Trade Shows Archive

IFA Internationaler Funkaustellung 2010 Comments

IFA LogoI have previously published a separate article about the Internationaler Funkaustellung, celebrating the 50th edition of this show and “positioning” it as a pillar when it comes to consumer-electronics technology in Europe. In that article, I have also positioned it alongside the Consumer Electronics Show hosted in Las Vegas every January as a key consumer-technology event, especially whenever new technologies are being launched or commercialised. 

From the various press reports that I have read, it appears that the industry sees the European consumer-electronics and domestic appliance market as being very stable even through the Financial Crisis. 

Appliances

Since 2008, the IFA have been exhibiting domestic appliances and there is still the desire for energy efficient appliances that are easy to use and make less noise during use. 

Again, there hasn’t been any innovations concerning home-automation or security equipment shown at this exhibition. Nor has there been any activity concerning “backbone” heating or domestic-hot-water equipment. This may also be due to such equipment being provided by building owners rather than by householders. 

White-goods

There have been a few innovations concerning large appliances. This is mainly in the form of an automatic “as-needed” detergent dispensing mechanism for washing machines. 

But the main technology that this site is looking forward to is for Miele and Liebherr to release appliances that work tightly with the “smart grid”. The “smart grid” uses automatic meter reading and “time-of-use” pricing to encourage optimum use of electricity. It also integrates “demand-side load management” so that certain loads can be run with less power drain during peak power-usage times as well as support for “reverse metering” for client-managed power-generation installations like solar panels. 

In Miele’s case, their washing machines, tumble dryers and dishwashers can be set to commence their cycle during the time that the electricity rates are lowest. In Liebherr’s case, their refrigerator can run the freezer at a colder temperature during the time that the electricity rates are lowest so that the freezer becomes an “ice-block” thus avoiding the need to run as much during the day. 

Small-goods

This class of appliance has been mainly focused on lifestyle but there haven’t been any major innovations here. Still, the coffee machine is considered integral to most people’s lifestyle and there is still two different platforms (Nespresso and Senseo) existing for capsule-based espresso machines. 

Now this is where the real activity starts. 

Real competition to the Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and iTunes

This year, IFA 2010 has taken the shine off Apple’s face with the arrival of effective competition to the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and iTunes. This has mainly come in the form of Android-powered smartphones and tablet-style computers being supplied by different manufacturers. 

The event organisers even created a special show area for companies involved in the tablet-computing market to show their wares, whether through hardware, software or accessories. 

Samsung used this year’s IFA to launch the Galaxy Tab device which has an AMOLED display, Wi-Fi networking capability, 3G wireless broadband and has integrated memory capacity of 16Gb. They are also putting more effort behind the Android platform even though they have their hands in other smartphone platforms like Bada and Windows Phone 7. This is while other manufacturers like Lenovo and Toshiba presented devices for launch at a later time. Hanspree also fielded an LED-backlit LCD tablet computer which, like most of iPad’s competitors, is Android-powered. As well, ViewSonic had offered the ViewPad 100 which the first dual-boot tablet computer to run Android or Windows 7. 

As far as smartphones go, there is an increase in the number of Android-powered touchscreen smartphones even though Microsoft took Windows Phone 7 to the final “gold” stage where manufacturers can roll with phones based on that platform. But on September 5, LG had exhibited the Optimus 7 smartphone prototype which was powered by Windows Phone 7 and was demoing it working as a DLNA media control point application that was used to differentiate the phone from other handsets running the same platform. 

At the same time, the Apple iPod Touch has found a legitimate competitor in the form of the Philips GoGear Connect. This is a touchscreen-operated multifunction Internet device that runs on the Android platform. Similarly, Samsung have provided an iPod Touch competitor with their Galaxy Player 50. This device is styled similarly to their Galaxy-series Android smartphones in a similar vein to how the iPod Touch and the iPhone were styled. 

Sony has also answered iTunes as a content store by offering Qriocity as an online-content-retail platform. 

Apple tried to answer this competitive environment by staging their own product-launch event that was ran concurrent with the IFA. This is where they launched iTunes 10 which was a major revision featuring their own social network and extending the AirTunes concept which worked with AirPort Express to select AV-device manufacturers like Denon and rebranding it AirPlay. They also launched a revised iPod Touch which has many of the traits of the iPhone 4 and rolled out a major refresh of iOS 4. 

