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Monday, 14 May 2012

How Mobile Technology Has Changed Our Lives

using video on a smart phone
It's been a little quiet on the technology front this last week, or at least, nothing worth writing home about.  Yes, there are some developments at Yahoo! but apart from that, pretty slim pickings.

So, I thought I would write something about how I perceive that mobile technology has changed our lives.  And by that I mean how most of us seem to carry our smartphones everywhere.  The reason for this, and why I started thinking about it was due to a family celebration we had at the weekend.

There was about 11 of us celebrating my Mum's birthday.  Anyone under the age of 45 (and yes, that includes me!) had their mobile phone with them.  Pictures were being taken and exchanged, and uploaded onto Facebook.  But not just pictures, videos of the event too.  And as the fun and laughter went on into the evening, so did the use of the mobiles.  And it got me thinking that without these mobiles or smartphones, how much we used to miss out on and be able to share so easily with our friends and family.  For example, without my trusty HTC, I could not have recorded the [following movie] ([click] to watch) which turns out to be a bit of video gold.  And within moments of me uploading it to YouTube, which is linked to my Facebook account, people were laughing and sharing it - even those not in close proximity to me.

Now if you go back say five or ten years, moments like this would have been missed - purely because without a dedicated camcorder which you would have had to lug around.  But in today's modern society where so many of us have smartphones, we can capture videos like the one I've put in the link above at a moment's notice.  Okay, so I spruced it up a bit using Windows Live Movie Maker, but it doesn't change the fact that I was able to capture something pretty damn funny.  What's more, as is becoming more the case, that movie was captured in full 1080p high definition.

There's often a lot of criticism levied at people using smartphones and how in some ways it can be anti-social.  And to a degree, yes it can.  If you're sitting in a nice restaurant with your partner and you are sitting there checking Facebook, then I can understand it.  But in social situations, at a party for example, I personally think it's a great asset to be able to share the picture you've just taken with all your friends and family.

All in all, I think that smartphones, whether they be an Android phone or an Apple iPhone, have changed the way we interact at social gatherings, allowing us to instantly share those precious memories.  And it's great at the end of the party, returning home, sitting down and being able to see how much everyone enjoyed themselves.
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Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Google's Self-Drive Car

Google have been granted the first ever self-drive license in Nevada, USA
In today's article, I am going to look at the concept of autonomous vehicles.  Today we learn in the news that Google have been granted by Nevada their first ever self-drive license.  And other states in the USA are also looking to follow suit regarding  autonomous vehicles.

When Henry Ford introduced his Model T in 1908, nobody could have ever imagined just how far cars would come technologically wise, or how popular they would become.  Today, cars are common place around the globe.  And each year, they get technologically more advanced.

So it was only a matter of time before the next logical step would come.  A car that doesn't need to be driven by a human with computers on board taking over the duties of a driver, encompassing all the technology we currently are used to like satellite navigation and guidance.

Cruise control, common on many cars around the world today
I wonder, however, how many of us drivers of the current era would feel totally at ease with letting a computer do all the work for us, and not having the control over the vehicle.  I for one get twitchy about using the cruise control in my car.  Sure, I can set the speed I want to go at, and take my feet off the pedals and just steer.  But I find myself constantly hovering my right foot above the break pedal, not 100% trusting the car get on with what I've asked it to do.  Now take all that into account, and take your hands off the wheel and put your faith in thousands (if not 100's of thousands) of lines of computer code, and the multitude of computations performed every second to keep the vehicle on the road, pointing in the right direction and making sure the car doesn't crash.

You have to assume stringent tests and certification means that the Nevada authorities are confident that this car will be just as safe, if not safer, than any other car being driven by a human being.  And I guess it makes sense. A computer with all the right sensory equipment in theory should be able to outperform any human.  Much like in the same way that we accept that when we're on a plane, most of the time the pilots have handed over complete control to the on-board computers to guide it to the destination.  And yes, there are savings to be made here, with better fuel economy, and in theory, less vehicle accidents meaning fewer insurance and personal injury claims.

