Archive for the ‘Consumer Electronics’ Category

I’ve spent the past few days using Dell’s solution for those who need a keyboard for their Venue Pro 8 tablet. It has come in handy when needing to write emails and edit documents. I have yet to write code with it, although I plan to soon. Unfortunately, while the keyboard and case match the Venue Pro 8 perfectly, it’s hard to recommend this accessory for medium to heavy duty work until Dell treats the keyboard with the attention to detail afforded its laptop-bound brethren.

Every time I use a compact keyboard I am reminded all designers of such keyboards must be sadists. They move keys around to obscenely hard to reach places. Sometimes they remove keys altogether, making the keyboard worthless. Dell’s Tablet Wireless Keyboard for their Venue 8 Pro is no exception. Take a gander at the photo below. Why does the keyboard need two Alt keys? Couldn’t that second Alt be used for the apostrophe, which is explicably a Function key combination? Why is the question mark key on the left, next to a full size shift key, when it could have been put in its normal position next to a smaller right shift key?

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That’s not to say it’s all bad. Actually, the keyboard itself is quite good for short emails and corrections to documents. Expectations are usually low for compact keyboards, so this is better than some when it comes to comfort. I didn’t make many mistakes, although any time I needed certain punctuation I had to stop and think. It’s the ergonomic and functionality decisions, and aforementioned omissions, that make absolutely no sense. For example:

  • The keyboard has no backlight. If Microsoft can insert a backlight in a keyboard half as thin, why can’t Dell?
  • Two watch batteries are required. Yes, it comes with them, but those things are expensive. Why isn’t there a rechargeable battery that could charge via MicroUSB from the Venue Pro’s USB port?
  • I said it before, but come on – what in the world were they thinking with the apostrophe and quote keys? They’ve moved from a normal location – next to : and ; – to requiring a Function Key combination. But they left { and } intact? Who uses those often while typing in Word or web sites? Maybe developers, like me, but we need the quote and apostrophe, too!
  • The keyboard connects magnetically to the case – which is awesome – except, the keyboard doesn’t deactivate itself when the magnet is engaged. That causes key presses to turn the tablet on, thus draining the battery. It also drains the keyboard’s battery. It sounds like a simple engineering task, magnet turning off the power circuit, but maybe I missed something? The magnet is also a bit weak. Don’t treat this like Microsoft’s Surface keyboard. You’ll want to place the keyboard elsewhere if you’re only going to use the Venue Pro 8 as a tablet.
  • If the on-screen keyboard can fit all keys on the Venue Pro’s screen, why can’t the physical keyboard that has more physical room?

If you were a product manager, would you let this thing ship with such obvious issues?

Those gripes aside, I like the keyboard, and its design complements the Venue Pro 8. The design of the folio case, it’s built-in pen holder, and magnetic grip of the keyboard to the case all make this a worthwhile addition to your Dell Venue Pro accessory list. Just don’t expect to get much work done with it if you need apostrophes, dashes, or quotes.

Pros: Keyboard perfectly matches contours of the Venue Pro 8, and connects magnetically. Package comes with a case that looks very nice and can hold the digitizer pen. Keyboard can be left in the car, at home, and so forth, so you don’t have to carry it around when not needed.

Cons: The keyboard + case combo seems to weigh as much as the Venue Pro, practically doubling the weight. Alcohol must have been involved when deciding the keyboard layout. The magnet is a bit weak. The keyboard isn’t good for any long documents due to the layout’s inexplicable key locations.

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Figure: The keyboard connects magnetically to the flap on the case.

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Figure: The keyboard looks great even when not being used. That doesn’t mean it folds back like the Surface – it will fall off if you treat it like Microsoft’s prodigy.

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Figure: The keyboard runs off two CR2025 3 volt batteries. The tray is a bit difficult to remove.

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Figure: The keyboard.

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Figure: Unwrapping.

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Figure: The packaging. Front.

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Figure: The packaging. Back.

I recently upgraded my home theatre receiver to support 3D. As part of the process, I had to unplug all my HDMI cables and move them to the new receiver. Much to my chagrin, after I powered on the new receiver, only one out of four devices worked. They were all connected with HDMI, and they all worked with the previous receiver.

After a bit of research, I realized those devices that weren’t working had their cables backwards. Yes, the act of simply using the other side at each end brought my video back to glorious life.

Apparently, this is normal with HDMI cables supporting Audio Return Channel, or ARC, a new feature of HDMI 1.4. Apparently with HDMI 1.3 it didn’t matter. Below is a link to an explanation.

http://www.hdmi.org/manufacturer/hdmi_1_4/arc.aspx

I hope this saves you a lot of wasted energy and frustration! Smile

Below are my notes from Day 1 of the CEATEC show in Makuhari, Japan.

