a person’s needs will change over time and you don’t want to have to buy newer accessories to suit that need.

The package comes with rigid and flexible mats with Velcro anchor points for the various buttons and other controls. The flexible mats can even allow the controls to be anchored around a chair’s arms or other surfaces while the whole kit can allow for the equipment to be set up and packed up with minimal effort. The controls all have their own Velcro anchor points and screw holes for anchoring to other surfaces.

Logitech used their own intellectual capital in designing the kit while working with Microsoft to evolve the product. Here, they implemented their own mechanical-switch technology that is part of their high-end keyboards including their low-profile switches used in their low-profile keyboard range. The large buttons have stabilisers built in to them so you can press them from anywhere on the button’s surface. This leads to them not reinventing the wheel when it comes to the product’s design or manufacture because of the use of common technology.

What I have liked about Logitech’s Adaptive Gaming Kit is that the idea of accessible gaming comes at a price point that represents value for money. This is compared to various assistive-technology solutions which tend to require the user to pay a king’s ransom to acquire the necessary equipment. It has often led towards the government or charitable sector not getting their money’s worth out of their disabled-person support programs due to the high cost of the necessary technology.

Welcome to the new age of making assistive technology become more mainstream, not just for disabled users but for the realities associated with the ageing population such as ageing Baby Boomers and people living longer.

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Germany to instigate the creation of a European public cloud service

Article

Map of Europe By User:mjchael by using preliminary work of maix¿? [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Europe to have one or more public cloud services that respect European sovereignty and values

Germany to Unveil European Cloud to Rival Amazon, Alibaba | ITPro Today

France, Germany want more homegrown clouds to pick from | ITNews (Premium)

My Comments

Germany is instigating a European-wide project to create a public cloud-computing service.  As well, France is registering intent in this same idea but of creating another of these services.

Both countries’ intention is to rival what USA and Asia are offering regarding public-cloud data-processing solutions. But, as I have said before, it is about having public data infrastructure that is sovereign to European laws and values. This also includes the management and dissemination of such data in a broad and secure manner.

Freebox Delta press photo courtesy of Iliad (Free.fr)

… which could also facilitate European software and data services like what is offered through the Freebox Delta

The issue of data sovereignty has become of concern in Europe due to the USA and China pushing legislation to enable their governments to gain access to data held by data service providers that are based in those countries. This is even if the data is held on behalf of a third-party company or hosted on servers that are installed in other countries. The situation has been underscored by a variety of geopolitical tensions involving especially those countries such as the recent USA-China trade spat.

It is also driven by some European countries being dissatisfied with Silicon Valley’s dominance in the world of “as-a-service” computing. This is more so with France where there are goals to detach from and tax “GAFA” (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) due to their inordinate influence in consumer and business computing worlds.

or BMW’s voice-driven assistant for in-car infotainment

Let’s not forget that Qarnot in France has designed computers that put their waste heat to use for heating rooms or creating hot water in buildings. This will appeal to a widely-distributed data-processing setup that could be part of public cloud-computing efforts.

Questions that will crop up with the Brexit agenda when Europe establishes this public cloud service will include British data sovereignty if data is held on the European public cloud or whether Britain will have any access or input into this public cloud.

Airbus A380 superjumbo jet wet-leased by HiFly at Paris Air Show press picture courtesy of Airbus

… just like this Airbus A380 superjumbo jet shows European prowess in aerospace

Personally I could see this as facilitating the wider creation of online services by European companies especially with the view to respecting European personal and business values. It could encompass ideas like voice-driven assistant services, search engines, mapping and similar services for consumers or to encourage European IT development.

Could this effort that Germany and France put forward be the Airbus or Arianespace of public-cloud data services?

