Colour e-ink displays now appear as an e-reader product

Article PocketBook Color e-reader press image courtesy of Pocketbook

Pocketbook Color eReader Hands on Review | Good EReader

Pocketbook Color: eBook-Reader bekennt Farbe (Pocketbook Color: eBook reader shows its colours) | Computer Bild (German Language / Deutsche Sprache)

From the horse’s mouth

PocketBook

PocketBook Color – the Swiss brand will release a new e-reader with color screen (Press Release)

PocketBook Color (Product Page)

Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

My Comments

An e-book reader available on the European market is existing as a commercially-available example of a colour e-ink display.

E-ink is a display technology that works in a similar manner to ink on paper and uses existing light. It only consumes power every time the display is refreshed thus making it more power-efficient. It also works well in bright sunlight due to it not being dependent on a light source that can be easily “washed out” by the sun. Its main application has been handheld e-book readers but it has been limited to black-and-white display.

There has been work taking place to have e-ink displays capable of displaying in colour. It has come through in the form of the E-Ink Kaleido colour display which uses the same e-ink technology.

This has manifested in the Pocketbook Color which is an e-reader that has a colour e-ink display.

This EUR€199 device uses a 6” e-ink touch screen capable of displaying 4096 colours, with a resolution of 1072×1448. There is also LED lighting so you can use this device in darker settings. For audio, it can handle AAC, Ogg Vorbis and MP3 files, which can be played through earphones or a Bluetooth-connected audio device.

It has 16Gb of internal storage and can use SDHC memory cards, not sure what size, with a maximum capacity of 32Gb. This handheld device weighs in at 160 grams, something that would be acceptable for that class of device.

For e-book readers, the colour display may be seen as legitimate for visual novels or books that have colour photos or illustrations. Businesses may see it appealing for distributing brochures and catalogues in an electronic format for offline reading. As well, where colour is used to differentiate or highlight text in a book the colour e-reader will come in to its own here. A classic example of this is are the “red-letter” Bibles where the words of Jesus Christ are written in red.

But I also see the idea of a colour e-ink display appealing to other applications like colour digital signage in use cases where battery power is preferred. Examples of these would include outdoors use or freestanding signs. Or it could be about working towards making e-ink as a viable display alternative for laptops, tablets and smartphones where power efficiency is desired.

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Study confirms content-recommendation engines can further personal biases

YouTube recommendation list

Content recommendation engines on the likes of YouTube can easily lead viewers down a content rabbit hole if they are not careful

Article

This website lets you see how conspiracy theorists fall down the YouTube rabbit hole | Mashable

My Comments

Increasingly a lot of online services, be they social media services, news-aggregation portals, video streaming services and the like, are using algorithms to facilitate the exposure of undiscovered content to their users. It is part of their vision to effectively create a customised user experience for each person who uses these services and is part of an Internet-driven concept of “mass customisation”.

Those of you who use Netflix may find that your newsletter that they send you has movie recommendations that are based on what you are watching. You will also see on the Netflix screen a “recommendations” playlist with movies that are similar to what you have been watching through that service.

A very common example of this is YouTube with its recommended-content lists such as what to view next or what channels to subscribe to. Here a lot of the content that is viewed on YouTube is the result of viewers using the service’s personalised content recommendations.

The issue being raised regarding these algorithms is how they can perpetuate a personal “thought bubble”. It is even though there is other material available on the online service that may not mesh with that “bubble”. Typically this is through surfacing content that amplifies what the viewer has seen previously and can pander to their own biases.

An online experiment created by a Web developer and funded by the Mozilla Foundation explores this concept further in context with YouTube. This experiment, called “TheirTube”, emulates the YouTube content-discovery and viewing habits of six different personalities like conspiracists, conservative thinkers and climate deniers when they view content related to their chosen subjects.

Here, it shows up what is recommended in relationship to content to view next or channels to subscribe to for these different personalities and shows how the content recommendation engine can be used to underscore or amplify particular viewpoints.

It is a common problem associated with the artificial-intelligence / machine-learning approach associated with content recommendation that these services use. This is due to the end-user “seeding” the algorithms with the content that they actually interact with or the logical content sources they actually follow. Here, the attributes associated with the content effectively determine the “rules” the algorithm works on.

