Home Authors Posts by Isuru Wijeyaratne
The first decade of mobile business communication was in the hand of one and only device, the Blackberry. If you were carrying a Blackberry you were a top executive of a company who is travelling around the world very frequently. It’s added Blackberry services together with the secure messaging protocol; it was the best device a businessman could have. The only close competitor that they had was the windows mobile devices but the game has changed drastically since then. With the introduction of iPhone and the ever expanding universe of android devices, it is either live or die situation for Research in Motion (RIM).
RIM, the makers of the Blackberry devices launched its latest operating system recently together with its flagship device, the Blackberry Torch. RIM is expecting the revamped operating system to help Blackberry devices to break free from the issues its previous operating system has. The main issue with the Blackberry devices has being its browsing experience. The new WebKit-based browser is expected to improve the user experience in leaps and bounds. RIM has also reduced the number of menus inside menus together with a powerful search tool. It is also comprised of a social networking tool (surprise, surprise) which enables you to aggregate RSS feeds from any social networking site.
At the first glance, you see that the menu has gone through a cleanup and is more smoothened out in its icons and text. The menu looks bit more elegant and sleek compared to OS 5. The list of menu is a window that slides up from the bottom with a default of four apps in a row which can be changed according to user’s preference. The apps are separated by type such as media or frequent apps so you can just flip left and right to browse through them. Almost everything in the menu is clickable. You can change your sound profile, check messages, network connections and apps. But still moving from place to place can be confusing as you don’t end up where you started if you go back. For who are familiar with Blackberry, there seems to be less clutter in OS 6. The operating system is fairly fast compared to the Storm and other Blackberry devices but if you are running it on a fairly slow CPU it doesn’t help too much to convince us on the operating system. Even if it is not running anything which is CPU intensive it stalls wondering the limits of the operating system.
The best feature that RIM managed sneak is the universal search. This feature allows you to search any item within the device whether it is a text, song or an app. You can set preferences to choose what to search and not to search. This one of the best features that I liked and it is kind of like spotlight in Mac or Google desktop but much faster. Blackberry email and messaging services is the primary strength that RIM has. If you plug into the RIM services the user experience is brilliant. If you are using Gmail as your primary email, you just need to log into Gmail and it will sync in the contacts, the calendar and the spam filters. Searching within the emails is much better with real time filtering.
The new app – social feeds allow the users to combine all your Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging such as AIM, Yahoo and Gtalk and RSS feeds into one place. But this is where it gets ugly. The idea of one place to have them all is brilliant but when you want to view them you actually need to go to the respective app which kind of sucks. So it is kind of a half-baked cake with a nice coating.
The Blackberry browser was the biggest pain for the users. So this browser is not a new version of the old but a completely new one altogether. The pages are coming up reasonably better and the experience is far better. But how does it fair with the other top end smart phones. Not so well. RIM browser is still noticeably slower than browsers in the iPhone, HTC EVO or Palm Pre for that matter.
The media section is much improved. But still it has problems when transferring media files to the phone. I believe they did not really do well with certain media files. The coolest thing in this section is that it allows the user to sync the media wirelessly between the PC and the phone using Blackberry desktop. Although it says on the web that this feature is inconsistent, this is kind of neat.
If you are an app person who wants to get your favorite apps in your new Blackberry, you are in for a shock. OS 6 is not backward compatible which is kind of shocking but I would allow sometime until they sort this one out. If you are a gamer the experience is heartbreaking when compared to the iPhone, Palm Pre and Android the game is experience is nowhere near.
So would OS 6 take RIM to the next generation of mobile phone fist fight? At this stage it is kind of iffy. I should say that it has improved a lot but I’m not sure if has changed enough to stay in the competition. With controversial but successful iPhone 4G release and with Android devices coming out faster than mushrooms this maybe the last straw RIM gets to be in the game. With trouble they are having in the Middle East and India, a mediocre OS would not do any good.
Author: Isuru Wijeyaratne
Isuru Devaka Wijeyaratne is currently a graduate student of Rutgers Business School
studying towards his Masters degree in Quantitative Finance. Isuru is a product of Royal College and D.S.Senanayake College. He is also a graduate of Computer Science and Engineering from University of Moratuwa
. He also carries 2 years of experience as a business analyst for capital markets at Millennium Information Technologies
. He was also the first Microsoft Student Ambassador of Sri Lanka from the year 2004 to 2006 working to develop the technical enthusiasm in students. He is a tech lover and has written regularly to technical magazines. He loves to read DC and Marvel comics and enjoys watching Japanese anime.
Apple is making a habit of putting out new versions of their mobile devices every single year. But this year Apple was not able to keep the level of secrecy that it had for its previous versions. Thus Apple’s next generation iPhone was neither a surprise nor a secret. The phone was surrounded by scandals where a prototype was left at a bar by an Apple developer and leaked photos of the stripped iPhone from Vietnam was a nail to the coffin of the iPhone surprises. So before the device was introduced, it was photographed, stripped in and out, man handled enough so that the announcement was just a mere formality.
By now you should know that I’m not a big fan of the Apple products. But finally Apple released an iPhone which looks brilliant from outside. This is exactly what a mobile phone should look like and I hope its followers would take a lesson. Here in United States, it is pretty boring to see all the people carrying the same type of mobile phone. From the 1st generation to the 3rd the iPhone design hasn’t changed much. It is the same slate design with a curved back which was very feminine. The iPhone 4G is much more appealing towards the less fairer sex with its bold edges and minimal curves. It is bit on the heavier side with 4.8 ounces, with a form factor of 115.2mm x 58.6mm x 9.3mm. The plastics and the glass has being replaced by aluminosilicate glass which said to be scratch resistant and also about 30 times harder than plastic.
