Category: Mobile Computing

Portable monitors–are they worth it?

ViewSonic VG1655 portable monitor press image courtesy of VIewSonic

ViewSonic VG1655 – an example of a portable monitor

Over the last six months, we are seeing a significant number of “portable monitors” being introduced to the personal and small-business IT market.

What are these portable monitors?

These portable monitors are 12” to 17” LCD screens that are designed primarily to be used with a laptop as a second screen. Most of these units are equipped with a USB-C port that takes advantage of power transfer and display data transfer over the one physical cable, a feature that most well-bred laptops issued over the last few years are equipped with. As well, all these displays have a built-in kickstand so that they can be free-standing.

These screens are even being pitched at people who use mobile platform devices for work or play so they can benefit from a larger screen. This is also expedited with the USB-C or Lightning connections supporting display output and power transfer at the same time on these devices.

What can they offer computer users?

ASUS ZenScreen portable touch monitor with laptop press image courtesy of ASUS

A typical use case for a portable monitor – as a secondary screen for a laptop computer

A key selling feature  with these screens for laptop users is to benefit from dual-screen productivity while on-the-go or where they want that minimalist desktop.

Even users who use a multiple-screen setup with their laptop or desktop computer and a larger monitor do stand to benefit from these portable monitors. For example, one of these displays set up in portrait mode could earn its keep with something like an email or instant messaging client. To the same extent, this arrangement could come in handy with a tall spreadsheet or document that you are referring to or a whole lot of source code that is important for that computer program you are working on. This can also come in to its own if the main monitor doesn’t support portrait-mode orientation or you want to have a dedicated portrait-mode display.

Most of these screens will also have at least a standard HDMI connection and / or , perhaps, a standard DisplayPort connection. This can work with computer and video equipment that isn’t equipped with a USB-C with DisplayPort alt connection.

For photographers and videographers, this connection comes in to its own with digital cameras and camcorders equipped with HDMI output connections. That means that the screen serves as a better larger preview screen than what your camera or camcorder offers whether that comes in handy while you compose your shot or review what you have taken.

These portable monitors even serve as small playback / presentation monitors when you want to show something to another person. In a one-to-one meeting, you could be setting the portable monitor to mirror you laptop’s display so that who you are meeting with can see what you are bringing up. Here, this would come in to its own when you are sitting face to face at a table and want to “drive” your computer without always swivelling it around.

Similarly, you could use portable monitors equipped with a standard HDMI input and HDCP support as personal video monitors for devices like DVD / Blu-Ray players or set-top boxes. For example, using one of these portable monitors along with a digital-TV set-top box could allow you to have the equivalent of that portable TV which you use or have previously used for monitoring a news or sports event while in the office, kitchen or garage.

In the same context, they can end up as a portable gaming display for games consoles like the Nintendo Switch, the Sony PlayStation or Microsoft XBox family. This may be for larger-screen personal gaming use. At the moment, most of the current issue of portable monitors aren’t rated for regular-computer gaming due to them being set for 60Hz “productivity-use” frame rates.

Let’s not forget that these screens could simply end up as a “fail-over” display if your laptop’s display doesn’t work. This would be more important for those of us who are pushing that old laptop out further.

It may also benefit mobile-platform device users, especially smartphone users, who want to use them with a large screen at least. Some companies like Samsung are even pushing this idea of using a smartphone or mobile-platform tablet as a full-on productivity device especially when you use one of these monitors and a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

What features to look for

The screen that your portable monitor should have is a Full-HD or equivalent resolution and a high-quality display.

The connectivity offered by these screens should be at least one USB-C port with DisplayPort Alt and PowerDelivery support; along with a standard HDMI port with HDCP support. It would be nice to have a second USB-C PD-compliant port as a bonus which means you could plug your laptop’s USB-C PD power supply in to the monitor to supply both the laptop and monitor with power. As well, having a standard DisplayPort connection can be nice to have if you have equipment that has this connection.

Some of these portable monitors will implement MicroHDMI connectors and / or will use the USB-C port as an audio output. Here, you will have to rely on adaptor cables that should be packaged with the monitor in its box.

