Mobile Computing Archive

This year’s computing improvements from Dell

Articles

Dell XPS 13 Finally Fixes the Nosecam | Tom’s Hardware

Dell G Series Gaming Laptops Get Nvidia RTX Makeover | Tom’s Hardware

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

Press Releases

My Comments

Dell has been improving their value-for-money portable computer product line and premiering some of these new products in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show 2019. Here I am calling out a few distinct improvements across the different product lines as supplied through their press material.

Some options that have been cropping up include a 1Tb solid-state disk in most product lines, NVIDIA RTX ray-tracing video chipsets in gamimg models and OLED displays in premium 15” models. But there are some computers out there that have some interesting features like a small built-in Webcam or “walk-up and sign-in” operation.

Improvements to the XPS 13 Ultrabook

Dell XPS 13 9380 Webcam detail press picture courtesy of Dell Corporation

Thin Webcam circuitry atop display

Dell have been incrementally improving on the XPS 13 Ultrabook by releasing the latest iteration known as the 9380 model. But this iteration isn’t just based around its silicon although it implements Intel 8th-Generation Whiskey Lake technology.

One of the main useability improvements is for the Webcam to be located in its proper position above the screen rather than below the screen as with some previous generations. This avoids videocall situations where your correspondent is looking at the ceiling or your nose when you use the Webcam located at the bottom of the screen. The problem was brought about due to Dell’s InfinityEdge “thin-bezel” approach which didn’t allow for room for a standard Webcam circuit. But it had been solved through the use of a 2.5mm Webcam circuit that allowed for a thin top bezel for the screen.

Swll XPS 13 9380 press picture courtesy of Dell Corporation

Now in the “Frost” finish with white keyboard and deck and silver back

It also implements a variable-torque hinge to make it easy to open and close, something that may please older users with hands that may not be all that great thanks to arthritis for example. Another feature that Dell is pushing is to have a fingerprint reader integrated in the power button on the computer.

The latest iteration of the Dell XPS 13 underscores the USB-C connectivity form by having three connections of this kind – two Thunderbolt 2 connections and a USB-C-only connection. This is alongside an audio jack which hasn’t been forgotten about as well as a microSD card reader.

The Dell XPS 13 is available with 8th-generation Intel “Whiskey Lake” Core CPUs (i3, i5 or i7) and Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics. It will have up to 16Gb RAM and 2Tb SSD as non-volatile storage. There will be three display options – a Full HD non-touch screen, a Full-HD touch screen or a 4K UHD touch screen. There is an expected 21-hour battery runtime for an XPS 13 equipped with a Full-HD display which will allow continuous use on one of the new non-stop longhaul flights facilitated by the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

What is being underscored here is the idea of keeping the Dell XPS 13 as the value-for-money Ultrabook that “ticks the boxes” as far as “thin-and-light” clamshell-style portable computers go. Here, it is through implementing the latest technology and answering problems that the user base and computer press have raised about this model.

G-Series gaming-laptop refresh with RTX graphics option

Dell G5 15 gaming laptop press picture courtesy of Dell

The new Dell G Series high-performance gaming-graphics laptops

The CES 2019 exhibition became the time for NVIDIA to premiere their RTX family of ray-tracing-capable graphics processors. Dell was one of the first computer manufacturers to offer a gaming-grade computer as part of their main brand with this silicon as a configuration option.

Here, the G-Series gaming laptop range has effectively been refreshed with new Intel CPUs and the NVIDIA RTX graphics chipsets. The G-series laptops are different from the Alienware gaming brand where they are positioned with a similar approach to the “GT” or “Sport” variants of popular mainstream passenger cars which have the higher-performance powertrains.

But in some ways, these computers can be seen as an entry-level workstation for photo and video hobbyists or students starting on high-end graphics-focused computing like with architecture or statistics.

These systems will be known as the G5 15 with the 15” screen and Core i7 horsepower, the G7 15 with the Core i9 horsepower and 15” screen, and the G5 17 with the same horsepower as the G5 15 but with a 17” screen.

The system RAM can be specced up to 16Gb. This is while the storage options can be specced in the form of a single-device option with a 1Tb 5400rpm hard disk or a dual-device option with up to 1Tb M2 solid-state disk ganged with a choice of 500Gb 7200rpm, 1Tb 5400rpm or 2Tb 5400rpm hard disks.

The economy option for the display subsystem is an NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti GPU but the computer will have the Ethernet port and a USB-C port as its system-specific connections. All of the new G-Series computer can be configured with any of the RTX GPUs which will also have 8Gb of display RAM. They will have the USB-C, Thunderbolt 3 and mini DisplayPort connections as their configuration-specific options.

Dell G5 15 gaming laptop press picture courtesy of Dell CorporationThe common connection options would be 3 USB 3.1 Type-A ports, an SD card reader, an audio jack as well as those extra configuration-specific ports.

The 15” models can have a Full HD IPS screen 220nits brightness and 60Hz refresh rate, a similar screen with similar resolution and refresh rate but 300nits brightness, another similar screen with a similar resolution and brightness but a game-friendly 144Hz refresh rate. There is the full-on option of equipping your 15” Dell G-Series with an 4K UHD OLED screen at a 400nits brightness and 60Hz refresh rate, something that would appeal to photo and video enthusiasts.