There has been a fair bit of activity in the “dedicated” e-reader market mainly from Acer, who were fielding their Lumiread e-reader and Sony who were fielding three readers. 

3D and network action in the TV market

2010 is the year of TV innovations 

2010 ist Jahr der Fernsehinnovationen 

 

Der Standard (Austria) described this year’s IFA 2010 as “2010 is the year of TV innovations” (“2010 ist Jahr der Fernsehinnovationen” – original German language). 

This year is also a major technological-improvement year for the main-lounge-area TV. Here, there has been a major effort in commercialising 3D TV and Internet-enabled TV. Most manufacturers are running at least one 3DTV range and running two or three TV ranges with network and Internet functionality. This is because the market is demanding 3D playback and / or online video functionality out of main-lounge-area TV sets or video peripherals. 

There is even the possibility of MSI introducing a 3D-capable laptop computer. As well,Viewsonic is to use the show to launch a 3D photo frame, camera, camcorder and portable TV as part of cashing in on the 3D craze. As well, Sony had launched a 3D home-cinema projector but would this unit need a special screen and Panasonic has also fielded a high-end camcorders capable of 3D when used with an optional attachment lens. 

At the moment, most 3D TVs and active-shutter glasses only work together if they are from the same manufacturer, but what needs to happen is for a standard communications protocol to be established so that it becomes feasible for 3D screens from one manufacturer to work with active-shutter glasses from another manufacturer. This can allow for concepts like glasses that “look the part” for the wearer or the ability to make active-shutter glasses to an optical prescription so you don’t have to wear them over your prescription glasses. 

The Internet-TV function is based upon the TVs having an Ethernet socket and, dependent on the set, 802.11n Wi-Fi wireless network functionality whether integrated or as a plug-in dongle. They will work on a manufacturer-driven platform to provide streamed or on-demand local content via the Internet infrastructure, although some manufacturers, namely Sony, are implementing Google as an Internet-TV platform. Of course, most of these sets will support DLNA media streaming from the home network if you use your home network’s NAS device to store TV shows. 

This has been augmented by the HbbTV “broadcast-broadband” hybrid TV standard being set in stone by the European standards bodies. This will also lead to Internet content and broadcast TV content being delivered to the same screen at the same time and can cater for highly-interactive viewing setups. It has also been encouraged by most of the European ISPs and telecoms carriers offering IPTV services as part of their triple-play Internet services. 

Philips have released a DLNA-capable 3D-Blu-Ray “home-theatre-in-box” system that has 5 satellite speakers and 1 subwoofer but is able reproduce a sound-field of 9.1 channels. This has been achieved through the satellite speakers being equipped with diffuse drivers to make the sound envelope the listeners.  They hava also made sure that this year’s range of 3D Blu-Ray players are DLNA capable with the BDP9600 being equipped with integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi. 

Other AV technology

Acer have achieved the slimmest desktop monitors around with their 13mm thick LED-backlit LCD units. As well, South Korea’s LG had shown the EL9500 which is a 31” OLED TV and are releasing a DLNA-ready 3DTV which uses nano-LED backlighting. 

Samsung have also continued to push out another compact digital camera which can submit photos to DLNA home networks. 

For Denon, this show marks their 100th anniversary and they were using it to launch a set of limited-edition hi-fi components. 

Telefunken have come back to the hi-fi scene with a handful of component-style systems. One of these systems, designed like the legendary Telefunken units of the 1970s, is designed to be part of the home network and also picks up Internet radio. They are also offering an Android-powered set-top box for the German market. 

Fraunhofer IIS had previewed their TA2 (Together Anywhere Together Anytime) technology. This technology allows for  HD-grade pictures and CD-grade sound for videoconferencing with H.264 video codec and AAC-ELD (Enhanced Low Delay AAC) audio codec. It could be supportive of large-screen TVs with integrated camera and microphone for videoconferencing like the recent Skype-enabled TVs that Panasonic, LG and Samsung had released. 

Conclusion

At least this year has become one of those big years that has concerned consumer technology and yielded many innovations. It has encouraged real competition against Apple when it comes to handheld computing devices and has provided a standard level playing field when it comes to Internet-assisted interactive TV.