If you are trying to maintain some sort of critical thinking and use content services like YouTube for informational content, you may have to rely less on the content-recommendation engine that they use for finding new content. You may find it useful to manually seek out content with a contrasting viewpoint to avoid the creation of a “thought bubble”.

As well, if you follow the online-service’s recommendations in addition to running contrasting content through the online service, you may be in a position to make the content recommendation engine bring up varied content.

The idea of content recommendation engines that are based on what you choose can allow us to be easily cocooned in a content bubble that perpetuates personal biases.

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Windows 10 to offer greater control over graphics processors

Article

Dell XPS 17 laptop press picture courtesy of Dell Australia

Microsoft will be introducing support for better management of graphics processors in computers like the Dell XPS 17 that have Thunderbolt 3 and onboard discrete graphics processors

Windows 10 to give power users more control over their GPUs | Bleeping Computer

New Windows 10 Build 20190 brings default GPU & GPU per application settings along with new post-update experience in Dev channel | Windows Central

My Comments

Previously Windows provided operating-system-level support for handling multiple graphics processors. This is due to the reality of many mainstream laptops being equipped with a discrete graphics processor along with the integrated graphics chipset, providing the ability for users to switch between high-performance or power efficiency depending on whether the computer is on AC power or batteries.

Akitio Node Thunderbolt 3 "card cage" external graphics module - press image courtesy of Akitio

.. so users can choose whether an app uses the onboard discrete graphics processor or a desktop graphics card installed in an external graphics module like this Akitio Node unit

This was achieved either at hardware or graphics-chipset level with special software like NVIDIA Optimus achieving this goal. Then Microsoft recently added this functionality to Windows to allow you to determine whether an application chooses the higher-performance or power-efficient graphics processor.

But in an upcoming feature upgrade, Microsoft will allow fine-tuned control over which graphics chipset applications use. The function is in testing through their Windows Insider beta-testing program.

It will cater towards users who run more than two discrete graphics processors on their system such as a gaming rig with two graphics cards or a laptop / all-in-one / low-profile desktop that has a discrete GPU and Thunderbolt 3 and is connected to an external graphics module. This kind of configuration is primarily offered on Intel-powered premium consumer and business clamshell laptops with a screen size of 15” or more as well as most of the Intel-powered performance-focused laptops.

Here, the users can specify which graphics processor is the one for high-performance computing or can specify that a particular application uses a particular graphics processor.

It is also being driven by the rise of USB4 and Thunderbolt 4, where there will be an effort to make these high-performance USB-C-based peripheral-connection ports ubiquitous and affordable. This could then open up the path for laptops and low-profile / all-in-one desktops to have these ports with their presence being sold on the ability to upgrade the computer’s graphics with an external graphics module.

In the case of a laptop equipped with a discrete GPU and Thunderbolt 3, users may find that the onboard discrete GPU is really a “mobile-grade” type that is intended to be power-efficient but doesn’t perform as good as a desktop graphics card. Here, they would install a desktop graphics card in to a “card-cage” external graphics module and connect it to the computer for better graphics performance.

This may work as a way to allow the use of “fit-for-purpose” graphics processors like a mobile-workstation GPU for a CAD program alongside a gaming-grade GPU for a game. Or a user could run a video-editing program specifically with a graphics processor that is good at rendering the video content while they have another graphics processor available for other tasks.

Personally, I would also like to see Windows offer the ability for users to create an order of preference for high-performance graphics processors either for default high-performance use or for a particular application’s needs. This would come in to its own for graphics-card reviewers who are comparing against their “daily-driver” graphics card, or people who are moving a Thunderbolt-3-equipped laptop between multiple external graphics modules.

Similarly, the control over multiple-graphics-processor setups that Windows is to offer could also evolve towards “task-specific” GPU use. Here, it could be about focusing a graphics chipset towards batch calculation workloads rather than display-focused workloads. This is because people involved with video-editing, media transcoding, statistics, cryptocurrency or similar tasks may prefer to use the kind of chipset that is a “number-cruncher” for those tasks rather than one that excels at interactive computing.

