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Android’s future is with us, not Google, according to Cyanogen CEO

Posted by wicked January - 25 - 2015 - Sunday Comments Off

andy_cid_picture1

Many things in our world splinter into a variety of subsects. Some of which are political parties, Protestant denominations, and Linux distributions, which includes Android. They all have something in common with that from which they derive, but all claim superiority in some fashion.

Kirt McMaster (CEO of Cyanogen Inc.) recently spoke to a crowd gathered at The Information’s Next Phase of Android event, to say that a new dawn is coming to the Android distribution and the daybreak will show Cid standing triumphant over Andy.

kirt_mcmaster_picture1McMaster is no stranger to saying outlandish things. He’s called Google tyrannical and he’s gone on record stating that Samsung doesn’t have a clue when it comes to designing a mobile operating system.

To be clear, McMaster doesn’t want to get rid of Android. The Seattle-based company’s CyanogenMod is nearly entirely based off of Google’s Linux distro. Rather, he wants his company to be Android’s new overlord. McMaster feels that he would be a more magnanimous ruler than Google has been.

During the time of Android’s inception, Google set out to create a free mobile operating system that was open-sourced and available to all. This is the reason why we see it on so many different smart devices created by a variety of OEMs like Samsung, Sony, HTC, etc. This is also why we see its presence in such a huge range of third party ROMs, which is in fact where Cyanogen got its start.

Over time, Google has been more than aware that it has lost a great source of revenue by making Android free. During the past few years, in an attempt to rein in some control and profits, Google has tightened its clutches around the Android kernel and has forced OEMs to include the next best thing Google has to garner some income: its suite of Google apps must be included on every Android device.

McMaster offers a different vision for Android’s future. He gives Google Now as an example of what an app can truly do if given complete access to the very core of Android, and wants to offer the same ability to third-party app developers.

He goes on to state: “We’re making a version of Android that is more open so we can integrate with more partners so their servicers can be tier one services, so startups working on [artificial intelligence] or other problems don’t get stuck having you have to launch a stupid little application that inevitably gets acquired by Google or Apple. These companies can thrive on non-Google Android.”

While his statements with regard to third-party apps being acquired by Google are profoundly naïve, it would be interesting to see what app developers could do if they were able to offer a program as integrated as Google Now currently is.

McMaster further delved into the possibility of opening up many more app stores to consumers. Among those stores, he hopes to see a Cyanogen app store setting up shop in the next couple of years.

Cyanogen has also been busy lately creating partnerships with a variety of app services and companies. Most noteworthy is its relations with OnePlus, which runs CyanogenMod straight out of the box.

Additionally, and also appearing at the same conference, is its work with Nextbit’s Baton, a cloud-based service desiring to bring a more unified experience to consumers who use multiple smart devices. Its CEO, Tom Moss, was also candid with reporters about Android.

Further reading: Early Android employee says that Android and iOS likely to maintain status quo

Google and Cyanogen have had a peculiar relationship. Just last year, it was rumored that Google attempted to purchase Cyanogen, but both companies were unable to reach a final agreement. Also, Google removed Cyanogen’s CyanogenMod Installer application from the Play Store back in 2013.

Could McMaster be serious about wanting to remove Google from the Android picture? Or is this all smoke and mirrors in some secret attempt to get Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo to want them again?

 

Source: Android Authority via The Information

 

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Google releases Android 5.0.2 factory images for Nexus 10 and 2013 Nexus 7

Posted by wicked January - 16 - 2015 - Friday Comments Off

Nexus_10_TA_Back_Top_Left

Google has just posted Android 5.0.2 Lollipop factory images for the Nexus 10 and 2013 Nexus 7. Until now, the only images that were available were for the 2012 Nexus 7. The build number on today’s images is the same as last month’s LRX22G. Google hasn’t posted any change log, but we aren’t expecting big changes in the new firmware.

The images are available on Google’s developer site and should begin to rollout over-the-air soon. If you don’t want to wait, however, you can check out our guide on installing factory images here, and download the image via the source link below. 

Source: Google Developers

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A true smart home: Logitech’s Harmony API could change the game

Posted by wicked January - 15 - 2015 - Thursday Comments Off

Logitech Harmony

We’ve seen so many “smart gadgets” as part of the Internet of things movement, but most of them have worked as dedicated ecosystems and haven’t been compatible with one another.

But Logitech thinks it has an answer, and it’s in the form of an API.