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Special Report – A Celebration of the 50th Internationaler Funkaustellung

This year is a very special year as far as one of the two annual “pillar” trade shows for consumer electronics is concerned. It is going to mark the 50th time the Internationaler Funkaustellung, the premier trade show for consumer-electronics in Europe, has been hosted. Miss IFA 2010 with 50th IFA logo

What is the Internationaler Funkaustellung?

The Internationaler Funkaustellung, also known as the IFA, is a German trade show which was primarily centred on consumer entertainment electronics but is now also focusing on major and small appliances intended for personal or domestic use. It was initially a way for Germany to show its radio technology prowess when the medium was just to become a commercial reality.

This used to be an event held between August and September of every second year but is now held annually between the same months. It had existed since 1924 but was suspended through World War II as Germany focused its efforts on the war. It was initially hosted in Berlin but was hosted in different larger cities around Germany including West Berlin even when the nation and that city was divided.

Initially, this was used by German consumer-electronics manufacturers to promote their wares and Loewe, one of the German names associated with luxurious TV sets, has been with this show ever since it started.  As the consumer-electronics scene became more international, this trade fair became more international and also became larger.

An important step in the presentation of new technology

I have seen this show in the same league as the Consumer Electronics Show in the USA as being one to watch when it came to consumer electronics. Typically, this show would be where consumer-entertainment technologies that were relevant to Europe, Australia or New Zealand were premiered or commercialised.

Micro Hi-Fi component systems at IFA 1981

Micro Hi-Fi component systems

Radio – TV – Tape Recording – Hi-Fi – Stereo Sound – FM stereo – Microgroove (LP / 45) records – Cassettes – Colour TV – Dolby NR – Teletext – Enhanced Radio Technologies (ARI traffic information priority, RDS with textual display of station metadata) Home Video – Compact Discs –Stereo TV, Hi-Fi Video and Home Theatre –  MiniDisc –  DVD – Digital Radio – Digital TV – Satellite Navigation – HDTV – 3DTV

You name it, it was either premiered or had its European commercial launch here

Teletext display at IFA 1979

Teletext - a predecessor to interactive TV

Of course, this show gave other countries like the USA a look-see in to the consumer-electronics and broadcasting technologies that were in “full swing” in Germany but weren’t being launched or given a commercial chance in the home country. One example was Teletext which allowed TV stations to transmit textual information alongside their video signal, with the end-user being able to call up the information on to the screen of a suitably-equipped TV set using its remote control. Another example was the ARI traffic-information-priority technology where a suitably-equipped car radio could be set to play traffic announcements at a louder volume than the rest of the programme material or tune for only those stations that run the announcements regularly.

Now including domestic appliances and personal care

Since 2008, the organisers had decided to make the IFA show encompass domestic appliances as well as consumer electronics. It was initially a small area of the show but this class of goods increased in its share of the show’s floor space. This even led towards the effective amalgamation of a European home-appliance trade fair with this one in 2009 with this fair become the European universe of all consumer electronic and electrical devices. This trend hasn’t been reflected in the Consumer Electronics Show in the USA, mainly because of a trade-specific fair that covers this class of goods sold in that market or other market-specific reasons.

This was symbolic of a new trend with such appliances being not just a functional element in one’s life but a stronger part of one’s lifestyle. It also included the desire for consumers to buy the major appliances that are more resource efficient, especially as governments are using tax breaks, “scrappage” / “cash-for-clunkers” schemes and similar programs like to assist in this goal.

As well, the last financial crisis has encouraged an increase in “at-home” time and the industry is taking advantage of the fact by integrating small appliances like espresso machines as a way of mimicking the environment of being “out-and-about”.

Relevance to the home and small-business IT world

Over the last ten years, the home network has become an integral part of the consumer lifestyle, especially as “always-on” broadband Internet has become commonplace and the number of multiple-computer households increases. The IFA show has then become a showground for manufacturers to exhibit devices like broadband routers and network-infrastructure equipment as well as desktop and laptop home computers.

