Current and Future Trends Archive

Netflix works harder on interactive video

Article Netflix official logo - courtesy of Netflix

Netflix to create more interactive content | Advanced Television

With Interactive TV, Every Viewer Is a Showrunner Now | WIRED

My Comments

Netflix is working harder towards providing interactive video as part of its subscription video-on-demand service.

This popular service took baby steps towards this goal with the Puss N Boots children’s TV show, using it as a proof-of-concept show. It is part of having to compete with Apple and Disney who are running or wanting to launch subscription video-on-demand services that are replete with family-friendly content. There is also the public-service broadcasters who are filling their broadcast-video-on-demand services with children’s content of high educational value as part of their public-service remit.

But Netflix have taken this concept in to the mainstream with Black Mirror Bandersnatch which is a sci-fi “time-travel” program about creating a video game in the 1980s. It uses an interactive metaphor that is based on the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books but could be also seen as something similar to some interactive films or adventure games released through the 1980s and 1990s.

With these two titles, they have taken the video-on-demand concept further by linking it to interactive video. It is facilitated by streaming alternate video content under the user’s control rather than loading it from local storage whether it’s an optical disc of some sort or a computer’s local file system.

User-experience problems and inconsistencies

Netflix still faces problems with how their interactive-video efforts work with the different client-side setups that their users use. What is being highlighted is that some of their platforms and viewing setups won’t play this interactive content properly and is underscored most with popular setups involving the large-screen TV. For example, the popular Apple TV device, whether through its interface or as an AirPlay target for an iOS device, doesn’t handle these titles as doesn’t the Chromecast device or the Windows Netflix app.

This is a key issue regarding interactive video because video content has always been conducive towards viewing on a large-screen TV, especially in a “lean-back” manner.

Some titles like Puss N Boots do resolve to running as a traditional linear experience if the viewing setup doesn’t support interactivity whereas others just won’t play at all.

Netflix will have to answer this problem by updating the client software for tvOS, Windows 10, Chromecast and other platforms to cater towards interactivity. Some articles even raised issues like multiple buffering for interactive titles especially where the devices don’t have much in the way of RAM or storage.

Privacy issues associated with interactive content

The technology press are raising concerns about the issue of end-user privacy when users engage with interactive content. It is although the responses are encrypted using SSL encryption technology used to make Websites secure.

In the Black Mirror Bandersnatch application, the user interactivity would be considered to be benign with “The Register” seeing it like whether one liked Thompson Twins or the contents of a “Now That’s What I Call Music” compilation album. But the interactivity in a subsequent title could be seen as a way to identify factors such as a householder’s political affiliations for example.

If an interactive-video platform is being used to gather user preferences, there needs to be a user-privacy and data security framework concerning this activity. For example, any data to be collected has to be anonymised so it doesn’t point to particular households.

Taking it further

Different genres

Netflix is intending to take the interactive concept towards other genres like history, adventure and romance especially by making this kind of content targeted towards adults. This will lead towards a way to legitimise interactive video content and cause the screen arts community to explore it further.

This could be achieved through modelling the interactive titles on various point-and-click graphic adventure games that existed through the 1980s and 1990s and working these concepts harder.

As well, it has to be realised that non-fiction content like documentaries can benefit heavily from interactive video. For example, viewers could work through one of these shows but choose to see more detail on something they are curious about, whether as a slideshow, animation or full-motion video. Similarly, a non-fiction title can give viewers the know-how and opportunity to follow a call-of-action relevant to the title at any point during the viewing session.

Different approaches

Most likely, interactive video will be underscored in the form of  a multiple-choice storyline where certain options affect how the content evolves.

But it can also be in the form of a traditional linear storyline that has the ability to “telescope” at particular points. This is where viewers have the option to view a more-detailed version of a concept that is a point in the storyline, whether as video, animation or on-screen text. It can also extend to a 360-degree video-tour of a space relevant to the storyline where the viewer can use their remote control to navigate that space and, perhaps, see explanations about particular details. It is more so with remote controls that implement trackpads or gyroscopic sensors.

In some cases, you could integrate a “mini-game” or programmatic simulation within the title that the user can play if they so wish. An example of how this could take place could be a crime drama based on the Dick Francis novels that are set within the murky world of horseracing and betting. In this case, there could be the option to emulate one or more betting scenarios concerning one of the subject horse races or see comparative “market odds” for a race before and after a situation highlighted within the drama’s storyline.

This kind of approach may require the use of computing power within the client device or the server to perform any necessary calculations. Here, it may depend on how powerful the client device is and what is being expected for the necessary calculations.

Interactivity as an option

One thing that needs to be thought of as interactive video catches on is the concept of offering “interactivity as an option”.

This is where the content is run in a linear fashion following a known storyline from beginning to end in order to satisfy group-viewing scenarios, viewing setups that don’t support interactivity or simply where you just want to simply relax and view. It may also allow critics to get the essence of the content to make a fair judgement on what the content’s baseline is about.