At least Microsoft is working towards answering the needs of power users who deal with two or more graphics processors as part of their personal-computing lives.

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Newer Windows updates will have relevant information about what’s new

Article

Acer Switch Alpha 12 tablet press image courtesy of Acer

Windows 10 major updates will see an improvement to how new functionality is discovered

Windows 10 Insider build 20190 hits Dev channel with new post-update experience | Windows Central

My Comments

When Microsoft officially releases a major Windows 10 feature update, it may be daunting to know what changes have existed to your computing environment as a result of that update.

Here, you may want to know what changes took effect including any new functionality that came about. It may also be about any significant changes to Windows 10’s user experience that you may have to get used to. For some people, finding that a significant change to the user experience may be daunting and that a feature may be delivered but they don’t know how to take advantage of it. This may cause some Windows 10 computer users to delay or avoid major-update cycles all together.

As well, it is more important for people who aren’t sure of any significant changes to how their technology operates, something that can be of concern for the older generations who haven’t had much computer experience. For them, it may be about relearning a skill they already have in order to adapt it to a newly-revised user interface.

Microsoft will be answering this problem with its “Tips” app in Windows 10 from the next feature update onwards. Here it will have a “What’s New” focus that appears after the update is rolled out to highlight any new features or changes to the user experience. This will be updated with every feature update so users are aware of the newly-added functionality.

But I would like to see added to this information relating to improved peripheral and network device support especially where it is relevant to the kind of connections your computer has and devices it is connected to.

For example, it may be about whether a peripheral or network device is gaining class-driver support within Windows or whether the current class drivers that are part of Windows and relevant to the device are gaining any significant improvement. This includes any newer settings that are available to the end-user so they have it working their way.

This can allow a user to rationalise the software that is running on their computer without worrying that they will lose the functions they are dependent on because they remove vendor-supplied software for that device. Similarly, they may want to know whether the installation of a device on a newer computer is going to be a true plug-and-play experience without the need to download and install any extra software. As well, users are then sure they won’t lose device functionality if the device vendor declares end-of-support on that device.

Microsoft is at least taking some steps towards improving the update experience for major updates within Windows in order to make them discoverable and user-friendly.

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WhatsApp to allow users to search the Web regarding content in their messages

WhatsApp Search The Web infographic courtesy of WhatsApp

WhatsApp to allow you to search the Web for text related to viral messages posted on that instant messaging app

Article

WhatsApp Pilots ‘Search the Web’ Tool for Fact-Checking Forwarded Messages | Gizmodo Australia

From the horse’s mouth

WhatsApp

Search The Web (blog post)

My Comments

WhatsApp is taking action to highlight the fact that fake news and disinformation don’t just get passed through the Social Web. Here, they are highlighting the use of instant messaging and, to some extent, email as a vector for this kind of traffic which has been as old as the World Wide Web.

They have improved on their previous efforts regarding this kind of traffic initially by using a “double-arrow” icon on the left of messages that have been forwarded five or more times.

But now they are trialling an option to allow users to Google the contents of a forwarded message to check their veracity. One of the ways to check a news item’s veracity is whether one or more news publishers or broadcasters that you trust are covering this story and what kind of light they are shining on it.

Here, the function manifests as a magnifying-glass icon that conditionally appears near forwarded messages. If you click or tap on this icon, you start a browser session that shows the results of a pre-constructed Google-search Weblink created by WhatsApp. It avoids the need to copy then paste the contents of a forwarded message from WhatsApp to your favourite browser running your favourite search engine or to the Google app’s search box. This is something that can be very difficult with mobile devices.

But does this function break end-to-end encryption that WhatsApp implements for the conversations? No, because it works on the cleartext that you see on your screen and is simply creating the specially-crafted Google-search Weblink that is passed to whatever software handles Weblinks by default.

An initial pilot run is being made available in Italy, Brazil, Ireland (Eire), UK, Mexico, Spain and the USA. It will be part of the iOS and Android native clients and the messaging service’s Web client.

WhatsApp could evolve this function further by allowing the user to use different search engines like Bing or DuckDuckGo. But they would have to know of any platform-specific syntax requirements for each of these platforms and it may be a feature that would have to be rolled out in a piecemeal fashion.

