Amazon had announced amongst a raft of gadgets for the smart home, a 15” electronic picture frame that works as part of the Alexa voice-assistant ecosystem.
This device, called the Echo Show 15, has a 15” Full HD screen with a picture-frame-style bezzel. Here it has the ability to show photos or other images from image collections but can show scheduling and other information widgets that are part of various Alexa Skills.
Like the refreshed Echo Show smart-display product range that were part of this product announcement, this device uses edge computing with local processing to assure end users of their privacy as well as provide increased responsiveness with the Alexa voice assistant. But the silicon that is within the Amazon Echo 15 is also optimised for computer vision as well as voice recognition.
A built-in Webcam and microphone allows the Echo Show 15 picture frame to become a group videophone for the videoconferencing ecosystems that the Amazon Echo / Alexa ecosystem support. As well the Webcam supports Face ID for instant personalisation so when particular users who are enrolled with this frame look at it, they get a personalised information view. But the Webcam and mic can be shut off with a slide switch and there is even a camera shutter to assure better user privacy.
Fits in with the kitchen as an electronic information screen
The Amazon Echo Show 15 is also expected to work with entertainment and information services that are part of the Alexa ecosystem. Here it could be about connection to online news and entertainment services that are available in your country. If you want better sound than what the integrated speakers offer, you can pair it with Bluetooth speakers or a Bluetooth audio adaptor connected to a sound system.
It is also intended to work with the Alexa smart-home ecosystem including working with compatible videosurveillance cameras. This could mean that you could see who is at the door on your Alexa Echo Show 15 screen for example.
It can be wall-mounted or be free-standing with an optional kickstand or even be mounted under the kitchen cupboards using an optional mounting kit. Here, you can have this display in a horizontal landscape orientation or in a vertical portrait orientation so it fits in with your home décor.
Personally, I see this Amazon Echo 15 as part of Amazon’s effort to extend the Alexa ecosystem to display devices that have a screen size of greater than 10” and to have such devices work as part of the ambient computing vision that they have. It could even be a chance for Google or Apple to eye up the idea of having smart displays larger than 10” on the Google Assistant (Home) or Apple Siri (Homepod) platforms.
Microsoft launched at this week’s Surface hardware product launch a new Bluetooth mouse that is made from recycled plastics.
Here, the mouse, known as the Microsoft Ocean Plastic Mouse, is made from the various items of plastic litter that are found in the bottom of oceans and waterways. This achievement has been brought on thanks to the involvement of Saudi Basic Industries Corporation who is a subsidiary of Saudi Aramco.
Some could see this as an attempt by Big Oil to greenwash but they are moving towards investing in plastic technologies due to reduced demand for oil as a transport fuel thanks to the takeup of electric vehicles. But this effort here is about using a significant amount of recycled plastic to build housings for consumer electronics and allied devices where the look does matter.
The Microsoft Ocean Plastic Mouse connects to the host device via Bluetooth and even implements Bluetooth 5.0 LE technology for this connection. This means that it does away with you having to deal with a USB receiver dongle that you could easily lose.
As an input device, this mouse is technically similar to other Microsoft mice released over the last few years and this includes the availability of buttons that can be defined by the end-user. For power, it can run one a single AA Duracell with a promised run-time of 12 months.
Microsoft is expecting to launch this mouse to the US market on October 5 and for it to cost USD$24.99. But it is a way not just of providing environmental credentials in a product’s design but also about Bluetooth operation.
Microsoft is the first major company with an Internet presence that is implementing a password-free option for signing in to their Microsoft Account. This is the main sign-up for most of Microsoft’s enterprise-facing and consumer-facing services.
Most of us are likely to run a Microsoft account if you are using Windows 10, the Hotmail / Outlook webmail service, Office 365, OneDrive, Skype or XBox at least. You may also find that Microsoft may bind LinkedIn on to this authentication platform soon or allow this to work with online services that use Microsoft accounts as an optional credential pool for single sign-on.
But what does this password-free setup mean for us? This setup has it that the Microsoft servers don’t retain or use your password to verify you as a legitimate user. Rather the verification takes place at the client device such as you using a fingerprint reader or entering a PIN on the device to log in. Or you use another device like a smartphone with an authentication app or a hardware token like a USB or NFC security key to authenticate with the online service when you log in. Here, these approaches release a machine-to-machine session token to allow you to log in for that session.
In some ways, it is similar to single-sign-on or “social-sign-on” where you authenticate with another credential pool like Facebook, Google or Microsoft when you use some online services.