Enough with the looks; lets dig deep. The heart of the device is the new A4 processor which was also used in the iPad. Even though it is clocks a 1GHz with the iPad, it is said that the processor is down clocked to conserve the battery. One of the biggest marketing points of the iPhone 4G is it is display which is branded as “Retina display”. This is simply adding more pixels to a 3.5inch display to keep a 960 x 640 resolution. This results in a pixel density of 326ppi (pixels per inch) which is much higher than a human eye can perceive. The display uses LED backlight with 800:1 contract ratio. Apple claims this technology is year ahead of its time but I’m skeptical of that statement. The battery life has improved marginally from 5 hours to 7 hours in talk time and 9 hours to 10 hours in 3G WiFi data. The iPhone is capable of 40 hours of audio playback and 300 hours of standby.
Apple has replaced its 3.2 megapixel camera with a 5 megapixel which is capable of capturing 720p video at 30 frames per second. It has two cameras in rear and front and the latter can be used to take self-portraits without much hassle. “Face Time” feature allows the iPhone users to communicate with others visually in real time. Its “backside illuminated” image sensor captures more light but by its choice of the sensor would be tested against Nokia N8 and HTC EVO which boast of much higher resolution. This time Apple has improved upon its compass to include a gyroscope which will be very neat for the iPhone game community.
If you think there is more in the new iPhone, I’m sorry to disappoint. This is not a revolution; it is a simple evolution of the device as they say. They improved its processor, battery life, screen resolution and camera. The biggest impact that it has is on the gyroscope which will enable very interesting games to be developed on its platform. The best features I can say it is design which feels much more solid in your hands. The aluminum frame is actually the antenna which is a beauty of engineering at its best.
So buy or not to buy? With over 600,000 iPhones preordered the last time I checked these features are enough for the public to go gaga for months to come until Apple releases another sugar coated device.
Google is getting bigger for its own good. The web search engine giant is going to have an effect of every single person on the earth even if he or she has a choice or not. The search engine became too popular at its infancy that its name was included as a verb in the dictionary. Then it gave us “Google Earth” that allowed us to locate and get directions destinations and also view the surroundings in a birds’ eye view which gave way to a part of life style we cannot do without here in USA. Android certainly took its time to establish itself as a one of the open mobile platforms used by many big names in the industry. Then it released a simple but very powerful internet browser “Chrome” that has spread among the internet users much faster than an epidemic. Few months back Google announced its intention to release an operating system of its own which it used by many universities and also by many firms around the globe today. Well by now you would think it is about time they took a rest and keep cashing in from their investments. Well guess Google has other ideas.
Google announced its entry to the home entertainment with Google TV last week hoping to tap into the largest consumer market in the world. With over 4 billion viewers worldwide and with $70 billion advertisements in USA alone there is no reason why Google does not want to join the fun.
So what is exactly “Google TV”? The notion behind “Google TV” is to allow both video and web experience simultaneously without compromising on either. It will also focus on search and discovery and personalization of this particular experience. Like any other Google interface, the interface would be search driven, allowing the user to search for content over channels and over the web. But this is not a novel idea. TiVo Premier is one of the most popular experiences of such nature, allowing viewers to use facebook, twitter and other applications while viewing their favorite TV shows.
Of course to have Google TV you need another box which connects between your TV and satellite box. Specs are not crisp but from what we gather it will run on an Intel Atom (yes it will have less complex tasks than your netbook), WiFi and HDMI. For input devices the user can use keyboards or android devices which can act as remotes for your TV (how cool is that?). So this will give way to voice search, share content between your phone and the TV and best of all you won’t be going around for hours looking for the remote. The software platform would include Android 2.1 (big surprise) with Chrome (the coolest browser in history) and Flash 10.1 support. Best thing about it is that you can develop Apps for this platform as well. The SDK will be out early next year but yet any App that is not dependable on phone hardware could technically run on Google TV.
Best thing about Google TV is that it is using the same strategy that pushed Android into the mass population, partners. Google TV is supported by Sony with is going to launch its internet TVs and Blu-ray players together with Google TV, Logitec will launch a set-top box with a Harmony remote and a HD camera, Dish Network will also launch Google TV and Best Buy would come in as a whole sale store.
Are you excited? I am, but not without bit of skepticism. This merger between the internet and the TV is not going to be easy as TiVo has experienced. We are coming to an age where there is a unification of the devices but I’m not completely bought in by the argument that we are in that age now. We still use these devices for separate applications and combining them all together is quite a change in the life style. It is not a huge change but it is a change that the average person has not even thought of. Think of watching part of the morning news on TV and watching the rest of the news while on the train to work but without re-downloading the content to the phone but merely by synchronizing the phone with the TV. Imagine where you can move your call from the handheld to the TV with HD camera without breaking the call. Surely this is an unavoidable technology which will be in our lives in few years. But will Google TV be the pioneer in that? That is to be seen.
I know I was bit silent for sometime. I should apologize but I could not find anything really exiting to tell you about. But the Google’s big announcement at the dawn of the year could be enough for a few months.
