Mobile Computing Archive

Phone integration for in-car audio – not just for the iPhone anymore

Articles

Nokia and Alpine integrating handsets into cars, bringing Ovi Maps to your dashboard — Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Alpine’s press release

My comments

Phones like this one can now let the Alpine blast

Alpine, who has been considered the status symbol as far as car audio is concerned, have been one of the first car-audio manufacturers to provide phone integration for a phone platform other than the Apple iPhone, nowadays considered the status symbol for mobile phones. What they had done is to allow the Symbian-based Nokia phones similar to my N85 to work with the car stereos by providing access to Ovi Maps navigation, the music playlist, weather applets and more alongside the usual calling and phonebook functions.

They have achieved this through “Terminal Mode” which uses a “gateway app” installed on the phone and the phone linked to the system through a USB cable or a Bluetooth link. The phone’s apps can benefit from the larger display found in high-end car-audio installations.

The reasons I am pleased about this technology is that

a) the mobile phone that links with a car stereo for full functionality doesn’t have to be the Apple iPhone

b) there is an incentive for vehicle builders, car-audio manufacturers and handset manufacturers to establish a level playing field for achieving full functionality for mobile phones from the dashboard.

This can also lead to further functionality like Pandora, Last.fm, Internet radio, location-based services and extended navigation becoming available at the dashboard without needing to use multiple applications installed in a phone platform that you don’t have or on your car’s infotatiment platform.

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The touchscreen smartphones with the works

News articles

Samsung unveils Bluetooth 3.0, 802.11n smartphone • Register Hardware

MWC: Samsung Rolls Out Wave Smartphone with Bada OS | eWeek.com

Samsung reveals first Android phone with DLP Pico projector | Android And Me blog

My comments about these phones

I had never thought that someone would come up with touchscreen smartphones that would beat the Apple iPhone hands down in many ways. What Samsung have done with the new Wave touchscreen smartphone and the Halo Android-based touchscreen projector smartphone that they launched at the Mobile World Congress in Spain has, in my opinion, achieved this goal.

One feature that I liked about the Wave and Halo phone were that they were the first few touchscreen smartphone devices to use the OLED technology for its display. This display, which I commented about in my review of my Nokia N85 smartphone, has a lot of advantages over the common LCD display used, such as high contrast and improved energy efficiency. I have often described these displays as being “vacuum-fluorescent displays for battery-operated devices” because they have the same high-contrast display as the vacuum-fluorescent displays found on most home-installed consumer-electronics devices, yet they don’t need as much power to operate as those displays.

Other things that I have liked about the Wave phone include the use of a Bluetooth stack that works to the current Bluetooth 3.0 standard which allows for high-speed data transfer when used in conjunction with the phone’s Wi-Fi transceiver. Speaking of that, the Wi-Fi transceiver is capable of working as a single-stream 802.11n unit which can allow higher throughput on 802.11n Wi-Fi networks. The Android-powered Halo has Bluetooth to 2.1, but has the 802.11n single-stream Wi-Fi.

As well as launching this smartphone at Mobile World Congress, Samsung had established an app-store and developer network so they can compete with Apple when it comes to applications that extend the phone’s function. They are also part of the Wholesale Applications Community which will improve the marketplace for smartphone applications.

Both phones use a micro-SD card slot for memory expansion or “cassette-style” operation when used as a media player. They use a USB connection and a 3.5mm headset jack which makes them compatible with most standards-based mobile phones and accessories. The Android-equipped Halo smartphone will, as far as I know, offer DLNA home media network integration of some sort.

From all that I have heard about these phones, Samsung, who are part of the “New Japan”, has “dipped their toes” in many smartphone platforms and has offered OLED touchscreen smartphones in two different platforms.

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Internet radio in the car – why not?

A few weeks ago, a young teenager friend of mine had the Kogan internet radio, which I previously reviewed a sample of and had bought, “tuned” to an Iranian pop-music station that was broadcasting via the Internet. This youth, who had just turned 18 and was about to get his driver’s licence, was asking whether Internet radio in the car would be a reality.

Issues that limit this concept

One of the main issues would be for the wireless-broadband standards like 3G and WiMAX to support media-streaming in a reliable manner and at a cost-effective rate. Recently, there were issues with AT&T raising concerning about Apple iPhone users drawing down too much data, especially multimedia and another 3G provider wrote in to their subscriber terms and conditions a prohibition against media streaming.

The main issues were how these networks handle real-time content and whether they can stream this content reliably when the vehicle is travelling at highway speeds or faster. This also includes how to achieve this cost-effectively without limiting users’ ability to enjoy their service.

