Category: Mobile Computing Apps

USA to pry open mobile-app-store market

Article

Google Play Android app store

Legislation or regulation to come about to open up the app-store market on mobile devices to competing providers

How the Open App Markets Act wants to remake app stores – The Verge

What the Open App Markets Act means for future of Big Tech (fastcompany.com)

From the horse’s mouth

US Congress

Open App Markets Act (Follow this law through Congress)

My Comments

At the moment, if you want to add functionality to your smartphone or tablet, you have to use the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store to download the necessary apps. Some Android phone manufacturers like Samsung and Amazon run their own app stores with the former operating theirs alongside Google’s app store and the latter in lieu of that app store.

This process also affects post-download transactions like purchasing the software after a trial, subscribing to the services associated with the software or buying microcurrency for a game using real money. With services like Netflix or Spotify or mobile ports of some desktop software, you use the service’s desktop user interface to sign up and pay for subscriptions then you log in to the user account you created for that service using the mobile app to benefit from what you paid for.

The same approach is being used for the ChromeOS platform and Microsoft and Apple want to push this on to their Windows and MacOS desktop computing platforms. This is more so with Microsoft and the ARM-powered Windows laptops or offering lightweight “S” variants of Windows for cheaper computers. It is also implemented with games consoles, connected-TV/set-top-box platforms, printers, network-attached storage devices, routers, connected vehicles and the smart home as a way to add functionality to these platforms.

This may even apply to app stores on regular computers like the Windows Store

Here, some of the companies in Big Tech want to provide that same kind of walled garden that is expected with games consoles for other computing devices as a way of providing some perceived “simplicity” and security for these devices.

Concern has been raised about this approach due to frustrating competition for apps on these platforms. It includes a monopsony approach where software developers are disadvantaged due to the app store charging commissions on software-related transactions or exacting onerous terms and conditions on software developers who want to have their apps available on the popular mobile platforms.

This is an issue that has been brought about by the Fortnite saga where Apple frustrated Epic’s wishes to sell microtransactions, subscriptions or similar services for Fortnite independently of Apple even for iOS ports of that game. There is similar activity going on in the European Union with the Digital Markets Act to push for competition in the mobile-computing-device realm while the authorities in charge of market competition in the UK and Australia are examining this issue.

What is the Open App Markets Act about?

What the Open App Markets Act means is that competing app markets can exist on mobile and similar-use platforms like iOS and Android. It also requires that these platforms have a requirement to allow users to sideload apps to their devices and the platform can’t default to its own app stores.

Sideloading is primarily transferring software from a regular computer or external / network file storage to the mobile or other device in order for it to run on that device. This is similar to the way we have installed software on our Windows, Macintosh or Linux computers for a long time. Here, we have inserted a floppy disk or CD-ROM in to a computer and ran an installation from that storage medium to have the software on the computer. Or we downloaded the software from the developer’s Website or a download site to our computer’s hard disk and ran the installation program associated with that software to install it.

It could also extend to software developers making the software available to download or purchase from their own Web presences, including processing any post-download payment transactions there. This means that the software developer gains effective control over their software through its lifecycle.

If software developers wish to implement post-download transactions for their software such as converting a trial version to a full-service program, offering subscriptions or selling microcurrency for a game, they can use a competing storefront or facilitate their transactions on their own Websites.

Who would it primarily benefit?

A user group that would benefit from the competitive app market would be gaming enthusiasts. Here, they would benefit from games-focused app stores like Steam, Epic and GOG who run their own leaderboards, online game saving, and online forums. Similarly, games developers would be running their own app stores for their games titles, continuing to offer the same kind of integrated functionality.

I also see Microsoft behind this idea because of software development being their founding stone with an example being the XBox One designed from scratch to support home-developed games. This is because they want to run app stores as a way to make it easier for up-and-coming software developers to put their wares on their market.

What are the issues here?

One key issue that would come up in my mind is a replication of the “bulletin board” or “download site” era that existed before and during the early days of the Internet. This is akin to the “shovelware” magazine-cover CD-ROM era that existed in the early days of optical data storage. That is where you had online or offline collections of poor-quality software available for download or installation on your regular computer. It is something that has affected some app stores in their early days where they were replete with poor-quality apps.

Here, there was very little effort regarding quality control when it came to making software available on a bulletin board or download site or adding software to an optical disc that was attached to a computer magazine. This is compared to most app stores where the people who run the stores vet the software before it is published as well as running “editor’s choice” or “spotlight” programs to feature good-quality software,

Apple and Google challenge the competitive app store approach because they see exclusive app stores as a way to maintain standards regarding software for their platforms.