The Harmony API creates a vision where a consumer is watching a movie on his or her Samsung flatscreen via Apple TV and the Philips Huelights in the living room dim to the appropriate level.

Logitech says the programming tool will give developers access to over 270,000 smart devices, allowing the kind of expansive control we haven’t gotten from other smart home solutions.

We’ll have to wait a bit before products become fully integrated and the API is fully developed, but this is a promising start.

Source: Logitech

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Top 6 Reasons Why Android OEMs Should Expect Dismal Growth In 2015

Posted by wicked December - 22 - 2014 - Monday Comments Off

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As we close on 2014, and approach 2015, it doesn’t hurt to take a step back and reflect on what was accomplished and what didn’t work out so well during the year. 2014, without a doubt, showed off some great new tech like Android Wear, and virtual reality is finally showing tangible signs of life. Even Apple decided to finally do something new (for itself) and make a reasonable phone size.

2014, as it’s winding down, is also showing some rather dangerous indications of what might be in store for Android OEMs in 2015. Sharp declines in sales, market stagnation and ridiculous patent warfare may bleed over into the new year, and I doubt anyone is going to come out victorious in the end.

It may seem odd to have a negative tone toward Android OEMs on an Android news site, but I think it’s important to always be mindful of the world around us. Question and debate everything, make smart resolutions quickly and be nimble enough to adapt.

That being said, here are my top 6 reasons why Android original-equipment-manufacturers (OEMs) like Samsung, LG and HTC should not expect a stellar year. This list is my opinion and is definitely not all-inclusive, but as an Android enthusiast, it’s where I see the market headed. It’s my hope that knowing the symptoms can prevent the disease.

#1: Frequency in flagship releases

Sheena Iyengar is a professor at the Columbia Business School and has some insights about a concept known as consumer fatigue. In her book, The Art of Choosing, she talks about how when given too much choice, the consumer will become paralyzed and choose nothing.

That being said, do we really need such superficial improvements in our flagships each year, sometimes twice a year? It is a waste of money for the consumer and it is a waste of money for the manufacturer, and it generates consumer fatigue. You cannot sit there and tell me you can tell the difference between a Snapdragon 801 and an 805.

One theory as to why the Galaxy S5 did not do so hot this year was that it just wasn’t offering anything substantial compared to the Galaxy S4. I agree and I would have rather Samsung saved its money and put it towards making something revolutionary. But they didn’t, so here we all are being forced to make Apple comparisons still.

Another example is display resolution. Biologically speaking, the human eye can only see so much. Yet, here we are coming into 2015, still possessing this mistaken belief that we need a new flagship device simply because the display is so much better technically speaking.

FHD vs. UHD is a touchy and tough argument. Not to mention the debate changes radically when discussing TVs vs. mobile devices. You’re never going to sit face-planted in a TV and, unless you’re doing very well for yourself, you’re probably not going to own an 84-inch TV. At least you shouldn’t, so stop buying out of your price range, but I digress.

You are, however, probably going to shell out some dough for a flagship smart device. Chances are you’re going to hold the device at varying ranges from your eyes, sometimes very close. Stop it — it’s not good for your eyes — plus, be glad, I just saved you $800 USD from buying the so-called next-gen device.

1080p is just fine and you can easily wait until a device sporting a UHD 4K screen with good hardware and battery capacity to back it, plus other new and great features, hits the market. This criteria is not met by any of the current flagships or proposed flagships.

#2: It’s lonely at the top

Apple is old news. Sure, many tech journalists who are either getting on in their years or are still fearful of Apple’s known wrath against negative reporting may say all of the vintage buzzwords with regard to Apple product releases, but the facts remain. Apple is seeing zero upward  trending in emerging markets and still dances around the same values in market share in established markets.

And that’s okay for Apple. Apple will be the first to tell you that it likes this role because it only ever intends on releasing a very limited set of products with very expected sets of features that you can safely assume are going to work without a hitch. Apple Maps excluded.

So who’s at the top and what point am I making? Android OEMs are at the summit but this was not always the case in traditional markets.

Samsung’s rise to power in market domination was, and let’s be realistic, based on seeing what Apple was doing and then doing it better. Along the way it tried various things on its own, some of which stunk while other things, like the Note series, created a whole new, popular category in the smart device field, the phablet.

