Mobile Computing Archive

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.

Send to Kindle

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.

Send to Kindle

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.

Send to Kindle

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.

Send to Kindle

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.

Send to Kindle

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.

Send to Kindle

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.

Send to Kindle

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.

Send to Kindle

Across-the-room data transfer–many questions need to be answered

Transfer data between two smartphones

Wirelessly transferring data between two devices in the same space

The industry has explored various methods for achieving point-to-point across-the-room data transfer and user discovery. This would avoid the need to use the Internet or a mobile phone network to share a file or invite another user to a game or social network. Similarly, it would be a way to exchange data with a device like a printer or an interactive advertising setup in order to benefit from what that device offered.

Methods that have been tried

The first of these was IrDA infra-red transfer working in a similar to how most TV remote controls work to allow you to change channels without getting off the couch. This was exploited by the legendary Palm Pilot PDA and some of the Nokia mobile phones as a way to “beam” one’s contact details to a friend or colleague with the same device.

Bluetooth pushed forward with the Object Push Profile and File Transfer Profile as methods for exchanging data across the room. This was typically useful for contact details, low-resolution photos or Weblinks and was exploited with the popular feature phones offered by the major phone manufacturers through the 2000s. This method was also exploited by the out-of-home advertising industry as a way to convey Weblinks or contact details from a suitably-equipped poster to suitably-equipped mobile phones set to be discoverable.

But Apple nipped this concept in the bud when they brought out the highly-popular iPhone. The concept has been kept alive for the regular-computer operating systems and for Android mobile applications but mobile users who want to exchange data would have to ask whether the recipient had an Android phone or not.

Bluetooth also implemented that concept with the 4.0 Low Energy Profile standard by using “beacons” as a location tool. But this would be dependent on application-specific software being written for the client devices.

Microsoft is even reinstigating the Bluetooth method to transfer files between two computers in the same room as part of the functionality introduced in the Windows 10 April Update. But I am not sure if this will be a truly cross-platform solution for Bluetooth as was achieved with the earlier Object Push Profile or File Transfer Profile protocols.

Apple tried out a method similar to Bluetooth Object Push Profile called AirDrop but this implemented Wi-Fi-based technology and could only work with the Apple ecosystem. It was associated with “cyberflashing” where lewd pictures were forced out to unsuspecting recipients and Apple implemented a “contacts only” function with contacts’ emails verified against their Apple ID email logins as a countermeasure against this activity.

QR Code used on a poster

QR codes like what’s used on this poster being used as a pointer to an online resource

The QR code which is a special machine-readable 2D barcode has the ability to convey contact details, Weblinks, Wi-Fi network parameters and other similar data to mobile phones. These can be printed on hard-copy media or shown on a screen and have a strong appeal with business / visiting cards, out-of-home advertising or even as a means for authenticating client devices with WhatsApp.

Facebook even tried implementing QR codes as a way to share a link to one’s Profile or Page on that social network. Here, it can be a secure method rather than hunting via email or phone number which was raised as a concern with the recent Facebook / Cambridge Analytica data-security saga,

The Android and Windows communities looked towards NFC “touch-and-go” technology where you touch your phones together or touch an NFC card or tag to transfer data. This has been exploited as a technique to instigate Bluetooth device pairing and implemented as a method of sharing contact data between Android and / or Windows devices. For a file transfer such as with contact details, the data itself is transferred using Bluetooth in the case of Android Beam or Wi-Fi Direct in the case of Samsung’s S Beam feature.

The Wi-Fi Alliance are even wanting to put up a Wi-Fi-based method called Wi-Fi Aware. Here, this would be used for data transfer and other things associated with the old Bluetooth Object Posh Profile.

This is implemented on a short-range device-to-device basis because users in the same room may not be connected to the same Wi-Fi Direct or Wi-Fi infrastructure network as each other. There is also the reality that a properly-configured Wi-Fi public-access network wouldn’t permit users to discover other users through that network and the fact that a typical Wi-Fi network can cover the whole of a building or a street.

But there could be the ability to enable data transfer and user discovery using Wi-Fi Aware but being able to use a Wi-Fi infrastructure network but allow the user to define particular restrictions. For example, it could be about limiting the scope of discovery to a particular access point because most of these access points may just cover a particular room. Using the access points as a “scoping” tool even if the host devices don’t connect to that network could make the concept work without jeopardising the Wi-Fi infrastructure network’s data security.

Applications

There are a series of key applications that justify the concept of “across-the-room” data transfer. Typically they either involve the transfer of a file between devices or to even transfer a session-specific reference string that augments local or online activity.

The common application here is for a user to share their own or a friend’s contact details with someone else as a vCard contact-detail file. Another common application is to share a link to a Web-hosted resource as a URL. But some users also use across-the-room data transfer to share photos and video material such as family snapshots. In the same context, it could be about a dedicated-pudevice sending or receiving a file to or from a regular computer or mobile device such as to transfer .

In the advertising and public-relations context, “across-the-room” data transfer has been seen as a way to transfer a URL for a marketer’s Website or a visual asset to an end-user’s phone or computer. For example, the QR code printed on a poster has become the way to link a user to a media-rich landing page with further explanation about what is advertised. Similarly some out-of-home advertising campaigns implemented the Bluetooth Object Push Profile standard as a way to push an image, video or Weblink to end-users’ mobile phones.