One way that it could be mitigated would be for mobile carriers and ISPs to look towards providing “sweeter” wireless-broadband deals, such as integrating voice and data in to single plans. Similarly,the providers could optimise their services to cater fir this kind of use.

Ways of bringing Internet radio to the speakers

Internet radio functionality integrated in car audio equipment

In this setup, the car-audio equipment, whether as part of the in-dash “head unit” or as an accessory tuner box, has access to a TCP/IP LAN and Internet through a modem or an outboard router. It uses any of the common Internet-radio directories like vTuner or Reciva to allow the user to select any of the audio streams that they want to listen to.

Wireless broadband modem integrated in or connected to car audio equipment

The car-audio equipment would have a wireless-broadband modem integrated in the unit or connected to it. The latter situation could be in the form of a USB “dongle” plugged in to the unit, or a mobile phone that supports wireless broadband being “tethered” by USB or Bluetooth to the unit. If the setup involves an integrated modem or an attached USB “dongle”, the setup may use authentication, authorisation and accounting data from a SIM installed in the unit or “dongle”; or simply use the data from a phone that uses Bluetooth SIM Access Profile.

This practice had been implemented in a Blaupunkt car stereo which was being used as a “proof-of-concept” for Internet radio in the car.

Use of an external wireless-broadband router

This method involves the use of a mobile wireless-broadband router which has an Ethernet connection and / or USB upstream connection with a standard “network-adaptor” device class along with a WiFi connection. Of course, the device would have a wireless-broadband connection on the WAN side, either integrated in to it or in the form of a user-supplied USB modem dongle or USB-tethered mobile phone. A typical example of this device would be the “Autonet” WiFi Internet-access systems being pitched for high-end North-American Chrysler-built vehicles or the “Ford Sync” integrated automotive network available on high-end North-American Ford-built vehicles that gains Internet access with a user-supplied USB wireless-broadband dongle.

Here, the car-audio equipment would have a network connection of some sort, usually an Ethernet connection or a USB connection that supports a common “network interface” device class and would be able to “pick up” Internet radio as mentioned before.

Internet radio functionality integrated in an Internet-access terminal

At the moment, this will become the way to bring Internet radio to most car setups in circulations for some time. The setup would typically represent a mobile phone or laptop computer with an integrated or connected wireless-broadband modem. This would have software or Internet access to the Internet-radio directories and stream the audio through Bluetooth A2DP, an FM transmitter or hardwired through a line-level audio connection, a cassette adaptor or an FM modulator.

Increasingly, there is interest from car-audio firms and Internet-media software firms to establish an application-programming interface between a computer or smartphone running selected Internet-radio directory software and the car sound system. This would typically require use of Bluetooth or USB and use a control method of navigating the directory, in a similar manner to how most current-issue car-audio equipment can control an attached Apple iPod.

The primary platform where this activity may take place would be the Apple iPhone, because of it being the most popular programmable smartphone platform amongst the young men whom the car-sound market targets.The setup was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show 2010 in the form of Pioneer and Alpine premium head units controlling a front-end app for the Pandora “custom Internet radio” service installed in an iPhone connected to the head unit via the special connection cable that comes with that unit.

On the other hand, if a smartphone or MID that is linked to the head unit via Bluetooth A2DP does support the AVRCP profile properly, an Internet-radio application installed on that smartphone could achieve the same goal. This would require that the directory applications are able to expose links to the AVRCP commands and requests.There will also have to be requirements to allow “source selection” between multimedia applications through the AVRCP protocol.

Further comments

This concept will become part of the “connected vehicle” idea which provides real-time access to navigation, telematics, communication and entertainment in a moving vehicle or craft, especially as companies involved in this segment intend to differentiate their offerings. It may also be very desireable as an alternative to regular radio in those areas where most regular radio broadcasts leave a lot to be desired.

Once the cost and quality of wireless broadband Internet is brought down to a level that is par with reasonably-priced wired broadband service, then the concept of Internet radio in the car will become reality.

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Smartphone Version of TwonkyMedia’s DLNA / UPnP Server Now Available | eHomeUpgrade

 Smartphone Version of TwonkyMedia’s DLNA / UPnP Server Now Available | eHomeUpgrade

Now the Android platform is moving closer to the DLNA Home Media Network. Other platforms like the Symbian S60 (Nokia N-Series) and the Apple iPhone have had software solutions that expose content held on their storage location to the DLNA Home Media Network, either as native software in the case of the Symbian S60 platform or as an “app” available through the platform’s usual software resources.