However, no computer at the moment can truly replicate how a human perceives the road ahead, can it?  Yes, in time, this technology will get better, and fine tuning will make it even more responsive.  But computers, no matter how resilient, are still programmed by humans, and are liable to "bugs".  And what happens if the computer crashes? If your Android phone locks up, and reboots, it's a minor inconvenience.  If it happens in a car doing 60mph down a motorway (or freeway as they are known in the States), then this would cause all sorts of issues.  I presume there are redundant computers on-board to instantly take over.

Cars of the future are more likely to be designed as autonomous vehicles
Don't get me wrong, I am all up for this new technology, and I am sure in 25 years from now, we will sit back and mock the fact that we actually used that circular device in front of us to steer a vehicle, and those pedals in the foot well to control our speed and to slow the car.  But the question is, for me, is the technology proven enough in it's current state to allow us to make that leap from human controlled vehicles to autonomous vehicle control.  A study released by J.D. Power & Associates suggests that in the States, only 1 in 5 of those questioned would be interested in buying an autonomous vehicle.  I am not sure it would be that high here in the UK, especially when you factor in some of our road layouts (I would be interested to know how the Google car would handle our roundabouts!).

Still, all that said, I remember people's apprehension,  and the scoffing when the DLR was introduced in London.  They said it would never take off, and people would not feel comfortable about a driver-less train. Twenty-five years down the line (no pun intended!), it's accepted as part of thousands of people's everyday commute.  I am sure we will be saying the same about autonomous cars in the year 2037.
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Sunday, 6 May 2012

My Guest Article

I was invited to write a guest article regarding technology in today's modern classrooms.  Thanks to http://Pre-Pay-As-You-Go.co.uk for publishing this.

I'll be back during next week with another article here on my own blog.
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Thursday, 3 May 2012

Samsung Galaxy S3 - Designed for Humans - Official Launch

This article has now been moved to my new Blog at U-Read.net
To read it, along with my other articles click the link below

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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Speculation and Anticipation over Samsung S3

Samsung will unleash their new Galaxy S3 on the world at a ceremony in London on May 3rd
Taking a look through the various technology websites over the last few days, I can't help but notice the number of rumours and speculation over the launch of the new Samsung Galaxy S3, otherwise known as the GT-I9300.

Maybe it's just me, but I can't remember the last time a mobile phone caused this much of a stir, maybe with the exception of the S2 being released.  However, the level of anticipation over this device is astounding.

Samsung will unveil it's latest offering of it's Galaxy range tomorow (3rd May) at 7pm at a ceremony in London.  Very rarely do you see a special event organised for the release of a single handset, so Samsung have either decided that due to all the speculation, they will cash in on it, or, maybe the new S3 is so radically different that Samsung don't wish to share the stage with anyone else!


So what is speculated with this latest offering from Samsung.  Well, for starters, it's reportedly going to have a 4.8" touch-screen, slightly larger than it's nearest competitor the HTC One X.  The design too has been speculated about, with some suggesting that it will have much more rounded corners on the glass to make it more aesthetically pleasing like the HTC One X.

It is said that the S3's main camera will be 12 mega-pixels with a 2 mega-pixel front facing camera.  The phone is also likely to be thinner than it's older brother, the S2.  Also speculated about is that the phone will not have any physical buttons on the front except the home button.

As for the chip powering the new S3, it is anticipated that it will be the Exynos 4 Quad 1.8GHz processor.  This seems feasible as Samsung themselves have already announced that the chip would start to appear in their next range of phones.  The phone is also likely to have 2GB of on-board RAM, with 16GB worth of internal storage.  No mention as of yet whether it will have a Micro-SD card slot to increase this.

One of the other rumours I've read which I don't think likely to be in the new phone is the fact that it can charge wirelessly, with Samsung reportedly having patented it's own technology to allow wireless charging up to a metre away from the device without having to physically connect to a charger or charging pad.