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PAX 2019–Indie games gaining a strong appeal

Previous Coverage about the indie gaming segment

Untitled Goose Game on Alienware stand at PAX 2019

Untitled Goose Game ends up as one of the feature games to demo computer gaming hardware at PAX 2019

Alaskan fables now celebrated as video games

Two ways to put indie games on the map

Indie games like Untitled Goose Game appeal to people outside the usual game demographics

My Comments

When I visited the PAX 2019 gaming exhibition in Melbourne, I had noticed a distinct interest and appeal towards the indie game sector as distinct from the mainstream AAA+ games sector. This became of interest thanks to Untitled Goose Game becoming the talk of the town as a strong example. As well, the Victorian Government was using this show to showcase games that are developed locally as part of using public arts funding to support this kind of game development.

Here I had noticed a significant number of approaches to how these games worked. One game I had noticed was what would be called a Web game or browser game that can play within a Web browser. This method was a common approach for online games sites like Miniclip or games offered by Facebook and co as part of their platform.

I had talked to some of the games developers in this class of game and they noticed that the games exhibited modest performance requirements. It was true of the games that were written to be native to the host device’s operating system. This would mean that they could be played on a business laptop or home computer that has an integrated graphics infrastructure and baseline RAM.

But most of the laptops that were being used to play these games were connected to AC power rather than working on battery power. Here, I raised the issue with one of the game developers about their games’ power-requirements and optimising them to run efficiently especially if the laptop is to be run on battery power, and they concurred. One use case regarding power efficiency for games I was thinking of are overseas travellers who want to while away a long flight playing one of these games.

Similarly, these games are able to be played casually. That is to be able to provide enjoyable gameplay over short or long sessions whereas a significant number of popular AAA+ games tend to require long intense playing sessions. As well, a lot of the indie games appeal to a wide audience including those that are easily pushed out of video gaming like women or older people.

The indie games also don’t convey aggressive or highly-competitive ideals which do increase their appeal to parents and others who are concerned about what is conveyed in most of the popular video games on the market. This factor is becoming very important due to an increasing awareness about social values and how popular culture respects them with it impacting on how we consume media.

A situation that a lot of these developers do face when writing their games for the console platforms or porting an existing title that way is the tight requirements. Here, they have to make sure that the game handles all error conditions including if a controller is disconnected mid-play. There is also the requirement for the game to be playable with a handheld controller that uses one or two D-pads, a joystick and mapped buttons.

These points are highlighting the key differences that the indie game scene is about where a distinctly different vibe exists compared to the AAA+ video games offered by the mainstream game publishers. This is very similar to what is seen with film where the art-house and independent movies carry a different vibe to what the Hollywood blockbuster movies offer.

Keeping the indie gaming scene continuously alive and maintaining the existence of standalone independent games studios around the world can then allow for a diverse range of games that appeal to a wide range of tastes.

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Amazon starts Voice Interoperability Initiative for voice-driven assistant technology

Articles

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Devices like Amazon Echo could support multiple voice assistants

Amazon Creates A Huge Alliance To Demand Voice Assistant Compatibility | The Verge

Amazon launches Voice Interoperability Initiative — without Google, Apple or Samsung | ZDNet

Amazon enlists 30 companies to improve how voice assistants work together | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Voice Interoperability Initiative (Product Page)

Amazon and Leading Technology Companies Announce the Voice Interoperability Initiative (Press Release)

My Comments

Amazon have instigated the Voice Interoperability Initiative which, at the moment, allows a hardware or software device to work with multiple compatible voice-driven AI assistants. It also includes the ability for someone to develop a voice-driven assistant platform that can serve a niche yet have it run on commonly-available smart-speaker hardware alongside a broad-based voice-driven assistant platform.

Freebox Delta press photo courtesy of Iliad (Free.fr)

Freebox Delta as an example of a European voice-driven home assistant that could support multiple voice assistant platforms

An example they called out was to run the Salesforce Einstein voice-driven assistant that works with Salesforce’s customer-relationship-management software on the Amazon Echo smart speaker alongside the Alexa voice assistant. Similarly, a person who lives in France and is taking advantage of the highly-competitive telecommunications and Internet landscape there by buying the Freebox Delta smart speaker / router and have it use Free.fr’s voice assistant platform or Amazon Alexa on that same device.