Infact, the Wi-Fi-equipped laptop computer and the Wi-Fi wireless home network has become more important over these years thanks in part to the Intel Centrino campaign which emphasised the laptop computer being part of one’s lifestyle. Similarly, mobile phones have become Internet-enabled multi-function devices that can work either with the cellular telephony infrastructure or with a Wi-Fi network. This concept has been spurred on by the recent crop of Nokia phones and the Apple iPhone.

As well, the arrival of file-based media playback, spurred on my MP3 digital audio players, has integrated the computer and the home network as an integral part of the home entertainment system. This functionality was initially in the form of separate devices but has ended up becoming another function of regular audio and video playback hardware and has been enhanced by the use of standards-based technologies like DLNA. Therefore most consumer-electronics firms are using this show to launch or exhibit product models or ranges that feature this ability. Similarly most computer companies are exhibiting network-attached-storage devices that can hold multimedia files and share them around the house.

This concept has extended in to the realm of Internet-based broadcasting where radio or TV content can be obtained live or on-demand from a content-provider’s Website. This has made consumer electronics companies and others work out ways to bring this content forward to TV sets and hi-fi systems without an intimidating and unwieldy device or user interface.

An interesting comparison

  Exhibitors Floor Space (square metres) Visitors
1924 242 3,300 180,000
2010 1.423 134,400 230,000

 

Conclusion

IFA Logo

This is a way of celebrating how this show has become a “pillar” trade fair as far as consumer electronics and technology in the European market is concerned.

All press photos and logos are copyright of Messe Berlin GmBH.

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A laptop that will directly please the Beo-enthusiasts

ASUS NX90: Bang & Olufsen ICEpower Laptop [CES 2010] | Laptop at Hardware Sphere

Dual-touchpad laptop from Asus and Bang & Olufsen – CNET Crave

My comments

Beosound Ouverture There are those of you who may own or have used Bang & Olufsen hi-fi systems or TVs and have become amazed at the beauty of these Danish design masterpieces. Then when you switch on any of these masterpieces, your experience with them is so special, with such benefits as high-quality sound and pictures and a distinct “feel” and user experience.

You may be wondering when this kind of experience will appear on your computer and may have thought of using the Apple Macintosh as a way of coming closer to this experience.

Now Asus have brought this experience closer to the Windows PC user through the release of a laptop computer that has been designed in conjunction with this company. David Lewis, who is a freelance industrial designer who has designed most of the classic B&O masterpieces such as the Beosound 9000 music system and the Beovision LX and MX series of television sets, has been responsible for the key aspects of this design. Similarly, the pictures of this computer when it was open reminded me of the Master Control Panel that was part of the Beosystem 6500 music system, especially with the black keyboard area and the polished-aluminium palm rest. The screen bezel had the speakers integrated in it and was wider than the keyboard area. This made it have the look of one of B&O’s newer flatscreen TVs.

None of this design is complete without there being improvements in the sound-reproduction department. Here, they also used the B&O’s ICEPower Class-D switch-mode power amplification technology, which is known to be one of the few amplifier designs of this type that yield high-quality sound.  The main reason that the speakers are in the screen bezel, rather than facing upwards from the keyboard area, are to focus the sound at the user. This is the common setup practice for sound playing to the audience and is used for hi-fi, TV sound, desktop PCs and other common speaker-based sound reproduction tasks.

With Asus becoming involved with one of the few “audio companies of respect” to design a high-end laptop computer, this certainly shows that there is effort being taken in improving the sound quality of these computers. If this happens further, the quality of the sound that emanates from this class of computer could be improved rather than us having to stick with the usual weak tinny sound or connect these computers to external speakers for better sound reproduction.

These computers also used a “dual-touchpad” design which is often described as being similar to how a master DJ cues up records on his two turntables. This then allows for increased control of the computer, especially when scrolling through material.

Of course, the specifications and software provision are not dissimilar to a high-end multimedia laptop running Windows 7.

This also means that people who work with the Windows operating system can still benefit from classy and elegant computer designs. Once we see computers like this appearing on the market, there will be the desire to offer something that bit extra when it comes to the business-personal laptop computer.