Most of these screens will have audio support of some sort and most likely have an integrated speaker. But they should have a standard headphone jack so you can plug in a set of headphones or better powered speakers for improved sound. They also should have an easy-to-operate volume control so you can adjust the sound quickly and easily.

If you expect a lot of away-from-AC-power use out of a portable monitor, it should have its own battery with a preferred minimum capacity of 5000mAh. As well the monitor should be efficient on the battery life. As I have said before, I would look towards these monitors having two two USB-C ports with PowerDelivery operation where one can accept power and the other can share power to the host computer. This could allow you to power your laptop and the monitor at the same time.

A nice-to-have feature for a portable monitor is touchscreen input support. This effectively adds touchscreen abilities to computer setups that don’t have this function.

Something worth paying attention to with these portable monitors is that some manufacturers could combine a portable monitor with Android tablet functionality. This is something that Lenovo is lining up with their Yoga Tab 13 tablet that is expected to be launched some time this year.

As well, look out for any of these portable monitors that offer gaming features like 144Hz refresh rate because these could be coming that way as  part of one or more manufacturers’ lineups. They would be important for people who have gaming-grade laptops and want to have the same kind of performance across all displays.

Conclusion

The portable monitor will earn its keep with those of us who want to have multiple-screen computing with our laptops in a portable setup. As well, they will be likely to be of use as an ancillary personal-use large screen for a range of activities.

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Lenovo to compete with Samsung in the high-end Android tablet market

Article

Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE Android tablet press image courtesy of Samsung

Lenovo could be competing with Samsung in the high-end Android tablet market

Samsung’s high-end Android tablets could soon be under threat – SamMobile

My Comments

The Android-based mobile-platform tablet is existing as a viable product class for those of us who want to keep our mobile-platform computing options “open-frame” and without being beholden to a particular manufacturer. But Samsung has effectively cornered the high-end part of this market especially with its Galaxy Tab S series of tablets.

Here, these tablets are about highly-strung AMD CPUs running the show, slimline designs and displays that use AMOLED or similar high-quality display technology. Often they are seen by Android users as being their platform’s equivalent to the latest top-shelf iPads that Apple offers.

Lenovo has been making a range of Android tablets including the Yoga variants that have an integrated kickstand. But, compared to the Samsung Galaxy Tab S, they were positioned more as everyday mid-tier  products with something unique in some cases. That is although they were running value-for-money Windows and Chrome OS laptops with product ranges like ThinkPad and IdeaPad, thanks to them continuing on IBM’s personal-computer legacy.

But most other manufacturers have been sticking to mid-tier or low-end products for the Android platform with a lot of such products not offering much in performance, display quality or other desireable attributes. In a lot of cases, these have ended up as utility tablets for use around the home or office.

Now Lenovo is lining up an Android tablet that is set to answer Samsung’s latest Galaxy Tab S product. This will have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 CPU and at least 8Gb RAM and use an OLED display. It will be expected to run Android 11. It is due to people considering Lenovo still as a viable Android mobile-platform tablet supplier that innovates. If Lenovo can achieve the same kind of performance, display quality, battery runtime or other attributes as the latest Galaxy Tab S for a lot less money, they could easily kick off a product war of some sort.

What I see of this is pressure upon both companies to yield high-end high-performance mobile-tablets for those of us who like the open-frame computing approach in these products. This would allow increased value-for-money when it comes to this product class and could encourage more innovation to take place.

If it leads to a genuine “product war” taking place between two or more companies for their top-shelf products of a kind like what is happening with Bluetooth active-noise-cancelling headphones and earphones; it could see mid-tier and even budget products also benefitting. But for this to happen, more companies need to effectively answer Samsung’s Galaxy S series tablets when it comes to performance, display quality or value for money.

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Intel and NVIDIA release new silicon for high-performance portable computing

Article

Intel Tiger Lake H Series CPU press image courtesy of Intel Corporation

This to be part of affordable increasingly-powerful laptops

Intel aims high and Nvidia aims low with laptop chip updates | bit-tech.net

From the horse’s mouth

Intel

Intel Launches New 11th Gen Core for Mobile

NVIDIA

New GeForce RTX Gaming and Studio Laptop Models Now Available – Over 140 In All, Including New RTX 3050 and 3050 Ti Models | GeForce News | NVIDIA

My Comments

Intel and NVIDIA had just released new processing silicon for laptops and similar use cases that is about high-performance computing. This is although there is a processor-chip shortage that is affecting the computing, automotive and allied industries.