But it has to allow the user to enable an interactive-viewing mode to allow the individual viewer to benefit from the interactivity.

Taking the interactive TV concept to other VOD platforms

As well, other video-on-demand platforms will want to explore interactive TV as part of their operating software so they can work towards creating their own interactive content. Here, it could be achieved through an operator offering a white-label interactivity solution that other video-on-demand platforms could implement.

Then there is also the issue of having end-user setups work properly with interactive-TV abilities. Here, it will require the software on all of the platforms especially the popular “big-screen” ones, that facilitates the end-user experience whether as a Web-page or a native app to work tightly with these experiences. It also includes operational setups that are used to “point” a regular computer’s or mobile device’s screen to the big screen such as a hard-wired connection, AirPlay or Chromecast.

One of the video-on-demand providers or a third party may decide to approach this situation by offering a “white-box” interactive-TV solution with software libraries for playout and end-user applications. This approach can then speed up the deployment of an interactive-video experience within a video-on-demand service, especially if the service provider is a broadcast video-on-demand type or one that targets niche audiences.

Conclusion

By issuing Black Mirror Bandersnatch as an interactive video title, Netflix is putting forward a strong case for taking interactive video content in to the mainstream. But they will need to work harder to make this new content type work properly for everyone.

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USB 4.0 is to arrive as a local-connection standard

Articles

Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port on Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook

Thunderbolt 3 like on this Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 paves the way for USB 4

USB 4.0 to adopt Thunderbolt 3 with 40Gbps data transfer speeds | NeoWin

With USB 4, Thunderbolt and USB will converge | TechCrunch

USB 4 Debuts With Twice the Throughput and Thunderbolt 3 Support | Tom’s Hardware

From the horse’s mouth

USB Implementers’ Forum

USB Promoter Group Announces USB4 Specification (Press Release – PDF)

Intel

Intel Takes Steps To Enable Thunderbolt 3 Everywhere – Releases Protocol (Press Release)

My Comments

Intel and the ISB Implementer’s Forum have worked together towards the USB 4.0 specification. This will be primarily about an increased bandwidth version of USB that will also bake in Thunderbolt 3 technology for further-increased throughput.

USB 4.0 will offer twice the bandwidth of USB 3.1 thanks to more “data lanes”. This will lead to 40Gb throughput along the line. It will use the USB Type-C connector and will take a very similar approach to the USB 3.0 standard which relied on the older USB connection types like USB-A, where a “best-case” situation takes place regarding bandwidth but allowing for backward compatibility. There will also be the requirement to use higher-performance cables rated for this standard when connecting your host system to a peripheral device using this standard.

Opening up Thunderbolt 3

Intel is opening up Thunderbolt 3 with a royalty-free non-exclusive licensing regime. It is in addition to baking the Thunderbolt 3 circuitry in to their standard system-on-chip designs rather than requiring a particular “Alpine Ridge” interface chip to be used by both the host and peripheral. This will open up Thunderbolt 3 towards interface chipset designers and the like including the possibility of computing applications based on AMD or ARM-microarchitecture silicon to benefit from this technology.

This effort can make Thunderbolt-3-equipped computers and peripherals more affordable and can open this standard towards newer use cases. For example, handheld games consoles, mobile-platform tablets or ultraportable “Always Connected” laptops could benefit from features like external graphics moduies. It may also benefit people who build their own computer systems such as “gaming rigs” by allowing Thunderbolt 3 to appear in affordable high-performance motherboards and expansion cards, including “pure-retrofit” cards that aren’t dependent on any other particular circuitry on the motherboard.

It is also about integrating the Thunderbolt specification in to the USB 4 specification as a “superhighway” option rather than calling it a separate feature. As well, Thunderbolt 3 and the USB 4 specification can be the subject of increased innovation and cost-effective hardware.

Where to initially

Initially I would see USB 4.0 appear in “system-expansion” applications like docks or external-graphics modules, perhaps also in “direct-attached-storage” applications which are USB-connected high-performance hard-disk subsystems. Of course it will lead towards the possibility of a laptop, all-in-one or low-profile computer being connected to an “extended-functionality” module with dedicated high-performance graphics, space for hard disks or solid-state storage, perhaps an optical drive amongst other things.

Another use case that would be highlighted is virtual reality and augmented reality where you are dealing with headsets that have many sensors and integrated display and audio technology. They would typically be hooked up to computer devices including devices the size of the early-generation Walkman cassette players that you wear on you or even the size of a smartphone. It is more so with the rise of ultra-small “next-unit-of-computing” devices which pack typically desktop computer power in a highly-compact housing.

Of course, this technology will roll out initially as a product differentiator for newer premium equipment that will be preferred by those wanting “cutting-edge” technology. Then it will appear to a wider usage base as more chipsets with this technology appear and are turned out in quantity.