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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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Skype videoconferencing coming soon to regular TV sets

Skype goes living room, embeds on LG, Panasonic HDTVs

Skype, toujours interdit sur 3G, investit les écrans de TV – DegroupNews (France – French language)

Skype Wants to Make Your TV More Social – GigaOM / NewTeeVee (USA)

Skype offers living room TV action – The Register (UK)

From the horse’s mouth

Get Skype On Your TV – Skype Blogs

My comments on this topic

Previously, I had written in this blog about the use of videoconferencing, especially Skype and Windows Live Messenger as a way for families separated by distance to stay in touch. This also included reference to a previously-broadcast television news article about this technology being used to bring older relatives who were at rest homes or supported-accommodation facilities closer to their families. The newscast showed images of the older relative at the supported-accommodation facility celebrating a birthday with the relatives who appeared on a large flat-screen TV set up as a videophone.

In that article. I had talked about integrating your flat-screen TV with your PC for video conferencing by linking your computer to the television via its VGA or HDMI inputs or integrating an older CRT-based TV using its composite or S-Video inputs so many people can benefit from the larger screen.

Over the last few days, I had read some articles about an announcement that Skype had made concerning integrating its functionality into regular “brown-goods” TV sets and associated equipment. The main thrust of this was to implement 720p HD Skype videoconferencing; and with selected Panasonic “VieraCast” and LG “NetCast Entertainment Access” TV sets, you add a webcam supplied by the set’s manufacturer to the sets and connect them to your home network to enable “PC-less” video conferencing. This definitely will appeal to people who find setting up or operating computers very intimidating and may also appeal to those of us who cannot stand the sight of computer equipment in the main lounge area and believe that computer equipment belongs in the den or study.

This will appeal to families who have distant relatives and want to use the TV located in the lounge room or family room to keep in touch with these relatives without much in the way of setup headaches. Similarly, these sets could lower the startup and ongoing costs involved with videoconferencing facilities for places involved with the care of senior citizens because the Skype-equipped TV sets will need very little in the way of staff-training and support costs. It will also appeal to small businesses, farmers and the like because they can benefit from “big-business” videoconferencing at a “small-business” price without “big-business” setup hassles.

As I have said before, this could be extended to other “advanced-TV” platforms like most of the “set-top-box” platforms such as TiVo so that people who have video equipment based on these platforms could benefit from this form of video conferencing without having to add extra boxes or replace their existing TV sets.

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IFA Internationaler Funkaustellung 2009 Comments

The Internationaler Funkaustellung series of trade shows held in Berlin are considered in the industry to be the biggest consumer-electronics trade show. This is even though the show used to be a two-yearly event. In my opinion, the shows are mainly used for launching equipment destined for the European and Asian markets such as PAL-system video equipment or equipment that works on 240V 50Hz AC current; whereas the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas in January is typically for launching equipment destined for North America.

Second year with appliances as part of the show

This year has been the second year that the Internationaler Funkaustellung has exhibited kitchen and laundry appliances. There is more show space dedicated to these products and an increasing amount of space has been allocated to companies selling “smallgoods” – benchtop appliances, floor care, personal care and the like. One of the main focal representative classes of device have been the so-called lifestyle appliances led by the espresso machines.

The main trend has been for the market to be driven by people replacing worn-out inefficient appliances with better, more energy-efficient appliances that suit their needs. It is mainly working on the industry’s premise of users gaining approximately 10 years of service out of the typical home appliance.

This issue also includes interest in the built-in appliances as an alternative to freestanding appliances. This may be a personal comment but It might be worth noting that the European market aren’t in to “pushing down” older appliances to secondary service such as “beer fridges”. This may be due to such things as proactive take-back and recycle programs existing in those countries as well as higher energy costs. Other interesting facts to know about this class of goods is that more appliance makers are relying on electronic circuitry rather than electromechanical means like bimetallic-strip thermostats / timers or motor-driven timers to control the appliances.

Building Automation (HVAC, security systems, “smart home”, “smart grid”)

The home-automation sector which encompasses HVAC (heating and air-conditioning) and building security hasn’t gained strength in the IFA even though there is the energy-efficient “smart-grid” impetus lurking around the corner. The main problem with this is that there ISN’T A COMMON PLATFORM for this application.

Dominance of large-screen HDTV sets

The key product of this year’s IFA was the flat-panel large-screen high-definition TV set. These have been made more cost-effective due to an oversupply of LCD screen modules because business doesn’t want to spend on LCD panels and notebooks because of the financial downturn.

