Mobile Computing Archive

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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40 years of being wired for sound with the personal soundtrack

Article

Sony holds 40th anniversary event for iconic Walkman music player | Japan Today

From the horse’s mouth

Sony

Walkman 40th Anniversary video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

Since the middle of 1979, there came a new way of listening to our favourite music while on the move.

This was brought about by Sony where its founder and CEO wanted a way to listen to music held on cassette tape through a highly-compact stereo cassette player that is connected to a pair of headphones. The production device that came about whose model number was TPS-L2 was based on one of Sony’s best handheld notetaker-grade cassette recorders of the time but played music in stereo through a set of headphones. In some markets it was known as the “Stowaway” or the “Soundabout” but Sony changed the product class’s name to “Walkman”.

This tape player opened up a product class based around a highly-portable stereo cassette player or radio that worked with a pair of lightweight headphones. As more of these devices came on the market, there was a huge rush to improve on their design for portability, sound quality, functionality, and affordability and they became the thing to have during the 1980s. A classic example of this was the Sony Walkman II (WM-2) which was about the size of two cassettes in their cases placed back to back.

Using these devices underscored the idea of a “personal soundtrack” that you enjoyed while you were on the move, whether it was your favourite broadcaster or one of your favourite tapes as you shut out what you didn’t want to hear. Most of these units were so lightweight that you could end up walking, jogging or running for a significant distance without them weighing you down, with this idea encouraging an increase in an interest towards physical exercise. On the other hand, travellers or those of us who had to go to hospital would take a Walkman and a collection of tapes with us to while away the time.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth wireless headset

Today’s headsets like this JBL headset replace the headphones associated with the Walkmans

This is while you were able to hear your taped music in a manner where tape or playback faults could show up clearly. It encouraged the record labels to improve the quality of their pre-recorded “musicassette” offering with this manifesting in high-grade tape and higher-quality mass-duplication techniques for the cassettes. Examples of these include EMI’s XDR and CBS SuperSound cassettes.

Schools and parents worried about this device because it was a way for teenagers to shut out what they didn’t want to hear i.e. the lesson material or what the parents wanted them to do, then substitute it with the music that the kid preferred to listen to like the New Wave sounds of the era. As well, it brought about the expression of one being “wired for sound” when they continually used a Walkman device to listen to music, something highlighted in that 1980s Cliff Richard song “Wired For Sound” (Spotify).

With the CD came along the Discman which was a highly-portable CD player intended to he used as a Walkman but for a digital media source. There was also the DCC and MiniDisc Walkman products that used their own media kind. But these led towards file-based audio in the form of MP3 players like the Creative Nomad and Apple iPod family.

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

The smartphone is today’s equivalent of that Walkman

Eventually the role of the Walkman became part of the smartphone’s function set thanks to the Apple iPhone and some of the Symbian-based Nokia feature phones. You would be able to connect a headset to these phones which would be loaded with file-based audio content whether through tethered syncing with a companion app or through loading a memory card with these files. This is while it could be a navigation device, a communications device, a personal library or handheld games machine amongst many other things.

Along with this, the quality of lightweight easy-to-wear headphones improved over the years with factors like improved bass response. The different types of headphones came about such as active-noise-cancelling headphones and Bluetooth wireless headphones that removed the factor that destroyed many a set of Walkman headphones – broken wires. The headphones ended up being full-on headsets that allowed you to listen to music or make a phone conversation with the same device.

Over the past 40 years, the Walkman underscored the idea of the personal private soundtrack that you can enjoy anywhere using a small battery-operated music-playing device with a set of headphones.

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Google to provide wireless across-the-room data transfer to Android

Article

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

Google Fast Play could open up an improved point-to-point data transfer experience to Android smartphones

Google working on ‘Fast Share,’ Android Beam replacement and AirDrop competitor [Gallery] | 9To5Google.com

Fast Share is Google’s Android Beam replacement: Here’s what you should know | Android Authority

My Comments

Google is to provide as part of the Android platform a new “open-frame” point-to-point data-transfer solution. This solution, known as Fast Share, implements Bluetooth and peer-to-peer Wi-Fi to transfer text, pictures, Weblinks and other resources.