Expect the USB 4.0 standard to be seen as evolutionary as more data moves quickly along these lines.

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The MicroSD card undergoes evolutionary changes

Articles

1TB microSD cards will boost the storage of your device, if you can afford it | TechRadar

From the horse’s mouth

SD Association

microSD Express – The Fastest Memory Card For Mobile Devices (PDF – Press Release)

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

The microSD card which is used as a removeable storage option in most “open-frame” smartphones and tablets and increasingly being used in laptops has gained two significant improvements at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The first of these improvements is the launching of microSD cards that can store 1 terabyte of data. Micron pitched the first of these devices while SanDisk, owned by Western Digital and also a strong player with the SD Card format, offered their 1Tb microSD card which is the fastest microSDXC card at this capacity.

The new SD Express card specification, part of the SD 7.1 Specification, provides a “best-case high-throughput” connection based on the same interface technology used in a regular computer for fixed storage or expansion cards. The microSD Express variant which is the second improvement launched at this same show takes the SD Express card specification to the microSD card size.

The SD Express specification, now applying to the microSD card size, achieves a level of backward compatibility for host devices implementing orthodox SD-card interfaces. This is achieved through a set of electrical contacts on the card for PCI Express and NVMe interfaces along with the legacy SD Card contacts, with the interfacing to the storage silicon taking place in the card.

As well, there isn’t the need to create a specific host-interface chipset for SD card use if the application is to expressly use this technology and it still has the easy upgradeability associated with the SD card. But most SD Express applications will also have the SD card interface chipset to support the SD cards that are in circulation.

This will lead to the idea of fast high-capacity compact removeable solid-state storage for a wide range of computing applications especially where size matters. This doesn’t matter whether the finished product has a smaller volume or to have a higher effective circuit density leading to more functionality within the same physical “box”.

One use case that was pitched is the idea of laptops or tablets, especially ultraportable designs, implementing this technology as a primary storage. Here, the microSD Express cards don’t take up the same space as the traditional SATA or M2 solid-state storage devices. There is also the ability for users to easily upsize their computers’ storage capacity to suit their current needs, especially if they bought the cheapest model with the lowest amount of storage.

Photography and videography will be another key use case especially when the images or footage being taken are of a 4K UHDTV or higher resolution and/or have high dynamic range. It will also be of benefit for highly-compact camera applications like “GoPro-style” action cams or drone-mount cameras. It will also benefit advanced photography and videography applications like 360-degree videos.

Another strong use case that is being pitched is virtual-reality and augmented-reality technology where there will be the dependence on computing power within a headset are a small lightweight pack attached to the headset. Here, the idea would be to have the headset and any accessories able to be comfortably worn by the end-user while they engage in virtual-reality.

Some of the press coverage talked about use of a 1Tb SD card in a Nintendo Switch handheld games console and described it as being fanciful for that particular console. But this technology could have appeal for newer-generation handheld games consoles especially where these consoles are used for epic-grade games.

Another interesting use case would be automotive applications, whether on an OEM basis supplied by the vehicle builder or an aftermarket basis installed by the vehicle owner. This could range from a large quantity of high-quality audio content available to use, large mapping areas or support for many apps and their data.

The microSD card improvements will be at the “early-adopter” stage where they will be very expensive and have limited appeal. As well, there may need to be a few bugs ironed out regarding their design or implementation while other SD-card manufacturers come on board and offer more of these cards.

At the moment, there aren’t the devices or SD card adaptors that take advantage of SD Express technology but this will have to happen as new silicon and finished devices come on to the scene. USB adaptors that support SD Express would need to have the same kind of circuitry as a portable hard drive along with USB 3.1 or USB Type-C technology to support “best case” operation with existing host devices.

This technology could become a game-changer for removeable or semi-removeable storage media applications across a range of portable computing devices.

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Mopria driver-free printing now arrives at Windows 10

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Brother HL-L3230CDS colour LED printer

Windows 10 users can print to these printers using a Mopria class driver baked in to the operating system

Mopria Alliance

Press Release (PDF)

Fact Sheet

Previous Coverage on driver-free printing

What is happening with driver-free printing

My Comments

There are sure steps being taken to print fully-formatted documents from a computing device without the need for driver or companion software to be installed by the user.

It is to allow a person to print a document like a boarding pass using the printer local to them without worrying about make or model it is in order to install any drivers. This effort has been focused towards mobile platforms like iOS and Android thanks to the inherently-portable nature of devices that run these operating systems. But there are other use cases like dedicated-function devices such as set-top boxes or accessible-computing scenarios where you use specially-designed hardware for people with particular challenges.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel

No need to find and install drivers for that printer you have to use with the Windows 10 laptop

But it can apply to regular computers, especially laptops that are likely to be taken from place to place. Apple facilitated this through integrating AirPrint in to the Macintosh platform since MacOS X 10.7 Lion so you can print to an AirPrint-compliant printer without needing to install drivers on your Mac computer.