More customers wore interested in large-screen lounge-room sets because of the increased activity towards digital HDTV in Europe. This was encompassing countries that were switching off analogue TV service and going “all-digital” and / or new high-definition channels “lighting up” as well as an increasing amount of HD content being produced. This has also led to a strong replacement-set market, but are older sets still being connected to set-top boxes and “pushed down” to secondary roles?

One main trend being observed was the design of LED-backlit LCD screens leading to energy efficiency and high contrast ratio compared to cold-cathode-fluorescent backlit LCD screens. There has been a fair bit of activity concerning 3D HDTV which was being promoted by the major Japanese firms, especially Sony and Panasonic. Most of the equipment was primarily prototypes showing “known-quantity” content.

As for online connectivity, the main driver for this was access to online-supplied information and entertainment in the lounge room. This has usually manifested in TVs having Ethernet sockets and software that is part of a “widget platform” and / or DLNA-compliant media playback ability. It is also being extended to BluRay players that work with BD-Live interactive content. In this case, Samsung integrated a YouTube front-end in to their BluRay player while Sony ran with two WiFi-enabled BluRay players that can be part of the DLNA Home Media Network. The fact that BD-Live compatible BluRay players are being equipped with DLNA or other network applications is to permit people who own flatscreen HDTVs that don’t have network connectivity to connect these sets to the home network and the Internet.

Mobile Internet Devices

There has been some activity on the Mobile Internet Device front even though the smartphone industry is competing with this class of device. Toshiba had released the JournE touchscreen MID while SMIT released the MID-560 Android-driven unit which works in a similar manner to Clarion’s ClarionMIND portable navigation device / MID. A Chinese outfit called Optima had introduced the Maemo MID which was driven by a Chinese-built Linux distribution. This one raised the stakes by providing integrated 3G WWAN abilities, which could appeal to carriers who want these as a way of reducing subscriber “churn”.

Conclusion

There may not be much in the way of home-network and IT hardware appearing at the Internationaler Funkaustellung this year but most of the endpoint devices are actually appearing in the consumer electronics devices like the flatscreen TVs.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2009 Comments

Kitchen / laundry appliances, building control and security

Unlike the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2008 in Berlin, this show hasn’t headed towards exhibiting kitchen / laundry appliances and building control / security devices. But a show like this could head down that direction under various mandates like the “green” energy-efficiency mandate and the “smart home” mandate.

The main reason that this has been put off is because of the financial downturn in the US where many of these companies who rely primarily on the “new building” market are simply not selling many of these devices, therefore cannot afford to spend on this kind of activity.

Windows 7 Goes Beta

This has meant a major milestone for Microsoft in having Windows 7 legitimately enter the public beta stage. It has allowed the blogosphere to talk about improvements to the way Windows will be working under this operating system.

One major improvement will be the Device Stage where there will be an integrated user interface for all of the peripherals that the computer benefits from. It doesn’t matter whether the device is connected by a USB or other peripheral-connect cable or is accessed over a wireless peripheral link or the IP network the computer is a member of. This interface will provide access to the standard tasks for managing the device as well as any manufacturer-specified tasks for that device.

Another highlighted connectivity improvement is the Windows 7 “Home Group” which simplifies how a home network is set up and represented. This also includes any “non-computer devices” like network media players, network-attached storage units, games consoles and IP cameras.

Large colour bit-map display as a preferred user-interface display for “fixed” consumer electronics

Previously, we have seen “fixed” consumer-electronics devices like stereo / home-theatre equipment, computer network equipment and similar hardware having either a vacuum fluorescent display, monochrome liquid-crystal display, monochrome LED display or lately an OEL display as their user-interface display. Such a display would take up a small area of the device’s front panel and typically show textual information. If they show graphical information, it would be a low-resolution display which represents a “current-function” icon or a bar-graph representing a quantity like sound level.

Now manufacturers are supplying some of their devices with high-resolution colour LCD or OEL displays. Examples of this include the D-Link DIR-685 Wireless-N router / electronic photo frame / UPnP Media Server; Linksys’s Network Home Audio products and Linksys’s new media-focused DLNA NAS boxes. This has been because of high-resolution colour LCD modules of sizes up to 17 inches becoming more cost-effective.

