I’ve Got A Tricorder and it’s Smaller Than Yours Spock

I remember watching Star Trek the original series as a slightly techno-nerdy kid and being in deep envy of Spock and his Tri-corder. A near magical device that could give him information on everything from someone’s health to how to find the local green grocers. Looking back on it the odd Bakelite black box with the press button controls was a very 1960’s idea of what future technology might look like but like so many things in Science Fiction we can look forward 50 years now and find some startling parallels.

I was intrigued to discover this week that a group at the University of Illinois has invented an iPhone cradle device that can be made for around $200  and turns your iPhone into the equivalent of a $50,000 spectrophotometer.  For those a little less dorky than myself, a spectrophotometer can be used to detect the presence of proteins in various samples of bodily fluid or water which is useful for detection of infection or contamination. As a simple field device for rapid sample analysis this has the potential to save lives and prevent hardship in places around the world where sophisticated medical analysis laboratories aren’t readily available. The whole device increases the size of the iPhone by about 25%.

Not impressed yet? Take a look at Lapka an iPhone device that can detect humidity, radiation, synthetic nitrates and electro magnetic frequencies. By all accounts this is just the start of the small revolution in hand held computing putting all sorts of new diagnostic devices in the palm of our hands. Whether in five years time we’ll be holding this technology or wearing it will depend largely on the success of new augmented reality technologies like Google Glass.  One things for sure though, the next five years will see us having more information about our surroundings than ever before, what we do with that information is still the province of science fiction!

Communication Driving Change: Google Plans to Connect Africa with Wireless

Communication Driving Change: Google Plans to Connect Africa with Wireless

Having become engaged in Fiber roll-outs in the US, Google is taking its new found communications expertise and applying it to Sub Saharan Africa. The Internet giant plans to connect remote areas of the continent using blimps and high altitude balloons.

The company currently has a pilot scheme running in South Africa connecting local schools. I’m sure that Google isn’t oblivious to the huge potential benefit being the first wide scale provider in Africa might bring in the future. Already they’re sourcing cheap low power Android phones to support the project.

The long term impact of this project is fascinating. Communication is one of the key drivers of prosperity. By providing easy means of cheap communication between businesses in Africa Google will doubtless benefit economies and drive change. The devil will come in trying to persuade all the various governments across the region to play nice.

From an ISP point of view, clever providers will probably already be in discussion with Google to see how they can get involved and it will be interesting to see what un-bundling options Google provides for other interested telecoms companies.

Watch this project with interest, it could be that you’re seeing the beginning of a life changing programme in Africa and the opening of a market with large long term potential.

Plug and Play? Console gaming in your pocket.

iPhone and Android apps have really redefined the hold that the big gaming studios have on the video games market with smaller studios and independent developers releasing multi-million euro titles (http://www.businessinsider.com/most-profitable-games-app-annie-2013-2?op=1).

The Gamestick is a nifty little idea from Playjam and could start to redefine the console game market by providing an easily accessible console platform for indy developers. It’s the size of a large USB stick and plugs directly into the HDMI port on the back of your TV. One charge is enough to play 40 hours of games and with 8GB on board and 32GB expansions a decent number of games can be stored.

Sporting an ARM A9 dualcore processor with a Mali 400 GPU common in low end tablets, the Gamestick will be a great platform for the sort of high-end tablet games that are grossing well on iOS and Android platforms.

Whilst games won’t have the sort of rich complexity and photorealistic graphics of AAA console games, they will probably be low cost or Freemium which will be a refreshing change from the forty pound titles common on XBox and Playstation. Gamestick is definitely a product to watch with interest.

Confused by 4G?

Confused by 4G?

4G is a range of mobile technologies designed to bring super fast mobile services to your mobile device. If you’ve heard of the snappily named LTE (Long Term Evolution) or Mobile WiMax, these are both 4G technologies.

With speeds approaching those of residential broadband services, 4G will enable HD video streaming, video conferencing, interactive gaming and other high bandwidth services to be viable over the mobile network.

4G uses dedicated bandwidth reserved for broadband mobile services. Typically the governments in different countries auction this bandwidth to the highest bidder in the form of 4G licences. In the UK Ofcom sold licences to five companies and you can find the details of who the successful bidders were here: http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/4g-auction/.

Adoption of 4G services seems to be moving apace with Everything Everywhere (recently branded to EE) reporting over 318 K subscribers in the first quarter 2013. They’re on track for 1 M subscribers by the end of the year and are predicting a 70% coverage of the UK by population in the same time frame.

Currently reported speeds for 4G are roughly five times that of 3G. In real terms this means people are getting about 8 Mbps. This great infographic gives you and idea of what people have been using 4G for: https://explore-orange-live-orangedigital.s3.amazonaws.com/2013/04/23/Web_Usage_Infogram_FINAL.jpg.