The 17” model has fewer screen options in the form of a full HD IPS screen with 300nits brightness but a choice of 60Hz or 144Hz refresh rates.

OLED screens as a configuration option for premium Dell laptops

Speaking of OLED display technology, the XPS 15 thin-and-light, Alienware m15 premium gaming and the Dell G7 15  are able to be equipped with OLED displays rather than LCD displays. These will also be able to support high dynamic-range vision using technologies like Dolby Vision. This will make these computers appeal towards photo and video professionals who look out for increased photo-grade dynamic range,

Dell Latitude 7400 business 14” 2-in-1

Dell Latitude 7400 14" 2-in-1 laptop press picture courtesy of Dell Corporation

Dell Latitude 7400 14″ 2-in-1 laptop with ExpressSignIn

This is a rare sight for the Consumer Electronics Show where a computer manufacturer is premiering a business-grade computer at a consumer-focused technology fair. But small-business owners may find this of value if they buy their technology through an independent computer store or value-added reseller.

Here, Dell are premiering the Latitude 7400 14” business 2-in-1 which has features that make it stand out from other business computers in its class. Here, this computer which has a Titan Grey finish is the smallest business-grade 14” 2-in-1 convertible laptop on the market.

It also has the ExpressSignIn feature that detects user presence near the machine. When the user comes near, it will wake up and activate the Windows Hello facial-recognition routine to verify that the user is authorised to operate the machine. Then, when the user walks away, the Dell Latitude 7400 will lock the user session.

It has 2 Thunderbolt 3 connections as standard and, as specifiable options, Gigabit LTE mobile broadband, 1Tb solid-state drive, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 connectivity. The 1Tb solid-state drive’s capacity will please those of us who effectively “live out of their briefcase” but want the high performance. As is expected for a premium business laptop, this will have the security and manageability features that would please a corporate IT team or a value-added reseller offering “big-time” IT support to small businesses.

Inspiron 7000 Series 2-in-1s gain significant design improvements

The Dell Inspiron 7000 Series 2-in-1 convertible laptops have undergone some significant revision in their design.

Rather than having an ordinary hinge, these computers have a new hinge design with a place to park the supplied active pen. This means that the pen is presented to the user without it falling out no matter whether the computer is folded over as a tablet, in a partially-folded “tent” or “media-viewer” state or a traditional laptop. It also makes sure that the hinge part looks special, as well as being part of an improved cooling and ventilation approach that understands lifestyle computing needs like bingeing on Netflix in bed or “flipping through” YouTube videos on the couch.

The improved cooling and ventilation approach is also augmented through adaptive thermal-management technology which varies the Inspiron 7000’s performance depending on whether you are moving it around or keeping it still on your desk. This avoids you handling a portable computer that is running uncomfortably hot.

The integrated power switch / fingerprint reader design has opened up a design feasibility for the 15” variant of the Dell Inspiron 7000 Series. Here, it means that the computer can be equipped with a numeric keypad which is a rarity amongst 15” 2-in-1 computers.

Still there is the limitation with this series where the USB-C port on these computers is the standard USB-C port rather than a Thunderbolt 3 port. If the Inspiron 7000 Series came with the Thunderbolt 3 port, it could then mean that these computers could be teamed with an external graphics module for at-home gaming.

Conclusion

Dell is keeping up its name as a value-for-money computer name but is assuring users that they are creating innovative designs rather than copying established ones.

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An Android app turns your Chromecast-equipped TV in to a whiteboard

Article

Cast Drawings On Your Phone To Your Television Using A Chromecast And This App | Lifehacker

Video (Click or tap to play)

Get this app here

CastPad (Google Play for Android)

– Free version has ads, in-app purchase for premium version

My Comments

The idea of using a regular TV as the electronic equivalent of a chalkboard (blackboard) or whiteboard has been explored through the 1980s thanks to a few key drivers.

A use case that was being put forward was to work with the then-new hobby of home videography thanks to the arrival of affordable video cameras and portable video recorders. Here it would be about creating title cards for one’s home video projects. As well, third-party peripheral vendors created light-pen setups that work with various home-computer platforms like the Commodore “VIC” computers (VIC-20 and Commodore 64), the Tandy TRS-80 Model 1 and the BBC Micro. The software that came with these setups included an elementary “paint” program that worked with the light-pen and allowed the (low-resolution) drawings to be saved to the computer’s secondary-storage medium (cassette or floppy disk) or printed to a connected printer.

The mouse, along with various graphics programs for later computer platform, extended the concept further even though newer computers were hooked up to displays better than the average TV set.

But the concept has been revived using the CastPad app for Android. This app allows you to draw using your finger or stylus on your Android smartphone or tablet, then “cast” it to your TV or monitor that is connected to a Chromecast or has full Chromecast ability built in. There is also the ability to “cast” to other Android devices running the same software and connected to the same logical network that the Chromecast is connected to.