Microsoft, BMW, Free.fr, Baidu, Bose, Harman and Sony are behind this initiative while Google, Apple and Samsung are definitely absent. This is most likely because Google, Apple and Samsung have their own broad-based voice-driven assistant platforms that are part of their hardware or operating-system platforms with Apple placing more emphasis on vertically-integrating some of their products. It is although Samsung’s Android phones are set up to be able to work with their Bixby voice assistant or Google’s Assistant service.

Intel and Qualcomm are also behind this effort by offering silicon that provides the power to effectively understand the different wake words and direct a session’s focus towards a particular voice assistant.

The same hardware device or software gateway can recognise assistant-specific wake words and react to them on a session-specific basis. There will be the ability to assure customer privacy through measures like encrypted tunnelling for each assistant session along with an effort to be power-efficient which is important for battery-operated devices.

Personally I see this as an ability for companies to place emphasis on niche voice-assistant platforms like what Salesforce is doing with their Einstein product or Microsoft with its refocused Cortana product.  It can even make the concept of these voice assistants more relevant to the enterprise market and business customers.

Similarly, telcos and ISPs could create their own voice-driven assistants for use by their customers, typically with functionality that answers what they want out of the telco’s offerings. It can also extend to the hotel and allied sectors that wants to use voice-driven assistants for providing access to functions of benefit to hotel guests like room service, facility booking and knowledge about the local area. Let’s not forget vehicle builders who implement voice-driven assistants as part of their infotainment technology so that the drive has both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

This kind of offering can open up a market for the creation of “white-label” voice-assistant platforms that can be “branded” by their customers. As well, some of these assistants can be developed with a focus towards a local market’s needs like high proficiency in a local language and support for local values.

For hardware, the Amazon Voice Interoperability Initiative can open up paths for innovative devices. This can lead towards ideas like automotive applications, smart TVs, build-in use cases like intercom / entryphone or thermostat setups, software-only assistant gateways that work with computers or telephone systems amongst other things.

With the Amazon Voice Interoperability Alliance, there will be increased room for innovation in the voice-driven assistant sector.

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Wi-Fi 6 is here for certain

Articles

TP-Link Archer AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 broadband router product picture courtesy of TP-Link USA

TP-Link Archer AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 broadband router – an example of a Wi-Fi 6 router

Wi-Fi 6: Better, faster internet is coming — here’s what you need to know | CNet

Should You Upgrade to Wi-Fi 6? | PC Mag

Previous Coverage

New nonenclature for Wi-Fi wireless networks

What will 802.11ax Wi-Fi wireless networking be about?

From the horse’s mouth

Wi-Fi Alliance

Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™ delivers new Wi-Fi® era (Prress Release)

Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™ delivers new Wi-Fi® era {Product Page)

My Comments

The Wi-Fi Alliance have started this week to certify devices as to whether they are compliant to the new Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) wireless-network standard. This effectively means that this technology will be ready for prime time.

But what will it offer?

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

NETGEAR Orbi Wi-Fi 6 – the first distributed Wi-Fi setup with Wi-Fi 6 technology

Wi-Fi 6 will offer a theoretical data throughput of 10Gbps which is 30% faster than Wi-Fi 5 setups. There will also be the ability for one access point or route to support many Wi-Fi client devices at once thus preventing that device from being “oversubscribed” and underperforming when many devices come on board. It answers a common situation where a small network that is typically served by one Wi-Fi router ends up having to support multiple Wi-Fi client devices like laptops, smartphones, smart speakers of the Amazon Echo kind, and set-top devices for streaming video. It is facilitated through the use of a higher-capacity MU-MIMO technology.

In addition, the Wi-Fi 6 routers and access points implement OFDMA technology to share channels and use them efficiently. It will mean that multiple Wi-Fi 6 networks can coexist without underperforming which will be of benefit for apartment dwellers or trade shows and conferences where multiple Wi-Fi networks are expected to coexist.

There is also the targeted wake time feature to “schedule” use of a Wi-Fi 6 network by battery-operated devices. This will allow them to know when to send data updates to the network especially if they don’t change status often, which will benefit “Internet-of-Things” devices where there is the desire to run them for a long time on commodity batteries.