And one final speculation, purely mine (unless someone else has already said it), but I think the S3 will natively integrate with Samsung SMART TV's without the need for an external App.  Whether this will just allow you to control the TV using the phone, or allow you to stream content to the phone I wouldn't like to say.  But it would make sense for Samsung to integrate this into their range of phones, starting with the S3.

Whatever the device looks like, or what it is capable of, we'll know at 7pm UK time tomorrow.  It will undoubtedly be running Ice Cream Sandwich as it's OS.  However, as an ex-Galaxy user myself, I sincerely hope they make the phone look more stylish, and feel less "plasticy" than the S2, with a better battery life.  If Samsung can achieve that, then I think they will win a large chunk of business away from the likes of HTC.
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Tuesday, 1 May 2012

YouView - Just Another Media Box in a Crowded Media World?

First off, I have to be totally upfront and honest here.  Until yesterday, I'd never heard of YouView.  YouTube yes, YouView no!  So if like me, you have no idea of what YouView is, here is a quick synopsis...

YouView the digital service due to launch in the UK providing Freeview and Interactive TV
YouView is a digital service utilising Freeview and IPTV.  It will come in the form of a digital set-top box which will utilise the UK digital terrestrial service combined with the Internet to allow viewers to watch regular TV as well as on demand TV.  The consortium is made up from the four major TV providers in the UK (namely BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) as well as three telecommunication companies (BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva).  One of it's selling points is that the TV guide will be able to go backwards in time so the viewer can select these on-demand shows via the broadcaster's "on-demand" services (e.g. BBC iPlayer).  In addition, YouView will be able to run "apps", for example, FaceBook, YouTube etc.

Okay, so that's that cleared up.  However, YouView was supposed to launch back in 2010, but that launch date was delayed until 2011.  The 2011 launch date passed and the announcement was made that it would launch in May 2012 in time for the Olympics.  Now, that date seems to be in doubt as it's chairman, Lord Alan Sugar, is apparently unhappy with the way the service looks and functions.  Lord Sugar was appointed YouView chairman in March 2011 and his remit from the YouView consortium was to either make it a success or to close it down.

The concept of YouView would be a good one, if it was the only device of it's kind coming to market.  However there are now "smart" TV's which already allow you to do much the same thing (albeit not being able to record, or only being able to record the channel you're watching).  A lot of the new TV's have Internet connectivity built in as well as Apps for BBC iPlayer, ITV Player etc. (for example, Samsung's range of SMART TV's).  There is also the Virgin TiVo service, which again, is starting to get more apps, and can also do catch-up TV.  And so as not to be seen as leaving out the other major player, there is Sky Digital.  However both the Sky and TiVo services require a monthly subscription.

Whilst YouView may be free after you've purchased the set-top box, I am left wondering if this is just another repeat of ONdigital/ITV-Digital, the last time a consortium of TV providers got together to launch digital broadcasting into homes.  That venture  subsequently folded ten years ago today (1st May 2012), but lead to the creation of FreeView.  Okay, if YouView does collapse, it won't take with it the Digital TV service like ONdigital/ITV-Digital did, but it will be seen as a failed attempt at putting smart TV into people's homes.  Of course, the overriding factor that will dictate whether there is a need or a niche for YouView is if people are willing to go out and buy a new stand-alone set-top box, or if they prefer to get a "smart" TV or even the TiVo service, or Sky+?

Lord Sugar, Chairman of YouView
Now, Lord Sugar, the wise business owl that he is, may be looking at the YouView concept being placed directly into TV's in the long run, doing away with the need for a separate box.  If he can sell the product "on a chip" to TV manufacturers, then this may be the way to go.  It could then potentially rival the likes of Samsung's and Sony's smart TV engine.  And perhaps Lord Sugar is more than aware that there is a lot of competition out there, and therefore is insisting that the YouView box offers something above what is already available - and quite rightly so.  But the longer the delay for getting this box into people's homes, the less of a market there will be for it, as more people replace their old Analogue TV's or out-of-date LCD TV's with brand spanking new ones with similar technology already built in.
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