Microsoft will facilitate this with their Hello-based device-level authentication infrastructure in Windows 10, a FIDO2-compliant hardware security key, a smartphone running the Microsoft Authenticator mobile-platform app or a one-time verification code sent via SMS or email.
This is something you can set up on the Security page in your account.microsoft.com dashboard for your Microsoft account. But you may have to create app passwords for some client software and setups that doesn’t work well with authentication approaches other than passwords. It may be an approach for password-free setups where consumer electronics and IoT devices are concerned until this kind of onboarding and login are able to work with most of these devices.
But for a major software vendor or online-services provider to provide the option to go “password-free” and rely on device-based credentials as an authentication approach is a bold step. As well, Microsoft are in a good position here due to them making sure that the authentication tools are available on a wide range of platforms.
Who know who else will head down the password-free authentication approach for their consumer-facing online services?
Intel is kicking on with increasing the number of semiconductor fabrication facilities around the world in response to the chip shortage. This includes their effort of opening these factories up as semiconductor foundries where they make the silicon chips for other designers and companies.
Intel to have two factories within the European Continent
This includes some action within Europe, although Intel already has an operational chip factory within Ireland. Here they are determining the location of two large semiconductor fabrication plants that have foundry abilities within Continental Europe. This could be within France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands or Poland.
It is part of an Intel worldwide plan to have 8 new factories established and turning out silicon chips over the next ten years.This is part of repairing and improving the silicon supply chain so there is less dependence on an Asian-focused supply chain for CPUs and other advanced silicon chips.
For Europe, this is about gaining technological sovereignty especially where European manufacturers are turning out finished products that implement advanced microelectronics. Firstly, today’s vehicles are being built in such a way where they are effectively a computer on wheels and Europe has a very strong automotive industry.
I see it also extending to Europe’s strong domestic and commercial appliance sector. This is where equipment like ovens, fridges and washing machines are effectively controlled by advanced computer technology, sometimes offering advanced user interfaces like touchscreens. Again these appliance manufacturers
France would also benefit strongly in other ways. For example, Toulouse is still seen as the hub of Europe’s aerospace technology thanks to the likes of Airbus. Even for general-purpose computing, France has come to the fore with Qarnot who manufacture server computers that double as room heaters or water boilers by passing off their waste heat for heating a room or giving you a hot shower.
Further on, European governments are behind this effort in order to encourage Europe to gain its prowess in the technological fields. This may be seen as a way to gain their original “clout” when it came to consumer and business tech during the 1960s and before; or it could be a way for European companies to carve out their distinctive technological niches.
Similarly this is about encouraging the development of general-purpose computing, especially server / cloud computing within Europe. Here, it can be about the goal of computing clouds that are owned by European companies and working to European values.
At least Intel is enveloping Europe as a major part of its strategy to rectify the silicon-chip shortage that has come about lately.
Telstra has joined the large number of private-sector actors including its airline equivalent Qantas in running campaigns for us to get ourselves vaccinated against the COVID-119 coronavirus plague.
Here, Telstra is exploiting its position as a mobile telephony carrier to tackle the 5G mobile-broadband myths that are often run in the same breath as anti-vax myths. This is due to the fact that anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists run other themes like the harm caused by 5G mobile broadband and other non-ionisating radiation sources.
Mark Humphries who is the voice of this campaign, uses a comic line to underscore the way these conspiracy theorists approach you to spill all their nonsense. He even uses the same humour to play on these remarks so as to have you sort the truth out from the nonsense that they tell you.
Even that line “do your own research” that they quote is turned around to mean to do research from proper knowledgeable sources who are qualified to talk about these things.
But I like the fact that he comes at the vaccination issue from the same kind of approach used by those who peddle this disinformation which can often include people within our social circle.
Here, the proper information is that these COVID vaccines like both doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine which I had are delivered purely as a liquid to be injected using garden-variety medical-use syringes and needles. They have been tested for safety and efficacy before being approved and have nothing to do with 5G (or other non-ionising) radiation, microchips or magnetism.
Don’t fall for the nonsense! Get those proper vaccination jabs and stay safe!
ViewSonic VG1655 – an example of a portable monitor
Over the last six months, we are seeing a significant number of “portable monitors” being introduced to the personal and small-business IT market.
What are these portable monitors?
These portable monitors are 12” to 17” LCD screens that are designed primarily to be used with a laptop as a second screen. Most of these units are equipped with a USB-C port that takes advantage of power transfer and display data transfer over the one physical cable, a feature that most well-bred laptops issued over the last few years are equipped with. As well, all these displays have a built-in kickstand so that they can be free-standing.
