13/09/2014

What's the big deal about an iPhone 6 and Apple Watch

Last week Apple announced the new iPhone 6 and 6 plus (the 6 being the updated version of the iPhone 5s with slightly larger dimensions and the 6 plus being a phablet with a true 1080 display). These will both be available on September the 19th, through carriers or an Apple Store.

Of course, the Apple Watch was also announced which caused swoons from legions of fanboys worldwide (not available until 2015 though). It's pretty, but no beauty, but does it really mater? Apple will still sell lots of them.

Let's start with the new iPhones, they have a new Apple A8 ARM CPU which can be twice as fast as the old A7X in the iPhone 5s and a new graphics chip (also faster). They also come with an updated M8 co-processor which as well as looking after things like the compass, gyroscope and accelerometer, now handles pressure as well. The older M7 off-loaded these functions, the M8 does the same. Allegedly it's a chip manufactured by NXP so probably a very low power 32bit ARM MCU which off-loads all the data collection from the actual sensor chips and then triggers the main (A8) CPU when it's got some usable data for it - it probably does a bit of data pre-processing too.

The M8 allows the phone to diligently collect movement data using very little power and applications can access the data as they need, the barometer adds the ability to track the height of the device (altitude), so can now measure the user's climbing stairs etc activity - Apple are doing their best to own the health market and it will make a big dent into applications when HealthKit hits iOS 8 allowing multiple health apps to aggregate their data into a central application. Why wear a Nike Fuelband, when your iPhone collects the same data, might as well take the data from the iPhone and send it back to Nike's Plus service (and Nike has recently got out of the tracker market, at least for separate wearables - maybe Tim Cooke [CEO of Apple] who sits on Nike's board gave them a heads-up).

Then there's the NFC stuff that's now in the iPhone, that will be used for Apple Pay. Apple has previously publicly rejected NFC completely saying the market wasn't ready and the NFC market was too fragmented, that's all about to change.

Then there's the Apple Watch, it's square, but Apple have done a fantastic job on the UI, it's nice now and can only improve. It too has a new chip (the S1), but there's not much detail on that yet.. It also has 'health' features and can track movement (independently from the phone), it's got LEDs and sensors on the base which can measure your pulse-rate (many read that to be heart rate, but it's not quite the same, pulse rate is just measuring the blood squirting through the veins - heart-rate generally means taking an ECG reading and measuring the number of beats per minute - that gets tricky and can mean FDA approval, which is a pain that Apple just may not want to go through YET). It has health apps built-in, though it will use the iPhone GPS to measure real distances moves etc.

Currently the LED/sensors just measure pulse-rate, but (probably very much like Withings did with the Pulse) they can also measure O2 concentration in the blood (pO2), then glucose/sugar levels and who knows what else, the technologies there, it just requires enabling bits of software.

The Apple Watch also has that nice little NFC subsystem in it, which will allow older iPhones (and iPads) to utilise Apple Pay (see what they did there!).

However, it's Apple Pay which is the real game changer. NFC on Android phones is fragmented, everyone has their own way of doing things. All the mobile carriers are trying to do mobile wallets, banks are trying to do mobile wallets, Apple is now doing a mobile payment system with agreement from the major card issuers (MasterCard, Visa, AMEX). Admittedly is US only at launch, but it will surely roll out to at least European countries reasonably rapidly. The US hasn't adopted Chip and Pin (C&P) yet, however stores are accepting NFC cards for small payments (NFC cards have a symbol on them, like a wireless signal radiating out). Apple now allows a user to store the card details (in a secure area) on the iPhone and uses that info to make an NFC transaction. It doesn't need all the card info, just enough to tell the merchant who the user is and that gets passed back to the card issuer, the transaction is done (all using secure tokes and secured on the phone using Touch-ID). Presumably Apple takes a small cut of the transaction from the card companies, but they get reduced fraud (mag stripes are easy to clone and until C&P is rolled out in the US, this is a MUCH more secure method). There's also only a single payment system that merchants have to worry about that uses their existing merchant accounts and systems. This will be HUGE for Apple.