Three Interesting 4G Trends to Watch

1. Data Limits – Currently most mobile data providers have fairly stringent data limits. These will have to be relaxed with 4G to prevent usage appearing prohibitive.

2. Residential Broadband Impacted – slow erosion of fixed line broadband as usage patterns change and there is no essential speed difference between fixed and mobile services.

3. Faster Speeds – More efficient spectrum usage and better modulation techniques lead to faster speeds. EE is already headlining speed increases of up to 80 Mbps, by comparison many people without fiber optic fixed line broadband currently get under 8 Mbps.

The advent of high performance mobile broadband is going to change the way we use the Internet allowing for richer experiences in both entertainment and communication as we travel. Just watch out for people video conferencing whilst driving!

XBox One – A Competing Set Top Box

This week saw the launch of XBox One, Microsoft’s long awaited gaming console announcement and it appears to have left a lot of confused pundits in it’s wake.

The confusion can basically be summed up as “Hang on a moment, didn’t we come here to see a gaming console announcement, what’s all this stuff about TV?”

A few years ago my product team at chello Broadband was lucky enough to get our hands on a copy of the original pre-launch XBox live from Microsoft to see how it performed on the network. This meant that my product managers were the envy of the company as they spent most of a week playing games.

However, by the end of the week two things had happened; first everyone had had an enormous amount of fun and second we were pretty much convinced that this was a highly disruptive technology to our business.

At the crux of it was the fact that the XBox had a hard drive and was capable of playing live streamed video across a broadband network. Essentially this could be a competing set-top box in the living room using our network to provide over-the-top services. Microsoft positioned the XBox very firmly as a gaming console but it didn’t take too much imagination to see what it might become as soon as they had decent market penetration.

In one sense I was wrong though, the re positioning of XBox as an entertainment console wasn’t as imminent as I’d feared. It’s taken Microsoft about 10 years to get there, and maybe that’s as it should be, after all, it could be possible to argue that it’s taken that long for us all to get comfortable with the idea of streaming media. Ten years ago the media industry wasn’t mature enough in it’s attitude to digital distribution either. There really is a market now, and a large one.

So we shouldn’t be surprised at Microsoft’s positioning of the XBox. They’re not after providing you with a gaming console, their vision is bigger, they want games and a big chunk of the home entertainment market and they’ll fight the digital service providers for it!

Google Glass – Shut Up and Take my Money?

Google Glass - Shut Up and Take my Money?

I’ve been watching the hype around Google’s new augmented reality product with great interest. Whatever your opinion as to whether you’d be seen dead in public wearing one, even the most hardened technology cynic would have to agree that they’ve captured the public interest with Glass.

I think that deep down anyone with the least amount of “techno-joy” as Eddie Izzard would put it, will love the idea of Glass. There’s something compellingly sy-fy’esque about wearing a device that feeds information directly across your field of vision.

As time progresses the hardware will become smaller and more proficient and the control system easier to use. There is no doubt that Glass fits the mold of a disruptive technology very well. However, it’s adoption I think will depend largely on three factors:

1. Will people feel socially awkward wearing Glass – The current headset isn’t really a fashion statement regardless of how hard Google are trying to persuade us that it is with futuristic depictions of models wearing it. Miniaturization and designer renditions of Glass will help with this in the future.

2. The apps – we love the idea of information relevant to us being laid across our field of vision (Iron Man anyone?) but that information has to be both timely and relevant.

3. The privacy issues – anyone wearing glass can potentially take a video of photo of you without you noticing…not only is this an invasion of privacy potentially but there are copyright issues here. How do you know that someone visiting a cinema isn’t taping the film?

The issues around privacy actually go deeper than this. Imagine your Google Glass can scan someone’s face, recogise them and feed you information directly about them. The issues around surveillance and further erosion of personal freedoms abound.

All this being said I’ll be watching the Google Glass story with great interest as it launches and, yes, I will be getting my pair!

Hill Walking in The Black Mountains Wales 2013

Hill Walking in The Black Mountains Wales 2013

Early May saw a hill walking expedition in the Black Mountains with some friends. The Black Mountains are an unexpected experience. Jutting out of the foothills to the west of the Forest of Dene and Monmouth, the Black Mountains ascend to just over 2,000 ft. The terrain is bleak and surprisingly marsh ridden but carries a harsh beauty which is quite captivating. Our ascent was a little strenuous but climbing these hills is nothing you should be afraid of if you’re reasonably fit and the views from the summits are worth the effort.

The foot of the mountains are forested with some beautiful lower level walks. Plenty of places to camp near by if you wanted to make a weekend of it. I know that now I’ve discovered them I’ll be going back there soon!