You can save what you drew to your Android device but I am not sure whether it supports printing via Android’s print functionality. There is a free ad-supported version that is limited to five colours. It may be good enough to show to a child or use for games like Pictionary. But a premium version, which you can purchase through an in-app arrangement allows for infinite colours and a few more features.

A use case that was called out in the article was to improve a family Pictionary game that the article’s author played during their family’s Thanksgiving celebrations. Here, they had a Chromecast connected to their family home’s TV and used their Android smartphone to draw out the word ideas as part of gameplay.

But the app has other use cases such as conference facilities, classrooms and the like that are kitted out with a large-screen TV or video projector. Here, the CastPad app may work as a better approach to illustrating concepts in a basic manner and showing them to a larger audience as part of your presentation effort.

Apple could easily answer this app with something that runs on an iPhone or iPad and uses AirPlay to stream the canvas to an Apple TV. Or the app developers could simply port it to iOS to take advantage of that platform’s user base.

Similarly, there could be the ability to have you draw the graphic on the smartphone or tablet then project it through the Chromecast, which can be useful if you are preparing that diagram for a class. This can also be augmented with the ability to insert printed text in a range of font sizes, something that would appeal to “blackboard diagrammers”.

Apps like CastPad can exploit “screencasting” setups like AirPlay or Chromecast to turn the largest screen in the house or business in to an electronic whiteboard and the touchscreen of your device in to a “canvas”.

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What to expect in personal IT over 2019

Internet and Network technologies

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot press image courtesy of NETGEAR USA

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot – first retail 5G device

5G mobile broadband will see more carriers deploying this technology in more locations whether as a trial setup or to run with it as a full revenue service. It will also see the arrival of client devices like smartphones or laptops rather than just USB modems or modem routers supporting this technology.

Some users will see 5G mobile broadband as supplanting fixed broadband services but the fixed broadband technologies will be improved with higher data throughput that competes with that technology. As well, fixed broadband especially fibre-based next-generation broadband will also be required to serve as an infrastructure-level backhaul for 5G mobile broadband setups.

Wi-Fi 6 a.k.a. 802.11ax Wi-Fi wireless will be officially on the scene with more devices becoming available. It may also mean the arrival not just of new access points and routers supporting this standard but the arrival at least of client-side chipsets to allow laptops, tablets and smartphones to work with the new technology. Some countries’ radio-regulation authorities will look towards opening up the 6GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi purposes.

It also runs alongside the increased deployment of distributed-Wi-Fi systems with multiple access points linked by a wired or wireless backhaul. This will be facilitated with Wi-Fi EasyConnect and EasyMesh standards to create distributed-Wi-Fi setups with equipment from different vendors, which means that vendors don’t need to reinvent the wheel to build a distributed-Wi-Fi product line.

Consumer electronics and home entertainment

LG 4K OLED TVs press picture courtesy of LG America

LG 4K OLED TVs – a technology that could be coming more affordable over 2019

4K UHDTV with HDR technology will head towards its evolution phase with it maturing as a display technology. This will be with an increased number of sets implementing OLED, QLED or similar display technologies. It will also lead to more affordable HDR-capable TV models coming on to the scene.

Screen sizes of 75” and more will also cut in to affordable price ranges/ This will also be augmented with OLED-based screens becoming available in a “rollup” form that comes in an out like a blind or a traditional pull-down screen. Similarly, there will be a look towards the concept of “visual wallpaper” in order to justify the use of large screens in peoples’ households, including using the screen as a way to show messages or other information.

Online services will still become the primary source of 4K HDR TV content but the 4K UHD Blu-Ray disc will increase its foothold as the “packaged collectable” distribution medium for 4K video content. ATSC 3.0 and DVB-T2 will be pushed as a way to deliver 4K UHDTV content over the traditional TV aerial with this method of TV reception regaining its importance amongst the “cord-cutting” generations who dump cable and satellite TV.

JBL Link View lifestyle press image courtesy of Harman International

More of these voce-driven home-assistant devices with screens over this year

Another major direction affecting the home network and consumer electronics is an increased presence of voice-driven home-assistant services in this class of device. Typically this will be in the form of soundbars, wireless speakers, TV remote controls and similar home-entertainment equipment having endpoint functionality for Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

As well, the “smart screens” like what Lenovo, JBL and Amazon are offering will become more ubiquitous, with the ability to augment responses from a voice-driven home assistant. It will be part of having more household appliances and other gadgets work tightly with voice-driven home assistants.

It may be seen as an effort to bridge the multiple network-based multiroom audio platforms so you can run equipment from different vendors as part of one system. But the problem here will be that such setups may end up being more awkward to use.

The smartphone will be facing some key challenges what with people hanging on to these devices for longer and / or running two of them – one for their work or business along with one for personal life. Some new form-factors like folding smartphones will be demonstrated while some of them will be optimised for high-performance activities like gaming.

These devices are being augmented with the return of mobile feature phones or basic mobile phones. These phones are like the mobile phones that were on the market through the 1990s and 2000s and don’t connect to the home network or Internet or use these resources in a very limited way. They are appearing due to people wanting detachment from online life like the Social Web usually as part of the “back to basics” life calling, or simply as a fail-over mobile telephony device.