These screens are even being pitched at people who use mobile platform devices for work or play so they can benefit from a larger screen. This is also expedited with the USB-C or Lightning connections supporting display output and power transfer at the same time on these devices.
What can they offer computer users?
A typical use case for a portable monitor – as a secondary screen for a laptop computer
A key selling feature with these screens for laptop users is to benefit from dual-screen productivity while on-the-go or where they want that minimalist desktop.
Even users who use a multiple-screen setup with their laptop or desktop computer and a larger monitor do stand to benefit from these portable monitors. For example, one of these displays set up in portrait mode could earn its keep with something like an email or instant messaging client. To the same extent, this arrangement could come in handy with a tall spreadsheet or document that you are referring to or a whole lot of source code that is important for that computer program you are working on. This can also come in to its own if the main monitor doesn’t support portrait-mode orientation or you want to have a dedicated portrait-mode display.
Most of these screens will also have at least a standard HDMI connection and / or , perhaps, a standard DisplayPort connection. This can work with computer and video equipment that isn’t equipped with a USB-C with DisplayPort alt connection.
For photographers and videographers, this connection comes in to its own with digital cameras and camcorders equipped with HDMI output connections. That means that the screen serves as a better larger preview screen than what your camera or camcorder offers whether that comes in handy while you compose your shot or review what you have taken.
These portable monitors even serve as small playback / presentation monitors when you want to show something to another person. In a one-to-one meeting, you could be setting the portable monitor to mirror you laptop’s display so that who you are meeting with can see what you are bringing up. Here, this would come in to its own when you are sitting face to face at a table and want to “drive” your computer without always swivelling it around.
Similarly, you could use portable monitors equipped with a standard HDMI input and HDCP support as personal video monitors for devices like DVD / Blu-Ray players or set-top boxes. For example, using one of these portable monitors along with a digital-TV set-top box could allow you to have the equivalent of that portable TV which you use or have previously used for monitoring a news or sports event while in the office, kitchen or garage.
In the same context, they can end up as a portable gaming display for games consoles like the Nintendo Switch, the Sony PlayStation or Microsoft XBox family. This may be for larger-screen personal gaming use. At the moment, most of the current issue of portable monitors aren’t rated for regular-computer gaming due to them being set for 60Hz “productivity-use” frame rates.
Let’s not forget that these screens could simply end up as a “fail-over” display if your laptop’s display doesn’t work. This would be more important for those of us who are pushing that old laptop out further.
It may also benefit mobile-platform device users, especially smartphone users, who want to use them with a large screen at least. Some companies like Samsung are even pushing this idea of using a smartphone or mobile-platform tablet as a full-on productivity device especially when you use one of these monitors and a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.
What features to look for
The screen that your portable monitor should have is a Full-HD or equivalent resolution and a high-quality display.
The connectivity offered by these screens should be at least one USB-C port with DisplayPort Alt and PowerDelivery support; along with a standard HDMI port with HDCP support. It would be nice to have a second USB-C PD-compliant port as a bonus which means you could plug your laptop’s USB-C PD power supply in to the monitor to supply both the laptop and monitor with power. As well, having a standard DisplayPort connection can be nice to have if you have equipment that has this connection.
Some of these portable monitors will implement MicroHDMI connectors and / or will use the USB-C port as an audio output. Here, you will have to rely on adaptor cables that should be packaged with the monitor in its box.
Most of these screens will have audio support of some sort and most likely have an integrated speaker. But they should have a standard headphone jack so you can plug in a set of headphones or better powered speakers for improved sound. They also should have an easy-to-operate volume control so you can adjust the sound quickly and easily.
If you expect a lot of away-from-AC-power use out of a portable monitor, it should have its own battery with a preferred minimum capacity of 5000mAh. As well the monitor should be efficient on the battery life. As I have said before, I would look towards these monitors having two two USB-C ports with PowerDelivery operation where one can accept power and the other can share power to the host computer. This could allow you to power your laptop and the monitor at the same time.
A nice-to-have feature for a portable monitor is touchscreen input support. This effectively adds touchscreen abilities to computer setups that don’t have this function.
Something worth paying attention to with these portable monitors is that some manufacturers could combine a portable monitor with Android tablet functionality. This is something that Lenovo is lining up with their Yoga Tab 13 tablet that is expected to be launched some time this year.
As well, look out for any of these portable monitors that offer gaming features like 144Hz refresh rate because these could be coming that way as part of one or more manufacturers’ lineups. They would be important for people who have gaming-grade laptops and want to have the same kind of performance across all displays.