The Android platform had two different peer-to-peer data-transfer solutions previously. The first of these was the Bluetooth profile that was implemented by Symbian, Microsoft and others to transfer pictures, contact details and the like since the rise of the feature phone. The second of these was the Android Beam which used NFC “touch-and-go” as a discovery method and initially used Bluetooth but moved towards peer-to-peer Wi-Fi as a transfer method.

This was while Apple was using AirDrop across their ecosystem which included iPhones and iPads. In Apple’s true style, it was part of keeping as many users on the iOS platform and you couldn’t do things like transfer to other mobile or desktop platforms.

Google is intending to have Fast Share as part of their Play Services software package rather than being “baked in” to a particular version of the Android operating system. Here, Fast Share can be run with Android devices running older versions of the operating system which is a reality with a significant number of phones where the manufacturer won’t provide support for newer Android versions on particular models.

Advance images of this concept shown on the Web are underscoring a tentative plan to port it to their own ChromeOS and Apple’s iOS operating systems. If Microsoft and Apple are interested, it may be seen as a way for Windows or MacOS regular-computer users to share resources across the room on an ad-hoc basis. As well, Google could look at how Fast Share can be implemented in a “headless” form whether for sending or receiving the data.

You will have the ability to share file-based resources like photos, videos, PDFs or vCard-based contact-information files along with URLs pointing to Web-hosted resources or snippets of text. This will satisfy most usage requirements like sharing family snapshots, contact details or Weblinks.

There will be the option to give a sender “preferred visibility” status so they can discover your phone when you are near them. This status means that they will see your device if you aren’t running the Fast Share app. Of course, users can turn Fast Share on and off as required, preferably with the idea of turning it off when using the phone in a public place unless they expect to receive something. You also have the ability to decline or accept incoming files so you have some control over what you receive.

The core issue with Google Fast Share and similar point-to-point across-the-room file-transfer platforms is that they have to work in a truly cross-platform manner so you don’t have to worry whether your friend sitting in that armchair across from you is using an iPhone or Android device when you intend to send that photo to them or share your contact details.

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Lifestyle publishing heads towards the online trend

Lifehacker Website

Lifehacker – an example of the new direction in online-based lifestyle publishing

The online life has placed significant changes in the realm of “lifestyle publishing”.

What I would describe as “lifestyle publishing” are print or online publications that primarily cover lifestyle issues like living at and keeping our homes, parenting, personal health and personal / relationship issues. This kind of content is seen as being evergreen and relevant for a long time.

The classic “women’s magazines” maintained this role while running celebrity gossip and similar material. They existed in a position where they were available in the checkout lanes at supermarkets or at general/convenience stores and newsagents. As well, prior issues would exist in the waiting rooms at most medical practices and, of course, they would exist on many coffee tables as casual reading.

Some of these magazines even provide activities like crosswords and other puzzles or provide colouring-in pages and similar activities for children. This is to enhance the value of the magazine across the reader’s household. You may also find a few comic strips in the magazines as another content type.

They have been supported by various magazines that focus on particular topics like cookery, home improvement, parenting and health. It is also along with those salacious gossip magazines filled with lurid details of what the TV stars, the European royal families or other celebrities are up to.

Mamamia Website

… as is Mamamia

But, thanks to the smartphones and tablets, the direction for this kind of publishing has headed towards two major online paths. These devices have provided a portable and discreet means to consume this kind of material whether at home or out and about, in a similar way to how the e-book has been a boon to the romance novel and similar popular “guilty-pleasure” reading.

One of these are the independent blogs and small-time Websites, especially the “mum blogs”. These blogs appear on their own site or purely on a social-media platform like Facebook. People who follow the independent sites and blogs consider them authentic due to them representing the voice of the site’s or article’s author and their experiences.

MillieMummyMelbourne mum blog

… and “mum blogs” like MillieMummyMelbourne

The other fork in the road are the likes of Fusion Media Group and Pedestrian TV who maintain a large powerful blog/Website network with names like Lifehacker and Gizmodo. In this case, Fusion Media Group are franchising some of their mastheads in to other countries in a similar manner to what the Daily Mail and The Guardian are doing. It includes providing localised content for these markets as well as content that appeals across the world.

Another example of the other fork in the road is Mamamia who is becoming a powerful online “women’s magazine” focusing on what women really want. But this masthead is moving away from the traps associated with the salacious celebrity-gossip culture such as relying on imagery supplied by paparazzi photographers.