This implementation is very similar to TwonkyMedia Server in that it doesn’t have a “media controller” which could allow the user to “push” media to a “MediaRenderer” device like one of the Sony BRAVIA TVs.  It may come about if TwonkyMediia port the TwonkyMedia Manager program or a developer ports one of the iPhone DLNA controller apps to the Android platform.

It will be interesting to see who will come through with a media controller which will become more realistic with the Android smartphone and MID platform.

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The Apple iPad Tablet computer is now real

Apple unveils the iPad | The Age (Australia)

Apple’s iPad: It’s Real, and It’s $499 | Internetnews.com

iPad d’Apple : magique et révolutionnaire ? | DegroupNews (France – French Language)

From the horse’s mouth

Apple’s iPad Website

My comments about the Apple iPad and Apple’s current direction

Over the past few months, there was a lot of talk about Apple releasing a “slate” computer. This was both in the computer press and amongst computer enthusiasts, including Apple Macintosh users. Most of the suspicions included tight hardware and software integration, including where you can purchase the software from as well as the form factor. Apple was positioning the iPad as an intermediary computing device between their iPhone / iPod Touch platform and the Macintosh computers, especially the MacBook Pro laptops. One Apple enthusiast that I know of was considering deploying it as a “simple computing device” for his mother to use when writing e-mails and doing similar activities,

Now that the Apple iPad is on the scene, I have noticed that most of these suspicions are real. For example, the computer is a larger version of the iPhone or iPod Touch and operates in the same manner as these devices. Like most Apple products, it will only work with a limited Apple-approved ecosystem of accessories like an “iPad desk stand” and an “iPad keyboard stand”. As well, the user won’t be able to replace anything in the computer, which will lead to the computer having to go to an Apple-approved repairer if the battery habitually fails to keep its charge for example.

As for software, you will need to go to the Apple iTunes empire to buy apps, music, video or “iBooks” which are Apple’s e-books. I was skimming through the CNET liveblog and they reckoned that there were many credit cards associated with the iTunes empire due to the many iPods and iPhones out in circulation. Apple had even ported their “iWork” productivity suite to this platform and made the individual pieces – the Keynote presentation program, the Pages word-processing program and the Numbers spreadsheet program – available as individual apps or as a package through the App Store. The plethora of existing iPhone apps – an app for every part of your life – can work “out of the box” with this device, but Apple had revised the SDK to allow App Store developers to design the app to work in a “best-case” manner with either the iPad or the iPhone. This may happen more so if the developer revises the app as part of upgrading it.

These facts about the hardware and software availability have had a few Apple enthusiasts that I know of worried that Apple was becoming a “dark emplre” – a monopolistic monolith of a company —  in a similar manner to what Microsoft was accused of becoming with the Windows platform. Some of these enthusiasts were even considering moving to other platforms like Windows or Linux. No mater what, there will still be the Apple enthusiasts who will prefer that their iT solution in their life has that Apple logo on it.

I also reckon that government bodies like the European Commission and the US Department Of Justice weren’t seeing the recent iTunes-iPod-iPhone-driven anticompetitive behaviour that Apple was showing in an “anti-trust” light, yet they see Microsoft as being anticompetitive with its integration of Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player in to the Windows platform.

The iPad works on an A4 processor which is optimised for this kind of computing and uses the same touch-screen and accelerometer-driven input as the iPhone. It uses a larger QWERTY software keypad for text entry but you will have to use the aforementioned keyboard stand which has a “chiclet” keyboard if you want to use a hardware keyboard/

There will be two levels of connectivity available for the computer – one with 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth and one with 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth and 3G wireless broadband. The latter version will most likely be available through the iPhone dealers. most likely as a subsidised device that is part of a 3G wireless-broadband contract. In the US, this would be with AT&T as they are Apple’s US partner. Each level of connectivity will have the standard memory levels that are available with the iPod Touch – 16Gb, 32Gb and 64Gb.

This unit will integrate in to a home network in a similar manner to how the iPhone and iPod Touch integrated in to such networks. This means that it will work with any 802.11g or 802.11n segment, but may not offer native support for UPnP Internet Gateway Device management. The iTunes software will be optimised to work with other Apple devices, but you can use iPhone apps like PlugPlayer to integrate this unit with a DLNA-based home media network.

Whatever way, I reckon that the iPad may build up a class of “internet tablet” devices from the main platforms and make basic computing and Internet-access tasks easier for most people.

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Internet radio in the car – why not?