The portable monitor will earn its keep with those of us who want to have multiple-screen computing with our laptops in a portable setup. As well, they will be likely to be of use as an ancillary personal-use large screen for a range of activities.
There are a significant number of public-access Wi-Fi hotspots set up in places like hotels, caravan parks, convention facilities and the like for guests to use. These networks include “headline” public-access Wi-Fi networks installed in apartment blocks, retirement villages, resorts and the like.
But a lot of these networks implement Web-based “captive-portal” login arrangements to onboard or authenticate potential users. This is typically about assenting to terms and conditions for using a free network, enabling advertising in an advertisement-funded network, you entering something like a room number to use the network or to facilitate payment whether that be directly or through a voucher you buy from the venue.
These setups require you to keep a Web-browser session or page open to “stay valid” on the network. As well, they can be very difficult to implement on devices that don’t have a Web-browser user interface, such as games consoles, set-top boxes, smart speakers, Internet radios and the like. It can even be difficult if you want to bring your own smart TV to that retirement-village apartment you are moving in to.
GoZone, who provide various Wi-Fi public-access-network solutions have just released the SecurePass feature that allows users to use one of these devices with publc-access Wi-Fi powered by their technology.
SecurePass effectively creates a logical wireless VLAN with own SSID and password for each successfully established guest account. This allows a public network user to connect an Internet radio, Amazon Echo, XBoc One or Chromecast to this logical network as if they are connecting the device to their home network or a similar small network. This setup can work with the currently-applicable business model that the public-access network is working on.
– as could connecting that Chromecast to a hotel-room TV
Some businesses may take advantage of SecurePass as a way to connect devices like Internet radios or smart TVs that they or their employees use onsite to their network in a secure manner. That is to keep the line-of-business network purely for those devices relating to the company’s business.
But there are questions about this setup where it may be desireable to establish a connection between a device that was used to provision the connection using the Web-based portal and the device that was connected to the VLAN associated with that service. This may be to enable AirPlay / Chromecast / DLNA streaming from a laptop, tablet or smartphone to your media device or to print stuff out from your laptop using your Wi-Fi-capable printer. Similarly, it could be about creating a private device cluster for sharing files between devices using standard network-file-transfer protocols.
Another question which I see relevant to hotel and similar setups is providing access to network resources that are intended for a guest’s use. Examples of these includes streaming to your room’s or a common lounge area’s Chromecast-capable TV or network printers that support AirPrint or IPP/Mopria and are set up for guests to use. This can include opening up printing access to a business printing infrastructure from guest-owned devices either as complementary or paid-use.
Of course there will be security and privacy issues regarding any approach to create private virtual local-area networks within networks typically set up for public Internet access. This can be about issues like using the network infrastructure for observing data being transferred in a point-to-point manner or providing privileged access to private resources through these networks for example.
But what is being realised is that when you are at a place where there is a public network for residents, guests or the public to use, yon need an experience similar to a typical home network while your privacy and data security is assured.
The Android-based mobile-platform tablet is existing as a viable product class for those of us who want to keep our mobile-platform computing options “open-frame” and without being beholden to a particular manufacturer. But Samsung has effectively cornered the high-end part of this market especially with its Galaxy Tab S series of tablets.
Here, these tablets are about highly-strung AMD CPUs running the show, slimline designs and displays that use AMOLED or similar high-quality display technology. Often they are seen by Android users as being their platform’s equivalent to the latest top-shelf iPads that Apple offers.
Lenovo has been making a range of Android tablets including the Yoga variants that have an integrated kickstand. But, compared to the Samsung Galaxy Tab S, they were positioned more as everyday mid-tier products with something unique in some cases. That is although they were running value-for-money Windows and Chrome OS laptops with product ranges like ThinkPad and IdeaPad, thanks to them continuing on IBM’s personal-computer legacy.
But most other manufacturers have been sticking to mid-tier or low-end products for the Android platform with a lot of such products not offering much in performance, display quality or other desireable attributes. In a lot of cases, these have ended up as utility tablets for use around the home or office.
Now Lenovo is lining up an Android tablet that is set to answer Samsung’s latest Galaxy Tab S product. This will have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 CPU and at least 8Gb RAM and use an OLED display. It will be expected to run Android 11. It is due to people considering Lenovo still as a viable Android mobile-platform tablet supplier that innovates. If Lenovo can achieve the same kind of performance, display quality, battery runtime or other attributes as the latest Galaxy Tab S for a lot less money, they could easily kick off a product war of some sort.