Here, they see this primarily with data security and user privacy. But they also see this with maintaining legal and social expectations regarding the kind of software available on personal devices. This ranges from issues like suitability for children and suitability to use in the workplace or around your family; along with being able to facilitate access to undesireable content like hate speech or disinformation.

How could these issues be answered?

Computing-platform, operating-system and device vendors, amongst other strong voices in the personal/business IT and cybersecurity world could implement one or more “seal-of-approval” systems on apps or app stores. There would even be various legal protections and requirements placed on the software and app stores like intellectual-property or media-classification requirements, Here, the software or app stores have to maintain certain quality and similar standards before acquiring that “seal of approval”.

Endpoint-security logic that is part of the operating system or a third-party endpoint-security program offered by a brand of respect would add extra friction to installing or running software that doesn’t have one or more of these “seals of approval”. As well, such software would be required to identify and easily remove such software.

Similarly, these companies could vet software developers’ access to software-development kits and application-programming interfaces so that the developer has to be in “good standing” to use the features that matter in an operating system. As well, software-authentication regimes will be implemented in a strong manner for any software that is distributed or installed on these devices.

Is there a risk of a limited rollout of open app-market features

There can be a risk of Big Tech creating versions of their app-store-driven computing platforms for particular geopolitical areas when each area enacts open-app-market legislation.

In this situation, when a user registers a new device or the device’s operating system is updated, there would be logic to test whether the device is within a country or region under an open-app-market mandate then deliver a compliant version of the software to those areas. That is while a noncompliant version of the software is delivered to new or updated devices in areas that don’t have the open-app-market mandate.

This is similar to an issue faced in Australia with the motor industry where vehicle builders are “dumping” vehicles that are less fuel-efficient in to that market. That is because there aren’t the fleet-wide vehicle-efficiency mandates there that are similar to those mandates affecting USA, Europe or South East Asia.

Here, the issue that would be raised is having markets that aren’t regulated with open-app-market mandates being areas to continue the status quo regarding anticompetitive behaviour. Add to this intense lobbying of government or political parties by Big Tech to continue the same kind of behaviour with impunity.

Conclusion

What may be coming about for smartphones, mobile-platform tablets and similar devices is that governments will be forcing open the app-store markets for these devices so that users can seek software from competing suppliers.

Troubleshooting in-app QR-code scanning on your phone

Service Victoria contact-tracing QR code sign at Fairfield Primary School

The Service Victoria QR-code contact-tracing system was one of those app-based QR code setups that may not work properly if your phone’s QR code recognition subsystem isn’t working

A situation that happened with my Android phone recently was that the Services Victoria QR code app failed to recognise a check-in QR code even though it has normally been doing that before. I had to then resort to entering the venue-specific manual-entry code printed below the QR code on the signage to begin the check-in process for that area.

This problem can also happen with something like WhatsApp, Signal or something similar when you are attempting to bind a desktop or other secondary client device to your service’s account. This also extends to Wi-Fi Easy Connect setups that allow you to enrol your phone or another device in to a desired Wi-Fi network.

It can also happen with book+app setups used with interactive books, second-screen apps that are part of interactive-TV setups, or some app-driven coupon systems that are dependent on recognising QR codes for their functionality. Even setting up app-based multi-factor or password-free authentication is dependent on QR codes when you are provisioning that mobile-based authentication app with an online service.

In use cases like WhatsApp, there may not be any alternative like a human-readable code or an NFC tag to use as an alternative to scanning a QR code. This would then make the app or function useless for its intended purposes.

The situation described here is that a QR-code-dependent app that was previously recognising QR codes for that associated system fails to recognise them.

But how did I troubleshoot this problem further?

A lot of these apps that have QR-code scanning functionality are dependent on functionality within iOS or Android that works with the camera to recognise these codes and make them useful for software on your phone. This is to avoid the need for the software developer to reinvent the wheel when it comes to adding this functionality to their apps.

WhatsApp and Signal's relationship with their desktop clients

.. as can setting up Signal or Whatsapp to work with your regular computer or iPad

But if this fails, the apps that depend on this functionality don’t perform as expected when you attempt to scan a QR code with them. This is even though they have enabled the camera and are passing through the vision to the app’s “viewfinder” window. Of course you might think that the rear camera’s lens is dirty or scratched or you are attempting to scan a poor-quality reproduction of the code.

One way to troubleshoot this kind of situation is to scan this kind of code with a dedicated QR-code scan app that is part of your phone’s operating system. Most Android users would have this as part of the Quick Settings menu. Here, this app has the camera behave in a manner optimised for scanning barcodes and QR codes as if it is called upon by one of these QR-dependent apps.