Intel is offering the newer performance-focused 11th-generation Tiger Lake H-Series Core CPUs. This is in addition to business-focused H-Series Core CPUs that come with vPro security / management facilities. All of these will at least support Thunderbolt 4 connectivity for increased expansion.

But NVIDIA have released the RTX 30 series of discrete graphics processors optimised for mobile and low-profile use cases. These GPUs, especially the RTX-3050 and RTX-3050Ti variants are pitched as affordable capable mobile units to court the gaming and creator market segments.

They are optimised to offer screen refresh rates of more than 60fps for a Full HD 1080p display. That understands the preference for laptops being equipped with Full HD 1080p screens for their built-in displays due to that offering battery efficiency for this use case.

Lets not forget that these GPUs will offer ray-tracing abilities at affordable prices and in the mobile context. This will benefit computer games and similar graphics applications where realism is important.

Intel and NVIDIA are pitching this silicon combination to budget gamers, creators especially the “prosumer” type and high-performance thin-and-light laptops. I would see this more as laptop manufacturers offer performance variants of their mainstream product lines that can appeal to university students. budget gamers and similar users where cost and performance matter.

But I would see NVIDIDA’s new graphics silicon also appealing to external graphics modules especially in the form of highly-compact types that use soldered-in GPUs. As well, this mobile-focused silicon could also appeal to ultra-compact NUC-type desktop computers where a performance variant  is important.

Here, most of the computer manufacturers refreshed their lineup of performance-focused Windows laptops with this new silicon. This included creator/prosumer 15” and 17” thin-and-light laptops intended to compete with Apple’s MacBook Pro.

All this new silicon is about bringing desktop-class graphics performance to mobile use cases especially where you don’t have to pay a lot for this kind of performance. NVIDIA was even putting forward the idea of increased graphics power at a price students can afford, but I see this as an all-round GPU that doesn’t depend on their continued interest in engineering, architecture or statistics for example. It is also about being suited to rest-and-recreation gaming as well.

It is another example of the increased investment in regular computers that run desktop operating systems that has taken place over the last six months. This is underscored by the increased use of these computers during the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns to work, learn, play and communicate at home. As well, an increased and continued interest in working away from the office on a part-time or full-time basis is driving more interest in this class of computer.

Here, the laptop form factor is being preferred due to its combination of portability and power and the investment in more power mobile silicon is showing this reality for most computer users.

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

Article

Android main interactive lock screen

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

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

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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Google to participate in setting standards for mobile app security

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Google

A standard and certification program now exists for mobile application security

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

Internet Of Secure Things Alliance (ioXT)

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

Mobile Application Profile (Reference Standard Document – PDF)

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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Identifying the end-of-support date for your Chromebook

Article

Dell Chromebook 13 press image courtesy of Dell Inc.

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

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

Resource

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

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

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

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

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Apple to head towards separately-delivered security updates for iOS

Article

Your iPhone or iPad will have security and software-quality updates delivered separately from the main functionality upgrades

Apple Could Soon Split iOS Updates And Security Updates | Ubergizmo

My Comments

A trend that is increasing in relationship to software maintenance and quality assurance is to assure the ubiquitous availability of critical security, software-quality and compliance updates for a device or program. This is through delivering such updates under separate cover from major updates that primarily add features and functionality.

You may think of these critical updates as just security patches for the device or program but these can include general bugfixes, software refinements to to have the program run more efficiently or compliance modifications such as to update daylight-saving-time rules for a particular jurisdiction.

Microsoft, Google and Apple headed that way with Windows 10, Android and with MacOS respectively.  This approach benefits the software developer and the user equally because the security, software-quality or compliance patches are usually small files. The software developer can assure guaranteed delivery and installation even with older devices that aren’t able to take newer versions of the software thus hardening the device’s platform against security exploits.