Now Microsoft is using the Mopria Alliance technology to enable this kind of driver-free printing from Windows 10. This is facilitated through a class driver baked in to the operating system since the October 2018 feature update (Build 1809). The class driver is offered as an option of last resort if Windows 10 cannot find the device driver for a newly-installed printer through existence on the host computer or through Windows Update.

You can still install and update vendor-supplied driver software for your printer, something you would need to do if you want to exploit the scanner abilities on your multifunction printer or use advanced monitoring and quality-control abilities that the manufacturer offers. It would work if you are in a foreign place like your business partner’s office and you needed to print out a document “there and then”.

In the case of managed-IT scenarios, the Mopria approach avoids the need for inhouse or contracted IT personnel to install drivers on the computer equipment they are managing to have it work with a particular printer. It also applies to task-specific Windows 10 builds where you want to have the minimum amount of software on the device yet allow for printing. As well, creating a standard operating environment or a dedicated-function device based on Windows 10 code like a point-of-sale system can be made easier especially where you want flexibility regarding the printer equipment you deploy or your end-users end up using.

I would like to see Microsoft improve on this by having a standalone Mopria class driver available for prior versions of Windows and ready to download from their download sites. This is especially useful for organisations who maintain task-specific standard-operating-environments or devices based around these earlier operating systems.

What is happening is the idea of driver-free printing is being seen as a reality especially for mobile computing scenarios and all the popular operating environments are coming to the party.

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Microsoft runs a Super Bowl ad about inclusive gaming

Article

Microsoft’s moving Xbox ad was the best thing about the Super Bowl | CNet

Microsoft Super Bowl Ad video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

In the USA, the Super Bowl football match isn’t just the final NFL football match of the season. It is a TV-viewing experience that encompasses the half-time show and a showcase of highly-polished commercials along with the football game. Here. you enjoy this with your friends while digging those chips in to some fabulous dips or chomping on those chicken wings and drinking plenty of beer or soda (soft drink).

One of the ads that was ran during this showcase was to promote Microsoft’s XBox Adaptive Controller. This is a game controller specifically designed for children and adults who have mobility or dexterity limitations and is about having these children being able to play video games with the XBox console or Windows-based computer. It is also designed to accept a range of assistive devices as user-input devices thanks to various standard connections like dry-contact switches or USB analogue joysticks.

The software supplied with Windows 10 or XBox One also allows accessory controllers that are connected to this device along with this device’s buttons to be “mapped” to particular functions, leading to the most custom gaming experience. Even the packaging is designed to allow people with limited mobility or dexterity to open up the box, something that works well when these controllers are given as a gift for an occasion.

The CNet article called out the ad as going against the grain of sports and video-gaming cultures where people who don’t fit the expected mould of a participant i.e. the young male able-bodied person are effectively shut out. The fact that it was shown during America’s big sporting event of the year hammered this concept home regarding opening up video and computer gaming to more classes of people.

It also goes along with Microsoft’s “open-frame” approach to computing and gaming which allows the creation of games and applications for Windows 10 and the XBox One games console. This can also allow the development of therapy-focused games that can help people with special needs or undergoing particular therapies, and underscores the idea of using this kind of technology in a therapeutic role.

It also shows that computer and video gaming can be part of the course for people who have limitations affecting their mobility or dexterity through the use of assistive technology that is accepted by others who are more able.

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Are we at an era where the smartphone is the new “idiot box”?

The TV era TV, VHS videocassette recorder and rented video movies

From the late 1960s through to the 2000s, the television was seen by some people as a time-waster. This was aggravated through increasingly-affordable sets, the existence of 24-hour programming, a gradually-increasing number of TV channels competing for viewership, remote controls and private broadcasters including many-channel pay-TV services.

It led to an increasing number of users concerned about various idle and unhealthy TV-viewing practices. Situations that were often called out included people dwelling on poor-quality content offered on commercial free-to-air or pay-TV channels such as daytime TV;  people loafing on the couch with the remote control in their hand as they idly change channels for something to watch, known as “flicking” or channel-surfing; along with parents using the TV as an “electronic babysitter” for their children.

Even technologies like videocassette recorders or video games consoles didn’t improve things as far as the critics were concerned. One talking point raised during the early 1990s was the ubiquity and accessibility of violent video content through local video stores with this leading to imitative behaviour.

We even ended up with the TV set being referred to as an “idiot box”, “boob tube” or similar names; or people who spend a lot of time watching TV idly having “square eyes” or being “couch potatoes”. Some people even stood for “TV-free” spaces and times to encourage meaningful activity such as for example not having a set installed at a weekender home.