On some platforms, the Camera app’s QR-code recognition function may behave differently due to it using different in-app software from what is part of your phone’s operating system. This is due to the camera software working on a “photography first” approach rather than a “barcode scanning first” approach.

If this app fails to recognise any QR code, you are dealing with a situation where the software processes associated with QR-code recognition crashing or hanging. This situation may happen with other software on your phone underperforming or behaving in an abnormal manner. Here, you may find that it is a good idea to fully restart your phone, which will effectively get everything to a known point.

In this case, you would have to shut down then restart your phone so as to cause it to fully restart. You should see your phone’s manufacturer or operating system logo appear on the screen as part of the restart process.

After the phone is restarted completely, attempt to scan any QR code with the above-mentioned dedicated QR-code scan app that is part of your phone’s operating system. Usually that will succeed after you have restarted your phone due to the necessary software processes being restarted.

You may have also had to deal with a software update for the QR-code recognition software as part of a software-quality or security update for your phone’s operating system. It is typically to rectify any bugs or security exploits in the affected software or simply to “tune up” the software for better performance.

If that succeeds, attempt to scan the QR code using the app you had problems with so you can identify whether that app is at fault or not. It is also a good idea to check for new versions of this app by visiting your mobile platform’s app store and checking for software updates.

The need for a software update for that app may be due to the app’s developers re-engineering it to take advantage of newer QR-code-recognition software libraries, and may also have to apply for any QR-code-dependent apps on your phone. It is although the revised software libraries are most likely written to support “legacy” application software but offer a “new way in” for newer apps.

In the case of your jurisdiction’s contact-tracing check-in app, you may have to do a Google image search for QR codes relating to that platform. Here, some of these images will represent a sharp-enough representation of a “production” QR code at a known place. Or a club or similar organisation may have set up and posted a “test” or “set-up” code to help members with the onboarding process for the contact-tracing check-in platform.

Conclusion

Your phone not working properly with QR codes may not be just a camera or lens problem but software associated with this functionality that simply had stalled or crashed. Here, you may find that you simply restart your phone to gain full functionality.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

Instagram is offering a video service that competes against YouTube

Article

Instagram – now supporting IGTV and competing with YouTube

Instagram is launching its YouTube clone, IGTV, on Android in a few weeks | Android

IGTV in action

Authority

Meet Instagram’s YouTube Clone: IGTV | Gizmodo Australia

Here’s IGTV: Instagram’s vertical answer to YouTube | FastCompany

My Comments

There have been some recent situations where YouTube has become arrogant with how they treat end-users, content creators and advertisers thanks to their effective monopoly position for user-generated video content. One of these was a fight that Google and Amazon got into over voice-driven personal assistants and this led to Google removing YouTube support from Amazon’s Echo Show smart display. I even wrote that it is high time that YouTube faces competition in order to lift its game.

Initially Framasoft who is a French developers got working on an open-source video-distribution mechanism called “PeerTube” with a view to have it compete against YouTube.

But Instagram, owned by Facebook, have set up their own video-sharing platform called IGTV. This will be available as a separate iOS/Android mobile-platform app but also allow the clips to appear on your main Instagram user experience.

Initially this service will offer video in a vertical format for up to 1 hour long. The format is chosen to complement the fact that it is likely to be used on a smartphone or tablet that is handheld. The one-hour length will be offered to select content creators rather than to everyone while most of us will end up with 10 minutes. This may also appeal to the creation of “snackable” video content.

Currently Instagram offers video posting for 60 seconds on its main feed or 15 seconds in its Stories function. This is why I often see Stories pertaining to the same event having many videos daisy-chained.

The IGTV user experience will have you immediately begin watching video content from whoever you follow on Instagram. There will be playlist categories like “For You” (videos recommended for you), “Following” (videos from whom you follow), “Popular” (popular content) and “Continue Watching” (clips you are already working through).

The social-media aspect will allow you to like or comment on videos as well as sharing them to your friends using Instagram’s Direct mode. As well, each Instagram creator will have their own IGTV channel which will host the longer clips.

A question that can easily come up is whether Instagram will make it work for usage beyond mobile-platform viewing. This means support for horizontal aspect ratios, or viewing on other devices like snart-display devices of the Echo Home ilk, regular computers or Smart TV / set-top devices including games consoles.

