Phone batteries to improve in 2015

batteryA big regret, for ditching our Blackberrys and feature phones, is good battery life. I recently switched back to a Blackberry Curve 9220 and I now get 2.5 days of juice. The device is programmed to switch off after 9:30 pm and to wake up at 6:00 am. It’s not running any third-party apps, email or instant messaging. And thankfully, I am not disturbed by frequent beeps announcing a new post by someone on a WhatsApp group — late at night.  I have stopped habitually peering into my phone every 10 minutes while commuting, to check news and messages. Trends show that the retro phone may have a come-back moment for these very reasons.

Big screen phones with multi-core processors are hungry for power. On average, a smartphone offers 8 hours of battery life (by today’s standards, 10 hours is impressive). Last year, the demand for power and charging points opened up a market for portable auxiliary power, by way of Power Banks. Companies like Portronics were pioneers and now there are so many options available.

If you want some lasting juice for your phone or tablet, don’t settle for a power bank that offers less than 5,200 mAh (milliampere hour is the unit of measure for battery power). And if you use multiple devices on the go, then 10,000 mAh or above is recommended.

In 2015, you will see more phones with power ratings in excess of 3,000 mAh. Wireless charging will also become common. All day battery life will become the norm.

Already we are seeing phones that offer fast charging. For instance, Oppo Mobile offers phones that charge to 50 percent their battery capacity in 30 minutes.

With such technologies becoming a norm in portable devices, we may soon be leaving our power banks at home.

 

Microsoft is back, but what can we expect in 2015?

MicrosoftMicrosoft will unveil Windows 10 next week, and the tech world will once again gravitate towards the company. It’s the company we love to hate. Great products? We haven’t seen much of that lately, though there were a few announcements and product releases in 2014. Blame it on the previous leadership if you will. But Satya Nadella is the man to watch in 2015.

In 2014 IT giant Microsoft announced its third CEO and this time it picked a person who was born outside the United States. Satya Nadella was elevated to the CEO post on Feb 4, 2014. He immediately got to work and made a lot of changes.

Nadella successfully transitioned Microsoft from a devices and services company to a platform and productivity company. Among the first products that Nadella announced was Office for iPad. Its Surface Pro 3 tablet sales doubled compared to a year ago. Microsoft’s Digital Assistant Cortana got good reviews. Windows Phone 8.1 put Microsoft back in the smart phone race. The Nokia brand was edged out and replaced by Lumia; many employees lost their jobs due to this merger. The Microsoft Lumia 830 showed the competition what Microsoft can do with smart phones, but the shortage of apps on Microsoft’s app store continues to be a damper. Microsoft also introduced Sway, its graphics rich, easy-to-use and affordable publishing environment.

Look out for Windows 10 (previewing next week), a new browser called Spartan, new versions of the Surface Pro tablet, a wrist assistant called Microsoft Band, and other great innovations from Microsoft in 2015.

Meanwhile, you may want to read this story I found on Business Insider.

 

New camera formats debut at CEIF 2014 (Photofair)

Point-and-shoot replaced by action cams and lens cams; SLRs and lenses become affordable

The Consumer Electronics Imaging Fair 2014, in Mumbai

Good footfall at the fair, but teeming crowds made it difficult to walk around the photo fair.

The Consumer Electronic Imaging Fair (formerly called Photofair) is an annual event, conducted alternatively in Mumbai and New Delhi. Organized by the All India Photographic Trade and Industry Association (AIPTIA), the event was held in Mumbai between 9 – 12 January, 2014 at the Bombay Convention and Exhibition Center, Goregaon. The fair is patronized by thousands of photography enthusiasts, solutions providers, amateur & professional photographers from all over India.

This year the absence of camera giants Canon and Nikon was profound, though Sony, HP, JVC, Pentax, Ricoh, Panasonic and others made up for the loss.

CEIF also confirmed the death of the point-and-shoot camera, since camera technology in smart phones has now caught up. But new formats like action cameras and smartphone attachable lens-style cameras made an entry.

IMG_0501

The camera in a lens. Use your smart phone screen as the viewfinder.