A few weeks ago, a young teenager friend of mine had the Kogan internet radio, which I previously reviewed a sample of and had bought, “tuned” to an Iranian pop-music station that was broadcasting via the Internet. This youth, who had just turned 18 and was about to get his driver’s licence, was asking whether Internet radio in the car would be a reality.

Issues that limit this concept

One of the main issues would be for the wireless-broadband standards like 3G and WiMAX to support media-streaming in a reliable manner and at a cost-effective rate. Recently, there were issues with AT&T raising concerning about Apple iPhone users drawing down too much data, especially multimedia and another 3G provider wrote in to their subscriber terms and conditions a prohibition against media streaming.

The main issues were how these networks handle real-time content and whether they can stream this content reliably when the vehicle is travelling at highway speeds or faster. This also includes how to achieve this cost-effectively without limiting users’ ability to enjoy their service.

One way that it could be mitigated would be for mobile carriers and ISPs to look towards providing “sweeter” wireless-broadband deals, such as integrating voice and data in to single plans. Similarly,the providers could optimise their services to cater fir this kind of use.

Ways of bringing Internet radio to the speakers

Internet radio functionality integrated in car audio equipment

In this setup, the car-audio equipment, whether as part of the in-dash “head unit” or as an accessory tuner box, has access to a TCP/IP LAN and Internet through a modem or an outboard router. It uses any of the common Internet-radio directories like vTuner or Reciva to allow the user to select any of the audio streams that they want to listen to.

Wireless broadband modem integrated in or connected to car audio equipment

The car-audio equipment would have a wireless-broadband modem integrated in the unit or connected to it. The latter situation could be in the form of a USB “dongle” plugged in to the unit, or a mobile phone that supports wireless broadband being “tethered” by USB or Bluetooth to the unit. If the setup involves an integrated modem or an attached USB “dongle”, the setup may use authentication, authorisation and accounting data from a SIM installed in the unit or “dongle”; or simply use the data from a phone that uses Bluetooth SIM Access Profile.

This practice had been implemented in a Blaupunkt car stereo which was being used as a “proof-of-concept” for Internet radio in the car.

Use of an external wireless-broadband router

This method involves the use of a mobile wireless-broadband router which has an Ethernet connection and / or USB upstream connection with a standard “network-adaptor” device class along with a WiFi connection. Of course, the device would have a wireless-broadband connection on the WAN side, either integrated in to it or in the form of a user-supplied USB modem dongle or USB-tethered mobile phone. A typical example of this device would be the “Autonet” WiFi Internet-access systems being pitched for high-end Chrysler vehicles or the “MyFord” integrated automotive network that gains Internet access with a user-supplied USB wireless-broadband dongle.

Here, the car-audio equipment would have a network connection of some sort, usually an Ethernet connection or a USB connection that supports a common “network interface” device class and would be able to “pick up” Internet radio as mentioned before.

Internet radio functionality integrated in an Internet-access terminal

At the moment, this will become the way to bring Internet radio to most car setups in circulations for some time. The setup would typically represent a mobile phone or laptop computer with an integrated or connected wireless-broadband modem. This would have software or Internet access to the Internet-radio directories and stream the audio through Bluetooth A2DP, an FM transmitter or hardwired through a line-level audio connection, a cassette adaptor or an FM modulator.

Increasingly, there is interest from car-audio firms and Internet-media software firms to establish an application-programming interface between a computer or smartphone running selected Internet-radio directory software and the car sound system. This would typically require use of Bluetooth or USB and use a control method of navigating the directory, in a similar manner to how most current-issue car-audio equipment can control an attached Apple iPod.

The primary platform where this activity may take place would be the Apple iPhone, because of it being the most popular programmable smartphone platform amongst the young men whom the car-sound market targets.The setup was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show 2010 in the form of Pioneer and Alpine premium head units controlling a front-end app for the Pandora “custom Internet radio” service installed in an iPhone connected to the head unit via the special connection cable that comes with that unit.

On the other hand, if a smartphone or MID that is linked to the head unit via Bluetooth A2DP does support the AVRCP profile properly, an Internet-radio application installed on that smartphone could achieve the same goal. This would require that the directory applications are able to expose links to the AVRCP commands and requests.There will also have to be requirements to allow “source selection” between multimedia applications through the AVRCP protocol.

Further comments

This concept will become part of the “connected vehicle” idea which provides real-time access to navigation, telematics, communication and entertainment in a moving vehicle or craft, especially as companies involved in this segment intend to differentiate their offerings. It may also be very desireable as an alternative to regular radio in those areas where most regular radio broadcasts leave a lot to be desired.