It is an effort by Instagram and Facebook to compete for video viewers and creators but I see the limitation to the vertical format as being a limitation if the idea is to directly compete with YouTube. But Facebook and Instagram need to look at what YouTube isn’t offering and the platforms they have deserted in order to provide an edge over them.

Microsoft to improve user experience and battery runtime for mobile gaming

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Candy Crush Saga gameplay screen Android

Microsoft researching how games like Candy Crush Saga can work with full enjoyment but not demanding much power

Microsoft Research

RAVEN: Reducing Power Consumption of Mobile Games without Compromising User Experience (Blog Post)

My Comments

A common frustration that we all face when we play video games on a laptop, tablet or smartphone is that these devices run out of battery power after a relatively short amount of playing time. It doesn’t matter whether we use a mobile-optimised graphics infrastructure like what the iPad or our smartphones are equipped with, or a desktop-grade graphics infrastructure like the discrete or integrated graphics chipsets that laptops are kitted out with.

What typically happens in gameplay is that the graphics infrastructure paints multiple frames to create the illusion of movement. But most games tend to show static images for a long time, usually while we are planning the next move in the game. In a lot of cases, some of these situations may use a relatively small area where animation takes place be it to show a move taking place or to show a “barberpole” animation which is a looping animation that exists for effect when no activity takes place.

Microsoft is working on an approach for “painting” the interaction screens in a game so as to avoid the CPU and graphics infrastructure devoting too much effort towards this task. This is a goal to allow a game to be played without consuming too much power and takes advantage of human visual perception for scaling frames needed to make an animation. There is also the concept of predictability for interpreting subsequent animations.

But a lot of the theory behind the research is very similar to how most video-compression codecs and techniques work. Here, these codecs use a “base” frame that acts as a reference and data that describes the animation that takes place relative to that base frame. Then during playback or reception, the software reconstructs the subsequent frames to make the animations that we see.

The research is mainly about an energy-efficient approach to measuring these perceptual differences during interactive gameplay based on the luminance component of a video image. Here, the luminance component of a video image would be equivalent to what you would have seen on a black-and-white TV. This therefore can be assessed without needing to place heavy power demands on the computer’s processing infrastructure.

The knowledge can then be used for designing graphics-handling software for games that are to be played on battery-powered devices, or to allow a “dual-power” approach for Windows, MacOS and Linux games. This is where a game can show a detailed animation with high performance on a laptop connected to AC power but allow it not to show that detailed animation while the computer is on battery power.

Blockchain, NFC and QR codes work together as a tamper-evident seal for food

Article

Blockchain ensures that your online baby food order is legit | CNet

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

On this Website, I have previously covered how certain technologies that work with our smartphones are being used to verify the authenticity and provenance of various foodstuffs and premium drinks.

It has been in the form of NFC-enabled bottle tops used on some premium liquor along with smartphone apps to determine if the drink was substituted along with the supplier being able to provide more information to the customer. In France, the QR code has been used as a way to allow consumers to identify the provenance of processed meat sold at the supermarket in response to the 2013 horsemeat scandal that affected the supply of processed beef and beef-based “heat-and-eat” foods in Europe.

The problem of food and beverage adulteration and contamination is rife in China and other parts of Asia but has happened around other parts of the world such as the abovementioned horsemeat crisis and there is a perpetual question for the US market regarding whether extra-virgin olive oil is really extra-virgin. It can extend to things like whether the produce is organic or, in the case of eggs or meat, whether these were free-range or not. This has led various technologists to explore the use of IT technologies to track the authenticity and provenance of what ends up in our fridges, pantries or liquor cabinets.

The latest effort is to use blockchain which is the “distributed ledger” technology that makes bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies tick. This time, it is used in conjunction with NFC, QR codes and mobile-platform native apps to create an electronic “passport” for each packaged unit of food or drink. This was put together by a Chinese-based startup who created this technology in response to a cat belonging to one of the founders needing to go to the vet after eating contaminated food that the founder had bought from an eBay-like online market based in China.

The initial setup has a tamper-evident seal wrapped around the tin or other packaging with this seal having an NFC element and a QR code printed on it. A smartphone app is used to scan the QR code and it uses the NFC element which fails once the seal is broken to verify that the seal is still intact. Once this data is read on the mobile device, the food item’s electronic “passport” then appears showing what was handled where in the production chain.

At the moment, the seal is like a hospital bracelet which is sturdy enough to be handled through the typical logistics processes but is fragile enough to break if the food container is opened. This could work with most packaged foodstuffs but food suppliers could then design this technology to work tightly with their particular kind of packaging.