There was even some wellness campaigns that were tackling unhealthy TV viewing. One of these was the “Life Be In It” campaign ran by the Australian governments during the late 1970s.  This campaign was centred around a series of animated TV “public-service-announcement” commercials (YouTube – example about walking) featuring a character called “Norm”, which showed different activities one could be engaging in rather than loafing in the armchair watching TV non-stop.

The rise of the personal computer, Internet and smartphones

The 1980s saw the rise of increasingly-affordable personal-computing power on the home or business desktop with these computers gaining increasing abilities over the years. With this was the rise of games written for these computers including some “time-waster” or “guilty-pleasure” games like Solitaire or the Leisure Suit Larry games.

During the late 1990s and the 2000s, the Internet came on board and gradually offered resources to the personal computer that can compete with the TV. This was brought about with many interesting Websites coming online with some of these sites running participant forums of some form. It also had us own our own email address as a private electronic communications channel.

Also, by the mod 1990s, most Western countries had implemented deregulated competitive telecommunications markets and one of these benefits was mobile telephony service that was affordable for most people. It also led to us being able to maintain their own mobile telephone service and number, which also lead to each one of us effectively having our own private connection. This is rather than us sharing a common connection like a landline telephone number ringing a telephone installed in a common area like a kitchen or living room.

The smartphone and tablet era

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

The smartphone is now being seen as the “new TV”

But since the late 2000s the Internet started to head down towards taking the place of TV as a centre of idle activity. This was driven through the existence of YouTube, instant messaging and social media, along with increasingly-portable computing devices especially highly-pocketable smartphones and tablets or small laptops able to be stuffed in to most right-sized hand luggage, alongside high-speed Internet service available through highly-affordable mobile-broadband services or ubiquitous Wi-Fi networks.

Issues that were underscored included people looking at their phones all day and all night to check their Facehook activity, watching YouTube clips or playing games and not talking with each other; smartphone anxiety where you have to have your phone with you at all times including bringing it to the dinner table, and the vanity associated with the social-media selfie culture. Sometimes browsing the Social Web including YouTube ended up being seen as today’s equivalent of watching the low-grade TV offerings from a private TV broadcaster. Let’s not forget how many of us have played “Candy Crush Saga” or “Angry Birds” on our smartphones as a guilty pleasure.

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

Or the iPad being used to browse around the Social Web and watch YouTube

This issue has come to the fore over the last few years with concepts like “digital detoxification”, an interest in Internet-free mobile-phone devices including “one-more-time” takes on late-90s / early-2000s mobile-phone designs, mobile operating systems having functionality that identifies what you are spending your time on heavily, amongst other things.

Educators are even regarding the time spent using a computing device for entertainment as the equivalent of idly watching TV entertainment and make a reference to this time as “screen time”. This is more so in the context of how our children use computing devices like tablets or smartphones.

Recently, France and the Australian State of Victoria have passed regulations to prohibit the use of smartphones by schoolchildren in government-run schools with the former proscribing it in primary and early-secondary (middle or junior high) levels; and the latter for primary and all secondary levels.

Even smartphone manufacturers have found that the technology has hit a peak with people not being interested in the latest smartphones due to them not being associated with today’s equivalent of idle TV watching. This may lead to them taking a more evolutionary approach towards smartphone design rather than heavily investing in ewer products.

What it has come down to

How I see all of this is the existence of an evolutionary cycle affecting particular forms of mass media and entertainment. It is especially where the media form allows for inanity thanks to the lack of friction involved in providing or consuming this kind of entertainment. As well, the ability for the producer, distributor or user to easily “shape” the content to make a “fairy-tale” existence where the “grass is always greener” or to pander to our base instincts can expose a media platform to question and criticism.

In some cases, there is an ethereal goal in some quarters to see the primary use of media and communications for productive or educational purposes especially of a challenging nature rather than for entertainment. It also includes reworking the time we spend on entertainment or casual communications towards something more meaningful. But we still see the lightweight entertainment and conversation more as a way to break boredom.

UPDATE: I have inserted details about France and Australia banning smartphones in schools especially in relationship to the smartphone ban announced by the Victorian State Government on 26 June 2019.

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Mercedes-Benz to offer vehicle options like add-on computer software

Article

Android Auto in Chevrolet Malibu dashboard courtesy of © General Motors (Chevrolet)

Vehicle infotainment options could be delivered like computer software rather than a special vehicle order at time of purchase

Mercedes wants to treat certain vehicle options like video game DLC | CNet

My Comments

An issue that will become a key trend for how new cars are sold is the supply of options like navigation, smartphone integration or advanced broadcast-radio technology like DAB+ or HD Radio at the time of purchase or after the fact/

Typical realities that come about include when a vehicle changes hands and the new owner wants to add on newer technology; the fact that the existence of some newer features on an older vehicle may raise its resale value; along with “ready-to-go” vehicles existing at a particular dealership such as one in an outer-urban location not being kitted out with a particular option leading to customers who want these options to order a suitably-equipped vehicle from the factory.