We visited the Sony stall and got a demo of the new lens-style cameras — DSC-QX100 (for professionals) and DSC-QX-10 (amateurs). At first glance we could tell that this is an entire camera fitted in a lens, minus the viewfinder. Your smartphone screen is the viewfinder. The lens camera relays images to your smartphone over Wi-Fi. The lens camera straps on to the back of your cell phone, but does not make use of your phone lens or phone flash. We’ll come to the specs in a moment.

We asked the Sony official about its application. Apparently, the lens can go into nooks and crevices that are beyond reach for a typical camera. For instance, if you want to capture a shot of a fox in its hole, or a kitten that hides in the hole of a wall, you’d take the lens in your hand and place it closer to the subject. The Sony representative explained that it could also be used for wildlife photography, where you can’t get closer to the animal, to take a shot. But you can place the lens near the spot and move away, monitoring the shot on your phone and remotely controlling the lens through an app on the phone.

Image credit: Sony Corp.

Image credit: Sony Corp.

Getting down to specs. The DSC-QX-100, priced at Rs 24,990 is a 20.9 megapixel camera with a CMOS image sensor and a SLR style control ring. It has a F1.8 Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* lens with 3.6x optical zoom. The other highlight is the BIONZ image processing engine which converts the raw image data from a CCD or CMOS image sensor into the format that is stored on the memory card. So a copy of the image, smaller in size, is made on the memory card — and you can upload it to a website or share it via email. The original image is left on the lens camera. According to Sony, BIONZ imaging engine transforms data captured by the CMOS sensor into “stunningly beautiful” images with accurate colour, rich tonal gradations and minimal noise. For connectivity, it offers both NFC and Wi-Fi.

The DSC-QX-10, which  costs Rs 12,990 is an 18.9 megapixel camera. It has a Sony G lens that offers 10x optical zoom. Like its elder sibling the QX-100, it has BIONZ image processing, NFC and Wi-Fi. Both cameras come with a smartphone bracket or attachment.

With a lens style camera, you can get beautiful images without lugging around a bulky SLR and a bag full of lenses.

Action Cameras

Action cam

Note the camera mount on the handle bar.

Sony, Panasonic and others make HD video cameras that are used by sports enthusiasts and athletes. They come with water-proof enclosures or special brackets for mounting on cycles, headgear and other sports equipment.

SLRs become affordable

But SLR cameras, which were once the staple of professionals and affluent photography enthusiasts, have now become affordable, sinking below the Rs 50,000 price point. We see more photography enthusiasts and hobbyists upgrading to the SLR platform, as prices for entry-level SLRs and lenses continue to fall.

sony Alpha

The Sony Alpha comes with a kit lens, telephoto lens, plus accessories — all for $800.

Manufacturers like Canon and Sony are wooing amateur photographers with sub-Rs 50,000 packages, that include the camera body, kit lens and also a telephoto lens. For instance, at CEIF, Sony was offering a package for Rs 43,990 that included the Alpha SLT-A58K body + standard kit lens (18 – 55 mm) + telephoto lens (55 – 200 mm). During the Christmas season Canon was also offering similarly priced packages for its EOS 600D and EOS 1100D cameras.

Teeming Crowds

With swarming and unruly crowds at the fair, jostling and pushing, or squatting in the aisles, it was at times difficult to walk in the aisles, and spend enough time at the stalls. By day two 27,000 people had visited the fair, and crowd control was a serious problem — something the organizer might want to look into for the next edition. But overall, the fair was well organized, with an entire hall set up just for registration (no separate media registration though), and another for the fashion show, with the expo held in a separate hall. CEIF 2015 will be conducted in New Delhi between 8-11 Jan.

3-D Printing — the supply-chain comes to your backyard

I’m hearing a lot about 3-D printing these days and all this conjures (scary) visions about how life would be like in the future. I’m also betting that all the traditional printer manufacturers (HP, Canon, Epson) have 3-D printers in their road maps — and that their R&D facilities are now working on designs and prototypes.

First the ‘scary’ part.