The blockchain-driven “passport” could be used to identify which farm was used as the source of the produce concerned, with a human-readable reference regarding the agricultural techniques used i.e. organic or free-range techniques being used. In the case of processed meat and meat-based foods, the technology can be used to verify the kind and source of the meat used. This is important for religious or national cultures where certain meats are considered taboo like the Muslim and Jewish faiths with pig-based meats, British and Irish people with horsemeat or Australians with kangaroo meat.

Once the various packaging-technology firms improve and implement these technologies, it could facilitate how we can be sure that we aren’t being sold a “pig in a poke” when we buy food for ourselves or our pets.

Bluetooth Fast Pairing–to be part of the Android platform

Articles

Android main interactive lock screen

Most recent Android smartphones may be able to support one-touch pair-up for Bluetooth accessories

Android ‘Fast Pair’ will quickly connect Bluetooth devices | Engadget

Announcing Fast Pair – effortless Bluetooth pairing for Android | Android Developers Blog

My Comments

Google has answered the setup method that Apple has implemented for their AirPod wireless in-ear headset by implementing a software-driven “quick-pair” setup that will be part of Android.

This method, called Bluetooth Fast Pairing, works on Android handsets and other devices that run Android 6.0 Marshmallow onwards and have Google Play Services 11.7 or newer installed and support Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (Bluetooth Smart) connectivity. You will have to enable Bluetooth and Location functionality in your handset, but you don’t have to look at Bluetooth device lists on your smartphone for a particular device identifier to complete the setup process.

Google Fast Pair in action - press image courtesy of Google

Click or tap this image to see Google Fast Pairing in action

It is meant to provide quick discovery of your compliant Bluetooth accessory device in order to expedite the setup process that is involved with new devices or to “repair” Bluetooth connections that have failed. This latter situation can easily occur if data in the device regarding associated Bluetooth devices becomes corrupted or their is excessive Bluetooth interference.

The user experience will require you to put your accessory device like a Bluetooth headset, speakers or car stereo in to Bluetooth-setup mode. This may simply be through you holding down the “setup” or “pair” button till a LED flashes a certain way or you hear a distinct tone. On the other hand in the case of home and car audio equipment that has a display of some form, you using the “Setup Menu” to select “Bluetooth Setup” or something similar.

Then you receive a notification message on your Android device which refers to the device you just enabled for pairing, showing its product name and a thumbnail image of the device. Tap on this notification to continue the setup process and you may receive an invitation to download a companion app for those devices that work on the “app-cessory” model for extended functionality.

Google implements this by using Bluetooth Low Energy “beacon” technology to enable the device-discovery process. This is similar to the various beacon approaches for marketing and indoor navigation that are being facilitated by Bluetooth Low Energy, but they only appear while your accessory device is in “Bluetooth setup” mode.

The Google Play servers provide information about the device such as its thumbnail image, product name or link to a companion app based on a “primary-key” identifier that is part of the Bluetooth Low Energy “beacon” presented by the device. Then, once you tap the notification popup on your Android device, the pairing and establishment process takes place under Bluetooth Classic technology.

I see this also as being similar to the various “Plug And Play” discovery process implemented in Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS whenever you connect newer peripherals to your computer. This is where Microsoft and Apple keep data about various peripherals and expansion cards that are or have been on the market to facilitate installation of any necessary drivers or other software or invocation of class drivers that are part of the operating system. For Google and the Android platform, they could take this further with USB-C and USB Micro-AB OTG connectivity to implement the same kind of “plug and play” setup for peripherals connected this way to Android devices.

This system could be taken further by integrating similar logic and server-hosted databases in to other operating systems for regular and mobile computer platforms to improve and expedite the setup process for Bluetooth devices where the host device supports Bluetooth Low Energy operation. Here, I would like to see it based on the same identifiers broadcast by each of the accessory devices.

The Bluetooth Fast Pairing ability that Google gave to the Android platform complements NFC-based “touch and go” pairing that has been used with that platform as another method to simplify the setup process. This is more for manufacturers who don’t have enough room in their accessory device’s design to provide an NFC area for “touch-and-go” setup thanks to very small devices or where NFC doesn’t play well with the device’s aesthetics or functionality.

It may be a point of confusion for device designers like Alpine with their car stereos who place their devices in “discoverable” or “pairing” mode all the time so you can commence enrolling your accessory device at your phone’s user interface. Here, the device manufacturer may have to limit its availability to certain circumstances like no devices paired or connected, or you having to select the “Bluetooth” source or “Setup” mode to invoke discoverability.

At least Google have put up a way to allow quicker setup for Bluetooth accessories with their Android platform devices without the need to build the requirement in to the hardware.