They could offer the “search the Web” function as something that can be done for any message, rather than only for forwarded messages. I see it as being relevant for people who use the group-chatting functionality that WhatsApp offers because people can use a group chat as a place to post that rant that has a link to a Web resource of question. Or you may have a relative or friend who simply posts questionable information as part of their conversation with you.

At least WhatsApp are adding features to their chat platform’s client software to make it easer to put the brakes on disinformation spreading through it. This could he something that could be investigated by other instant-messaging platforms including SMS/MMS text clients.

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Microsoft to allow Android apps to run with Windows

Computer - smartphone interlink concept

You can soon run your Android phone’s apps on your Windows computer but they will run in place on the smartphone with your Windows computer being the user interface

Article

Soon launch Android apps on Windows 10 PC via Your Phone app, as Samsung & Microsoft collaborate | Windows Central

Microsoft Your Phone’s Android apps access feature will be available for all Android smartphones eventually | Windows Central

My Comments

Most desktop-operating-system vendors and other third parties are implementing software that interlinks mobile-platform devices, especially smartphones, with your regular desktop or laptop computer.

It is capitalising on the fact that the user interface and software that a regular computer running a desktop operating system has is more capable for making your work presentable, compared to what a smartphone or mobile-platform tablet offers. But your smartphone or mobile-platform tablet can earn its keep for acquiring content for your magnum opus like taking notes, taking quick photos or browsing the Web for material.

This is typically to allow you to gain access to your mobile device’s data or use your mobile device’s native communications ability from your regular computer’s screen and keyboard. Some of these platforms may even allow you to start viewing a Website on one device then continue viewing it on the other device; or even implement a cross-device “clipboard” so you can copy something you saw on your mobile device then paste it in to something you are editing on your regular computer.

But Microsoft have taken this concept further by working on the “Your Phone” interlink software to allow you to run software installed on your Android smartphone from your Windows 10 regular computer. For example, you could effectively manage your Instagram presence using your Android smartphone’s Instagram client but working it with your Windows laptop’s screen and keyboard. Or you could kill time during a long process on your Windows computer by running a “guilty-pleasure” casual game that you normally play on your Android phone but have its user interface happening on the regular computer.

Effectively, this arrangement runs the software on your Android phone but has your Windows-based computer acting as a “terminal” that is providing input and output for that phone.  It is based on Microsoft’s experience with Remote Desktop Protocol a.k.a Terminal Services which allows one Windows computer to effectively control another Windows computer.

Some questions may come about like transferring files between your computer’s Windows file system and your smartphone’s Android file system for uploading to the app, something that will be considered important for Instagram users who upload video content.

When this function is released as part of the next major feature update for Windows 10, it will initially be able to only work with some Samsung devices. But Microsoft will intend to have it fully available across all of the Android-based devices that can run the “Your Phone” Windows interconnector software.

Here, Microsoft is underscoring the idea of allowing “open-platform” mobile-computing and regular-computing devices to interlink with each other no matter the operating system. This is even to the extent of running mobile-platform apps “in place” on the mobile device.

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Sony releases the WH-1000XM4 headphones to put themselves ahead in the headphone battle

Article

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset press image courtesy of Sony

Sony WH-1000XM4 Bluetooth active-noise-cancelling headset

Sony Has Practically Perfected Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones | Gizmodo Australia

From the horse’s mouth

Sony Electronics

WH-1000XM4 active noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset

The best just got better – Sony announces WH-1000XM4 industry-leading wireless noise cancelling headphones (Press Release)

Product Page

Announcement Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

Promotional Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

Initial price: AUD$549

My Comments

Sony has now raised the bar when it comes to the ideal set of over-the-ear Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones. This is with the fight that is going on between Bose, themselves and Bang & Olufsen to achieve the ideal active noise-cancelling headphone experience with their entry being the WH-1000XM3 headset.

This successor, known as the WH-1000XM4, follows on with what the previous model offers like Bluetooth (Hands Free Profile, A2DP, AVRCP) and the optimised active-noise cancelling. But the Bluetooth audio functionality has support for Sony’s codecs that permit playback of high-resolution audio along with audio optimisation for lossy compressed-audio files.