But as laptops and tablets become full-on computing and communications devices, the feature phones and basic phones will simply work in a complementary way to allow voice telephony or text messaging on the same service in a handheld form.

This situation is being underscored by more mobile carriers offering mobile telecommunications services that aren’t necessarily bound to one particular device. This is to face realities like the connected car, smartwatches with mobile broadband, Mi-Fi devices amongst other things which will be expected to use the same mobile service.

In the same context, there will be a market requirement for mobile communications devices, especially mobile phones, to support two or more services including multiple numbers on the same service. Primarily this will be driven by eSIM technology and over-the-air provisioning, but it will facilitate ideas like totally separate services for one’s business and private lives, or to cater towards people who regularly travel across international borders.

Security and regulatory issues

I do see a strong push towards more secure Internet-of-Things devices for residential, commercial and other applications over this year. This is as regulators in Europe and California put the pressure on IoT vendors to up their game regarding “secure-by-design” products. There is also the expectation that the Internet Of Things needs to be fit for purpose with transport applications, utilities, medical applications and the like where there is an expectation for safe secure reliable operation that cannot be compromised by cyber-attacks.

Here, it may be about the establishment of device-firmware “bug-bounty” programs by manufacturers, industry bodies and others used to unearth any software weaknesses. Then it will lead towards regular maintenance updates becoming the norm for dedicated-purpose devices. It may also include a requirement to for device vendors and end-users to support automatic installation of these maintenance updates but allow for manual installation of major “feature-addition” updates.

This is in conjunction with the Silicon Valley behemoths like Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google having to change their ways due to them under increased scrutiny from governments, media, activist investors, civil society and end-users. It will affect issues like end-user privacy and data transparency, financial and corporate-governance / human-resources practices, along with the effective market power that they have across the globe.

Equipment design

Use of Gallium Nitride transistors for power conversion

A major trend to see more of this year is the increased use of Gallium Nitride transistor technology. This is beyond using this chemical compound for optoelectronics such as blue, white or multicolour LEDs or laser diodes installed in Blu-Ray players and BD-ROM drive for the purpose of reading these optical discs.

Here, it is to multiply the effect silicon had on the design of audio equipment through the 1970s leading to highly-powerful equipment in highly-compact or portable forms. This is through improved heat management that leads to the compact form alongside more powerful transistors for switch-mode circuits.

One of the initial applications will be in the form of highly-compact USB-C Power-Delivery-compliant chargers for laptops and smartphones. This year will be about an increased number of finished products and reference designs that, depending on the application,  yield more than 45W of DC power for USB-C PD applications from either 100-250VAC mains power or 12-24VDC vehicle / marine power. It could then be affecting multiple-outlet “charging bars” and similar devices where the goal is to have something highly compact and portable to power that Dell XPS 13 or Nintendo Switch alongside your smartphone.

I see it also affecting how power-supply circuitry for computers, peripherals, network equipment and the like is designed. This can lead towards equipment having the compact profile along with reduced emphasis on factoring in thermal management in the design like use of fans or venting.

ARM-based microarchitecture to compete with Intel’s traditional microarchitecture

In the late 1980s, the then-new RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) microarchitecture excelled with graphics and multimedia applications. This is while Intel’s x86-based 16-bit traditional-microarchitecture used in the IBM PC and its clones were focused simply on number-crunching.

But 32-bit iterations of the x86 microarchitecture were able to encroach on graphics and multimedia since the early 1990s. Eventually it led to Apple moving the Macintosh platform away from the RISC-based Motorola CPUs towards Intel-based x86 and x64 traditional microarchitecture.

This was while Acorn Computers and a handful of other computer names worked towards ARM RISC microarchitecture which ended up in smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes and similar applications.

Now this microarchitecture is making a comeback with the Always-Connected PCs which are laptops that run Windows 10 on Qualcomm ARM processors for higher power efficiency. It was brought about with Microsoft releasing a Windows 10 variant that runs on ARM microarchitecture rather than classic microarchitecture.

This will lead to some computer vendors running with at least one or two of these computers in their ultraportable product ranges. But there is investigation in to taking ARM technology to higher-power computing applications like gaming and server setups.

The big question for Intel is what can they offer when it comes to microprocessor technology that can answer what Qualcomm and others are offering using their ARM processors.

Increased SSD capacity

The solid-state drive will start to approach bill-of-material per-kilobyte price parity with the 500GB hard disk. Here, it could lead towards laptops and ultra-compact desktop computers coming with 512Gb SSDs in the affordable configurations. This is also applying to USB-based external storage devices as well as what is integrated in a computer.

Here, the concept of high-speed energy-saving non-volatile storage that would satisfy a “sole computer” situation for a reasonable outlay is coming to fruition. What will still happen with the traditional mechanical hard disk is that it will end up satisfying high-capacity storage requirements like NAS units or servers. In some situations, it may lead towards more NAS units supporting multi-tier storage approaches like bring frequently-used data forward.

Conclusion

This is just a representative sample of what 2019 is likely to bring about for one’s personal and business online life, but as with each year, more situations will crop up over the year.