A requirement that will be placed on Wi-Fi 6 devices is to support WPA3 security for their network security standard. It is to improve the expectation upon these devices for a secure Wi-Fi network.

At the moment, routers and access points based on Wi-Fi 6 will be positioned at the premium end of the market and be typically targeted towards “be first with the latest” early adopters. But over the next year or two, the market will settle out with devices at more affordable price points.

Premium smartphones, tablets and laptops that are being redesigned from the ground up with new silicon will end up with Wi-Fi 6 network interface chipsets. This will apply to the Samsung Galaxy S10 family, computers based on Intel Ice Lake CPUs and the Apple iPhone 11 family. As well, some network-hardware vendors are offering add-on Wi-Fi 6 network adaptors that plug in to your laptop computer’s USB port to enable it for the new technology.

At the moment, if you are running a network with a Wi-Fi 5 access point or router that is serving devices based on Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) and Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) technology, you don’t need to upgrade the access point or router yet.

But if you have to replace that device due to the existing unit dying or you intend to set up a new Wi-Fi network, it may be worth investigating the purchase of network infrastructure equipment based on Wi-Fi 6.

You will also find that each device will be provided with “best case” performance based on its technology. This means that if you install a Wi-Fi 6 access point or router on your network then subsequently sign a subsidised-equipment post-paid service contract for a smartphone with Wi-Fi 6 technology built in, the smartphone will work to Wi-Fi 6 levels while your laptop that supports Wi-Fi 5 technology works to that prior technology without impeding your smartphone’s Wi-Fi 6 functionality.

If you bought one of the earlier Wi-Fi 6 routers or distributed Wi-Fi setups which works to pre-certification standards, check your manufacturer’s site for any new firmware that will have the device working to the current specifications and upload it to your device.

Wi-Fi 6 wireless networks will become a major boon for evolving local-area networks towards higher capacity and faster throughput on wireless segments.

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WindowsCentral has identified a handful of portable external graphics modules for your Thunderbolt 3 laptop

Article

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module press picture courtesy of Sonnet Systems

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module – the way to go for ultraportables

Best Portable eGPUs in 2019 | WindowsCentral

From the horse’s mouth

Akitio

Node Pro (Product Page)

Gigabyte

Aorus Gaming Box (Product Page)

PowerColor

PowerColor Mini (Product Page)

Sonnet

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck (Product Page)

My Comments

More of the Thunderbolt-3 external graphics modules are appearing on the scene but most of these units are primarily heavy units with plenty of connectivity on them. This is good if you wish to have this external graphics module as part of your main workspace / gaming space rather than something you will be likely to take with you as you travel with that Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook or MacBook Pro.

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook – an example of an ultraportable computer that can benefit from one of the portable external graphics modules

Windows Central have called out a selection of these units that are particularly portable in design to allow for ease of transport. This will appeal to gamers and the like who have access to a large-screen TV in another room that they can plug video peripherals in to such as university students living in campus accommodation or a sharehouse. It can also appeal to those of us who want to use the laptop’s screen with a dedicated graphics processor such as to edit and render video footage they have captured or play a game with best video performance.

Most of the portable external graphics modules will be embedded with a particular graphics chipset and a known amount of display memory. In most cases this will be a high-end mobile GPU which may be considered low-spec by desktop (gaming-rig) standards. There will also be reduced connectivity options especially with the smaller units but they will have enough power output to power most Thunderbolt-3-equipped Ultrabooks.

An exception that the article called out was the Akitio Node Pro which is a “card cage” that is similar in size to one of the new low-profile desktop computers. This unit also has a handle and a Thunderbolt-3 downstream connection for other peripherals based on this standard. It would need an active DisplayPort-HDMI adaptor or a display card equipped with at least one HDMI port to connect to the typical large-screen TV set.

Most of the very small units or units positioned at the cheap end of the market would excel at 1080p (Full HD) graphics work. This would be realistic for most flatscreen TVs that are in use as secondary TVs or to use the laptop’s own screen if you stick the the advice to specify Full HD (1080p) as a way to conserve battery power on your laptop.