The active-noise-cancelling has been improved to increased useability in real-world scenarios. This includes optimisation of its functionality for situation-specific requirements like hearing transport announcements or background music played over the vehicle’s or aircraft’s audio setup.

There is even the ability to set the Sony WH-1000XM4 cans up to pause your music and admit ambient sound whenever you want to engage in conversation with other people. This can be done fully automatically when you start speaking or semi-automatically when you cap your hand over one of the earcups.

As well, you have touch control for your device so that you swipe in particular directions to switch tracks or raise and lower the volume or tap the headset to start and stop the music or answer and end a call. There is also a button that can be mapped for use with voice assistants or to manage the active-noise-cancelling function.

But Sony has improved on the multipoint functionality that allows the headset to work with two Bluetooth devices concurrently. Here, it switches automatically between the devices based on whatever audio signal is being offered by the device.

But by following the review chatter, Sony has been able to refine the successor to the WH-1000XM3 Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset in order to create the ideal product in this class. Who knows what the competitors will have in store when they revise their products.

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A call to attention now exists regarding videoconferencing platform security

Article

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

A call to action is now taking place regarding the data security and user privacy of video conferencing platforms

Privacy watchdogs urge videoconferencing services to boost privacy protections | We Live Security

From the horse’s mouth

Officer Of The Privacy Commissioner Of Canada

Joint statement on global privacy expectations of Video Teleconferencing companies (English / Français)

Press Release (English, Français)

Office Of The Australian Information Commissioner

Global privacy expectations of video teleconference providers – with open letter

Federal Data Protection And Information Commissioner (Switzerland)

Audio And Video Conferencing Systems – Privacy Resource factsheet (English, Français, Deutsch, Italiano)

Open Letter (PDF)

Information Commissioner’s Office (United Kingdom)

Global privacy expectations of video teleconference providers

Open Letter (PDF)

My Comments

Thanks to the COVID-19 coronavirus plague, we are making increased use of various videoconferencing platforms for our work, education, healthcare, religious and social reasons.

This has been facilitated through the use of applications like Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams and HouseParty. It also includes “over-the-top” text-chat and Internet-telephony apps like Apple’s Facetime, Facebook’s Messenger, WhatsApp and Viber for this kind of communication, thanks to them opening up or having established multi-party audio/video conferencing or “party-line” communications facilities.

Security issues have been raised by various experts in the field about these platforms with some finding that there are platforms that aren’t fit for purpose in today’s use cases thanks to gaping holes in the platform’s security and privacy setup. In some cases, the software hasn’t been maintained in a manner as to prevent security risks taking place.

As well, there have been some high-profile “Zoombombing” attacks on video conferences in recent times. This is where inappropriate, usually pornographic, images have been thrown up in to these video conferences to embarrass the participants with one of these occurring during a court hearing and one disrupting an Australian open forum about reenergising tourism.

This has led to the public data-protection and privacy authorities in Australia, Canada, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Switzerland and the United Kingdom writing an open letter to Microsoft, Cisco, Zoom, HouseParty and Google addressing these issues. I also see this relevant to any company who is running a text-based “chat” or similar service that offers group-chatting or party-line functionality or adapts their IP-based one-to-one audio/video telephony platform for multi-party calls.

Some of these issues are very similar to what has been raised over the last 10 years thanks to an increase in our use of online services and cloud computing in our daily lives.This included data security under a highly-mobile computing environment with a heterogeny of computing devices and online services; along with the issue of data sovereignty in a globalised business world.

One of the key issues is data security. This is about having proper data-security safeguards in place such as end-to-end encryption for communications traffic; improved access control like strong passwords, two-factor authentication or modern device-based authentication approaches like device PINs and biometrics.

There will also be the requirement to factor in handling of sensitive data like telehealth appointments between medical/allied-health specialists and their patients. Similarly data security in the context of videoconferencing will also encompass the management of a platform’s abilities to share files, Weblinks, secondary screens and other media beyond the video-audio feed.

As well, a “secure by design and default” approach should prohibit the ability to share resources including screenviews unless the person managing the videoconference gives the go-ahead for the person offering the resource. If there is a resource-preview mechanism, the previews should only be available to the person in charge of the video conference.