That's just the beginning - take TfL's Oyster system in the UK, they're trying to get rid of dedicated Oyster cards and allowing users to use their normal (NFC) bank cards for pay-as-you-go journeys, this will eventually extend to all types of journeys (season tickets etc). Apple can now step in and support Oyster on the phone (and Apple Watch), no more searching for the right card that's registered for Oyster, dangle your watch near the reader.

Moving forwards, as the technology is adopted, Apple can start removing the need for the card companies themselves, it becomes the card issuer, it becomes the bank. The card companies are needed now, but for how long? The technology is there built into the iPhone and Watch. It links into your iTunes account and you have central control.

In the future, Apple produce an NFC reader in their desktop offerings (MacBooks, Airs, iMacs, Mac Pros) and e-commerce sites can access this, go to a site which is Apple Pay enabled, pay through your phone, the possibilities are endless - and the revenue streams to Apple with them.

The big losers? Well Pebble has just been blown out of the water, ok it's cheaper, but it's dumb compared to Apple's Watch. A lot of Android Wear watches are also likely to be hit hard, though some of them are prettier - at least now. Apple have built a watch eco-system - they currently support 3 watch designs and lots of different bracelets, they are all designed and made beautifully (even if the watch itself isn't the prettiest out there, it's a version 1). Now Apple work with the high-end watch designers - Apple Watch inside, designer watch outside. If Apple do this properly, they've corned the smart-watch market for a long time.

The BIGGEST losers though - eventually the card companies, Apple is disrupting them from the inside, much like it did with the music industry and is slowly doing to the film/video industry. The other major loser is COIN, such a good idea (though only for the US's antiquated mag stripe card system, it has a long way to go to support multiple C&P cards, if they ever get the technology and agreements to do so), it's business now looks very shaky indeed, killed by Apple before they've even got beta units out to people. Another loser is potentially POWA, they've got a great system for e-commerce sites so people can pay with their mobiles (and have just raised $200m), Apple Pay potentially kills their services too.

08/09/2014

Europa publish Radio Spectrum report on 700MHz spectrum

Pascal Lamy has presented his report to the European Commission on the future of the UKF (700MHz spectrum).

In summary the report proposes: -

The 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz) is currently used for Digital Terrestrial Television broadcasts and Wireless microphones, this spectrum to be re-alloacted to wireless broadband by 2020 (with a +/- 2 year variance).

The spectrum below 700MHz (470-694 MHz) should be maintained for DTT broadcasts and should be given regulatory stability.

The Program Making and Special Events (PMSE) spectrum should be moved to the 800MHz band (823-832 MHz) and 1.8 GHz (1785-1805 MHz).

This will mean TV sets/etc will need a major retune in around 2018 to ensure reception and also new broadcast technologies (MPEG-4 and DVB-T2 - which is used by Freeview HD, but not all current sets/etc will support it).

It's likely PMSE will require new equipment (especially for radio microphones), but at least manufacturers have about 6 years to do this.

29/08/2014

Ofcom ups the power in the 1800MHz band

Ofcom, the Super Regulator, has made a statement allowing 1800MHz licensees to increase the power from 62dBm to 65dBm.

The current licensees are 1800MHz (1805 - 1876.7 MHz) licensees are: -

  • Telef√≥nica: 1805.1 to 1810.9 MHz
  • Vodafone: 1810.9 to 1816.7 MHz
  • H3G: 1816.7 to 1826.7 MHz (plus 1826.7-1831.7 from October 2015)
  • EE: 1831.7 to 1876.7 MHz (plus 1826.7-1831.7 until September 2015)

The 1800 spectrum is used for downlink bandwidth and the operators use it for LTE services, though it could also be used for WiMAX.

This should allow for increased range of LTE services (i.e. mobiles from base stations).

28/08/2014

iStorage DatAshur Personal

iStorage have been making secure storage for a while, but mainly business devices. These tend to be made out of metal and have been relatively expensive. Now iStorage have come out with a "personal" version. It's made of plastic (the review unit was blue) and are significantly more cost-effective.