This has allowed the “fixed ”consumer-electronics devices to have a user interface that is very similar to that provided by the coolest portable devices. It has also allowed manufacturers to look towards equipping their devices with touchscreens and iPod-style “spinwheels”. The user-interface menus on these devices are starting to have the same kind of experience that is accepted on the latest set-top boxes or portable media players.

It will certainly make those monochrome user-interface displays look so tired and “yesterday” as far as product user-interface design is concerned.

SDXC – the next-generation high-capacity SD card

The standard SDXC card can hold up to 2Tb, and being part of the SD Card lineup, be available in the three physical card sizes available for these cards. This iteration of the SD card would primarily appeal to portable devices like laptops, DSLRs, HD camcorders, etc. Could the SD card be the replacement for the hard disk especially in small portable computers like netbooks or as a large firmware storage for electronic devices?

The only limitation about this technology would be that SDXC cards wouldn’t be able to be read in the existing SD or SDHC devices.

LCD TVs – 7mm thick, Plasma TVs – 8.8mm thick

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/technology/4159682/Worlds-thinnest-television-unveiled.html

Thinner flat-panel displays based on the common large-screen technologies are appearing. This will allow for improved consolidation for the display unit, thus allowing also for lighter sets and reduced “bill-of-materials” costs for this class of electronics. Manufacturers can allocate more room for extra functionality and there will be less of the overheating that occurs in these sets because of improved airflow over the chassis. This also leads to improvements in operational efficiency thus reducing the accusation about the large-screen flat-panel TVs being as inefficient as a 4-wheel-drive “Toorak tractor”.

MoCA being launched to the consumer

Mostly this will manifest in the form of “Ethernet-Coax” bridges in a similar form to the common “homeplugs” which are simply “powerline-Ethernet” bridges. Read more about MoCA in this article in this blog.

US-market TVs equipped with Netflix and similar service

In the US, Netflix and similar video-on-demand companies are “buttering up” to the “brown-goods” companies to integrate support for their service in their TV sets and similar devices. Similarly, some TV manufacturers are moving towards providing mid-range and premium equipment with built-in large-screen Internet viewing functionality. This will typically require the TVs, PVRs or set-tops to have Ethernet ports or WiFi connectivity.

If a customer wants to use this kind of feature, they should use the wired means (Ethernet, MoCA, HomePlug) rather than WiFi because this will provide increased reliability with these services.

An ideal feature for these sets would be to have DLNA / UPnP AV functionality with “Play-to” support. This can allow one to view or listen to their own media library whether it is held on their own PC or network-attached storage unit. It is more so because a lot of the NAS units pitched at the home market are being equipped with DLNA server functionality.

Linksys DLNA-compliant music systems and NAS boxes

1 music system with CD player, 1 network music system and 1 network audio receiver, all able to be controlled by a Linksys WiFi remote controller. Linksys is also selling “media-optimised” DLNA-compliant NAS boxes, one of which has a memory card slot for “dump to NAS” ability and a colour LCD display.

The “dump to NAS” memory card slot featured on the mid-range and deluxe units could come in handy with digital-camera memory cards and SlotMusic cards by making the content that exists on these cards available to the home network at all times.

Premiere of USB 3.0

The first few devices will be out, mainly in the form of external hard disks. Could this be an alternative to eSATA as an external hard-disk connection? Could it work as a “fat pipe” for a WiFi-N network adaptor.

The situation will be the same as what has happened with the launch of USB 2.0 where it will be available in a “retrofit” form for existing computers. This option will then end up being available as part of computer hardware introduce from next year onwards.

Premiere of eCoupled

Fulton Innovation had officially promoted the eCoupled inductive power-coupling system, providing it as an alternative to corded power for portable devices. They had set up a proving ground at the CES for wirelessly charging mobile phones, cordless power tools and remote controllers.

This technology will benefit portable entertainment and IT devices by achieving a standard wire-free power source for these devices. They also had proven the idea of “parking” a remote control on a set-top box or TV set so it can be charged quickly. It could allow for the TV or set-top box to perform required tasks like shut-down whenever the remote is parked on or removed from the unit.

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