Once the cost and quality of wireless broadband Internet is brought down to a level that is par with reasonably-priced wired broadband service, then the concept of Internet radio in the car will become reality.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2010

I have written some other posts about the Consumer Electronics Show 2010, mainly about the rise of Android and about Skype being integrated in to regular TV sets. But this is the main post about what has been going on at this show.

TV technologies

The main technologies that were present at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show were those technologies related to the TV set.

US consumers are in a TV upgrade cycle due to the country undergoing a digital TV switchover and are preferring flatscreen sets over CRT sets. This is even though there are digital-TV set-top boxes being made available at very cheap prices and through government subsidy programs. The main reality is that the older sets will be “pushed down” to applications like the spare bedroom with the newer sets being used in the primary viewing areas.

Screen Technologies

The main technology that is capturing the CES show floor is 3D TV. This has been brought on by the success of “Avatar” and requires a 3D-capable TV and, for Blu-Ray discs, a 3D-capable Blu-Ray player. In the case of broadcast content, some HD-capable set-top boxes and PVRs that are in the field can be upgraded to 3D functionality through an “in-the-field” firmware update.

In most cases, viewers will need to wear special glasses to view the images with full effect and most implementations will be base on the “RealD” platform. Some eyewear manufacturers are even jumping in on the act to provide “ready-to-wear” and prescription glasses for this purpose.

Vizio had also introduced a 21:9 widescreen TV even though activity on this aspect ratio had become very dormant.

Blu-Ray

The US market has cracked key price marks for standalone lounge-room players and there is an increase in the supply of second-tier models, especially integrated “home-theatre-in-box” systems and low-cost players.

US ATSC Mobile DTV standard

You may not be able to get away from the “boob tube” at all in America with portable-TV products based on the new ATSC Mobile digital TV standard which has been released to the market this year.

LG are launching a mobile phone and a portable DVD player with mobile DTV reception capability. They are also releasing a mobile ATSC DTV tuner chip that is optimised for use in in-car tuners, laptops and similar designs. Vizio are also releasing a range of handheld LED-backlit LCD TVs for this standard.

A key issue that may need to be worked out with this standard is whether an ATSC Mobile DTV device can pick up regular over-the-air ATSC content. This is more so if companies use this technology as the TV-reception technology for small-screen transportable TVs typically sold at the low-end of the TV-receiver market. It is also of concern with computer implementations where a computer may be used as a “one-stop entertainment shop” with TV-reception abilities.

There is a small Mobile-DTV – WiFi network tuner, known as the Tivit, that was shown at the CES. It is a battery-operated device that is the size of an iPhone and uses the WiFi technology to pass mobile TV content to a laptop, PDA or smartphone that is running the appropriate client software. It has a continuous “battery-only” run-time of 3 hours but can be charged from a supplied AC adaptor or USB port. I consider this product as being a highly-disruptive device that could be deployed in, for example, a classroom to “pass around” TV content, but it also has its purpose as something to show the ballgame on a laptop during the tailgate picnic. The main question I have about this is whether it can be a DLNA broadcast server so that people can use them with any software or hardware DLNA-based media playback client.

Network-enabled TV viewing

This now leads me to report on what is happening with integrating the TV with the home network.

More of the “over-the-top” IPTV and video-on-demand solutions (Netflix, CinemaNow, Hulu, etc) are becoming part of most network-enabled home video equipment. In the US, this may make the concept of “pulling out the cable-TV cable” (detaching from multichannel pay-TV services) real without the users forfeiting the good content. They could easily run with off-the-air network TV or basic cable TV and download good movies and television serials through services like Netfilx or Hulu.

The main enabler of this would be the “Smart TVs” which connect to the home network and the Internet, thus providing on-screen data widgets, YouTube integration, DLNA content access, as well as the “over-the-top” services. Even so, the TV doesn’t necessarily have to have this functionality in it due to peripheral devices like home-theatre receivers (Sherwood RD-7505N) and multimedia hard disks (Iomega ScreenPlay Director HD) having these functions. Of course, games consoles wouldn’t be considered complete nowadays unless they have the functionality.

RF-based two-way remote control

Some home-AV manufacturers are moving away from the regular one-way infrared remote control, mainly in order to achieve increased capability and increased reliability. These setups are typically in the form of a hardware remote control or software remote control application that runs on a smartphone and they use Bluetooth as a way of communicating with the device.