The exception in this roundup of portable external graphics modules was the AORUS Gaming Box which is kitted out with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 graphics chipset. This would be consided a high-performance unit.

Here, these portable external graphics modules are being identified as being something of use where you are likely to take them between locations but don’t mind compromising when it comes to functionality or capability.

It can also appeal to first-time buyers who don’t want to spend much on their first external graphics module to put a bit of “pep” in to their suitably-equipped laptop’s or all-in-one’s graphics performance. Then if you are thinking of using a better external graphics module, perhaps a “card-cage” variety that can work with high-performance “gaming-rig” or “desktop-workstation” cards, you can then keep one of these external graphics modules as something to use on the road for example.

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Ambient Computing–a new trend

Article

Smart speakers like the Google Home are the baseline for the new concept of ambient computing

Lenovo see smart displays as a foundation for ambient computing | PC World

My Comments

A trend that is appearing in our online life is “ambient computing” or “ubiquitous computing”. This is where the use of computing technology is effective part of our daily lives without us having to do something specific about it.

One driver that is facilitating it is the use of voice-driven assistant technology like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant or Microsoft’s Cortana. It has manifested initially in mobile operating systems like Android or iOS but has come about more so with smart speakers of the Amazon Echo, Google Home or Apple HomePod kind along with Microsoft and Apple putting this functionality in to desktop operating systems like MacOS and Windows.

Lenovo Smart Display press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

as are smart displays of the Lenovo Smart Display kind

As well, Amazon and Google have licensed out front-end software for their voice-driven home assistants so that third-party equipment manufacturers can integrate this functionality in their consumer-electronics products. It also includes the availability of devices that connect to larger-screen TVs or higher-quality sound systems to use them as display or audio surfaces for these voice-driven assistants, even simply just to play audio or video content pulled up at the command of the user.

Lenovo underscored this with their current Smart Display products and the up-and-coming Smart Display products including a Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab which was premiered at IFA 2019 in Berlin. These are based on the Google Home platform and they were underscoring the role of these displays in ambient computing.

Another key driving factor is the Internet of Things which may be seen in the home context as lights, appliances and other devices connected to the home network and Internet. It doesn’t matter whether they connect to the IP-based home network directly or via a “home hub” device. These work with the various voice-driven home-assistant platforms as sensors or controlled devices or, in some cases, alternate control surfaces.

It extends beyond the home through interaction with various building-wide or city-wide services that relate to energy use, transport, personal security amongst other things.

The other key driver that is highlighted is the use of distributed computing or “the cloud” where the data is processed or presented in a manner that is made available via the Internet on any device. It can also include online services that present information or content at your fingertips from anywhere in the world. In some cases, there is the use of data aggregation to create a wider picture of what is going on.

What this all adds up to is the concept of an “information butler” that responds with information or content as you need it. This is underscored with ambient or ubiquitous computing that is not just a Silicon Valley buzzword but a real concept.

What does the concept of ambient or ubiquitous computing underscore?

Here it is the use of information technology in a manner that blends in with your lifestyle rather than being a separate activity. You interact with one or more of the endpoints while you undertake a regular daily task and this can be about showing up information you need or setting up the environment for that activity. It relies less on active participation by the end-user.

Ambient computing is adaptive in that it fits in and adapts to your changing needs. It is also anticipatory because it can anticipate future needs like, for example, changing the heating setting to cope with a change in the weather. It also demonstrates context awareness by recognising users and the context of their activity.

But ambient computing still has its issues. One key issue that is called out frequently is end-user privacy including protection of minor children when users interact with these systems. An article published by Intel underscores this in the context of simplifying the management of our privacy wishes with the various devices and online services through the use of “agent” software.

This also relates to data security for the infrastructure along with data sovereignty (which country the data resides in) due to issues like information theft and use of information by foreign governments.

Similarly, allowing ambient-computing environments to determine activities like what content you enjoy can be of concern. This is more important because you may choose particular content based on your values and what others who have similar tastes and values recommend. It can also lead to avoiding addiction to content that can be socially harmful or enforcing the consumption of a particular kind of content upon people at the expense of other content.