The DatAshur Personal comes in 3 versions 8GB, 16GB and 32GB. Each uses the AES-256 encryption standard to encrypt any data stored on the drive (well USB fob). They're not small at 83mm x 17.4mm x 8.6mm (including the end cap), but there's a 10 digit numeric keypad on the device (and a "lock" hey too). There's also two LEDs at the top of the device and a blue one under the lock key

The devices come with a default user PIN of 11223344 which is a special factory setting as it's not possible to set a normal PIN that has repeating or consecutive numbers. PINs must be between 7 and 15 digits long. Each key also has a standard 'phone' letter scheme so alphanumeric passwords can be emulated (so DATASHUR would be 32827487 - though the writing on the keys is quite small, it's probably easier to do the letter to numeric conversion on a phone).

The device actually can store two PINs, an ADMIN PIN and a USER PIN, by default only the USER PIN is enabled. This is actually a very useful feature for companies as the IT department can configure the ADMIN password (which the end-user has no knowledge of) and then issue it to an employee who sets their own USER PIN. If the employee then leaves, the device can be issued to a new employee with a new USER PIN. Obviously the ADMIN user can also see any data on the drive, which also means a USER shouldn't store any data they don't want their IT department to see on the drive too. An ADMIN user can also put the drive into read-only mode, so data can be read, but the drive can't be written to, useful for distributing company confidential information.

Though PINs can NEVER be retrieved from the DatAshur, an ADMIN user can reset a USER PIN (however not the other way around).

Once a correct PIN has been entered, the device will unlock and must be plugged into a USB port within 30 seconds or it will lock again. Once plugged in, it appears as a normal USB memory device.

That's where the security comes in, if a PIN is entered incorrectly 10 times, then the DatAshur will wipe the encryption keys which renders all data on the drive unreadable. This is also true for the file allocation table (or FAT). When in this mode a new PIN will have to be set-up, the drive connected to a USB port and then reformatted (in whichever mode is suitable for the operating system, could be FAT, FAT32 or NTFS) in order to be usable as a drive again.

The 8GB drive is available for @29.00, the 16GB drive costs £39.00 and the 32GB drives is £59.00 - though considerably more expensive (and a larger form factor) than competing USB drives, it should give the user (or IT department) peace of mind that if the drive is lost, the data is pretty secure (guessing a 15 digit password is likely to take more than 10 attempts). It can also be effective for allocating to users and then the IT department can also check what data the user is taking off-site. Suddenly the price doesn't seem so expensive.

17/07/2014

If you're a wondering nomad, you might like a NOMAD clip or card

NOMAD make USB cables, but cables with a difference, they're in the shape of a credit card or key fob. They also come in two varieties of each, micro-USB or Apple's Lightning connector.

Do you really need another USB adapter? Well the NOMAD devices (are they devices?) are really easy to carry around with you all the time, so you never have to be without a USB adapter.

The Card is just that, a credit card sized adapter with two bits that push out, one being the normal USB bit that plugs into a laptop or charger and the other bit is a micro-USB plug or Lightning plug. It's a bit thicker than a normal credit card, but not much and it will fit in a wallet credit card slot, Oysters holder, or jacket without much fuss.

The Clip is about the same length as a key and has a "loop" at the micro-USB/Lightning end. It does look a bit like a key when viewed at the right angle. This easily fits on a key ring and won't look out of place.

Both products are pretty durable, though if either was REALLY bent a lot, the plastic could become stressed, though it would require a LOT of effort.

Though they can both be ordered off the NOMAD site, they're now available on Amazon.

The Apple Lightning version of the Clipand Card and the the micro-USB versions Card and Clip, each cost £16.

That sounds quite a lot for what's basically a USB cable, but it's not much for being able to carry something around all the time, so being able to charge your phone or tablet wherever you are (ok you might not have a charger, but it's often easy to find a USB port somewhere, the issue being never having the right cable with you). The NOMAD solutions just fit the bill - well your wallet or key holder.