Today, it is possible to print a metal gun (with bullets) using a 3-D printer (http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/08/tech/innovation/3d-printed-metal-gun/. Other sharp implements should be easier to print. When the 3-D printer becomes more easily available, someone could easily print his own weapons at home and sell these in the open market. While we have strict laws that restrict the possession of weapons by citizens, home made printed weapons would make those laws redundant. Worse, I fear that some mad man would clear security checks at an airport and then print his weapons in the loo near the boarding gates.

Now the more positive news.

3-D printing has a number of highly useful applications that will introduce a lot of convenience and save time and money.

Service centers could print spare parts and save consumers the long wait as spares travel down the supply chain from a manufacturer’s warehouse to a retailer near the consumer. I’ve seen people dump old TVs, DVD players and other electronic items because a faulty chip could not be replaced (unavailability of spares).

Astronauts could print parts needed for space stations or spaceships in outer space — so these would not need to be carried on rockets from
earth. That would translate to massive savings in rocket fuel and space missions.

For the frequent traveler, the load in his/her backpack will get lighter. Imagine if we could print our own underwear or clothing!

So I’m going to let my imagination run wild for a moment. In future, you’d carry a smart card that holds the designs or blueprints for whatever you want to print on your 3-D printer. Why, the next James Bond or Mission Impossible movie might have a scene or two about this futuristic fantasy.

There is huge potential in healthcare too. Parts of the skeletal system could be generated on 3-D printers — knee caps, hip bones, ribs, finger bones etc.

Back to reality.

3-D printing is set to transform global supply chains. In aviation, different parts of an aircraft are manufactured in various countries, and then shipped to a central assembly facility. That is a huge logistic challenge that impacts delivery schedules (delays in the 787). With 3-D printing, designs will be beamed across the Internet, and parts will be printed at the central assembly plant itself (remember how robots revolutionized auto manufacturing in Japan in the 80s?).

For 3-D printing to become mainstream, the cost of the technology should decrease. We also need the availability of different composites and materials. For instance, parts for aircraft and spaceships must be strong enough; bone substitutes must be accepted by the human body without adverse side effects.

The day is not far off when 3-D printers will become indispensable machines and an important part of our lives.

Article Shortlink: http://wp.me/psJbR-7s

Obsolete-proof hardware

A week ago I was attending a technical seminar in Hyderabad. Here a certain company was trying to pitch ‘Green IT’ products to its customers. A customer asked why the switches he had already purchased could simply be green-enabled instead of replacing these with new ‘green’ ones. Technical obsolescence makes it necessary for companies to replace products every few years. Isn’t there a way to make hardware obsolete-proof? And why can’t vendors take back old products and sell new ones at a reduced rate?

Buying new hardware every few years is getting to be a costly proposition and IT managers are feeling this more so now, during the downturn. But there is a way to make hardware obsolete-proof, to a certain extent or limit.

Have you heard about the concept of upgrading the firmware by flashing the BIOS? And then there are updates for device drivers. The feature set of a certain device, such as a MP3 player, motherboard, EPABX system or network switch can be determined by the corresponding device driver or firmware. The former is a piece of software that you install on the hard disk while firmware is special software that’s hard-wired on a chip in the device. The manufacturer could periodically release updates which the user could download from its website and then, following a special procedure, upload these into the chip, thereby overwriting the previous version of the firmware.

This concept is now applicable to the iPod and the iPhone. Apple releases updates periodically to extend or improve the functionality of these devices. Motherboard and graphics card manufacturers also offer driver and firmware updates.

There’s a Linux and Asterisks software solution that converts a PC into a full-fledged EPABX system. New features are easily added just by installing additional software modules rather than purchasing additional hardware.

Touch screen phones have virtual keypads and buttons that replace physical ones. The manufacturer can add new buttons or change the functionality of the buttons by updating the phone’s firmware.

The point is software updates can bring new or enhanced functionality to hardware and thereby increase the product lifecycle. But that doesn’t make the hardware obsolete-proof.

And there are physical limitations. Memory has a finite capacity. New ports and circuits can’t be installed on old devices. Wireless technology evolves and new radio chips are developed. Data transmission speeds increase and new bus interfaces emerge. Controller chips get more intelligent.

But this is all food for thought, nevertheless.