Similarly the user can choose not to install a functionality update if they don’t see fit or may find that it offers a steep learning curve due to significant user-experience changes. It is more so where a user would rather run with a highly-stable version of the operating system than the latest “rushed-out” version that carries bugs.

Apple will be taking this approach with iOS soon. Previously, the iOS mobile operating system was maintained using the delivery of major versions offering major functionality. But Apple would deliver iOS bugfixes and security patches as a minor or “point” version dependent on a major version, something that was considered orthodox in the world of software maintenance and quality assurance.

But if they were to “reach” older iOS versions with a security or compliance update, they would need to offer a minor or “point” version for a prior major version as a separate software package. This is an issue that affects people who maintain older iOS devices, especially iPads or iPod Touch devices that are less likely to take newer major versions of iOS.

Through the development of iOS 14.5, Apple has looked in to the idea of “splitting” the critical updates from the main software package so that these can be delivered under separate cover. This could also allow Apple to package one of these updates to touch multiple major versions of the operating systems.

It could also be a chance for Apple to see a long service life out of iOS devices especially where older devices may not run the latest major version of iOS. This would be very applicable to iPad and iPod Touch users who see long-term use out of those devices or families who pass down older iPhones to their children. It could also be a chance for Apple to keep multiple hardened codebases for iOS going but able to support different device abilities.

It will also encourage Apple to deliver frequent software patches to iOS users especially if they can be installed without restarting the device. This is more so if Apple wants to create a tighter software-quality-assurance regime for their platforms.

But Apple also has to provide separate critical-update delivery to their tvOS operating system which drives their recent Apple TV devices and their watchOS operating system that drives their Apple Watch products. It can then be about creating a robust software quality-assurance approach across all of their products but catering to people who maintain older products.

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Chapter marking within podcasts

Android main interactive lock screen

Smartphones are facilitating our listenership to podcasts

As we listen to more spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts and the like, we may want to see this kind of audio content easily delineated in a logical manner. For that matter, such content is being listened to as we drive or walk thanks to the existence of car and personal audio equipment including, nowadays, the “do-it-all” smartphones being connected to headphones or car stereos.

This may be to return to the start of a segment if we were interrupted so we really know where we are contextually. Or it could be to go to a particular “article” in a magazine-style podcast if we are after just that article.

Prior attempts to delineate spoken-word content

In-band cue marking on cassette

Some people who distributed cassette-based magazine-style audio content, typically to vision-impaired people, used mixed-in audio marking recorded at high speed to allow a user to find articles on a tape.

This worked with tape players equipped with cue and review functionality, something that was inconsistently available. Such functionality, typically activated when you held down the fast-forward or rewind buttons while the tape player was in play mode, allowed the tape to be ran forward or backward at high speed while you were able to hear what’s recorded but in a high-pitch warbling tone.

With this indexing approach, you would hear a reference tone that delineated the start of the segment in either direction. But if you used the “cue” button to seek through the tape, you would also hear an intelligible phrase that identified the segment so you knew where you were.

Here, this function was dependent on whether the tape player had cue and review operation and required the user to hold down the fast-wind buttons for it to be effective. This ruled out use within car-audio setups that required the use of locking fast-wind controls for safe operation.

Index Marking on CDs

The original CD Audio standard had inherent support for index marking that was subordinate to the track markers typically used to delineate the different songs or pieces. This was to delineate segments within a track such as variations within a classical piece.

Most 1980s-era CD players of the type that connected to your hi-fi system supported this functionality. This was more so with premium-level models and how they treated this function was markedly different. The most basic implementation of this feature was to show the index number on the display after the track number. CD players with eight-digit displays showed the index number as a smaller-sized number after the track number while those with a four or six-digit display had you press the display button to show the track number and index number.

Better implementations had the ability to step between the index marks with this capability typically represented by an extra pair of buttons on the player’s control surface labelled “INDEX”. Some more sophisticated CD players even had direct access to particular index numbers within a track or could allow you to program an index number within a track as part of a user-programmed playlist.

As well, some CDs, usually classical-music discs which feature long instrumental works that are best directly referenced at significant points made use of this feature. Support for this feature died out by the 1990s with this feature focused on marking the proper start of a song. It was considered of importance with live recordings or concept albums where a song or instrumental piece would segue in to another one. This was of importance for the proper implementation of repeat, random (shuffle) play or programmed-play modes so that the song or piece comes in at the proper start.