Another key issue is user privacy including business confidentiality. There will be a requirement for a videoconferencing platform to have “privacy by design and default”. It is similar to the core data-security operating principle of least privilege. It encompasses strong default access controls along with features like announcing new participants when they join a multi-party video conference; use of waiting rooms, muting the microphone and camera when you join a video conference with you having to deliberately enable them to have your voice and video part of the conference; an option to blur out backgrounds or use substitute backgrounds; use of substitute still images like account avatars in lieu of a video feed when the camera is muted; and the like.

There will also be a requirement to allow businesses to comply with user-privacy obligations like enabling them to seek users’ express consent before participating. It also includes a requirement for the platform to minimise the capture of data to what is necessary to provide the service. That may include things like limiting unnecessary synchronsing of contact lists for example.

Another issue is for the platforms to to “know their audience” or know what kind of users are using their platform. This is for them to properly provide these services in a privacy-focused way. It applies especially to use of the platform by children and vulnerable user groups; or where the platform is being used in a sensitive use setting like education, health or religion.

As well it encompasses where a videoconferencing platform is used or has its data handled within a jurisdiction that doesn’t respect fundamental human rights and civil liberties. This risk will increase more as countries succumb to populist rule and strongman politics and they forget the idea of these rights. In this case, participants face an increased exposure to various risks associated with these jurisdictions especially if the conversation is about a controversial topic or activity or they are a member of a people group targeted by the oppressive regime.

Another issue being raised is transparency and fairness. Here this is about what data is being collected by the platform, how it is being used, whom it is shared with including the jurisdictions they are based in along with why it is being collected. It doesn’t matter whether it is important or not. The transparency about data use within the platform also affects what happens whenever the platform is evolved and the kind of impact any change would have.

The last point is to provide each of the end-users effective control over their experience with the videoconferencing platforms. Here, an organisation or user group may determine that a particular videoconferencing platform like Zoom or Skype is the order of the day for their needs. But the users need to be able to know whether location data is being collected or whether the videoconference is tracking their engagement, or whether it is being recorded or transcribed.

I would add to this letter the issue of the platform’s user-friendliness from provisioning new users through all stages of establishing and managing a videoconference. This is of concern with videoconference platforms being used by young children or older-generation people who have had limited exposure to newer technologies. It also includes efforts to make the platform accessible to all abilities.

This is relevant to the security and user privacy of a videoconferencing platform due to simplifying the ability for the videoconference hosts and participants to maintain effective control of their experience. Here, if a platform’s user interface is difficult to use safely. videoconference hosts and participants will end up opting for insecure setups this making themselves vulnerable.

For example, consistent and less-confusing function icons or colours would be required for the software’s controls; along with proper standardised  “mapping” of controls on hardware devices to particular functions. Or there could be a user-interface option that always exposes the essential call-management controls at the bottom of the user’s screen during a videocall.

This issue has come to my mind due to regularly participating in a Skype videoconference session with my church’s Bible-study group. Most of the members of that group were of older generations who weren’t necessarily technology-literate. Here, I have had to explain what icons to click or tap on to enable the camera or microphone during the videoconference and even was starting it earlier to “walk” participants through using Skype. Here, it would be about calling out buttons on the screen that have particular icons for particular functions like enabling the camera or microphone or selecting the front or back camera on their device.

At least the public-service efforts have come about to raise the consistent security and privacy problems associated with the increased use of videoconferencing software.

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Why do I see Thunderbolt 3 and integrated graphics as a valid option set for laptops?

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

The Dell XPS 13 series of ultraportable computers uses a combination of Intel integrated graphics and Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports

Increasingly, laptop users want to make sure their computers earn their keep for computing activities that are performed away from their home or office. But they also want the ability to do some computer activities that demand more from these machines like playing advanced games or editing photos and videos.

What is this about?

Integrated graphics infrastructure like the Intel UHD and Iris Plus GPUs allows your laptop computers to run for a long time on their own batteries. It is thanks to the infrastructure using the system RAM to “paint” the images you see on the screen, along with being optimised for low-power mobile use. This is more so if the computer is equipped with a screen resolution of not more than the equivalent of Full HD (1080p) which also doesn’t put much strain on the computer’s battery capacity.