The online lifestyle publications don’t just provide content in the written form augmented with photos or other imagery. Increasingly these publications are providing audio podcasts or short videos in addition to the written content. Here, it is positioned as another way to present the same information that the site provides.

Lenovo Yoga Tab Android tablet

These mobile tablets play in to the hand of the online lifestyle publishers

Some of these online lifestyle-publishing mastheads are doing some things that aren’t really associated with the traditional women’s mags. One approach has been to review and compare different products that exist on the market and are relevant to their reader base.  This was a practice that was typically saved for car, boat, photo/audio/video and similar magazines or magazines offered by consumer-rights organisations.

But independent bloggers like the “mum blogs” are undertaking this role by reviewing or comparing household and similar goods. In some cases, the vendors supply the review samples of these goods, especially newer products, in order to have them put in the public consciousness.

There will be some continual questions raised about online lifestyle publishing.

One of these will be about monetising the content. This is more so where people are using social media, online content aggregators or email to follow the sites and read the latest content they offer.

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

.. as do the popular 2-in-1 convertible laptops like the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 range

This situation may affect the viability of on-site display advertising as a monetisation strategy. It is even though most of these publishers don’t have difficulty in creating family-friendly brand-safe content which can attract the advertisers to their Website.

One way this issue has been targeted is through the provision of sponsored content on these sites. The article or articles will have some input from a brand and be published with the brand’s identity appearing at various points in the article. This may also include the supply of goods and services at no cost to the blogger in exchange for them to write up a review about them like in the MillieMummyMelbourne blog regarding LEGO Duplo Stories with Amazon Alexa.

Some people see the existence of sponsored content or product reviews based on vendor-supplied samples as not being authentic. This is because they see the vendors or brand owners effectively steering the discussion regarding the goods or services being offered with the publishers extolling the advantages of these goods. This is something that has happened across lifestyle publishing in the traditional media with the use of advertorials within the magazines or infomercials being run during morning TV.

Another approach has been to run an online storefront that offers merchandise promoting the Website or designed by the author. It is more so where the author has the creative ability to design their own merchandise like clothing for example.

Another issue that will crop up is how to position online lifestyle publications in a manner to make them discoverable.

At the moment, discovery of this content is primarily through Google, Bing or other search engines especially where the search engine may surface a list-driven article written somewhere on the Internet that compares and describes the sites you are after. This takes over the role of the browsing-driven Internet directories like Lycos which existed before the Google behemoth came to the fore where Web providers could submit links to their sites to these directories.

As well, some of the online content aggregators like Feedspot or Feedly do provide the ability to search or browse for content of a kind. Similarly Web portals could be used as a tool to place online lifestyle publications “on the map”, perhaps through the use of a dedicated “lifestyle” Web portal promoted through traditional media.

Use of native or Web apps that show up strong with iPads, Android tablets and similar devices cam be a way to keep that “magazine experience” alive when you are “flicking” through these online lifestyle publications or “mum blogs”.

What needs to be done regarding online lifestyle publishing is to raise the profile of this segment to a position comparable with the traditional printed magazines. There was an episode of ABC’s “Media Watch” comparing them against the traditional womens’ magazines but this was showing concern about the sponsorship and brand-interaction issue.

Here, it was a way to use traditional media to put these blogs and sites on the map, but other resources can be used equally as well. For example, a radio or TV talk show could be used as a platform to interview lifestyle bloggers including “mum bloggers” and place them on the map. Or traditional media can exchange content with the lifestyle Websites and blogs to, perhaps, enrich coverage of a particular topic or cross-promote resources.

What needs to happen is to increase the profile of the online publications and blogs in the context of lifestyle-focused publishing especially in the eyes of the casual readers.

Now lifestyle publishing has headed towards the online direction and is coming to a tablet computer near you.

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Using Bluetooth as part of the hybrid radio concept

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio – a representative of the current trend towards the “hybrid radio” concept

Previously, I have covered the concept of “hybrid radio” which is being put forward by RadioDNS. This is about integrating the reception of audio-based radio content from a radio station either through the traditional analogue or digital broadcast technologies or through the Internet.

It is based on the common Internet-radio application where traditional radio stations transmit a simulcast of their broadcast output as an Internet stream. You would experience this with an app like TuneIn Radio or by using an Internet radio, of which I have reviewed many. This has been used to listen to overseas radio stations by those of us who like the “vibe” of a particular country or to learn a new language, but has been used as a way to hear a national radio station that isn’t received in one’s local area, a situation that is common in rural Australia.