The Android platform has been around for sometime. The HTC G1, and HTC Hero both were very popular smart phones that ran on this particular platform. One thing that really made them popular was their speed and its search capabilities. The success of the HTC G1 led to many big names in the mobile phone industry such as Sony Ericsson, Motorola, and Samsung, incorporating the Android platform into their upcoming models. This was a big opportunity for Google to experiment their new platform and to visualize its future in the market. It was a matter of time till Google released its own version of the mobile phone that runs their platform. The Nexus One from Google did not really come out as a surprise when it was announced on the 5th of January 2010. So let the drooling begin.
Nexus one is a guy’s phone. It is ultra thin and the slightly inward curve at the end gives a sexy feeling when you hold it. You cannot deny that it tries to match up to the most desired phone yet, the iPhone. The devices houses a 3.7 inch display even though the device itself feels smaller in size compared to other smart phones. With a form factor of 119mm X 59.8mm X 11.5mm it is not the smallest or the thinnest in the market but enough to pass the benchmark. Nexus One also has a track ball to navigate, 3.5mm head phone jack, micro-USB port and a microphone hole. It also is equipped with a 5 mega pixel camera with a LED flash which I should say is pretty impressive. So overall the look has no real flaw so it passes with as a great ergonomic phone.
Beauty is only skin deep?
Not for the Google Nexus One. As it was said in the rumors, Nexus One runs the much hyped Snapdragon CPU from Qualcomm. It runs at 1GHz (which was the speed of your desktop not far back), and is capable of 720p video encoding, integrated 3D graphics, 5.1 surround sounds, 12 megapixel sensor and a GPS chip. The RAM and the ROM are just 512 which are neither impressive nor disheartening. The 3.7 inch display I spoke of earlier is an AMOLED (Active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) which is matrix of OLED pixels integrated to a Thin Film Transistor (TFT). These OLEDs generate light upon electrical activation. These types of screen are much popular among the handhelds because of its low power consumption. Nexus One has the capability of Wi-Fi, a micro SD slot that comes with a preloaded 4GB card which can be expanded to 32GB. The phone was expected to be fast and it is fast. Yet Google Nexus one is not without flaws. The colors in its’ 480 X 800 screen seems to have over saturated particularly for red and orange. This is common in all devices with AMOLED screen, so good luck using it outside on a sunny day.
There seems to be a significant step forward in the Nexus One with regard to its camera. The speed of the camera application has improved. The focusing is very fast and the pictures turn out very much as required. Google has also made the user experience of the picture gallery much more enjoyable with far more options.
This is one key area which is a “do or die” for a smart phone. Power consumption of a phone, especially for a smart phone should be good enough to keep a single charge for few days or even a week. The battery in the Nexus One seems to be doing very well according to the comments received from the existing users and it is very much due to the AMOLED screen.
What is so different in the new platform? There seems to be nothing different except for some cosmetic changes which are the ones we notice right away. At the first glance you would see that the look and feel of the navigation is different. There are five home screens which you can navigate by swiping your finger left and right along the screen. The application icon menu has given itself a 3D effect where the top and the bottom edge slide over as if the list of apps seems to be along a ring. But Google promises an apps store (which is like of like a must for smart phones) and with the Snapdragon processor there is room for few more exciting applications.
My final thoughts
I am very glad that Google has taken the step to be actively involved with its platform by joining in the game. Android for a long time had to endure with different brand names but it never had this kind of support from Google. Although Google did join in the Open Handset Alliance to build Android to make a free and open mobile platform, it is the best for a survival of a device to be different from the rest. It would be interesting how the other market players such as Microsoft and Apple react to this. For example Microsoft relies on a large number of partners to bring out its mobile platform. The market reaction towards Nexus One would definitely have an effect on Microsoft’s rumored Zune phone. All in all Nexus One is not a beginning of a new era nor its end but a device that is able to standup and deliver in par with other devices.
This month’s article is going to deviate from our recent topics. I’m a big supporter of green technology so I chose to write about the new trend in the automobile industry. Ever since man started out creating automobiles he has been using petroleum or diesel fuel. As the comfort and the convenience of automobiles got better the man moved to owning a vehicle rather than using other methods of transport. The industry spread into many markets, both large and niche that catered to many of the infinite needs of man. This industry continued to grow without many noticing the underlying power source that powered these machines. Or many may have turned a blind eye on the issue to rake in as much profit as they could get. Crude oil has been and will be a vital part of our lives even if you choose to ignore the fact. Its scarceness has led to many difficulties for the common man especially in terms of the transportation costs. The volatility of the prices of crude oil and its harm to the environment has led to a question whether we are using the power efficiently and whether we have other alternatives. Although few of the big names such as Toyota and Nissan had breakthrough technology which they are using with success, others did not give enough effort until their sales started to get affected. In this article I would not question the motives of the giants in the industry as it is not mine to ask such, but I will elaborate on few of news that allows us to hope for a better day.
“From 20 to 230 miles per gallon within a year?”
It did not take long for the GM to cut their losses, restructure itself, get out of bankruptcy and to unveil a brand new car. Not any car but a car that does 230MPG (MPG – miles per gallon) which is about 98km per litre. Yes this is true. Your good old Toyota must be doing bit more than one tenth of this so I guess this is pretty good news. This vehicle is built for city use which means this car would function best if it was travelled with in short distances. ‘Volt’ would run on electricity which would be powered by the fuel. The engine would consume 25kW of energy per 100 miles which I would say is pretty impressive. The 230MPG value came out from electric only driving so it may not be so high. Another impressive feature is that you could charge the battery using your ordinary power outlet at your home. So just like you charge your mobile phone, when you drive back home you would have to remind yourself to plug in your car too. So how much and when would it ship out? Chevy is giving an indication that it will be around $40,000 so it is bit expensive. Actually Chevy says that it would be losing out on the first few vehicles but surely they would love to have the tax credit that they receive for hybrid vehicles. You probably might see these vehicles on the road in the USA in 2010 which is not far away.