They may be seen as being suitable for day-to-day computing tasks like Web browsing, email or word-processing or lightweight multimedia and gaming activities while on the road. Even some games developers are working on capable playable video games that are optimised to run on integrated graphics infrastructure so you can play them on modest computer equipment or to while away a long journey.

There are some “everyday-use” laptop computers that are equipped with a discrete graphics processor along with the integrated graphics, with the host computer implementing automatic GPU-switching for energy efficiency. Typically the graphics processor doesn’t really offer much for performance-grade computing because it is a modest mobile-grade unit but may provide some “pep” for some games and multimedia tasks.

Thunderbolt 3 connection on a Dell XPS 13 2-in-1

But if your laptop has at least one Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port along with the integrated graphics infrastructure, it will open up another option. Here, you could use an external graphics module, also known as an eGPU unit, to add high-performance dedicated graphics to your computer while you are at home or the office. As well, these devices provide charging power for your laptop which, in most cases, would relegate the laptop’s supplied AC adaptor as an “on-the-road” or secondary charging option.

A use case often cited for this kind of setup is a university student who is studying on campus and wants to use the laptop in the library to do their studies or take notes during classes. They then want to head home, whether it is at student accommodation like a dorm / residence hall on the campus, an apartment or house that is shared by a group of students, or their parents’ home where it is within a short affordable commute from the campus. The use case typifies the idea of the computer being able to support gaming as a rest-and-recreation activity at home after all of what they need to do is done.

Razer Blade gaming Ultrabook connected to Razer Core external graphics module - press picture courtesy of Razer

Razer Core external graphics module with Razer Blade gaming laptop

Here, the idea is to use the external graphics module with the computer and a large-screen monitor have the graphics power come in to play during a video game. As well, if the external graphics module is portable enough, it may be about connecting the laptop to a large-screen TV installed in a common lounge area at their accommodation on an ad-hoc basis so they benefit from that large screen when playing a game or watching multimedia content.

The advantage in this use case would be to have the computer affordable enough for a student at their current point in life thanks to it not being kitted out with a dedicated graphics processor that may be seen as being hopeless. But the student can save towards an external graphics module of their choice and get that at a later time when they see fit. In some cases, it may be about using a “fit-for-purpose” graphics card like an NVIDIA Quadro with the eGPU if they maintain interest in that architecture or multimedia course.

It also extends to business users and multimedia producers who prefer to use a highly-portable laptop “on the road” but use an external graphics module “at base” for those activities that need extra graphics power. Examples of these include to render video projects or to play a more-demanding game as part of rest and relaxation.

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module press picture courtesy of Sonnet Systems

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module – the way to go for ultraportables

There are a few small external graphics modules that are provided with a soldered-in graphics processor chip. These units, like the Sonnet Breakaway Puck, are small enough to pack in your laptop bag, briefcase or backpack and can be seen as an opportunity to provide “improved graphics performance” when near AC power. There will be some limitations with these devices like a graphics processor that is modest by “desktop gaming rig” or “certified workstation” standards; or having reduced connectivity for extra peripherals. But they will put a bit of “pep” in to your laptop’s graphics performance at least.

Some of these small external graphics modules would have come about as a way to dodge the “crypto gold rush” where traditional desktop-grade graphics cards were very scarce and expensive. This was due to them being used as part of cryptocurrency mining rigs to facilitate the “mining” of Bitcoin or Ethereum during that “gold rush”. The idea behind these external graphics modules was to offer enhanced graphics performance for those of us who wanted to play games or engage in multimedia editing rather than mine Bitcoin.

Who is heading down this path?

At the moment, most computer manufacturers are configuring a significant number of Intel-powered ultraportable computers along these lines i.e. with Intel integrated graphics and at least one Thunderbolt 3 port. A good example of this are the recent iterations of the Dell XPS 13 (purchase here) and some of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 family like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

Of course some of the computer manufacturers are also offering laptop configurations with modest-spec discrete graphics silicon along with the integrated-graphics silicon and a Thunderbolt 3 port. This is typically pitched towards premium 15” computers including some slimline systems but these graphics processors may not put up much when it comes to graphics performance. In this case, they are most likely to be equivalent in performance to a current-spec baseline desktop graphics card.