It is intended to provide automatic switching to an Internet-based simulcast of the radio station if you are out of the reception area for a broadcast transmitter and you can’t be “handed over” to a better transmitter’s output of the same station. It is also underscored by the concept of a “single-dial” tuning approach to select stations without worrying which broadcast methodology they are using, whether traditional or Internet-based. here is also the availability of richer metadata that can be shown on screens that support rich graphic displays along with an electronic programme guide for radio broadcasts.

This functionality is dependent on the radio having Internet connectivity of some sort. It is typically with the set being equipped with Wi-Fi or Ethernet connectivity for use on a small network, or a car radio being equipped with a mobile-broadband modem provisioned with mobile-broadband service.

This may not work properly with enterprise or public-access networks that require authentication beyond a Wi-Fi passphrase or WPS-PBC setup or we have to make sure the mobile-broadband service is provisioned for the car radio that we are using in the way the radio expects. This was something I had come across when someone posted a question about attempting to use the Internet capabilities of the Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-capable bookshelf music stereo system with a “headline” public-access Wi-Fi network in the place they were living in.

As well, the Internet connectivity is offered by consumer-electronics manufacturers as a product differentiator with it typically ending up on the premium products in the range. Similarly, some manufacturers want to steer clear of Internet-connectivity as a feature for their consumer-electronics product ranges.

But an increasing number of radio sets and audio equipment are implementing Bluetooth technology typically to allow streaming of audio content from mobile devices paired with the set. In the car-audio scene, this is to facilitate a safe hands-free telephone setup that allows the driver to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

Smartphones or tablets could be used to provide “hybrid-radio” functionality

The RadioDNS hybrid-radio concept could be extended to the Bluetooth link by a standard application-level class or profile for the Bluetooth specification. Here, this would work in conjunction with a computing device that runs companion “hybrid-radio” software and is linked to the radio via Bluetooth in order to enable full “hybrid-radio” functionality.

This could allow for broadcast station selection using the companion device or the display of rich metadata for the currently-listened-to station on the companion device’s display irrespective of the source of the metadata. This would be of benefit to those sets that can’t show rich graphic metadata such as what DAB+ or Digital Radio Mondiale are capable of.

The concept cam make use of the voice-driven home assistants like Amazon Echo or Google Home for many options. Here, it would exploit the idea of having a device like Amazon Echo or Google Home provide the Bluetooth – Internet bridge to your small Wi-Fi network and play network-hosted or Internet-hosted audio content through the radio’s speaker. It would be important where the radio’s amplifier and speaker does a better job at reproducing music compared to what the Amazon Echo or Google Home device.

… as could devices like the Lenovo Smart Display

For example, you could ask Alexa or Google Assistant to select a station and the local broadcast signal will then play. Or if you use something like Google Home Hub, you could have the station’s audio coming through the radio while a graphically-rich interface for that station appears on the Home Hub’s screen.

What RadioDNS needs to look towards is the idea of using Bluetooth or similar peripheral-level connections as a way of allowing a companion computing device to facilitate hybrid radio functionality for equipment or use environments that don’t support integrated Internet connectivity.

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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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How to set Bedtime mode on iOS so you don’t miss important calls

Options area in iOS Bedtime Mode screen

Select Options to set up the Bedtime Mode behaviour

Apple’s iOS operating system since version 12 have support for “Bedtime” mode which allows you to have a good sleep. This is achieved through optimising the display to reduce blue light in a sleep-friendly manner along with default automatic enablement of “Do Not Disturb” mode where the iPhone won’t ring through during the hours the Bedtime mode is in operation. This will be heralded by your iPhone ringing a phrase of Brahms’ Lullaby with a music-box sound when that mode is effective.

But some of us may don’t want to miss important calls that come through at night due to work or personal reasons. An example of this could be a person who is a registered keyholder for a premises and needs to know of alarm incidents affecting that premises. Or someone you expect home may be arriving late and wants to let you know they are on their way or changed plans. In a simple case, you may not want to miss that important call from someone who is on the other side of the world.