It did not take weeks for Volkswagen to announce their new hybrid model. The model looks very different from what you and I are familiar of but it gives much more mileage than your ordinary car. At 170mpg Volkswagen L1 is still in the conceptual stage but the firm is very serious about going into production in 2013. It calls itself the “World’s most fuel efficient automobile” but I’m sure Chevy would have a thing or two to say about it. In theory this car could run 100km in just 1.38 liters which is brilliant.
Green is the new red
It would be sometime when the consumer chooses an environmentally friendly car to a red Ferrari. But trend is seems to be catching on. The big luxury brands are looking to make their gas guzzling monsters into more environmentally friendly vehicles. BMW was the third in this latest in introducing these high mileage automobiles. ‘BMW Vision Efficient Dynamics’ concept is not in the same level at the above two but it is far more efficient for sport type vehicles. This concept car encompasses the ‘BMW Active Hybrid Technology’ that is capable of managing the CO2 emission as well as maintaining the driving pleasure. The car is powered by 3 cylinder turbo diesel engine and two electric motors for both front and rear axels. With a top speed of 250km, it is able to run 100kms with just 3.78liters of diesel. CO2 emission is also reduced substantially, only to emit 99grams of CO2 for even 100km. When the electric motor kicks in, this emission rate goes down to 50gram per 100km. But in staying at par with other sports cars, ‘BMW Vision Efficient Dynamics’ is consistent with its aerodynamically designed and lightweight structure. It has 2+2-seater that allows driving pleasure for up to 4 occupants.
Cool to be green
There is no doubt that the popularity in the car industry has become more inline with how environmentally friendly their products are manufactured. There is nothing new in the hybrid concept. Toyota had been manufacturing hybrid vehicles for almost close to a decade. Nissan came out with a new hybrid few months back. It is about time that all the car manufacturers acknowledged the fact that they need to make efficient vehicles rather than introducing advanced features that drink up more gas. But how soon would you see these vehicles used by the common man? I would give at least another decade. In the mean time if you want to be really green I suggest you go for the newest Prius.
Physical connectivity was never the most popular within the technological world. Although physical connectivity was much more reliable, secure and better in quality the man always preferred its wireless counterpart. The convenience of not being connected physically was more appealing to the human which suited his active lifestyle. The traditional telephone is loosing the battle against its mobile successor. The Wi-Fi is gaining ground connecting people to the internet. But can we claim to have a truly wireless life? The biggest and the most important aspect, the power keeps us connected physically. You may argue that you are wireless if you are using a laptop but it is still as long as the battery is alive. Even with new technologies emerge in the area of long lasting batteries it is still has to be connected physically to be recharged. Have we hit the wall in trying to discover a wireless life? Maybe not. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) unveiled the very technology that would change our lifestyle dramatically in the next decade.
Wireless electricity is a concept where your devices no longer needed be connected to power sockets to obtain electricity. The power would transfer to your device without any connection such as a traditional copper wire. For example your television would no longer need any plugs but it would obtain the required electricity wirelessly from a particular position or positions within your house. Your mother would no longer need to find the required power cables for her food processor. It could just stay on the countertop and do the required food processing activity.
So how does this work? Well the best method yet found is through induction. A transformer in the street or the charger of your mobile phone uses this particular principle. But the biggest drawback is in this method is that it is only short range. The receiver should be at a close proximity of the transmitter. As the distance between the receiver and the transmitter increases, the efficiency of the transmission reduces thus resulting in a large wastage of power. “Resonant induction” has overcome the above drawback. Resonant coupling enables the transmitter and the receiver to be tuned to a mutual frequency that is more efficient than the usual sinusoidal wave form. This rectangular or transient waveform is able to transmit electricity of a range of many meters.
Now let’s leave the nerdy stuff and get into the more geeky information. “Fulton Innovations” was one of the biggest names in the CES this year. Their technology “eCoupled” is believed to be used by wide range of consumer devices. “eCoupled” uses circuit boards and coils to transmit energy but still only works effectively at close ranges. Its current product, a charging mat enables any portable consumer device to be charged when it is laid on top of it. Yes, no wires. Just lay your ipod or your mobile on the mat and it will power up your devices. The same application is extended to the kitchen where you can give electricity to your devices by just placing the appliance at a particular place in your kitchen counter. If you want to stop the device you just need to remove the appliance from that particular place. Currently they say that the mat can transmit 1,500 watts of electricity through a kitchen counter at 98.6% percent efficiency. Although “Fulton” was the “Wow” of the CES 2009, there were others who brought similar and equally impressive technology. One application was a wireless auditorium where none of the devices were connected physically. A laptop and projector were connected wirelessly to carryout a presentation and at the same time both devices were being powered by wireless electricity. In another few years you would no longer need to carry your power or VGA cables but instead you could open up your laptop and you will be connected to the projector wirelessly and at the same time your laptop would be powered by wireless electricity. Remember the mobile credit reload method that allowed one customer’s mobile credit to be transferred to another customer’s mobile credit through a text message? Well what if you could juice up the power of your mobile through similar means. Well you can. A company had developed a technology to transfer a power of a consumer device to another consumer device through wireless electricity. Furthermore it also allows you to “Daisy Chain” these devices which allow the chain of devices to transfer electricity as collection of transmitters and receivers. So the next time your mobile runs out of power you can just borrow some from your friend’s ipod or mobile.