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Sony Info-Eye + Sony Social Live

Sony showcased two unique social apps, Info Eye and Social Live, part of their Smart Social Camera initiative.

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Info Eye takes an image and analyzes it for different types of information, surfacing that information in different views. For example, take a photo of the Eiffel Tower and you are presented with different "views" of the data. The first view may be related photos of the French attraction, such as a view from the top, or the Eiffel Tower Restaurant. Change views and you’re presented with a map of Paris. Continue to the next view and see your friends’ comments on social networks about the attraction. It certainly is an innovative approach to automatically get benefits from simple photo taking – photos you normally wouldn’t look at again anyway.

A video is worth thousands of pictures, and you already know what those are worth:

And in case you simply want a picture:

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Social Live is like a live video feed, streamed from your phone to various social services. While the example of a live marriage proposal wasn’t so realistic, Social Live still has great consumer applications. For example, set a social live link on Facebook and your friends could view your video feed while you tour the Champs Elise in Paris, without your needing to initiate a Skype call. It’s similar to having a live broadcast stream ready to go at any time.

3D 4K Everywhere!

3D didn’t entice the world – again – so, why not re-use all that marketing material, swapping 4K for 3D? No, it’s not that bad, and 4K is beautiful, but it’s just too early, too expensive, as is almost every evolutionary technology like this. Just for fun I  made a collage of the various offerings. Component innovation is once again creating products at a pace greater than the consumers’ willingness to adopt.

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Tizen IVI Solutions at Intel

Intel had a sizeable display of Tizen OS based In-Vehicle Infotainment solutions at its booth. Apparently Intel had 800 developers working on Tizen while partnered with Nokia on the OS-formerly-known-as-MeeGo. The most interesting Tizen demonstration was Obigo’s HTML5-based IVI solution. On a related note, Samsung is apparently folding their Bada OS into Tizen. It will be interesting to see whether it makes any difference in the global mobile OS movement, still dominated by Android, then iOS, then Windows Phone.

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Obigo’s HTML5-based In-Vehicle-Infotainment Solution

Obigo’s solution is to automotive application development what PhoneGap is to standard mobile application development. Developers build widgets using HTML5 + JavaScript, accessing vehicle data and services via an abstraction layer provided by the Obigo engine. Apps in Obigo’s system are called widgets. Nothing appears to prevent Obigo from bringing this solution to Android, so look for that possibility on the various Android vehicle head units coming to market. Hyundai and Toyota will be the first integrators of the system.

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Apparently Japanese Car Insurance is Very Expensive

Another solution shown at the Intel Tizen display was a driving habits monitor capable of sending an email to your insurance company with said information. The goal would be to lower insurance rates. The solution was a hokey implementation at best, but at least I’ve learned insurance is expensive here as well.

Fujitsu Elderly Care Cloud

In an effort to keep Japan’s increasingly elderly population in touch with their families, Fujitsu has created a "Senior Cloud." The benefit to seniors will apparently be video and photo communication and sharing services with their family, alongside healthcare detail sharing services. I couldn’t get a demo, but it sounds like a good idea. For the next 10-20 years, anyway – by then, the "elderly" will have become the people who know how to do these things.

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ModCrew iPhone Waterproofing Coat

ModCrew displayed a nano-coating solution for iPhones (only), rendering your fruit phone washable.

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Omron Basil Thermometer with DoCoMo Health Smartphone App

Omron has a unique line of basil thermometers, with pleasant shapes and colors, targeted (obviously) towards women. The devices, among other Omron health device solutions, can all transmit their data via NFC to phones and tablets. Using an app from NTT DoCoMo, health data can be consolidated and analyzed, and health advice can be provided.

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All health components gather data to recommend healthy choices.

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Huawei Phone with Panic Alarm

Chinese consumer and mobile electronics provider Huawei showcased their HW-01D feature phone with a built-in panic alarm. Targeted towards women, children, and the elderly, the device has a pull tab that sets off a loud, yet oddly pleasant, siren to scare away would-be perpetrators.

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Fujitsu Finger Link

Fujitsu’s Finger Link solution uses a top-mounted camera to convert physical objects to virtual objects, enabling you to organize and relate such items for later manipulation. For example, put 3 Post It notes down and they are converted to digital representations, automatically recognized as separate objects. Tap each related item and drag a line between others similar to the first. Tap a button on the projected interface and now they’re related, moveable, sharable, and more.

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Fujitsu Sleepiness Detection Sensor

A hot item in vehicles displayed at CEATEC this year was detection of distracted driving. Fujitsu’s component detects eyes moving away from the road, a downward or upward motion possibly signifying the driver is drowsy. The component is for use by automotive integrators.