There was an interest in spoken-word material on CD through the late 1990s with the increase in the number of car CD players installed in cars. This was typically in the form of popular audiobooks or foreign-language courseware and car trips were considered a favourite location for listening to such content. But these spoken-word CDs were limited to using tracks to delineate chapters in a book or lessons within a foreign-language course.

But CD-R with the ability to support on-site short-run replication of limited-appeal content opened the door for content like religious sermons or talks to appear on the CD format. This technology effectively “missed the boat” when it came to support for index marking and most CD-burning software didn’t allow you to place index marks within a track.

The podcast revolution

File-based digital audio and the Internet opened the door to regularly-delivered spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts. These are effectively a radio show that is in an audio file available to download. They even use RSS Webfeeds to allow listeners to follow podcasts for newer episodes.

Here, podcast-management or media-management software automatically downloads or enqueues podcast episodes for subsequent listening, marking what is listened to as “listened”. Some NAS-based DLNA servers can be set up to follow podcasts and download them to the NAS hard disk as new content, creating a UPnP-AV/DLNA content tree out of these podcasts available to any DLNA-compliant media playback device.

The podcast has gained a strong appeal with small-time content creators who want to create what is effectively their own radio shows without being encumbered by the rules and regulations of broadcasting or having to see radio stations as content gatekeepers.

The podcast has also appealed to radio stations in two different ways. Firstly, it has allowed the station’s talent to have their spoken-word content they broadcast previously available for listeners to hear again at a later time.

It also meant that the station’s talent could create supplementary audio content that isn’t normally broadcast but available for their audience, thus pushing their brand and that of the station further. This includes the creation of frequently-published short-form “snack-sized” content that may allow for listening during short journeys for example.

Secondly a talk-based radio station could approach a podcaster and offer to syndicate their podcast. That is to pay for the right to broadcast the podcast on their radio station in to the station’s market. It would appeal to radio stations having programming that fills in schedule gaps like the overnight “graveyard shift”, weekends or summer holidays while their regular talent base isn’t available. But it can also be used as a way to put a rising podcast star “on the map” before considering whether to have them behind the station’s microphone.

Why chapter marking within podcasts?

A lot of podcast authors typically ran their shows in a magazine form, perhaps with multiple articles or segments within the same podcast. As well, whenever one gave a talk or sermon, they would typically break it down in to points to make it clear to their audience to know where they are. But the idea of delineating within an audio file hasn’t been properly worked out.

This can benefit listeners who are after a particular segment especially within a magazine-style podcast. Or a listener could head back to the start of a logical point in the podcast when they resume listening so they effectively know where they are at contextually.

This can also appeal to ad-supported podcast directories like Spotify who use radio-style audio advertising and want to insert ads between articles or sections of a podcast. The same applies to radio stations who wish to syndicate podcasts. Here they would need to pause podcasts to insert local time and station-identity calls and, in some cases, local advertising spots or news bulletins.

Is this feasible?

The ID3 2 standard which carries metadata for most audio file formats including MP3, AAC and FLAC supports chapter marking within the audio file. It is based around a file-level “table of contents” which determine each audio chapter and can even have textual and graphical descriptions for each chapter.

There is also support for hierarchical table of contents like a list of “points” within each content segment as well as an overall list of content segments. Each of the “table of contents” has a bit that can indicate whether to have each chapter in that “table of contents” played in order or whether they can be played individually. That could be used by an ad-supported podcast directory or broadcast playout program to insert local advertising between entries or not.

What is holding it back?

The main problem with utilising the chapter markers supported within ID3.2 is the lack of proper software support both at the authoring and playback ends of the equation.

Authoring software available to the average podcaster provides inconsistent and non-intuitive support for placing chapter markers within a podcast. This opens up room for errors when authoring that podcast and enabling chapter marking therein.

As well, very few podcast manager and media player programs recognise these chapter markers and provide the necessary navigation functionality. This could be offered at least by having chapter locations visible as tick marks on the seek-bar in the software’s user interface and, perhaps allowing you to hold-down the cue and review buttons to search at the previous or next chapter.