So is wireless electricity a new concept. Not really. This notion has being around for many years but none of them have gone beyond the initial prototype. Most recent was the British company “Splash” who introduced their own charging pads in 2004. How would it be different this time? Would “Fulton” become another one of those bankrupt firms in a few years? Maybe not. Wireless Power Consortium was formed in last December which is dedicated to the establishment of a common standard for wireless charging. Few big names such as Philips, Sanyo, Logitech, Texas Instruments have joined the consortium including Fulton. This would allow a development of a single efficient method of wireless power transmission. This biggest challenge they would face is maintaining a high efficiency. Although you may argue that there is also a loss of power during the traditional transmission through a copper wire it is considerably lower than the loss of wireless electricity. Unless this particular drawback is sorted out, there is no incentive in moving into this technology no matter how cool it looks. Let us remain optimistic. This very well could be our next life changing innovation after the computer.
In this edition of “diGIT” I thought of taking a different perspective in the area of gadgets. It is always nice to see what kind of new phones, laptops, mp3 players etc. are coming out in next month, next quarter or next year but it is much more interesting to speculate how our life will be in another half a decade or a decade to come. Thus, this time I would be focusing on novel technologies that may impact our lives very closely in maybe five to ten years. These technologies or findings are still on the blue print or just has a working prototype but that itself is very much encouraging. So let me have the pleasure of escorting you to give a glance of your future.
So the “Tin-man” is evolving….
It has always being the dream of the modern man to create a robot that mimics the human interaction with the environment. Although we see many researches being conducted all over the world, there have not being significant or “eureka” moments lately. But some of the outcomes of the recent research give a positive picture.
Although you may think that mimicking a human’s interaction is about moving through terrains or office premises or households the human to human interaction too is very important for humans. For example if you were walking on the street you may not talk with every man or woman who passes you by but yet you interact with each and every person indirectly. But can you expect a robot to respond to a non verbal human communication? Students at Brown University may have found an answer. They have being able to take few steps where the robots could take verbal and non verbal commands from a human and operate in almost any environment. This robot named “iRobot” is developed to act like a human partner who can be given a command to do a specific job. Currently it is able to carryout simple tasks given by its human partner through verbal and non verbal means. It can follow its partner when told to, stop when it is commanded or when signaled, move according to the instructions given by its human partner and also to keep a constant distance from the human if its partner moves towards it. These human-robot partnerships may become quite common in another few decades in offices or in many labor intensive jobs.
“Cajun crawler” is project by the students from the University of Louisiana. It is a platform that could carry a human with the help of dozen spider-like legs. The first sight of it makes you think of creatures from aliens movies but when you get to see how it operates you get to appreciate its beauty. With the help of its mechanical legs, it is possible to move forward, move backward and rotate while letting the user feel like he is riding a magic carpet. Why is this different from the other movers that use wheels instead of mechanical legs? When using wheels the slightest bump on the path can be felt by the user. But when using mechanical legs, legs can adjust its angle at its each degree of freedom thus not allowing the user to feel any discomfort. “Cajun crawler” seems to be very agile and it would be nice to see few of its future applications.
Let us now look into more fun kind of robotic applications, and “Coppa” is quite a good example. “Coppa” is very good example where with a little knowledge in .NET programming languages you can develop interesting robotic applications. So what does it do? It is a couch side popcorn deliver. If you are watching a nail biting cricket match or if you are too lazy to get up for a refill, “Coppa” will deliver your popcorn to your couch from the kitchen. You just need to order your popcorn from “Twitter” (an online application) and your most obedient robot “Coppa” would deliver it to you. But after taking a closer look at “Coppa”, it is nothing other than 12 volt rechargeable battery, autofocus webcam, and a netbook. So this shows that your personal robot helper is just an imagination away.
Ocean waves to light up your house
Another very important and significant different you will see in the future is with regard to energy. The generation of electricity would be from various sources and methods many of it would be from more environmentally friendly ways. “Oyster Wave Energy Convertor” is a collaborative effort between the Queens University in Belfast and Aquamarine Power Limited. A device called “Oscillating Wave Surge Converter” is placed offshore (i.e. in the sea) at a depth of 10-12 meters. When this device is moved by waves, where the pistons inside push seawater through high pressure flow lines where its energy is converted into power through hydroelectric generators. It is estimated that its peak power should be around 300-600kW which naturally depends on its location. Its first deployment would be in coast of Orkney during this summer. For an island like Sri Lanka this device’s application and success should be looked with much anticipation.
Think before you bunk a class
What if in the future, your teacher never marked your attendance in class but it was done through a device located inside the class? Ely Community College in UK is trying out a facial recognition system technology from Aurora to help in attendance and also to know who was in class if there was a case of an emergency. This would allow even the parents to know if their kids have attended classes and to keep track of them. So for all you guys trying to bunk classes, this might be your worst enemy. But still there is different aspect which concerns me. The teacher student relationship starts with the teacher remembering the student’s name. Teacher remembers the students name because he tends to read the name of each student before class. Therefore I’m not very convinced that we should remove this small but very important part that links the student and the teacher. But it is yours to decide.