24/05/2014

HTC One (M8)

The HTC One (M8) comes in a box resembling an Apple Mac Mini and sliding off the top reveals the phone in all its glory. It's a well made phone and feels very solid in construction with an aluminium body and big screen (the phone is bigger than an iPhone), coming in at 160g the weight matches the solidness of the chassis. It's also 9.3mm thick which feels right (and not clunky).

The screen is very bright (Gorilla Glass form Corning) and it uses Super LCD technology supporting 1080 x 1920 (HD) pixels with a wide viewing angle it's 5 inches from corner to diagonal corner, it's possible to watch a movie on this and really appreciate the vibrant colours.

The M8 also supports the latest generation of Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU, the 801 with 4 cores (ARM) - though it's a 32bit CPU (Apple's new CPU is 64bit), though there's a lot of power and the phone doesn't feel underpowered in the slightest. The CPU also has on-board graphics, a DSP and support for the latest GPS technologies.

The battery is also 2600mAH which allows the phone to operate for a sensible amount of time before recharging (obviously dependant on application use, but it can last a full day on a full charge).

There's front and rear cameras and front facing HTC Boom speakers which don't sound too tinny.

The phone comes with Google's latest Android Operating System Kit Kat and some HTC application pre-bundled. HTC Blinkfeed is an app that manages all your social feeds (and email) in a single view, which is actually quite nice to use. there's also Sense TV which is a TV remote on steroids and works with both terrestrial TV channels and services like Sky and Virgin Media. There's also all the standard Google apps like Maps, Google Now and voice actions (like Apple's SIRI).

There's 8GB of internal memory which is enough to run quite a few apps, but there's also a MicroSD slot which can take a 128GB card which should support most people's app desires.

There's also NFC, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5 GHz) and DLNA allowing wireless streaming to another DLNA device such as a TV.

The cameras should also be mentioned as HTC has done some magic with the rear camera (well it's actually two), the primary camera is an HTC UltraPixel™ camera, BSI sensor, pixel size 2.0 um, sensor size 1/3”, f/2.0, 28mm lens, HTC ImageChip 2. 1080p Full HD video recording with HDR video and the secondary camera is used to capture depth information. This allows a picture to be taken and the depth of field changed (so the foreground or background can be brought into focus).

The front camera is more 'normal' with a 5MP, BSI sensor, wide angle lens with HDR capability, 1080p Full HD video recording. Gallery with UFocus™, Dimension Plus™, Seasons, Foregrounder, Image match.

The phone is really best of breed and it's one of the snappiest phones around, there's no lag and the screen really is fantastic.

O2 kindly lent the phone and it's on their O2 Refresh service which costs from £38 to £48 per month (with a zero upfront cost for the phone) or £13 to £28 per month paying the full £609.99 for the phone.

25/04/2014

The future of jewellery is 3D printing

This week Wonderluk, a new e-commerce site went live (well into beta) that sells 3D printed jewellery and accessories for the more avant-garde woman.

Though there's not a huge amount on the site on the moment (there are 17 items of jewellery and 3 iPhone cases), this is just the beginning. Currently all the designs come from Wonderluk themselves, though it could easily add 3rd party items and become a (the?) destination site for 3D fashion items.

3D printing has the power to revolutionise jewellery and accessories as designs can be conjured up mathematically that are almost impossible to imagine mentally and impossible to construct using normal jewellery fabrication methods. Mathematics is beautiful, nature uses it in everything (think of a sunflower head and the spiralling of the seeds). It will also open up the use of new materials which aren't currently used by jewellers.

All the designs are currently made out of nylon in various colours, but there's no reason in future metal or other sintered materials couldn't be used and in combinations (both in material and colour). Any piece on the site can be printed in various colours (white, black, caramel, indigo blue, ice blue, green, purple, pink, red, sunset orange and yellow).

Prices aren't cheap for what some may think of as something made of plastic, but then the pieces are exquisitely designed and made to a very high standard. If the site really takes off, volume effects will probably come in and costs may go down.

Though the site is squarely aimed at women, the iPhone cases would happily suit a Shoreditch hipster or even a geek who like tech and the thought that their phone is both protected, looks nice and comes from a 3D print.