These setups will typically require the customer to “pair” the remote control or the smartphone as part of device setup, which will be an experience similar to pairing a Bluetooth headset with a mobile phone. They have infra-red as a user-enabled fallback method for use with universal remote controls, but this could at least foil the likes of disruptive devices like “TV Turn-Off”.

The main driver behind this form of two-way remote control is to provide a secondary screen for interactive video such as BD-Live Blu-Ray discs. Infact, Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” Blu-Ray disc implements this technology in the form of an iPhone app which links with certain Blu-Ray players to use the iPhone’s user interface as a jukebox for the title.

Smartphones and MIDs

Previously, I had done a blog article on the rise of the Android platform as a challenger to the Apple iPhone market share as far as smartphones are concerned.. There is even talk of Android working beyond the smartphone and the MID towards other device types like set-top boxes and the like, with some prototype devices being run on this operating system.

There is an up-and-coming MID in the form of the Adam Internet Tablet MID. This Android-based unit which can link to WiFi netwoks and has a 32Gb SSD, also has a new display-type combination in the form of an anti-glare LCD / e-ink display

This year. the “smartbook” is gaining prominence as a new general-purpose computing form factor. It is a computer that looks like a netbook but is smaller than one of them. It is powered by an ARM-processor abd could run integrated 3G or cellular calls; and its functionality is more equivalent to that of a smartphone.

There have been some E-book readers shown but these are mostly tied to a particular publisher or retail chain.

Connected Car Media

Pioneer and Alpine have equipped their top-of-the-line multimedia head units with “connected radio” functionality. This function works with a USB-tethered iPhone running the Pandora Internet Radio app. Both these solutions act as a “controller” for the Pandora app, with the iPhone pulling in the online content through that service. The Pioneer solution also offers a “virtual-DJ” function in the form of an extended-functionality app that works alongside iTunes. All these solutions are intended to appeal to the young fashion-conscious male who sees the iPhone as a status symbol and likes to have his car “thumping” with the latest tunes. These solutions don’t seem to go anywhere beyond that market, whether with other mobile-phone platforms or other online-media applications like Internet-radio streams.

Ford  have developed the MyFord sophisticated dashboard and online telematics system and were demonstrating it at this show. This will work with a user-supplied 3G modem and also supports WiFi router functionality. Typically, this will be rolled out to the top-end of Ford’s US market, such as the Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.

Digital Photography

The new cameras of this year have seen improved user-interfaces, including the use of touchscreen technology and some manufacturers are toying with the use of fuel-cell technology as a power-supply method.

As far as network integration goes, Canon have enabled their EOS 7D digital SLR with this functionality once equipped with the optional Canon WiFi adaptor. This solution even provides for DLNA media-playback functionality.

The aftermarket Eye-Fi WiFi SD memory card was shown as a version, known as the Pro Series, that can associate with 802.11n networks.

The unanswered question with network-enabled digital photography hardware is how and whether these solutions will suit the needs of many professional photographers.  The main questions include whether the units will associate with many different wireless networks that the photographer visits without them having to re-enter the network’s security parameters. Another question is whether these solutions can work with higher-security WPA2-Enterprise networks, which is of importance with photographers working in most business, government and education setups.

Computer equipment

“New Computing Experience” alive and well in the US market. Market interested in powerful lightweight laptops that are slightly larger than netbooks. These will be driven by processors that are energy-efficient but are powerful. They could become an all-round portable computer that could appeal to college students and the like or simply as a desktop replacement. The machines that I think of most with this market are the Apple Macbook Pro comoputers that are in circulation, the HP Envy series or the smaller VAIO computers.

Nearly all of these computers that are being launched at the show are running Windows 7, which shows that the operating system will gain more traction through the next system-upgrade cycle.

USB 3.0

There has been some more activity on the USB 3.0 SuperSpeed front.

Western Digital had released an external hard disk that works on this standard, which is known as the MyBook 3.0. This my typically be slow as far as peripherals go because of not much integration in to the computer scene. VIA have also shown a USB 3.0 4-port hub as a short-form circuit, but this could lead to USB 3.0 hubs appearing on the market this year.

ASUS and Gigabyte have released motherboards that have USB 3.0 controllers and sockets on board. These may appeal to system builders and independent computer resellers who may want to differentiate their desktop hardware, as well as to “gaming-rig” builders who see USB 3.0 as bragging rights at the next LAN party. None of the laptop OEMs have supplied computers with USB 3.0 yet.

As far as the general-purpose operating systems (Windows, MacOS X, Linux) go, none of them have native USB 3.0 integrated at the moment but this may happen in the next service lifecycle of the major operating systems.