Can I help you?
How comfortable are you with digital assistants? Many consider them to be a nuisance. They rarely tell you what you want and sometimes do stuff which you never wanted them to do in the first place. Microsoft’s “Laura” is quite a different type of a digital assistant who is capable of doing reservations, make appointments or maybe get you tickets for the opera you wanted to go during the weekend. The beauty of this system is it that it is able to judge you according to what you are wearing or if you are engaged in a conversation. “Laura” is capable of serving multiple people and at the same time keeping a human aspect to the service. For example, if the person it is currently serving was engaged in a conversation, “Laura” would be kind enough to interrupt by saying “excuse me”. “Laura” is smart enough to filter out other conversations among its customers (which are not relevant to Laura to perform the task) which is quite remarkable. I’m sure you will meet the next generations or Laura’s in airports, take away diners, or in major retail stores in few years to come.
Flying car or road-able plane?
Flying cars were always a thing of the future. There were always new prototypes coming out which could go on the road and also fly. “Terrafugia” is an organization which has come up with a state-of-the-art personal aircraft which also can be used as your personal car. Named Transition®, it is definitely a road-able plane which can fold and unfold its wings according the intended travelling method. It can cruise at 115mph but burning fuel at a rate of 5gph. On the road it is bit of a slowpoke with 30mph on highways. But at a price of $194,000 this is no where near affordable for the common man yet.
I hope I was able to bestow my intended notion behind this article on you. Even though many of the above are yet prototypes these are the new technologies that would be the inspiration for the life of the future man and woman. Many of these would have an impact on our lives whether it is for the best or for the worst but we all would have to embrace the change if we are to survive in this ever changing world.
I usually do not prefer to write about mobile phones since it is anyway a quite popular topic. So I played around with few topics for the March edition of “diGIT” for sometime. But in the end, the World Mobile Congress (WMC) which was held in Barcelona in February 2009 made my choice for this edition. Many big names in the industry gather each year at MWC to show off their new mobile devices to be launched during the year. This year too was not any different from the previous years. When we analyze the WMC 2009 it is very clear that this time it is very much a Microsoft party. With no real appearance of a solid “Android” (mobile platform developed by Google) based device, Microsoft is parading around its platform in many new mobile devices. The most anticipated announcement was “Windows Mobile 6.5” which is the latest mobile operating system by Microsoft. Let’s see what we would be looking forward to during this year.
It’s errr…. Windows Mobile 6.5
Although the announcement of “Window Mobile 6.5” was very much looked forward to by the tech enthusiasts, we were able to get some sneak peaks few months earlier. Clearly the user interface has gone through some major changes. The operating system is now much more touch-friendly compared to its older versions. The traditional grid menu has been replaced by a honeycomb style layout that is easier to finger. The Internet Explorer Mobile has gone though a facelift and some touchups with touchable zoom slider and frequently-used commands. Microsoft also has introduced two new services “My Phone” and “Windows Marketplace for Mobile”. Microsoft’s “My Phone” is a service that allows the users to synchronize text messages, photos, videos, contacts and many more with a previously created internet account. “Windows Marketplace for Mobile” will provide mobile applications that can be accessed directly from the phone or through the internet. So is it all new underneath the 6.5 platform? I’m not very sure. If you currently own a Windows Mobile 6 mobile device, I’m sorry Microsoft would not be giving Mobile 6.5 as an update. Devices with Windows Mobile 6.5 should be in the market by the fourth quarter this year according to Microsoft.
HTC Touch Diamond 2
From my point of view, this is the star of the show. From the looks of it, the HTC Touch Diamond 2 has improved much from its earlier predecessor. The device is much sleeker in its design and carries a good specification. The display is larger with 3.2 inches instead of 2.8 in the earlier version.
The battery cover is flat which I like and it is a welcome change from the jagged uneven cover of its previous version. It carries a 5 mega pixel camera which is gives no additional “wow” effect but rather gives an “is that all” effect. The device would run on Windows Mobile 6.1 when it comes out but it will be upgradable to Windows Mobile 6.5.
I’m not sure how much you are familiar with Samsung Omnia but it was a huge hit in the recent mobile phone market due to its elegance and features. Samsung has come up with its next version the Samsung OmniaHD which will be released in the second quarter of this year. The most eye grabbing feature is its 3.7 inch touch screen with 16 million colors. But there is more. It has an 8 mega pixel camera with a 720p HD video feature. From the terms of connectivity it boasts of Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi, microUSB port, and a HDMI port for a high quality TV out. This is the ideal phone for all you “point and shoot” people out there.
Samsung Omnia HD
Still strong, still connecting people
It is not only Microsoft who came into the convention with all guns blazing. Nokia introduced a number of mobile devices in many of it popular phone ranges. It should be noted that Nokia is the only player who still manages not to be intimidated by Microsoft mobile and keep introducing mobile devices in Symbian and its own platform. Among them, Nokia E75 shows a lot of promise for a slider phone with a QWERTY keyboard. It is surprisingly thin (just 14.4mm) but has a very user friendly keyboard. People may agree or disagree on the design of the phone as a whole but its features are nothing new except the “Nseries” image gallery which was confined to the “N” series all this time.