The default implementation for Bedtime mode has your iPhone in “Do Not Disturb” mode where your iPhone won’t ring or sound a notification tone for text messages while that mode is in effect. But you may want most of the sleep-friendly benefits of this mode while being able to be woken by those important calls.

iOS Bedtime Mode options screen with Do Not Disturb option called out

Clear the Do Not Disturb option to allow calls and texts to come through during Bedtime Mode

To enable this, you need to go to the Clock app and select the Bedtime screen. Select “Options” and turn off the “Do Not Disturb” mode on that screen to allow calls to come through. The display will still be dimmed through this time but the iPhone will ring or sound a notification tone.

You may also have to check for scheduled “Do Not Disturb” times in case you used this feature to set up a “do-not-disturb” period surrounding your normal bedtime. This is a feature that an iOS user may have implemented before updating to iOS 12. You can check this feature in the “Do Not Disturb” option in the Settings app.

If you do use the “Do Not Disturb” option, you can allow certain caller groups to break through and cause your phone to ring irrespective of when this option is in effect. One of these is “Favourites” which allows you to mark contacts as a “favourite”. Or you can use the Groups option to allow calls from contact groups that you have pre-defined. This is important if you mark out your contacts in to contact groups like “work” or “family” and is a complex procedure that requires you to use your Apple iCloud.com account on a Web browser.

The use of a predefined caller list to override “Do Not Disturb” may not work well with callers who call you using VoIP or from behind a business phone system. This is because you may find that the caller ID for their call may be different from their phone number due to them, for example, calling from the nearest extension rather than their own extension.

iOS and Android could natively follow the Symbian (original Nokia feature-phone operating system) approach where you have different situation-specific alerting presets that affect your phone’s audio / vibration / indicator-light behaviour. This can also allow the use of one or more priority call lists so that callers you select for a particular situation can ring through. Such presets can be linked to operation modes like the “Bedtime” mode or alarm clock so they can be effective during these modes.

As well, Apple could simplify the process of creating and managing caller groups on the iOS contacts list while you are using your iPhone’s user interface. This is important for processes like adding new contacts to your list or revising your contacts, and can make the process more intuitive.

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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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Laptop screen protectors and privacy screens–are they worth their salt?

Article

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

A screen protector or privacy screen can be a valuable cost-effective accessory for that laptop

Do laptop screen protectors affect touchscreen sensitivity? | Windows Central

My Comment

An accessory that you could get for your own laptop computer or give to someone who owns one is a screen protector or privacy screen. These accessories are considered very affordable and you would be safe to give one as a gift for any occasion. It is not hard to come by these accessories, typically found in accessory departments of computer, consumer-electronics, office-supply or similar stores or available online through the likes of Amazon.

The screen protectors, typically made of plastic or tempered glass, protect the screen from scratches or dust. The plastic option is an economy option but it itself can be scratched and is not always likely to cover the whole of your screen as well as itself becoming a “dust magnet”. The glass option costs extra but is more damage resistant and will cover your screen fully. That is more important especially for tablets and 2-in-1s due to you interacting with the screen more frequently.

Privacy screens are a screen protector that uses a fresnel-lens approach thanks to polarisation to limit the viewing angle to directly in front of the screen. This is to prevent others who are sitting beside you from viewing what’s on your screen, but if a person is directly behind you, they can see what you are doing. It is good if you are using your computer to work on confidential material in a high-traffic area regularly like making use of that “second office” cafe or bar, or using it to do your work on public transport or while flying.

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

This is more so with these 2-in-1 convertible laptops

You may expect to have reduced sensitivity from touchscreens or active-pen setups due to the extra material but this may be a slight effect. In some cases, a screen protector that has a textured surface may provide a better inking surface than using a glossy screen alone or a smooth-surfaced protector. This is more so if it has a paper-style texture.

When choosing a screen protector or privacy screen, pay attention to ease of installation and removal. This is important if you find that it doesn’t fit your computer properly or suit your needs or the screen becomes too dull as you use it. In some cases, you may find that particular screen protectors may fit a particular model of laptop rather than working for a particular generic screen size.

Something else you may may have to pay attention to is whether the screen protector does impact your computer’s screen brightness for comfortable use over its lifespan. This is more so if you have to increase the screen brightness which can have an impact on battery runtime. Let’s not forget how the automatic brightness functionality on some screens may be affected by the use of the screen protector and you may have to raise the brightness slightly.

Considering these points can allow you to choose the best value screen protector or privacy screen for your laptop or tablet so you can gain long-term use out of these accessories.

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