But Mercedes-Benz has taken the “software-defined” approach to this situation to allow options to be delivered as if you are downloading an app for your smartphone from the app store. Most of it is facilitated through things like the broadcast-radio tuner in the car radio being a software-defined receiver for example.

It will also appeal as a cost-effective approach towards updating data associated with particular functions like maps that are part of a navigation system or Gracenote music-recognition data for a CD player. It could also appeal as a way to make a newer option available across the manufacturer’s car fleet even after the vehicle is on the road, such as something that is required as part of compliance with newer expectations.

The vehicle will have to be connected to an Internet connection and be based on the Mercedes.me platform to allow users to buy and implement these updates. There may be some options that will require the installation of hardware like, for example, an optical-disc player in a vehicle that didn’t come with one so you can play CDs.

Like with the CD changers that were offered as an option during the 1990s, these features may command a higher premium that something offered through the independent aftermarket. There may also be issues about what is available in a particular country, something that can be of concern for expats that ship their vehicle with them or areas like Europe where one can head to another country by road or a short affordable ferry trip.

I do see this as a trend for vehicle builders that invest in their infotainment systems to implement software-based option delivery for existing and newer vehicles. It may also be a way for mature drivers to acquire newer infotainment functionality without going down the path associated with the “four-wheeled ghetto blaster” often associated with young men who trick out their cars.

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USB-C Audio modes–something worth understanding for this new connector

Articles

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

There needs to be some work to make USB-C a worthwhile replacement for the 3.5mm audio jack on a smartphone

What you need to know about USB-C audio | Android Authority

My Comments

At the moment, the USB-C audio application case isn’t being implemented consistently across all mobile devices that rely solely on that connection form.

There are two operating modes – a “passive” accessory mode which creates inbound and outbound analogue audio paths as if it is a 3.5mm audio jack, and an “active” mode which uses USB Audio device classes and outboard digital-analogue audio circuitry to create the sound to be heard via the accessory.

Passive setups

The former passive setup is primarily exploited by USB-C jack adaptors and basic headset implementations, especially “earbud-style” headsets. Here, the host device which is typically the smartphone or tablet would use an onboard audio chipset to convert the sound between an analogue and digital representation.

If there is some form of remote control, a basic implementation may be in the form of a single button that starts and stops media or answers and ends calls. On the other hand, if the USB Human Interface Device specifications are implemented properly in mobile operating systems, it may allow for a device to support advanced multifunction remote control.

At the moment, it may be a case of trial-and-error to find out if a USB-C Audio passive-mode headset or adaptor will work across USB-C-equipped regular computers. So for, to my knowledge, recent iterations of the Apple MacBook lineup of laptops that use this connection will provide some support for this setup.

Active setups

The latter active setup would be targeted at premium or audiophile applications such as highly-strung USB digital-analogue adaptors, noise-cancelling headsets or headsets with highly-strung digital-analogue circuitry. In some cases, this setup may also support accessory devices that implement multiple-microphone arrays.

It may also apply to wired setups involving home or car audio equipment. In this case, one would be thinking of this kind of equipment providing digital-analogue interface, power to the host device and remote-control / accessory-display abilities.

Here, they have to fully implement the USB Audio Device Class 3 peripheral class as expected in the “textbook”. As well, iOS and Android need to provide a native class driver for this device class and implement its code as expected for a mobile device which will do communications and / or multimedia. This would mean that microphones have to be used as an audio endpoint for communications purposes including regular telephony as well as for multimedia purposes. It may be a non-issue with regular computers running the Windows or MacOS desktop operating systems where it is easier for the operating system or application software to “purpose” an audio endpoint.

USB Audio Device Class 3 provides inherent support for audio-processing so accessory manufacturers don’t need to reinvent the wheel by creating their own software to implement any sort of sound processing. As well, Android and iOS need to support the inclusion of audio-processing logic in the inbound or outbound audio-signal paths in a purpose-specific manner.

Power and connectivity

There will be power and connectivity issues raised for both implementations of the USB-C Audio application. Active devices will need to draw power from the host unless they have their own battery. But with proper implementation of USB-C Power Delivery, it could allow a USB-C Audio accessory with a very high capacity battery to provide power to the host smartphone.

The passive setup wouldn’t work properly with USB-C hubs or devices that have this function unless it is assured that the hub will assure a proper clean electrical connection between the host and the accessory.

Remote control and accessory display

Another issue yet to be raised is implementation of USB Human-Interface-Device Classes and Usage Tables when it comes to using a USB-C accessory as a control surface for the host. The key issue here is whether there is proper operating-system support especially in the mobile operating systems. In the same context, there will be a market requirement for the accessory device to be able to view host-device-held lists like call lists, message lists and track lists.