Nokia too unveiled a phone equipped with an 8 mega pixel camera (N86) in the Mobile World Congress. N86 has 28mm lens, with a mechanical shutter (impressing ha?). Other goodies coming along with the phone are 8GB internal memory, microSDHC card slot, FM transmitter, Wi-Fi and GPS connectivity. All this for; yes it is 375 Euros.
From microwaves to mobile phones
LG may not be on the top of your best mobile phone brands but they definitely managed to impress the crowd during this convention. Although the designs were far from original the devices the features are quite satisfactory.
LG GM730 LG GD910 LG KM900
Like many others, LG GM730 has tried to mimic the Samsung Omina user interface. It handles very well and with a 3 inch touch screen, it has nice thumbable interface. Furthermore it has a dedicated graphics accelerator which should make its response time much faster.
The LG KM900 Arena deserves a better round of applause. Its interface response time is so snappy and fluid compared to it counterparts thanks to its dedicated graphics accelerator. Similar to GM730 it also is equipped with a 3 inch touch screen but its user experience is much different and exciting. LG KM900 is definitely a phone that you would enjoy. But my favorite is LG G910, a watch phone. For all you “Star Trek” and “Knight Rider” fans the time where you will wear your phone is not very far away. Yes it has a touch screen. It also has a built-in handsfree, speech recognition, mp3 player and it is water resistant. What more can you ask from a watch phone?
LG also unveiled its solar cell phone that generates enough power for emergency calls and LG KP108E that is made entirely of bio plastic.
12 Mega Pixels in my phone camera?
Even the point and shoot I own has only 8MP. Song Ericsson’s newest baby, “Sony Ericsson Idou” indeed has a 12 mega pixel camera but it packs way more than that. This mobile device would be the very first mobile phone to run the latest open source Symbian user interface which is still being developed by the Symbian foundation. Sony Ericsson has been very bold during the last few years taking very brave decisions in introducing new mobile devices. Idou, which is the code name for the device is nowhere complete. It would not be possible to see these devices in the market until the 4th quarter this year (Remember how long it took to get XPERIA in the market?).
So the bright year ahead…
Looking at the mobile devices at the Barcelona convention the direction of the mobile market is clearly visible. Your future mobile phone would be flat, wide with a big screen on which you will be leaving thousands of thumbprints as you will no longer have any buttons. Another hint is that it would be quite a while till there would be a huge response to the “Android” platform. But there is a lot of promise out there and will be looking forward to few more devices in the “Android” platform. Windows mobile 7 is bit far off but whether it is going to be a complete overhaul of the old platform is a question. Despite all of these it is very unpredictable how the market will respond during these hard times. The consumers are looking for value in the item they buy and it would be a tough sell for all unless they take less from wallets of the consumer. How the devices will fair in the market, time will tell us.
There is a new guy in town. Netbook is indeed the new kid on the block and it has separated itself from the traditional laptop (notebooks), palmtops and the ultra portable PCs to create a massive market which has been growing exponentially. So what is exactly a “Netbook”? If I say that it is a stripped down version of a laptop I might be able do justice to the word. But matter of fact, “Netbooks” maybe the answer to so many computer users who are not and will not be using their laptops for serious computing. The truth is that a general person who carries a laptop would not usually use that computer for very complex tasks. He would usually use it to check emails, read documents or to browse the internet. These tasks do not need high end processors and also would not consume a lot of memory. So the question is, why spend money on a laptop which has a lot of processing power and a large memory if only a fraction of it is going to be used.
Do you know the “One Laptop per Child” (OLPC) program? This was the program that was started in 2005 by the members of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab pioneered by Seymour Papert and Alan Kay. The ambition of this program is to educate children around the world through the use of low cost laptops which allowed them the access to information from all around the world. Their first product was XO-1 which was also known as the “$100 laptop” since it was intended to cost $100. These computers did not have hard drives but instead ran on flash drives. The operating system was Linux rather than Microsoft Windows which most of you use. But these computers were sophisticated on their own. It was given access to WiFi or wireless networks so children could use the computer at their own comfort. Although at first most of the big names in the computer hardware industry turned down this idea, including Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and CEO of Intel, it did not take much time for them to see big money in it. Although many would give credit to Asus Eee PC as the birth of the netbook market which was release back in 2007, it was the “OLPC” program that ignited this massive portable computer market.
2008 was the year of netbooks as many brands put out their version. Brands such as Asus, Acer and MSI were the first to get the bite but the other big names like Lenovo, HP, Sony VAIO and Dell were not far behind. Software vendors are also backing up the industry such as Microsoft and also community developed Ubuntu. Netbooks are flooding the market as new names are merging with many different specifications and designs. Below are details of few of the popular netbooks in the market.
Asus Eee PC
Eee PC has always looked up to by the others since it was the first to start off a commercially viable market for the netbooks. Asus did not disappoint this time at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by introducing new netbook models. Asus came up with two tablet versions, T91 and T101H. The T91 has an 8.9 inch screen (diagonally) where as the T101H has a 10 inch. T91 is powered by Z520 Intel Atom processor and is also equipped with a TV tuner and a built-in GPS. The T91 would have Microsoft XP home as the operating system. The most interesting thing is like all tablets; it has a “multi touch” screen which is quite rare in the netbook market. There is not much information about the T101 but it is expected to have much bigger capacity in the hard drive than its little brother. Asus also introduced other netbooks in their line up such as Eee PC 1002HA and Eee PC S101. Both are powered by Intel Atom 1.6GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. What next to be expected in the Asus lineup is Eee PC 1004DN which comes with the newest Atom chip and also comes with a DVD drive (which is very new to netbooks). The price of Eee PC 1002HA would be in the range of $350 – $450 and Eee PC S101 would vary between $600 and $650.