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5G mobile broadband and Wi-Fi can complement each other

Article

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot press image courtesy of NETGEAR USA

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot – first retail 5G device

Why You’ll Still Need Wifi When 5G Is Everywhere, According To The Wi-Fi Alliance | Gizmodo

Wi-Fi Alliance: Wi-Fi, 5G will be complementary | FierceWireless

My Comments

There is some hype being driven by organisations defending the 5G mobile broadband and Wi-Fi wireless LAN technologies about their technology being the only one for our connected lives.

Some existing devices use 5G mobile-broadband technology but connect to endpoint devices like mobile phones using Wi-Fi. Initially they are routers being deployed by mobile carriers as a proof of concept or for network trials while AT&T were offering a “Mi-Fi” for retail sale in the USA that implements 5G technology. At the moment, 5G hasn’t been rolled out in the form of a smartphone or a mobile-broadband modem that is integrated in or connected by USB to a host computer.

Both Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac and prior technologies) and 4G LTE mobile broadband have seen widespread deployment with each technology being seen by mobile users as offering a complementary role. Networks and equipment running the newer technologies (5G and Wi-Fi 6) will be backward compatible and offer a best-case approach to this compatibility. That is if both the network and end-user equipment run the same technology, the user gains the most benefit from what the new technology offers.

It has been identified that both technologies at their latest specification can complement each other. Here, 5G will earn its keep in the outdoors and in a mobile context while the Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) technology will earn its keep indoors. This is although public-access Wi-Fi networks will be seen by mobile carriers as a cost-effective data-offload tool.

Wi-Fi also has supporting technologies like WiGig and Wi-Fi HaLow. The former one will match 5G for speed but uses a short range equivalent to an ordinary room in the house, while the latter benefits from long range and power efficiency but doesn’t have the speed. Wi-Fi HaLow will then end up in the smart-home, smart-building, connected-car and smart-city application spaces where data throughput isn’t all that necessary. This is while WiGig will end up with virtual reality, augmented reality, 4G video and other bandwidth-intensive applications.

Then there is also the kind of spectrum available for each technology. Wi-Fi technologies primarily rely on unlicensed radio spectrum which makes them popular for households and businesses to deploy. It is in contrast to 5G which, like other cellular mobile telecommunications technologies, relies on licensed radio spectrum which the mobile carrier has to deal with the national radiocommunications authority organise and purchase a license to use.

There is also a trend regarding wireless-network equipment design where there is a software-defined approach towards the media-level components. This is facilitated with small-footprint high-capability computing power and can allow the same piece of equipment to honour newer standards.

Another factor that is never raised is the concept of the local network where data can be transferred between co-located devices at the same premises. 5G is really positioned as a wireless “last mile” setup for providing telecommunications and Internet service to the end-user. This is while Wi-Fi is intended primarily to work as a local network but is used to distribute a single broadband service to multiple endpoint devices.

What really is now seen is that the new 5G mobile broadband and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) LAN technologies can complement each other in a horses-for-courses manner.

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Are we to expect laptops to be mobile phones?

Article

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

Ultraportables soon to serve the same role as smartphones

Cellular voice could be the next step in merging phones and PCs | Windows Central

My Comments

An increasing trend we are seeing with regular desktop and laptop computers is that they are being used for voice and video telephony. Thu is being driven by messaging apps of the Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Viber kind being ported to desktop operating systems; along with softphone applications that provide telephony functionality being made available for these operating systems. The softphone applications, along with Skype are even legitimising this usage case with laptops in the business environment turning them in to secondary or replacement phone extensions.

Headsets like the JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset are used with laptops to make voice calls with messaging apps and soon this will happen for mobile telephony

With these setups, you can talk with the caller using the computer’s integrated or attached microphone and speakers. Or, should you want the same level of privacy associated with holding a handset up to your ear, you can talk to the caller using a wired or Bluetooth headset, of which I have reviewed many on HomeNetworking01.info.

Microsoft and others in the “open-frame” computing world are pushing along with the Always Connected PC which runs ARM RISC microarchitecture rather than the traditional Intel-based CISC kind. These ultraportable computers will also be equipped with a wireless broadband modem that is authenticated using eSIM technology.

The idea is to eventually have these computers become like a smartphone with them linked to the cellular mobile network. It is also alongside the fact that today’s smartphones are effectively pocket computers running a mobile operating system.

It could be easy to say that the Always Connected PC concept is irrelevant because one can “tether” a computer to a smartphone to have access to the mobile broadband service, whether through a USB connection or a Wi-Fi-based “hotspot” function that mobile operating systems support. Or we can simply connect our computers and phones to Wi-Fi networks including publicly-accessible networks like hotspots. For that matter, computers can also be connected to other network types like Ethernet or HomePlug AV networks.

Android main interactive lock screen

Smartphones now are pocket computers

Let’s not forget that the GSM Association and the Wi-Fi Alliance are looking at Wi-Fi networks as a way of providing data-offload functionality. This is through mobile carriers like BT and Telstra offering FON-style community Wi-Fi networks and the Wi-Fi Alliance using Passpoint / Hotspot 2.0 as a way to provide hands-off login to public-access networks.