The functions considered relevant to this usage case would be sound volume and transport control (play / pause / next track / previous track / etc) for multimedia; and caller volume, microphone mute and call control for communications. Accessory-based display would also need to be factored in with USB-C audio adaptors and in-line remote-control modules which implement an LCD or OLED display.

There may be use cases where multiple remote control devices are used in the same setup, typically to offer complementary functionality. Examples of this may include a USB headset with elementary remote-control for volume and a single-button control for multimedia “start-stop” or call “answer-end” functionality; along with a display-equipped inline remote control which allows for track navigation or advanced call-control.

Broadcast-radio reception

There will also be an issue regarding use of the USB-C cable as an aerial (antenna) for broadcast-radio reception whether the tuner is built in to the smartphone or the accessory. It is because of a long-standing design factor for Walkman-type radios with separate headphones where the headphone cord served as the radio’s aerial. Similarly single-piece headphone-based personal radios implemented the headband as their aerial.

It also extends to the ability for mobile operating systems to control broadcast-radio tuners integrated within smartphones or accessories to the fullest extent possible. This would include preset-station management, “follow-this-station” operation for stations appearing at other broadcast locations, graphical identifiers amongst other things.

Conclusion

If the smartphone and audio-accessory industry wants us to think of using the USB-C connector as the point to connect all peripherals, they need iOS and Android to have full native USB Audio Device Class 3 support including support for advanced-audio modes. As well, the operating systems need to have USB Human Interface Device class support for remote-control and accessory display abilities. Similarly, there would have to be proper support for broadcast-radio operation with USB-C-based mobile-device setups.

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The NAS as an on-premises edge-computing device for cloud services

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS – units like this could become a capable edge-computing device

The high-end network-attached storage system is a device able to augment the cloud computing trend in various forms. This is by becoming a local “edge processor” for the cloud-computing ecosystem and handling the data that is created or used by end-users local to it.

High-end network-attached-storage systems

We are seeing the rise of network-attached-storage subsystems that are capable of running as computers in their own right. These are typically high-end consumer or small-business devices offered by the likes of QNAP, Synology or NETGEAR ReadyNAS that have a large app store or software-developer community.

The desktop variants would be the size ranging form half a loaf of bread to a full bread loaf, with some rack-mounted units about the size of one or two pizza boxes.This is compared to servers that were the size of a traditional tower computer.

But some of the apps work alongside public cloud-driven online services as a client or “on-ramp” between these services and your local network. A typical use case is to synchronise files held on an online storage service with the local storage on the NAS unit.

These high-end network-attached-storage devices are effectively desktop computers in their own right, with some of them using silicon that wouldn’t look out of place with a traditional desktop computer. Some of these machines even support a “local console” with a display connection and USB connections that support keyboards and mice.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing takes an online-service approach to computing needs and, in a lot of cases, uses multiple computers in multiple data centres to perform the same computing task. This is typically to host the data in or close to the end-user’s country or to provide a level of scalability and fault-tolerance in the online service approach.

Lot 3 Ripponlea café

A cafe like this could benefit from big-business technology without paying a king’s ransom thanks to cloud computing

Small businesses are showing an interest in cloud-driven computing solutions as a way to come on board with the same things as the “big end of town” without paying a king’s ransom for hardware necessary for an on-premises computing solution. In some cases, it is also about using different endpoint types like mobile-platform tablets for daily use or as a management tool, underscoring such concepts as low cost or portability that some endpoints may offer.

Typically, this kind of computing is offered “as a service” where you subscribe to the service on a regular, usually monthly or annual, basis rather than you spending big on capital expenses to get it going.

But, due to its nature as an always-online service, cloud computing can cause reliability and service-availability issues if the Internet connection isn’t reliable or the service ends up being oversubscribed. This can range from real-time services suffering latency towards a cloud-computing experience becoming unresponsive or unavailable.

Then there is the issue of privacy, data security, service continuity and data sovereignty which can crop up if you change to a different service or the service you use collapses or changes hands. It can easily happen while cloud-computing faces points of reckoning and the industry goes in to consolidation.

Edge computing

But trends that are being investigated in relationship to the “Internet Of Things” and “Big Data” are the concepts  of “edge” and “fog” computing. It is based around the idea of computing devices local to the source or sink of the data that work with the locally-generated or locally-used data as part of submitting it to or fetching it from the cloud network.

It may allow a level of fault-tolerance for applications that demand high availability or permit scalability at the local level for the cloud-computing application. Some systems may even allow for packaging locally-used data in a locally-relevant form such as for online games to support local tournaments or an online movie service to provide a local storage of what is popular in the neighbourhood.

The ideas associated with “edge” and “fog” computing allow for the use of lightweight computer systems to do the localised or distributed processing, effectively aggregating these systems in to what is effectively a heavyweight computer system. It has been brought about with various early distributed-computing projects like SETI and Folding@Home to use personal computers to solve scientific problems.