Some more benefits have been revealed including high-speed simultaneous data transfer (which could benefit external hard disks and network adaptors) and increased power efficiency, especially for portable applications.

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Google takes on the iPhone with the Android platform

Over the past few years, the coolest phone to be “seen with” was the Apple iPhone and and you were even considered “more cool” if your iPhone was filled with many apps downloaded from the iTunes App Store. Some people even described the iPhone as an “addiction” and there has often been the catchcry “an app for every part of your life” for the iPhone. I have covered the iPhone platform a few times, mainly mentioning a few iPhone-based DLNA media servers and controllers and the “I Am Safe” iPhone app. Other smartphone platforms like the Symbian S60 and Windows Mobile platforms fell by the wayside even though hardware manufacturers and the companies standing behind the platforms were trying to raise awareness of the platforms.

Then, over the last year, Google was developing a Linux-based embedded-device platform known as the Android platform, with a view to making it compete with the Apple iPhone. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show has become awash with smartphones, MIDs, smartbooks and other hardware based on this platform.

The main advantage of this platform is that it is a totally free, open-source platform which allows for standards-based smartphone and embedded-device development. At the moment, there is only one phone – the Nexus One – available on the general market. Other phones that have been talked about include the Motorola “Droids” which have their name focused on the Android operating system. But if these other devices that are being put up during the show are made available on the market, this could lead to a competitive marketplace for smartphone platforms.

Even the app-development infrastructure has been made easier for developers in some respects. For example, developers are able to design a user-interface that works properly on different handset screen sizes. This makes things easier for Android handset builders who want to differentiate their units with screen sizes. A good question to ask is whether a developer is allowed to bring their technology like a codec that they have developed or licensed to their project without having to make the technology “open-source”. This may be of concern to the likes of Microsoft if they want to port their technology to the Android platform. Similarly, would an app developer have to make their projects “open-source”, which may be of concern to games developers who have a lot at stake?

Once the Android platform becomes established, this could “spark up” Microsoft, Symbian and Blackberry to put their handset platforms on the map and encourage further innovation in the handset and embedded-devices sector.

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Application-distribution platforms for smartphones and other devices

At the moment, there are an increasing number of PDAs, smartphones and mobile Internet devices that can be given extra functionality by the user after they buy the device. This is typically achieved through the user loading on to their device applications that are developed by a large community of programmers. This practice will end up being extended to other consumer-electronics devices like printers, TVs, set-top boxes, and electronic picture frames as manufacturers use standard embedded-device platforms like Android, Symbian or Windows CE and common “embedded-application” processors for these devices. It will be extended further to “durable” products like cars, business appliances and building control and security equipment as these devices end up on these common platforms and manufacturers see this as a way of adding value “in the field” for this class of device.

From this, I have been observing the smartphone marketplace and am noticing a disturbing trend where platform vendors are setting up their own application-distribution platforms that usually manifest as “app stores” that run on either the PC-device synchronisation program or on the device’s own user-interface screen. These platforms typically require the software to be pre-approved by the platform vendor before it is made available and, in some cases like the Apple iPhone, you cannot obtain the software from any other source like the developer’s Web site, competing app store or physical medium. You may not even be able to search for applications using a Web page on your regular computer, rather you have to use a special application like iTunes or use the phone’s user-interface.

People who used phones based on the Windows Mobile or Symbian S60 / UIQ platform were able to install applications from either the developer’s Website or a third-party app store like Handango. They may have received the applications on a CD-ROM or similar media as the mobile extension for the software they are buying or as simply a mobile-software collection disc. Then they could download the installation package from these sites and upload it to their phone using the platform’s synchronisation application. In some cases, they could obtain the application through the carrier’s mobile portal and, perhaps, have the cost of the application (if applicable) charged against their mobile phone account. They can even visit the application Website from the phone’s user interface and download the application over the 3G or WiFi connection, installing it straight away on the phone.

The main issue that I have with application-distribution platforms controlled by the device platform vendor is that if you don’t have a competing software outlet, including the developer’s Web site, a hostile monopolistic situation can exist. As I have observed with the iPhone, there are situations where the platform vendor can arbitrarily deny approval for software applications or can make harsh conditions for the development and sale of these applications. In some cases, this could lead to limitations concerning application types like VoIP applications being denied access to the platform because they threaten the carrier partner’s revenue stream for example. In other cases, the developer may effectively receive “pennies” for the application rather than “pounds”.