Another factor that can creep up if common data-interchange standards aren’t implemented is the existence of data “silos”. This is where an ambient computing environment is limited to hardware and software provided by particular vendors. It can limit competition in the provision of these services which can restrict the ability to innovate when it comes to developing these systems further.

But what is now being seen as important for our online life is the trend towards ubiquitous ambient computing that simply is part of our lives.

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Different kinds of cloud IT systems–what to be aware of

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

The iPad is seen as part of the cloud-based mobile computing idea that Silicon Valley promotes

Very often “cloud” is used as a Silicon-Valley-based buzzword when describing information-technology systems that have any sort of online data-handling abilities.

This is more so if the IT system is sold to the customer “as a service” where the customer pays a subscription to maintain use of the system. It also is used where the user’s data is stored at an online service with minimal data-processing and storage abilities at the user’s premises.

It is because small business users are being sold on these systems typically due to reduced capital expenditure or reduced involvement in maintaining the necessary software. It also allows the small business to be able to “think big” when it comes to their IT systems without paying a prince’s ransom.

What is strictly a cloud system

Single Server online system

Single Server online system

But, strictly speaking, a cloud-based system relies on multiple online locations to store and/or process data. Such a system would have multiple computers at multiple data centres processing or storing the data, whether in one geopolitical jurisdiction or many depending on the service contract.

This is compared to the single-server online IT system sold as a service that implements at least a Web-based “thin-client” where you work the data through a Web page and, perhaps, a mobile-platform native app to work your data on a smartphone or tablet. Typically, the data would be held on one system under the control of the service provider with this system existing at a data centre. It works in a similar vein to common Internet services like email or Web-hosting with the data held on a server provided by the Wehhost or ISP.

Hybrid cloud systems

Hybrid Cloud online system

Hybrid Cloud online system with primary data kept on premises

One type of cloud system is what could be best described as a “hybrid” system that works with data stored primarily on the user’s premises. This is typically to provide either a small private data cloud that replicates data across branches of a small business or to provide online and mobile functionality such as to allow you to manage the data on a Web page or native mobile-platform app anywhere around the world, or to provide messaging abilities through a mobile-messaging platform.

For example, a lot of NAS units are marketed as “cloud” NAS units but these devices keep the user’s data on their own storage media. Here, they use the “cloud” functionality to improve discovery of that device from the Internet when the user enables remote access functionality or data-syncing between two NAS devices via the Internet. It is due to the reality that most residential and some small-business Internet connections use outside IP addresses that change frequently.

WD MyCloud EX4100 NAS press image courtesy of Western Digital

WD MyCloud EX4100 NAS – one of the kind of NAS units that uses cloud functionality for online access

Or a small medical practice who keeps their data on-premises is sold a “cloud-based” messaging and self-service appointment-management add-on to their IT system. Here, the core data is based on what is held on-premises but the messaging functionality or Web-based user interface and necessary “hooks” enabling the mobile-platform native app for the self-service booking function are hosted on a cloud service built up by the add-on’s vendor. When a patient uses the mobile-platform app or Web-front to book or change an appointment, they alter the data on the on-premises system through the cloud-hosted service.

It may also be used with something like an on-premises accounting system to give business functionality like point-of-sale abilities to a mobile-platform device like an iPad through the use of a cloud-based framework. But the core data in the on-premises system is altered by the cloud-based mobile-platform setup as each transaction is completed.

Full-cloud systems

Full Cloud online system

Full Cloud online system with data processing and storage across multiple different computers

On the other hand, a full-cloud system has the user’s primary data held online across one or more server computers with minimum local hardware or software to work the user’s data. There may be some on-premises data-caching to support offline operation such as to provide transaction-capture if the link is down or simply to improve the system’s performance.

The IT infrastructure for a full-cloud system will have some measure of scalability to allow for an increasing customer base, typically with the service provider annexing more computer power as the customer base increases. Such a service will have tiered pricing where you pay more for increased capacity.