Better user interfaces could list out chapters within a podcast so users can know “what they are up to” while listening or to be able to head to the segment that matters in that magazine-style podcast.

Similarly, the podcast scene needs to know the benefits of chapter-marking a podcast. In an elementary form, marking out a TED Talk, church sermon or similar speech at each key point can be beneficial. For example, a listener could simply recap a point they missed due to being distracted thus getting more value out of that talk. If the podcast has a “magazine” approach with multiple segments, the listener may choose to head to a particular segment that interests them.

Conclusion

The use of chapter marking within podcasts and other spoken-word audio content could make this kind of content easier to deal with for most listeners. Here, it is more about searching for a particular segment within the podcast or beading back to the start of a significant point therein if you were interrupted so you can hear that point in context.

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ARM to introduce new performance chip design for laptops

Article

Lenovo Yoga 5G convertible notebook press image courtesy of Lenovo

More powerful CPU designs await ARM-based computers like the Lenovo Flex 5G / Yoga 5G Always Connected PC convertible notebook which runs Windows on ARM

Here’s how Arm’s latest CPU targets laptop and handheld console performance | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

ARM Holdings

Arm Cortex-A78C CPU: Secure and scalable performance for next-generation on-the-go devices (Blog Post)

My Comments

With some computer manufacturers offering regular computers that use ARM microarchitecture, there had to be a time for ARM Holdings to introduce a performance variety of their RISC-based computer chipset design.

This is in the form of the Cortex A78C CPU design number which is increased performance over current ARM-based CPU designs used in some Chromebooks or the Always Connected PC that runs Windows 10. It is being seen as an upgrade path for use cases with these systems where increased performance is being desired like games or multimedia.

Snapdragon smartphone electronics in 2-in-1 laptop press picture courtesy of Qualcomn

This will give Always Connected PCs that run Windows on ARM silicon more credibility

This is not really about clawing back the position that RISC-based microarchitecture held during the late 80s and early 90s as having increased multimedia prowess, even though this was facilitated with Motorola silicon. Rather this chip design is about blending performance and power efficiency making it appeal to a performance class of highly-portable computing device. Think of devices like the Always Connected PC notebook or Chromebook computer, a mobile-platform tablet with gaming or advanced multimedia prowess or a handheld gaming console.

Here the idea may be to keep the same battery type and thermal design for the device in question but allow more performance out of that device. This will be very similar what happened with portable audio equipment through the 1970s where manufacturers improved on the device’s design while keeping the power-supply requirement the same across the years for the device class. This led to amplifier and speaker designs that could allow for increased sound quality that led to increased product differentiation and improvement.

But where do I see this taking place for something like an Always Connected PC laptop that runs Windows 10 on ARM, or an ARM-based Chromebook or even a mobile-platform tablet? I would see this come about in the form of product differentiation in the context of CPU-level performance where manufacturers can offer device models that factor in performance. This avoids computers in the Always Connected PC or Chromebook class being relegated to “baseline duty machines” and allow them to be on a par with traditional Windows 64-bit x86-based computers when it comes to gaming or multimedia.

The same also holds true for mobile-platform tablets of the same ilk as the iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab S. Here, it could be feasible for manufacturers to open up interest in gaming or multimedia-focused Android tablets that are about performance. That is especially where a tablet’s larger display surface can make it appeal as a gaming companion device to a smartphone.

Let’s not forget companies like Nintendo who have a strong legacy with the handheld games consoles from its Game & Watch devices of the early 80s through the Game Boy devices of the 1990s to the current Nintendo Switch. Here, they could work towards more powerful iterations of their current platforms, whether you consider them as a “timewaster” or a “guilty pleasure”. These platforms could even show some more highly-capable games as well while even using higher-resolution displays.

What will need to happen is for the likes of Qualcomm and Samsung to build this design into the actual CPU processors in order to have it appear in newer computer devices. As well, Microsoft would have to encourage the creation of games and similar software for ARM-based Windows setups especially those that use more powerful silicon.

This could then place ARM-based and x86-based mobile computing on a par with each other when it comes to performance but allow ARM to gain the edge in power efficiency for portable use cases.

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