What needs to happen with application-distribution platforms for smartphones and similar devices is to provide a competitive environment. This should be in the form of developers being able to host and sell their software from their Website rather than provide a link to the platform app store. As well, the platform should allow one or more competing app stores to exist on the scene. It also includes the carriers or service providers being able to run their own app stores, using their ability to extend their business relationships with their customers like charging for software against their customers’ operating accounts. For “on-phone” access, it can be facilitated in the form of uploadable “manifest files” that point to the app store’s catalogue Website.

As well, the only tests that an application should have to face are for device security, operational stability and user-privacy protection. The same tests should also include acceptance of industry-standard interfaces, file types and protocols rather than vendor-proprietary standards. If an application is about mature-age content, the purchasing regime should include industry-accepted age tests like purchase through credit card only for example.

Once this is achieved for application-distribution platforms, then you can achieve a “win-win” situation for extending smartphones, MIDs and similar devices

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Britt Lapthorne Inspired I Am Safe IPhone App By Tim Hine

Britt Lapthorne Inspired I Am Safe IPhone App By Tim Hine | The Age Digital Life

I Am Safe – Home Site 

iTunes App Store Direct

My comments

The “I am safe” application was written primarily in response to Britt Lapthorne’s disappearance in Croatia, but may have been brought about by the kidnap and murder of British tourists, Peter Falconio and Joanna Lees, in Northern Territory, Australia during July 2001.

It effectively “copies” the primary panic-alarm function on the typical monitored security system to your smartphone by sending out e-mail messages, SMS and / or voice messages to designated contacts as well as recording sound and providing a real-time update of the iPhone’s location on a Google map once you start this app.

There is a two-tiered delay arrangement where, after a few seconds, the phone will ring to indicate that it is gaining the location and starting recording. Then it will wait a few more seconds before sending out the e-mails and SMS messages. The messages will have a URL with reference to a “monitoring” Web page that hosts the Google map and an audio feed from the phone.

Equivalence to “panic” mode in a building alarm system

I had thought about this application further and related it to the “panic” or “hold-up” mode available on most, if not all, building alarm systems. This is usually where the user can press a dedicated “PANIC” key or, on most 12-key codepads, the * and # keys at the same time, to cause the alarm to signal to the monitoring service that the user is under threat. Similarly, some installations may use a remote panic button or wireless transmitter to fulfil this function. Some of the installations may also cause the local siren to sound in this condition.

From what I read, I also found that there are risks that can become real if tourists are faced with a nervous or paranoid attacker. One main issue is that the tourist could be forced to cancel the alert cycle or shut down the phone if the assailant is aware that the device could “rat on” them.

Possible software improvement ideas

An improvement that I would be wanting to see for this software is a PIN-to-cancel option where the user must key in a user-defined PIN number or the phone’s PIN number to cancel the alarm cycle. This would prevent the attacker from immediately cancelling the alarm cycle.

As well, I would like to see a “duress code” function as part of the PIN-to-cancel option where the user keys in a “decoy code” to immediately start the alarm cycle and transmit a special “attempt to cancel under duress” message as part of the alert message. This is again similar to most building alarm systems offering this function where the user knows a “decoy code” or "decoy modifier” for the user code that they use when they are disarming the system under duress. These systems then send a “duress” signal to the monitoring station and, in some cases, cause the local alarm to sound.

Need to port to other smartphone platforms

As well as addressing the security issues with the author, I also raised the issue of porting the program to other smartphone platforms. It’s too easy to agree that the Apple iPhone is the only smartphone on this earth but there are other platforms like the Blackberry, the Symbian S60 (Nokia phones) and the Windows Mobile platforms out there in the field. Some of these platforms, such as the Blackberry, have won hearts with the business community; and the Nokia phones have won hearts with European users. In fact, I have used Nokia Symbian S60 phones over the last two 24-month mobile-phone contracts with Telstra and am using a Nokia N85 on another 24-month plan, again with Telstra.  As well, the Google Android platform is coming up as a serious contender for the Apple iPhone.

The various “ports” could provide for platform-specific features like use of the phone’s hardware keypads that are common in some of the platforms; as well as use of series-specific hardware switches. For example, the software could allow the user to press and hold down * and # together on the phone keypad or press and hold down a button on the phone’s side to instantly start the alarm cycle.

Conclusion

The “I am safe” application has definitely provided the concept of adding the equivalent of a monitored alarm’s “panic” or “hold-up” function to a smartphone for use around town or around the globe. It would certainly provide peace of mind for all travellers, their loved ones and their business partners / employers.

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