Client software types

The user-interface for an online or cloud IT system would primarily be Web-driven where you work the data with a Web browser. On the other hand, it could use native client software that works tightly with the client computer’s operating system whether as a “thick” client with a significant amount of local data-processing or storage on the endpoint computing device or a “thin” client which just has a window to the data such as simply using a Web browser.

Public vs private cloud

Another concept regarding cloud-based IT is the difference between a public cloud and a private cloud. The public cloud has the computing power managed by another firm like Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services while the private cloud has all its computing power managed by the service provider or client company and effectively isolated from public access through a separate private network.

This can be a regular server-grade computer installed at each of the business’s branches, described as an internal cloud, Or it can be multiple high-grade server computers installed at data centres managed by someone else but available exclusively for the business, known as a hosted private cloud.

Data Privacy, Security and Sovereignty

Another factor that comes in to question regarding cloud and online computing is the issue of data privacy, security and sovereignty.

This covers how the data is handled to assure privacy relating to end-users whom the data is about; and assurance of security over data confidential to the IT system’s customer and its end-users. It will call out issues like encryption of data “in transit” (while moved between systems) and “at rest” (while stored on the systems) along with policies and procedures regarding who has access to the data when and for what reason.

It is becoming a key issue with online services thanks to the European GDPR directive and similar laws being passed in other jurisdictions which are about protecting end-users’ privacy in a data-driven world.

The issue of data sovereignty includes who has effective legal control over the data created and managed by the end-user of the online service along with which geopolitical area’s rules the data is subject to. Some users pay attention to this thanks to countries like the continental-European countries who value end-user privacy and similar goals heavily.

There is also the issue of what happens to this data if the user wants to move to a service that suits their needs better or if the online service collapses or is taken over by another business.

Cloudlets, Fog Computing and Edge Computing

Edge Computing setup

Edge computing setup where local computing power is used for some of the data handling and storage

This leads me to the concept of “edge computing”, which uses terminology like “fog computing” or “cloudlets”. This involves computing devices relatively local to the data-creation or data-consumption endpoints that store or process data for the benefit of these endpoints.

An example can be about a small desktop NAS, especially a high-end unit, on a business premises that handles data coming in to or going out to a cloud-based online service from endpoint devices installed on that premises. Or it could be a server installed in the equipment rack at a telephone exchange that works as part of a content-delivery system for customers who live in the neighbourhood served by that exchange.

Qarnot Q.Rad press image courtesy of Qarnot

Qarnot Q.Rad room heater that is a server computer for edge-computing setups

Similarly, the Qarnot approach which uses servers that put their waste heat towards heating rooms or creating domestic hot water implements the principle of edge computing. Even the idea of a sensor drone or intelligent videosurveillance camera that processes the data it collects before it is uploaded to a cloud-based system is also about edge computing.

It is being touted due to the concept of decentralised data processing as a way to overcome throughput latency associated with the public Internet links. As well, this concept is being underscored with the Internet of Things as a way to quickly handle data created by sensors and turn it in to a form able to be used anywhere.

Conclusion

Here, the issue is for those of us who buy service-based IT whether for our own needs or for a workplace is to know what kind of system we are dealing with. This includes whether the data is to exist in multiple locations, at the premises or at one location.

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Major improvements expected to come to Bluetooth audio

Article

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar press picture courtesy of Creative Corporation

The Bluetooth connectivity that the Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar benefits from will be improved in an evolutionary way

The future of Bluetooth audio: Major changes coming later this year | Android Authority

My Comments

One of Bluetooth’s killer applications, especially for smartphones and tablets, is a wireless link between a headset, speaker or sound system to reproduce audio content held on the host computing device.

At the moment, the high-end for this use case is being fought strongly by some very determined companies. Firstly, Bose, Sony and Bang & Olufsen are competing with each other for the best active-noise-cancelling over-the-ear Bluetooth headset that you can use while travelling. This is while Apple and Sony are vying for top place when it comes to the “true-wireless” in-ear Bluetooth headset. It is showing that the Bluetooth wireless-audio feature is infact part of a desirable feature set for headphones intended to be used with smartphones, tablets or laptops.