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Fujitsu big data + open data quiet service, LOD utilization Platform

Fujitsu showcased an open LOD utilization platform for quickly and easily mining and analyzing the data from many Open Data sources all at once, visually. The back-end is using the SPARQL query language.

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Mitsubishi 4K LaserVue

Mitsubishi showcased a prototype 4K Red Laser + LED backlit display, enabling a beautiful, beyond photorealistic video display. Standing in front of the reference unit, I actually felt like I was looking through a window – the colors were amazingly vivid and lifelike.

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Mitsubishi elevator skyscraper swap detection system

Mitsubishi also showcased a solution for preventing elevator stalls in swaying skyscrapers. Their sensor moves the elevator cart to a non-swaying or less-swaying floor to prevent service outages, keeping the elevators running as efficiently as possible, and giving you one less excuse to miss that meeting.

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Mitsubishi 100Gbps optical transmission technology

Mitsubishi showcased a 100 gigabit/second inter-city optical interconnect solution, with a range up to 9000 kilometers.

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Mitsubishi Vector Graphics Accelerating GPU

Who says you need multi-core ARM processors running over 1 GHz + powerful GPUs for beautiful embedded device interfaces? Mitsubishi sure doesn’t. They showcased a GPU running at a scant 96 MHz, accelerating vector graphics display at up to 60 frames per second. Incredibly responsive interfaces for elevators and boat tachometers were displayed. The target is rich user interfaces with incredibly low power consumption.

Related notes:

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Mitsubishi Rear Projection Display for Automotive

It’s no surprise Mitsubishi is proposing rear projection solutions for automotive – RP is one of the company’s strengths. What they propose is curved surfaces to provide an interface that matches the interior of the vehicle. Also possible is 3D-like interfaces, as shown below.

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Sharp Frameless TV Concept

A display with no bezel? Sharp’s frameless concept showcases how beautiful such a solution would be. That it in the center.

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Sharp Mirror Type Display

Also on display (ahem) was the Mirror Type Display, with a display built into a mirror. Have I said display enough times?

Pioneer Wireless Blu-ray Drive

That shiny new ultrabook is pretty svelte, isn’t it? What’s that? You want to watch a Blu-ray? That’s fine – just use Pioneer’s BDR-WFS05J solution to wirelessly connect to the Blu-ray drive across the room and stream the data over 802.11N, as long as it’s in its dock. The unit also supports USB 2 and 3. Ships at the end of September.

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Toyota Smart Home HEMS Using Kinect

Toyota showcased a smart home energy management system (HEMS) using Kinect to interact with various residents.

Toyota Concept Vehicles

I don’t know much about the following one-person electric riders, but they looked cool, so enjoy the photos.

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Clarion Smart Access + EcoAccel

Determining whether you’re driving Green, or "Eco" as they say in Japan, can be difficult. Clarion’s EcoAccel app, which runs on their Android-powered head unit, reads ODB2 sensor data to rate your Eco driving habits. It’s an entertaining way to enhance the eco-friendliness of your driving routine. The representative said there are no current plans to bring this product Stateside, but I’m hoping they change their mind. After all, ODB2 data is pretty easy to read, even if it’s not entirely standardized.

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Mazda Heads Up Cockpit

While the HUD component is nothing to write home about, Mazda’s approach of keeping everything at eye level, while re-organizing the shift knob to also be easily manipulated was a welcome safe-driving-meets-ergonomics approach. Better yet, they will be shipping this in their Axela vehicles, meaning less expensive vehicles may be readily receiving technology to deter distracted driving. They call this the Heads Up Cockpit with a Concentration Center Display.

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Mazda Connect System

Mazda also showcased the Mazda Connect system, enabling car communication and software components to be "easily" upgraded as new features are available. Whether this will be an insanely expensive solution, akin to Samsung’s upgradeable TV approach, remains to be seen.

It’s fascinating to see how some of the most innovative products are coming from what used to be one of the least innovative industries: automotive.

Murata – Sonic Gesture Control

Murata’s components for sonic transmission and reception are being used to create a gesture recognition interface, ideal for hands free control of tablets and other devices. This technology could be used for games, such as Fruit Ninja, providing a 3D space in which to work. The gesture X, Y, and Z coordinates can be determined. An SDK is available, provided by Elliptic Labs. Only single point recognition is supported at this time, but Elliptic claims multi-gesture support is in the works.

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Other notes:

  • Single point.
  • Working on multipoint. 2014 target.
  • 180 degree range.
  • Emitters and microphones.
  • 2 Transmitters, 4 microphones.
  • Accurate to about half an inch, but fine movement is supported.
  • Elliptic Labs makes software, Murata the transducer.
  • SDK for android, releasing at CEATEC, Windows SDK already available.