The Wi-Fi functionality is also being taken further in the context of smartphone-based voice telephony with the use of VoWLAN as another call-transport option for these devices. Some mobile telcos like Telstra even use this as a way to provide voice telephony continuity to their customers if they can’t reach the cellular network but can use Wi-Fi-based Internet.

The focus now is towards the concept of always-connected portable computing with a secure and consistent connectivity experience. This is being brought on through the use of 5G mobile-broadband technology and the interest in edge computing which provides support for localised data processing and storage in a cloud environment.

The eSIM is being pitched as a way to provision mobile service in an online manner, especially to vary the service to suit one’s needs or switch to a competing mobile telco. It also is placing pressure upon mobile telcos to adopt a “service-focused” approach with the idea of having multiple devices on the same mobile account and plan, ringing to the same mobile number and using the same data allowance. The goal with mobile telephony will then be to make or take a voice or video call or send and receive messages on the device that you currently are using rather than changing to a different device for that task.

Connected cars even to be another logical device for one’s mobile service account.

This concept has been driven by the Apple Watch and will be pushed on with smartwatches that have built-in mobile broadband modems. But it will be extended through other devices like smartphones, Always Connected PCs and connected vehicles. There is also the idea of implement the equivalent of a local area network across devices tied to the same service and this will be driven by the trend towards ubiquitous ambient computing.

A question that will come about is the ability to maintain multiple different services on the same physical device whether from the same telco or different telcos. This will be about maintaining separate services for business and private use. Or it could be about travellers who want to maintain a local service while at their destination along with their “home” service. This is a feature that is of relevance in countries where cross-border commuting is the norm thanks to land borders or short affordable ferry rides.

This could be addressed through support for multiple services including the ability to provision a cluster of multiple devices with the one service simultaneously. This same issue can also address the ability for us to use the conventional Internet service based around a hardwired broadband service with a Wi-Fi and / or Ethernet local network in the premises.

What I see out of this new trend is that if your computing device has mobile broadband or connection to the Internet via a local-area network, along with a speaker and microphone, it will become the one-stop computing and communications device. It doesn’t matter what shape or size it is in, being a smartphone, laptop or whatever. As well, the right-sized computing device will serve your computing and communications needs as you see fit.

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The first proven retail 5G device comes in the form of a Mi-Fi router

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot press image courtesy of NETGEAR USA

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot – first retail 5G device

Article – From the horse’s mouth

NETGEAR

NETGEAR Nighthawk® 5G Mobile Hotspot – World’s First Standards-Based Millimeter Wave Mobile 5G Device (Blog Post)

My Comments

There has been a lot of talk about 5G mobile broadband lately with Telstra running consumer trials of this technology in the Gold Coast using 5G “Mi-Fi” devices installed at fixed locations.

Of course, some people are seeing it as an alternative to wireline and fibre next-generation broadband deployments. Here, they are trying to see the technology as an enabler for the “digital nomadic” lifestyle where people live and work while roaming from place to place, keeping in touch with the world with mobile telecommunications technology.

But NETGEAR and AT&T have stepped forward with a production-grade consumer endpoint device as part of a production-grade 5G network being rolled out across the USA. It is typically assumed that the first production-grade consumer endpoint device for a new mobile broadband technology will be a smartphone of some sort or a USB wireless-broadband modem. But this time it is a highly-portable “Mi-Fi” router in the form of a NETGEAR Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot.

Here, it is to use a device that could support high-throughput data transfer arrangements with a network of mobile devices and take advantage of what a production 5G network could offer. As well, the WAN (Internet) aspect of the NETGEAR Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot is based on millimetre-wave technology and is designed according to standards.

Being the first device of its kind, there could be issues with connection reliability because of it implementing technology that is too “cutting-edge”. As more service providers “light up” standards-based 5G networks in more areas and more device manufacturers offer 5G mobile-endpoint devices, it will be the time to show whether 5G can really satisfy mobile-broadband users’ needs or be a competitor to fixed broadband.

I will update this article as NETGEAR and AT&T release more information about this Mi-Fi’s capabilities.

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Product Review–Brother P-Touch PT-P710BT Bluetooth Label Printer

I am reviewing the Brother P-Touch PT-P710BT portable Bluetooth label printer which is designed to work alongside your smartphone or tablet as a label-printing solution. This is simply through the device talking with your smartphone or tablet via a Bluetooth link.

It can work with your regular computer like a laptop if you are using Brother’s labelling software and a Bluetooth connection, which would really come in handy for those of us who use a laptop computer.

Brother PT-P710BT portable Bluetooth label printer with smartphone

The label printer itself

I would describe the Brother PT-P701BT printer’s size as being compact – slightly larger than four cakes of soap stacked face-to-face. Here, it would be something that you could hold in the palm of your hand.

The label printer uses the TZ family of label tapes that are kept in special cassettes. This same family of label tapes is infact used across a large number of their label writers or Wi-Fi label printers in Brother’s stable. This can be of benefit when it comes to ordering supplies for these machines.