Let’s not forget that recently-built cars and recently-made aftermarket car-stereo head units are equipped with Bluetooth for communications and multimedia audio content. This is part of assuring drivers can concentrate on the road while they are driving.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth wireless headset

.. just like headsets like this JBL one

But this technology is to evolve over the second half of 2019 with products based on the improved technology expected to appear realistically by mid 2020. Like with Bluetooth Low Energy and similar technologies, the host and accessory devices will be dual-mode devices that support current-generation and next-generation Bluetooth Audio. This will lead to backward compatibility and “best-case” operation for both classes of device.

There is an expectation that they will be offered at a price premium for early adopters but the provision of a single chipset for both modes could lead towards more affordable devices. A question that can easily be raised is whether the improvements offered by next-generation Bluetooth audio can be provided to current-generation Bluetooth hosts or accessory devices through a software upgrade especially where a software-defined architecture is in place.

What will it offer?

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

… like with the upcoming generation of smartphones

The first major feature to be offered by next-generation Bluetooth audio technology is a Bluetooth-designed high-quality audio codec to repackage the audio content for transmission between the host and accessory.

This is intended to replace the need for a smartphone or headset to implement third-party audio codecs like aptX or LDAC if the goal is to assure sound quality that is CD-grade or better. It means that the device designers don’t need to end up licensing these codecs from third parties which will lead to higher-quality products at affordable prices along with removing the balkanisation associated with implementing the different codecs at source and endpoint.

A question that will be raised is what will be the maximum audio quality standard available to the new codec – whether this will be CD-quality sound working up to 16-bit 48kHz sampling rate or master-quality sound working up to 24-bit 192kHz sampling rate. Similarly, could these technologies be implemented in communications audio especially where wide-bandwidth FM-grade audio is being added to voice and video communications technologies for better voice quality and intelligibility thanks to wider bandwidth being available for this purpose.

Another key improvement that will be expected is reduced latency to a point where it isn’t noticeable. This will appeal to the gaming headset market where latency is important because sound effects within games are very important as audio cues for what is happening in a game. It may also be of benefit if you are making or taking videocalls and use your Bluetooth headset to converse with the caller. Here, it will open up the market for Bluetooth-based wireless gaming headsets.

It will also open up Bluetooth audio towards the “many-endpoint” sound-reproduction applications where multiple endpoints like headsets or speakers receive the same audio stream from the same audio source. In these use cases, you can’t have any endpoint receiving the program material reproducing the material later than others receiving the same material.

A key application that will come about is to implement Bluetooth in a multiple-channel speaker setup including a surround-sound setup. This will be a very critical application due to the requirement to reproduce each channel of the audio content stream concurrently and in phase.

It will also legitimise Bluetooth as an alternative wireless link to Wi-Fi wireless networks for multiroom audio setups. As well, the support for “many-endpoint” sound-reproduction will appeal to headsets and hearing-aid applications where there is the desire to send content to many of these devices using a high-quality wireless digital approach rather than RF or induction-loop setups that may be limited in sound quality (in the case of induction-loop setups) or device compatibility (in the case of RF setups). There could even be the ability to support multiple audio-content channels in this setup such as supporting alternative languages or audio description. In some cases, it may open up a use case where transport announcements heard in an airport or rail station can “punch through” over music, video or game sound-effects heard over a Bluetooth headset in a similar way to European car radios can be set up to allow traffic bulletins to override other audio sources.

A question that can be raised with the “many-endpoint” approach that this next-generation Bluetooth-audio technology is to support is whether this can support different connection topologies. This includes “daisy-chaining” speakers so that they are paired to each other for, perhaps a multi-channel setup; using a “hub-and-spoke” approach with multiple headsets or speakers connected to the same source endpoint; or a combination of both topologies including exploiting mesh abilities being introduced to Bluetooth.

Conclusion

From next year, as the newer generations of smartphones, laptops, headsets and other Bluetooth-audio-capable equipment are released, there will be a gradual improvement in the quality and utility of these devices’ audio functions.

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