The Thunderbolt 3 port on these systems would be about using something like a “card-cage” external graphics module with a high-performance desktop-grade graphics card to get more out of your games or advanced applications.

Trends affecting this configuration

The upcoming USB4 specification is meant to be able to bring Thunderbolt 3 capability to non-Intel silicon thanks to Intel assigning the intellectual property associated with Thunderbolt 3 to the USB Implementers Forum.

As well, Intel has put forward the next iteration of the Thunderbolt specification in the form of Thunderbolt 4. It is more of an evolutionary revision in relationship to USB4 and Thunderbolt 3 and will be part of their next iteration of their Core silicon. But it is also intended to be backwards compatible with these prior standards and uses the USB-C connector.

What can be done to further legitimise Thunderbolt 3 / USB4 and integrated graphics as a valid laptop configuration?

What needs to happen is that the use case for external graphics modules needs to be demonstrated with USB4 and subsequent technology. As well, this kind of setup needs to appear on AMD-equipped computers as well as devices that use silicon based on ARM microarchitecture, along with Intel-based devices.

Personally, I would like to see the Thunderbolt 3 or USB4 technology being made available to more of the popularly-priced laptops made available to householders and small businesses. It would be with an ideal to allow the computer’s user to upgrade towards better graphics at a later date by purchasing an external graphics module.

This is in addition to a wide range of external graphics modules available for these computers with some capable units being offered at affordable price points. I would also like to see more of the likes of the Lenovo Legion BoostStation “card-cage” external graphics module that have the ability for users to install storage devices like hard disks or solid-state drives in addition to the graphics card. Here, these would please those of us who want extra “offload” storage or a “scratch disk” just for use at their workspace. They would also help people who are moving from the traditional desktop computer to a workspace centred around a laptop.

Conclusion

The validity of a laptop computer being equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 or similar port and an integrated graphics chipset is to be recognised. This is more so where the viability of improving on one of these systems using an external graphics module that has a fit-for-purpose dedicated graphics chipset can be considered.

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Nearby Share to be coming very shortly to an Android device near you

Articles

Transfer data between two smartphones

Wirelessly transferring data between two devices in the same space – now for Android

Google Officially Launches Nearby Sharing | DroidLife

Android’s ‘Nearby Share’ file sharing feature is finally launching | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Instantly share files with people around you with Nearby Share (Blog Post)

Support Page

Video – Tap or click to play on YouTube

My Comments

Google has been doing work on its own across-the-room data-transfer technology, now known as Nearby Share. It is the Android platform’s answer to Apple’s AirDrop feature that many iOS users are using to “beam” photos to other users.

There have been previous attempts on the Android platform to offer this feature like Bluetooth Object Push Profile and NFC-based technologies like Android Beam.

But this will work in a true-wireless approach with support for Bluetooth, WebRTC and peer-to-peer Wi-Fi technologies. That means it isn’t dependent on a functioning Internet connection for it to run.

Your Android phone or tablet will need to have Android 6.0 or newer and the functionality will be delivered as part of the Google Play Services update. This means that it is updated independently of the operating system codebase, thus answering the problem associated with a lot of Android devices where manufacturers and carriers won’t support the device two years after it is launched.

This feature will have privacy-focused options like anonymous transfer and the ability for users to limit their discovery to only their contacts or only to selected contacts. As well, recipients don’t see the actual material about to be transferred so they don’t get shocked by someone pushing out unwanted material.

A good approach to handling AirDrop, Google Nearby Share and similar across-the-room data-transfer setups in a safe manner is to keep your devices undiscoverable to others. Then, when you have confirmed face-to-face that you are intending to use this function, then you make your device discoverable in order to receive the content.

It is available for ChromeOS but will be arriving as part of other platform primarily through software that Google develops for that platform. But there needs to be further work on having true federation for these across-the-room data-transfer protocols in a manner that doesn’t necessitate the installation of extra application software.

For Android users, Google Nearby Share is a step in the right direction to having across-the-room data transfer happening on that platform.

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