What is serving the edge-computing needs

Qarnot Q.Rad press image courtesy of Qarnot

This Qarnot Q.Rad heater is actually a computer that is part of edge computing

Some applications like drones are using the on-device processing to do the local workload. Or we are seeing the likes of Qarnot developing edge-computing servers that heat your room or hot water with the waste heat these computing devices produce.  But Amazon and QNAP are working on an approach to use a small-office NAS as an edge-computing device especially for Internet-Of-Things applications.

The NAS serving this role

Here, it is about making use of these ubiquitous and commonly-available NAS units for this purpose as well as storing and serving data that a network needs. In some cases, it can be about the local processing and storing of this locally-generated / locally-used data then integrating the data with what is available on the cloud “backbone”.

For some applications, it could be about keeping enough data for local needs on the NAS to assure high availability. Or it could be about providing scalability by allowing the NAS to do some of the cloud workload associated with the locally-generated data before submitting it to the cloud.

Netgear ReadyNAS

The NETGEAR ReadyNAS on the right is an example of a NAS that is capable of being an edge-computing node

This may be of importance with IT systems that are moving from a totally on-premises approach towards the use of cloud-computing infrastructure with data being stored or processed online. It is where the focus of the cloud infrastructure is to make business-wide data available across a multi-site business or to provide “portable access” to business data. Here, a NAS could simply be equipped with the necessary software to be a smart “on-ramp” for this data.

For small and medium businesses who are moving towards multiple locations such as when a successful business buys another business in another area to increase their footprint, this technology may have some appeal. Here, it could be about doing some pre-processing for data local to the premises before submitting to the cloud as part of an online management-information-system for that small effort.  As well, it could be about keeping the business-wide data “in-sync” across the multiple locations, something that may be important with price lists or business-wide ledgers.

This kind of approach works well with the high-end NAS units if these units’ operating platforms allow third-party software developers to write software for these devices. It can then open up the possibilities for hybrid and “edge” computing applications that involve these devices and the network connectivity and on-device storage that they have.

Conclusion

What needs to happen is that the high-end network-attached-storage systems of the Synology or QNAP kind need to be considered as a hardware base for localised “edge computing” in an online “cloud-computing” setup.

This can be facilitated by the vendors inciting software development in this kind of context and encouraging people involved in online and cloud computing to support this goal especially for small-business computing.

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European Union’s data security actions come closer

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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

The European Union will make steps towards a secure-by-design approach for hardware, software and services

EU Cybersecurity Act Agreed – “Traffic Light” Labelling Creeps Closer | Computer Business Review

Smarthome: EU führt Sicherheitszertifikate für vernetzte Geräte ein | Computer Bild (German Language / Deutschen Sprache)

From the horse’s mouth

European Commission

EU negotiators agree on strengthening Europe’s cybersecurity (Press Release)

My Comments

After the GDPR effort for data protection and end-user privacy with our online life, the European Union want to take further action regarding data security. But this time it is about achieving a “secure by design” approach for connected devices, software and online services.

This is driven by the recent Wannacry and NotPetya cyberattacks and is being achieved through the Cybersecurity Act which is being passed through the European Parliament. It follows after the German Federal Government’s effort to specify a design standard for routers that we use as the network-Internet “edge” for our home networks.

There will be a wider remit for EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENSA) concerning cybersecurity issues that affect the European Union. But the key issue here is to have a European-Union-based framework for cybersecurity certification, which will affect online services and consumer devices with this certification valid through the EU. It is an internal-market legislation that affects the security of connected products including the Internet Of Things, as well as critical infrastructure and online services.

The certification framework will be about having the products being “secure-by-design” which is an analogy to a similar concept in building and urban design where there is a goal to harden a development or neighbourhood against crime as part of the design process. In the IT case, this involves using various logic processes and cyberdefences to make it harder to penetrate computer networks, endpoints and data.

It will also be about making it easier for people and businesses to choose equipment and services that are secure. The computer press were making an analogy to the “traffic-light” coding on food and drink packaging to encourage customers to choose healthier options.

-VP Andrus Ansip (Digital Single Market) – “In the digital environment, people as well as companies need to feel secure; it is the only way for them to take full advantage of Europe’s digital economy. Trust and security are fundamental for our Digital Single Market to work properly. This evening’s agreement on comprehensive certification for cybersecurity products and a stronger EU Cybersecurity Agency is another step on the path to its completion.”

What the European Union are doing could have implications beyond the European Economic Area. Here, the push for a “secure-by-design” approach could make things easier for people and organisations in and beyond that area to choose IT hardware, software and services satisfying these expectations thanks to reference standards or customer-facing indications that show compliance.

It will also raise the game towards higher data-security standards from hardware, software and services providers especially in the Internet-of-Things and network-infrastructure-device product classes.

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