But “across-the-room” data transfer is also being used as a way for users in the same space to discover each other on a social network or to identify potential opponents in a local or online multiplayer game. I find this as a preferred method for discovering someone to add to a social network or similar platform I am a member of so that I can be sure that I am finding the right person on that platform and they are sure about it. Also, in the case of a local multiplayer game, the players would have to continue exchanging data relating to their moves using the local data link for the duration of their game.

Facebook even explored the idea of using QR codes as a way to allow one to invite another person whom they are chatting with to be their Facebook Friend or discover their Facebook Page. It is infact an approach they are going to have to rediscover because they are closing off the users’ ability to search for people on the social network by phone number or email thanks to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

What does the typical scenario involve?

The users who are in the same area are talking with each other about something that one of them has to offer such as contact details or a photo. Or, in the context of advertising or other similar situations, there will be some prior knowledge that there is something to benefit from knowing more about the offer using an online experience.

One of the users will invoke the transfer process by, for example, sharing the resource or hunting for a potential game opponent using their device’s user interface. The other use will share a nickname or other identifier to look out for in the list that the initial user is presented.

Then the other user will confirm and complete the process, including verifying success of that transfer and agreeing that the contents are what they were expecting. In the case of adding another user to a social network or multiplayer game, they will let the instigating user know that they have been added to that network or game.

What does a successful across-the-room data transfer or user-discovery ecosystem need?

Firstly, it needs to be cross-platform in that each device that is part of a data transfer or user/device discovery effort can discover each other and transfer data without needing to be on the same platform or operating system.

Secondly, the process of instigating or receiving a data transfer needs to be simple enough to allow reliable data transfer. Yet end-users’ data privacy should not be compromised – users shouldn’t need to receive unwanted content.

The protection against unwanted discovery or data transfer should be assured through the use of time-limited or intent-based discovery along with the ability for users to whitelist friends whom they want to receive data from or be discovered by in the wireless-based context. Intent-based discovery could be to have the recipient device become undiscoverable once the recipient device confirms that they have received the sender’s data or, in the case of a local multiplayer game, the players have completed or resigned from the game.

Conclusion

The concept of “across-the-room” data transfer and user/device discovery needs to be maintained as a viable part of mobile computing whether for work or pleasure. Where operated properly, this would continue to assure users of their privacy and data sovereignty.

Send to Kindle

Laptops and mobile devices could implement system-wide battery-saving techniques

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

There needs to be software-wide support for determining when a laptop like the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 is on battery power or not so it runs in a manner to conserve battery power

I had read a Lifehacker article about how one could disable real-time malware scanning on a laptop while it is running on battery power as a way to “spin out” the battery runtime further. This was because if the desktop-security program is performing real-time scanning, it would be using a processor thread and demanding more power to do that job.

It is in addition to Microsoft researching ways to minimise screen refreshing while a portable computer is running on batteries so as to conserve battery power. Here, it was about avoiding the need for the CPU and graphics infrastructure to devote lots of energy to “painting” the whole screen when there is a small amount of animation taking place.

Here, I am advocating a “dual-power” approach for software development to allow software to operate in two different modes – a high-performance mode and a power-economy mode. The operating system would sense if the computer is running on external power or battery power and convey this power status to the software applications accordingly. This is in addition to optimising the display, Wi-Fi or other functionality depending on their power source.

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

It also applies to smartphones like this Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus so they can take advantage of time they are connected to a charger

It is similar to how some portable electronics made through the 70s to the 90s operated depending on the power source. For example some portable radios and boomboxes along with some personal audio players would have the dial or display illuminated while they were connected to external power but you could activate this lighting at the press of a button if the unit was running on batteries. Or some devices would charge rechargeable batteries installed therein while they were connected to external power.

Also there is a reality that most of us will plug our laptops, tablets or smartphones in to a charger while we are at home, in the office or in the car even while we have a full battery in our devices. This is typically to “spin out” the battery runtime and make sure the battery’s “topped off”. In this situation, if we use our devices while they are plugged in to the external power source, we could see a situation where they work in a higher-performance mode.

For example, a game could activate extra “between-move” animations only while the laptop, tablet or smartphone is connected to external power. Or a program which does a lot of calculations like a photo-editing program could work in a “high-performance” mode while on external power. Similarly an email client or similar program could work in a “manual refresh” mode on battery power or an endpoint security program could enable real-time scanning and similar functionality only while on external power.

Candy Crush Saga gameplay screen Android

Games like Candy Crush Saga could work in a manner to provide the best experience depending on if the mobile device is connected to external power or not

What needs to happen is for the desktop or mobile operating system to convey the device power-mode status to all of the apps as part of an “application-programming-interface” hook and for the apps to take advantage of that hook to adapt their behaviour.  The functionality could be enabled or disabled for each application through a configuration option in the application’s settings window.

A security issue that can easily be raised is enablement of unwanted cryptomining and other processes while the mobile device is on external power as a way to facilitate stealthy operation of these processes. This is to make it appear to the user that the unwanted processes don’t exist because there isn’t the excessive battery drain taking place with these processes.

In the privacy context, determining whether a device is running on external power could be used to assume whether the device is at a fixed location or not because AC mains power is the common power source associated with these locations. This is although external power supplies can be used in a mobile context such as being connected to a vehicle’s, boat’s or aircraft’s power infrastructure and used while underway for example.

What is being highlighted here is for the feasibility for operating systems in portable computing devices to convey a system-wide power-mode status relating to use of external power. This is to allow application software to work in a manner to conserve the host computer’s battery power.

Send to Kindle