What I see of this is pressure upon both companies to yield high-end high-performance mobile-tablets for those of us who like the open-frame computing approach in these products. This would allow increased value-for-money when it comes to this product class and could encourage more innovation to take place.
If it leads to a genuine “product war” taking place between two or more companies for their top-shelf products of a kind like what is happening with Bluetooth active-noise-cancelling headphones and earphones; it could see mid-tier and even budget products also benefitting. But for this to happen, more companies need to effectively answer Samsung’s Galaxy S series tablets when it comes to performance, display quality or value for money.
The new Matter Internet-of-Things ecosystem based on Zigbee and CHoIP technology is being established and promoted for the smart home. But the Z-Wave Alliance are not part of this ecosystem. But I see it as not just applying to the Z-Wave platform but to other platforms like the DECT-ULE home-automation platform preferred within Europe.
Here, some people may see this as the creation of a technology war but Z-Wave are seeing it as a complementary smart-home technology that can work with the Matter ecosystem. It is although Matter is providing higher-level and intermediate level bridging between Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee (Thread) network interfaces.
How Z-Wave and Matter can coexist in a smart-home setup
How is this being achieved? Here, Z-Wave envisages the use of hardware devices with a Z-Wave interface and software that effectively bridges the protocols and device types between the Matter ecosystem and the Z-Wave ecosystem. In some cases, it can include “presenting” devices existing on one ecosystem to another ecosystem.
It is an idea that key IoT and smart-home industry giants like Amazon, Google, Apple and Samsung are pushing. This is because they want to see this form of interoperability through “central” gateway or hub devices that effectively co-ordinate how the smart home works. Samsung has achieved this goal in some form with their SmartThings smart-home platform by running Zigbee and Z-Wave devices on the same system.
Some devices like this Yale smart lock could be set up either for a Matter ecosystem or a Z-Wave Alliance ecosystem through the use of a retrofittable module
Most likely, the smart home will be reliant on a central “hub” of some sort to facilitate time-driven or event-driven operation of multiple smart-home devices. These may have their own direct control surfaces or can be controlled by a local Web interface, a mobile platform app or even a “skill” or “action” for a voice-driven home assistant.
There is also an industry “want” to see border / edge devices or endpoint devices being able to support the Matter ecosystem or the Z-Wave ecosystem. This may include approaches like what Assa Abloy are doing with some of their smart-lock products by providing different retrofittable modules for different smart-home systems.
It is in addition to keeping Z-Wave relevant to devices like smart locks or sensors that exist on the edge of the network and are likely to run primarily on batteries. It is due to Z-Wave having inherent peer-to-peer mesh support and optimisation for long-term battery operation.
At least the smart-home and Internet-of-Things industry are doing what they can to allow multiple interface technologies to work together.
Samsung is still pushing the Internet fridge idea further by integrating Amazon’s Alexa as an alternative voice-driven home assistant for that product class.
The Internet fridge, a very mythical product class associated with the dot-com era, is a household fridge-freezer that has Internet connectivity and a large built-in display. It also is expected to provide inventory-management for the food supplies in your pantry and fridge as well as being a digital communal noticeboard for the household and a user interface for the smart home.
… obviating the need for an Amazon Echo smart speaker in the kitchen
But Samsung has refreshed the Family Hub internet-fridge platform to the sixth generation and has built in software support to work with either the Alexa or their own Bixby voice-driven home assistant platform. It is also part of integrating the Family Hub with the Mattter Connected Home Alliance that embeds Connected Home over IP along with Zigbee Alliance.
Alexa users have access to the Amazon online services along with an ever-growing pool of Alexa Skills developed by various third parties, as if you are using an Echo smart speaker. Let’s not forget that the idea of running Bixby and Alexa on the one device is part of a direction Amazon is heading with their Voice Interoperability Initiative and other projects where they want Alexa to work alongside other voice assistants or allow a device manufacturer who has their own voice assistant to run Alexa alongside it.
It is also very similar to Samsung allowing users to choose between their Bixby voice assistant and the Google voice assistant on their Android phones. That is although Samsung hasn’t bitten the bullet and joined the Voice Interoperability Initiative themselves.
This can work with any Samsung Family Hub Internet fridge built since 2017 i.e. the second-generation and newer Family Hub products. Here, you are meant to be able to add this functionality as if you are doing a software update for these products. It underscores the reality with fridges that they are expected to last a long time.
It certainly shows that Samsung has its mind invested towards the Internet fridge idea and will keep working on it in the form of a platform that works across a range of their fridge types.
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