Setup

Bluetooth PT-P710BT Bluetooth label printer

The labels come out of this side

It runs on its own replaceable rechargeable battery. Here, this battery is charged by you connecting this printer to a USB charger using a Micro-USB cable like you would with most open-frame smartphones or Bluetooth accessories. Or you could use this same cable to connect the printer to a Windows or MacOS regular computer so you can use Brother’s P-Touch Editor software to create labels.

The setup process to make it work with your Bluetooth-equipped computer or mobile device is that you have to hold down the power button to make the printer discoverable. Then you use the host device’s operating system to find the printer as a new Bluetooth device, similar to what you would do with a Bluetooth headset. It didn’t take long for me to pair this device up with my Android smartphone.

Brother PT-P710BT portable Bluetooth label printer with TZE label tape in place

Brother PT-P710BT portable Bluetooth label printer with TZE label tape in place

When I use this printer with my Windows 10 computer, I found it easier to set the Brother PT-P710BT printer to work as a USB label printer rather than with Bluetooth. It would be achieved by connecting the printer to the host computer using a USB Type-A to USB Type-microB cable or USB Type-C to USB Type-microB cable depending on the connection the host computer has. This is because there wasn’t the software support to allow a proper Bluetooth connection between the host computer and the printer.

Use

I used this label printer to label the fuel tank of a small engine to remind its user of whether to use petrol or 2-stroke mix with this engine. Here, I used the iPrint&Label app on my Samsung Android smartphone and it didn’t take long to turn out that label although I would like to see that app have a quick opportunity to “clear the canvas” on any new setup. The resulting label then came out sharp and clear.

Limitations

Brother could take advantage of various enhanced Bluetooth-peripheral setup experiences such as NFC-based “tap-and-go” pairing for Android phones for Bluetooth label printers and similar peripherals. They could also support the Bluetooth “fast pairing” setup experience being put forward by Apple, Google and Microsoft including, where applicable, the ability to lead users to install the extra software needed to get the most out of the device. This would also include the ability for this printer to work properly with a MacOS or Windows regular computer that is connected to it by Bluetooth, something that would be valued by those of us who use highly-portable computers like laptops.

As well, I would like to have the ability for the Brother P-Touch PT-P710BT label printer be able to operate while connected to the USB power source rather than use that source just for battery charging even if the battery is being charged or at full capacity. This could allow for battery energy conservation while you are at home or in a vehicle, or cater towards using a USB power bank with more battery capacity for longer field projects. Such a state could be indicated with the battery charging LED glowing green while the unit is switched on and connected to a USB source to indicate operation from external power and glowing yellow to indicate that the battery is charging.

To avoid confusion, I would personally like to see the Power LED glow steady while the printer is on and connected to a host device whether by Bluetooth or USB. Then have it glow yellow to indicate that it is discoverable by a Bluetooth host and flash during the pairing-up phase. Having a light that flashes regularly on a device can be seen to be an indication of a fault or warning condition rather than normal operation.

Conclusion – Is it a tool or a toy?

I would position the Brother PT-P710BT Bluetooth label printer as a basic label printer for those of us who use highly-portable computing equipment especially smartphones and always want to use it while “on the go”. Here, I value the ability to provide wireless connectivity without the need to worry about Wi-Fi network issues. It may not work well for team-based work where multiple-host-device connectivity is essential such as for work teams.

It is easy to see this labeller as a toy but for most of us who want to use our “many-function” smartphones to the hilt, it could be seen as a highly-portable tool. This is more so if we are wanting something that is highly compact and ready to go.

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BMW to use the car as a base for a European voice-driven assistant platform

Article

BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant may be the cold, distant German Siri of our dreams | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

BMW Group

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

I have been pushing for the idea of European firms answering what Silicon Valley offers but applying European values to these offerings. Here, it’s like the rise of Airbus and Arianespace from France answering the USA’s leadership in the aerospace industry.

I was calling this out because the European Commission were always worried about the way the popular Silicon-Valley-based online services, especially Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple were doing to European personal and business values like democracy, competitive markets, user privacy and transparency. Their typical answer was to either pass more regulations or litigating against them in the European court system. But they could easily encourage European companies to offer online services that underscore the European mindset through, for example, business-development assistance. 

It is something that is slowly happening with the rise of Spotify, the leading world-wide jukebox, rising from Sweden. There is also a persistent effort within France to answer YouTube with a peer-to-peer video-streaming service.

Now BMW have stepped up to the plate by working on a voice-driven assistant which will initially be focused towards the automotive space. But they intend to take it beyond the vehicle and have it as a European competitor to Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant or Cortana.

But I would say that even if they don’t get it beyond the car dashboard, they could establish it as a white-label platform for other European tech firms to build upon. This could lead to the creation of smart-speaker products from the likes of Bang & Olufsen or TechniSat that don’t necessarily have to run a Silicon-Valley voice-driven assistant platform. Or Bosch or Electrolux could work on a “smart-home” control setup with a voice-driven assistant that is developed in Europe.