Mitsumi laser heads up display for automotive

Mitsumi demoed a heads-up display for automotive use, preventing distracted driving. The reference exhibit utilizes a laser pico projector and piezoelectric transmission to the mirror rather than the electromagnetic approach their competitor Macrovision (?)  uses.

The projected resolution is claimed to be 1024×640, although I’m unsure if that was a mis-translation – they’re only using a QHD (quarter-HD) panel.

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The device is expected to be shipped to integrators by 2017-2018. End user access could take longer, as integrators decide how to best implement the technology.

Alps Epistemic Cockpit

ALPS showed what happens when you buck the trends of the traditional car cockpit.

Utilizing cameras, biometric sensors, wireless charging and transmission, the cockpit can ensure the driver is authenticated, isn’t sleepy, and provide them access to all their phone’s media.

Other notes:

  • User authentication.
  • Face recognition.
  • Checks physical condition, such as heart rate, gaze direction for drowsiness, whether the driver is looking away.
  • Gaze detection occurs continuously.
  • Vitals dictate whether driver has entered, exited vehicle.

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The system uses a camera and laser to point the user to places in the vehcile, such as where to place their phone. It’s encouraging to see more manufacturers thinking outside the traditional configuration. A lack of such leads us to retaining QWERTY as the default keyboard layout Smile with tongue out

ALPS + MyWay + ROHM Efficient DC-DC Converter

Modern portable DC-DC converters are still quite inefficient, but a recent collaboration between ALPS + MyWay + ROHM may change that forever. The trio has created a much more efficient dc-dc converter – it’s 1/10 the size, 1/5 the weight, and many times more efficient than traditional systems.

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The unit is smaller due to its switching frequency, which is 100KHz , versus 15KHz in current solutions, while still providing effectively the same amount of power.

The module will be sold by MyWay by the end of October 2013.

Possible applications of the module will be significantly smaller and more efficient charging stations and electric vehicle power systems. This could further increase the range of EV systems allthewhile using less space.

Photo from the Intel Booth

While I haven’t yet visited the Intel booth, it sure looks cool.

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NEC DNA Analyzer

NEC has created a portable DNA analyzer capable of analyzing DNA indicators at crime scenes and determining any possible suspect matches through integrated database searching. The company has combined the functions of three DNA machines used on crime scenes into a single, smaller unit. Rather than taking two days to process the samples, it can return results in about an hour, with a target of 30 minutes being their next goal. The database searching is optional and does not significantly affect the unit’s processing time either way.

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Other Notes:

  • In 2014 they will make units available to research and law enforcement. 2015 product launch.
  • Also has disaster site and medical area applications. Anywhere DNA analysis its necessary.
  • Price range expected to be 20-50M Yen. Possibly 10M Yen when it goes mainstream.
  • In conventional system, each of those components costs 10-50M Yen each, so this is a considerable savings. However, those systems can do 40-80 samples at a time vs. only 1 here.

NTT Docomo Intelligent Glasses

NTT DoCoMo showed their take on the software solutions possible when a camera and OS are attached to a glasses interface. They called these scenarios and software solutions “intelligent glasses,” even though no product is shipping as of yet.

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The units had a QHD panel for the interface, with full movie playback capability.

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In the example pictured above, the glasses are generating an overlay touch interface on the book she’s holding.

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Above is their concept for an augmented reality application. Hands can be tracked in 3D space for manipulating an object projected in the lens display.

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One incredible application utilized text and face recognition. Looking at a menu in Japanese, for example, overlaid the English translation over the text. Users could also find and recognize faces in the crowd, making it easier, say, to find your children at a parade, or social media contacts in a crowd based on their online photos.

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NTT already has a similar translation feature on their smartphone products.

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Other Notes:

  • The solution for text translation and face recognition was running on an Android 4.0 – Ice Cream Sandwich – platform.

NTT DoCoMo 5G Demonstration

NTT demonstrated a 5G solution utilizing arrays of 100 microantennae to boost per-user signal strength and data transmission. Their goal is to provide 1 GBit/second rates to all users, with up to 10 GBit/second under “ideal” circumstances.

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Below are photographs from their 5G simulation:

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Other Notes:

  • 1000x system capacity, 100x speed increase
  • 1GBps goal typical data rate, sometimes 10 GBits if prefect conditions
  • Question: What processor could handle that on a phone anyway? Makes sense it would be future.
  • Multi cell provides direct path to more users under load. Great for traffic explosion, also in congested environments, with the 100 micro cells per antenna.