Sony VAIO P Series
This was the most talked about netbook at Consumer Electronics Show this year. This probably would be the most elegant of all netbooks. It is thin, light and short with just enough space to give room for the screen and the keyboard. It houses a track point that removes the need to space a touch pad. For people who want a palm rest, this is not the laptop for you. With a resolution of 1600 X 768 it can make it harder for some people to read. But it does come up with a feature to zoom in so that a lengthy document can be read with much ease. The power cable is too is very compact and it also includes a small breakout box that includes a VGA and the Ethernet port. Although it comes with Vista as an option, it would be bit of a load for the small VAIO P. But the good news it that it did well with Windows 7 which would be the next operating system coming out of Microsoft. With a price tag of $899 for the basic model it is bit more expensive than an ordinary netbook.
HP mini Series
The HP mini series have become more popular since its first model HP 2133 Mini-Note. The newest editions of the HP mini series have taken a bold move by replacing the VIA chipset which was used by their predecessors and using the Intel Atom instead. The HP mini 1000 was announced last year that was equipped with Intel Atom 1.6 GHz with 2GB RAM, 10 inch display, 60GB or the option to select 16GB or 32 GB SSD (solid state drives) and Microsoft XP. This model ranges from $330 to $550 according to the configuration selected. The HP Mini 2140 is actually the next model which is to replace much loved HP 2133 Mini-Note. It retains the case of its predecessor but includes an Intel Atom chip instead of the VIA. But the best thing being it having better options such as to include a USB external optical drive, 80GB SSD, and a 6 cell battery to increase the battery life would help a great deal. It can range from $500 to double the price if 80GB SSD option was chosen.
Dell started offering its netbook range with the introduction of Dell Mini 9 (8.9 inch screen) and Dell mini 12 (12.1 inch screen). The best about this range was the ability for the consumer to order a customized netbook similar to the other dell products. Dell Mini 12 started out offering Windows Vista but later gave the user the option of choosing Windows XP or Ubuntu. Furthermore the hard drive options expanded with up to 80GB PATA hard drives or up to 64GB SSDs which was very encouraging for the consumers who liked larger disk space. Both netbook series are powered by Intel Atom processors (choice of between 1.33GHz or 1.6GHz) but only offered a maximum 1GB of RAM which insufficient if you are running Vista. The Dell Mini 12 can range from $399 to $599 and Dell Mini 9 could range from $299 to $449. The next netbook in their product range is the new Dell Mini 10 which also referred to as “perfect 10” by Dell. There is not much information about its price or when it will be available in the market but it packs a 10 inch display with multitouch support, an Atom Z530 processor, built in GPS, TV tuner and an integrated 3G WWAN. But the Dell is yet to spill the bean on its most hype laptop; the Adamo. There is nothing about this particular product but few photos that show it to be one of the sleekest laptops to date. But there will be a lot of talk about Dell Adamo in the months to come where more information with regard to its specifications and pricing would be revealed.
Laptop or netbook?
The choice of buying a laptop or a netbook should be done after careful consideration. Much of the decision is with regard to your usage. If you are a programmer who writes codes, use a lot of integrated development environments or run servers, netbooks would give you a headache. If you are a gamer who loves to play the newest games in the market, still netbooks are a “no no”. If you are a graphics person who does a lot of designs on the computer still netbooks are not your best option. So who should use a netbook? Netbooks are for the general users. Netbooks are for users who are using it for reading documents, surfing the web, checking emails or doing presentations. No sophisticated software on netbooks. So why buy them? The price paid by a general user for a high end laptop compared to a netbook in the market has a substantial difference. Why pay for the extra processing power, extra storage and other features that the user will never use? So a user who is well aware of his/her computer usage would be able to make the right choice between a laptop and a netbook.
Next in line
The netbook market is still growing. It is still a very young market. The cost of netbooks would keep dropping in the months and years to come. One of the biggest obstacles for netbooks is the price of the SSDs or solid state drives. Solid state drives are hard drives which do not have any moving part or head, quite similar to your flash drive. SSDs are very popular with netbooks since they allow the netbooks to have a smaller form factor. With no sensors to detect the movement of the netbook the consumer has the luxury to use the netbook at his/her own comfortable position without affecting the performance of his/her user experience.
The lack of good operating systems to support netbook specification is also a concern. Microsoft delayed the deadline to cease their support to Windows XP which was due by the end of last year. Windows Vista is still too bulky for the netbooks but the new Windows 7 which is due mid of year 2009 is focused on catering for netbooks. The first beta of Windows 7 was released in January 2009 and it is currently being tested in many netbooks and it is giving surprisingly better results than its previous windows versions. Ubuntu, which is a linux based (more specifically debian based) operating system is also a big favorite among the netbook brands. It’s rich user experience and much better performance is the ideal for netbook users.
Hardware manufacturers are also looking into improving their products. Intel is coming up with its Atom N280 chip which would surpass the current netbook processors. The other competitor in the netbook processors is VIA which would be introducing it’s VIA nano chip which looks promising. Currently AMD has not shown any interest in designing any chips for the netbooks and Apple is not interested in adding a netbook series to its range of products.
By looking at the hype in the market netbooks are here to stay. If the price of the hardware drops and if the software vendors can provide light weight products to suit them there would be a household product very soon.