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Google Assistant has the ability to break the bad news cycle

Article

Google’s Assistant is here to give you a break from the horrible news cycle | FastCompany

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Hey Google, tell me something good (Blog Post)

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

The news cycle that you hear in the USA has been primarily focused on bad news especially with what President Trump is up to or some natural disaster somewhere around the world. It is a very similar issue that is happening around the world. A common issue that is drawn out regarding this oversaturation of bad news is that it can bring about fear, uncertainty and doubt regarding our lives with some entities taking advantage of it to effectively manipulate us.

Some of us follow particular blogs or Facebook pages that contain curated examples of good news that can break this monotony and see solutions for the highlighted problems. But Google is extending this to a function they are building in to the Google Assistant platform with stories that are curated by people rather than machines and, in a lot of cases, derived from a variety of media sources. But this is facilitated by the Solutions Journalism Network non-profit which is more about solution-focused media coverage.

Of course, there will be the doubters and skeptics who will think that we aren’t facing reality and are dwelling in the “Hippie Days” and the “Jesus People” era of the 1960s and early 1970s. But being able to come across positive solutions for the various problems being put forward, including people working “outside the box” to solve that problem can inspire us.

This is a feature is offering on an experimental basis through the USA only and can be used on your Google Home or other Google-Assistant devices. But as this application is assessed further, it could be easily made available across more countries.

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Should the Android platform be exclusively dependent on the Google Play app store for software?

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

A question that is appearing for Android users is whether software developers can sell software independently of Google Play

Over the last few months, Epic Games released their Android port of Fortnite in a manner that is very unusual for a mobile-platform app. Here, they released this port of the hit game as an APK software package file that is downloaded from their Website and installed on the user’s Android device as if you are installing a program on a regular Windows or MacOS computer. This allows them to maintain control over the sale of game additions and similar merchandise without having to pay Google a cut of their turnover. Or it could allow them to maintain control over the software’s availability such as issue beta or pre-release versions of software or simply offer high-demanding software like action games to devices known to perform at their best with the software.

The Android platform has a default setting of disallowing software installations unless they come from the Google Play Store or the device manufacturer’s app store. This is a software-security setting to prevent the installation of software that has questionable intent on your Android device. But the “regular” computer platforms have implemented other approaches to allow secure installation of software thanks to their heritage of being able to install software delivered on package media or from download resources like the software developer’s Website or a download site. It also caters towards the role that regular computers play in the course of business computing where line-of-business software is being installed on these systems by value-added resellers and solutions providers.

This question will become more real as the Android platform is taken beyond mobile devices and towards the smart TV like with NVIDIA Shield or recent Sony smart TVs. It could also appeal towards other “smart devices” like network printers that are based on the Android software codebase where there is a desire to add functionality through an app store.

Recent efforts that Microsoft, Apple and the open-source community have taken to protect our regular computers against include software-authenticity certification, least-privilege execution, sandboxing and integrated malware detection. In some cases, there is the ability for users to remove software-authenticity certificates from their regular computer in case questionable software was deployed as highlighted with the Lenovo Superfish incident.

Similarly, these operating system vendors and many third parties have developed endpoint-security software to protect these computers against malware and other security threats.

Google even introduced the Google Play Protect software to the Android platform to offer the same kind of “installed malware” detection that Windows Defender offers for the Windows platform and Xprotect offers on the MacOS platform. Samsung even implements Knox as an endpoint-protection program on their Android devices.

Android does maintain its own app store in the form of the Google Play Store but allows device manufacturers and, in some cases, mobile-phone service providers to create their own app store, payment infrastructure and similar arrangements. But it is difficult for a third-party software developer to supply apps independent of these app stores including creating their own app store. This is more so for app developers who want to sell their software or engage in further commerce like selling in-game microcurrency without having to pay Google or others a cut of the proceeds for the privilege of using that storefront.

Android users can install apps from other sources but they have to go in to their phone’s settings and enable the “install unknown apps” or a similar option for them to install apps from sources other than the Google Play Store or their OEM’s / carrier’s app store.

What could be done for the Android platform could be to support authenticated software deployment that uses the same techniques as Microsoft and Apple with their desktop and server operating systems. It can also be augmented with the creation of authenticated app-stores to allow software developers, mobile carriers, business solutions providers and the like to implement their own app stores on the Android platform. The authentication platform would also require the ability for end-users to remove trusted-developer certificates or for certificate authorities to revoke these certificates.

It could allow for someone like, for example, Valve or GOG to operate a “Steam-like” storefront which is focused towards gaming. Or an app developer like Microsoft could use their own storefront to sell their own software like the Office desktop-productivity suite. Then there are people courting the business segment who want to offer a hand-curated collection of business-focused apps including line-of-business software.

But there would have to be some industry-level oversight regarding certified apps and app stores to make it hard for questionable software to be delivered to the Android ecosystem, This also would include app stores having to make sure that their payment mechanisms aren’t a breeding ground for fraud in its various forms.

There will be the common question that will crop up regarding alternative app stores and developer-controlled or third-party-controlled app-level certification is the ability to purvey apps that have socially-questionable purposes like gambling or pornography. Here, the Android ecosystem will have to have the ability to allow end-users to regulate the provenance of the software installed on these devices.

At least the Fortnite software-distribution conversation is raising questions about how software is delivered to the Android mobile-computing platform and whether this platform is really open-frame.

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