Archive | April, 2014

Google to develop modular smart phones in Project Ara

In September of 2013 Phoneblocks popularized the idea of modular mobile phone technology. I’m sure they weren’t the first to have the idea, but their marketing campaign was my first interaction with the idea of modular technology.

The idea of swapping, and upgrading, of components such as cameras, batteries, processors and storage instead of throwing away an old, or non-working phone allows consumers to have more flexibility and reduce electronics waste, one device at a time.

Google entered the modular mobile phone market, unveiling their plans for Project Ara; a device which would have different modules that would be secured into a metal frame by magnets. Each separate module would have a unique purpose and would offer consumers greater potential for customization, allowing them to choose the modules that best suit them.

Project Ara is taking customization to the next level, the unit could potentially employ eye tracking and heart-rate sensors to monitor the user’s level of frustration. As stress increases the configurator app will whittle down the choice to ease the decision making process, said Paul Eremenko, the head of Project Ara (as quoted in the Wall Street Journal).

There’s no telling what the true market would be for this product. Rajeev Chand, who is the head of the research at Rutberg & Co., an investment firm, says “there may not be consumer market for this.” I’m no prognosticator, but this seems like it could be exactly what the consumer smartphone market needs. Many people I’ve spoken with indicate they are seeking to upgrade their phone solely because it is slow, or the screen is cracked. Allowing them to swap out individual components could save the consumer hassle and money.

Modular smartphones also allow users to customize their device based on what’s important for them. “We want it to be like an app store,” Kingham Gabriel, Deputy Director of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group said “You may want a blood sugar monitor and a cigarette lighter on your phone. Why should you not have it?” I’d wager to guess this will be a hit, although I can’t yet envision a need for a cigarette lighter on a phone.

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My week with AirMedia

Crestron AirMediaLike every designer, technician and technology manager I am often asked about the possibility of wireless display; because it’s incredibly difficult to connect a cable to a port on a device, or so my clients say. So in effort to appease my clients within the University where I work, and also the ones outside the university, I’ve taken to looking at a few wireless display (or “wi-di” as some people are calling it) units to see if this mythical unicorn of picture perfect display without a wire actually exists.

I was able to get my hands on Crestron AirMedia. I’ll not waste more of your time, here it is, the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

  • Easily addressable- In an enterprise setting, IP addressing can quickly derail any system that operates over the existing network. Apple TV’s are great products for wirelessly displaying iOS devices, but they only work if they are on the same VLAN. Crestron’s AirMedia connects differently, allowing users to work across VLANs. That’s a big winner for me, since our wired connections (which the box requires) and wireless connections operate on separate VLANs.
  • Management Interface- There is a very simple, easy to use, web interface for each device. One can change the device’s IP address, if a static address is desired, or add company logos etc from a centralized location with no advanced knowledge required.

The Bad

  • Requires wired connection- while this isn’t a terrible fault, and certainly one that is easily remedied, this device requires a wired ethernet connection. Unlike some wireless display devices which can operate off the wireless network, the AirMedia requires a dedicated ethernet connection. In some cases this can be as simple as adding  a hub to an existing rack, but in more “pesky” enterprise network environments it might require another connection to be installed.
  • Application Crashing- The initial application I installed, as prompted by the device’s landing page, would frequently crash, causing the desktop mirroring to drop out. To be fair and honest, I was using a 130 slide powerpoint presentation to test, so I’m not sure if it was something I was doing that was overwhelming the mac-based application.
  • Poor frame rate- this one is in the bad column because it’s to be expected, right now, in wireless display devices. For the most part, at this time, this device isn’t expected to be capable of through-putting a full youtube video; rather it is mostly designed for document sharing, power point presentation etc., perhaps in the future an upgraded device will be capable of handling video presentation, then it will be a big winner.
  • Limited file types supported from mobile- Mobile devices account for the largest percentage of wireless display request, for me. I can’t think of a time when someone has asked to mirror their desktop computer to a projector wirelessly. One thing I didn’t like was that this device doesn’t handle wireless display mirroring of ipad/android tablets and smartphones. In fact that was the biggest complaint I received from the few clients I allowed to take it for a spin.

The Ugly

  • Lag- While I was under no illusion this device would handle high frame rate content, like animations and movies, I was appalled at how frequently the display connected to the AirMedia lagged behind the computer it was mirroring. I assume it wasn’t a bandwidth issue as my office has 40mbps down/ 96 mbps up. At any rate, after about the sixth slide in a presentation the lag between the computer and the display would be two seconds, and eventually reached 10 seconds, which is an eternity when you’re giving a presentation.

All in all the device worked about as well as I could have hoped, if you eliminate the lag difficulty. AirMedia works with more devices than the apple TV, offers more functionality than the chrome cast and costs significantly less than Barco’s Clickshare.

I’m certainly not saying this device isn’t a winner, or it cannot be a good fit for your application. It is not a blanket winner, for me, but there are certainly a few applications and rooms for which it is the perfect solution.


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And So it Goes… Saying Goodbye to Windows XP

“And so it goes…” as Kurt Vonnegut would say, time and time, again in Slaughterhouse Five to indicate death.

Today is the day that technology managers have been either dreaming of or dreading, the end of support for Windows XP, the staple operating system (OS) from technology giant Microsoft. After approximately 13 years, Windows XP will no longer be supported, nor will security patches be developed and released, despite glaring security vulnerabilities routinely exploited by hackers.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Windows XP accounts for nearly 30% of desktop computers according to researcher NetApplications, while Windows 7 holds an approximately 49% share of the desktop OS market. Windows XP is favored among “computers” requiring a small footprint- digital signage units, automated teller machines (ATMs) and control systems for water, sewer and electric plants.

Some campuses started early, and pushed to migrate machines from Windows XP to Windows 7, the university I work for completed their transition two years ago. However, lately I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter among fellow higher-ed technology managers about forming (yes forming) teams to handle the transition to Windows 7, with target completion dates extending to the end of 2014. Windows 7 is two versions behind the latest Windows release of 8.1, and is four years-old in its own right. User adoption seems to be the main hurdle to overcome; as software and hardware manufacturers have released updates to make interfaces and programs compatible with Windows 7, and a majority of Windows 8.

It will be interesting to see how these application critical machines, especially ATMs, are maintained to limit the vulnerability to numerous hacking threats to which their archaic software is susceptible. Will financial institutions and utility providers upgrade their software? A Citigroup Inc. spokesperson is quoted as saying “Citibank is in the process of migrating ATMs away from Windows XP; we have plans in place that will maintain the protection of our ATMs during this transition.”


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