LG, HTC, Sony and others followed suit. Each of these OEMs saw what Samsung was doing, picked what worked great and tried things on their own. When I think of a device that can withstand the elements of our dynamic, wet planet, I think of Sony. When I think of an awesome sound experience from my smartphone, I think of HTC. When I think of OEMs that are very friendly to the hardcore Android modding community, I think of Sony especially, and LG to some extent.

At the source of all of this was Apple, though. That was the target to reach and surpass. But it seems like it’s been almost four years since Apple has done anything remotely industry-leading and that is finally catching up to Samsung and the others.

Samsung, if one were to go off its latest sales reports, has completely dropped the ball in leading. Samsung has emulated Apple almost too well and has fallen into the trap of thinking of itself as a cult that is more obsessed with hearing itself talk than listening to market feedback.

Further reading: Samsung considering management changes as Galaxy S 5 sales fall 40% short

After a disastrous 4th quarter, Samsung is beginning to take the hint. Forcing pay cuts on management, then finally letting go of many management personnel, Samsung claims it is going back to the drawing board with “Project Zero.”

And how often is HTC going to skirt bankruptcy rumors? Its metal unibody design is fantastic. Placing two speakers in the front was brilliant, albeit low-hanging fruit, but that worked for Apple for almost a decade. It still does not appear to be enough.

Xiomi, the world’s third biggest smartphone manufacturer, just recently reported that its net profit for 2014 — hold on to your chairs — was a meager $56 million USD, despite crushing Samsung in the Chinese markets. It could be said that those profits are so slim because it depleted its war-chest in its fight against Samsung, but I am assuming it wasn’t much to begin with.

I am not an engineer nor am I software designer, so I can’t offer many suggestions to remedy the above. What I can say is that the market is showing signs of hunger and Android OEMs look like they are fixing to get chewed up in 2015.

#3: Wasting time on technology, apps, services and lawsuits

Let me start with display technology, seeing as how that’s what was discussed in my second point so much. I hate LCD. I can immediately tell when I’m looking at AMOLED vs. LCD and, for me, LCD looks like it’s been hit with a layer of bleach.

I hate the LCD on my Nexus 5 and I really hate the LCD on my Asus laptop. You can be 1080p all day long, my dear laptop, but when I have to wear sunglasses to view your whites, I’m not pleased. And yes, LG, makers of the Nexus 5, I can see the backlight around the edges of the screen on dark backgrounds.

Some people don’t like AMOLED, mainly because of its color saturation. I sympathize, but I really would rather have that be the problem than white-washed darks.

Not long ago in 2013, Sony began releasing LCD devices utilizing its triluminos technology — their fancy rewording of quantum dot technology — which is basically a somewhat fix for LCD’s backlight issues. So to recap, Sony’s answer to compete better with AMOLED was by going down an, ultimately, dead-end road instead of fixing the color saturation on superior technology. I wonder which direction would’ve saved Sony time and money?

The biggest offender behind redundant apps and services goes to Samsung, though. Does anyone remember ChatON or WatchON, Samsung’s attempts to compete with the plethora of messaging apps and TV-guide apps in existence? Those are getting shut down this month. Did Samsung learn its lesson? Hell no, as it has just recently been reported that it is working on an Apple Pay competitor. Samsung, a word of advice, there’s an Apple Pay competitor that you are already integrated with and you can throw your energy behind: Google Wallet.

Further reading: Samsung’s ChatON messaging service finally bites the dust everywhere but the US

Samsung to permanently discontinue WatchON in several markets

Samsung may be working on an Apple Pay competitor

How many redundant fitness apps, magazine apps, casting apps, etc., do the OEMs need to put out there, especially when a lot of these apps are almost immediately put out to pasture and yet still come pre-loaded as bloatware on our devices? I understand that there is revenue that comes into play with these apps, which is why even Google will be a culprit in this. To Google’s credit, though, it usually maintains support behind its apps or folds them into existing ones to offer more features. Take a page from Google’s playbook, OEMs, buy popular established apps instead of wasting your time and money. Or just don’t compete with them at all, no one likes the kid on the playground who thinks he or she can do everything better.

On the matter of tablets and smartphones, stop making so many variants. Was the Note Edge really necessary? What a considerable waste of resources that must have been. I cringe when I think of the market value of raw materials going up after Samsung decided to produce such a device.

Finally, enough with the lawsuits over patents. Can’t we all just get along? The most recent of which being between Samsung and NVIDIA. Samsung actually sued to get NVIDIA’s graphics chips banned from the US.

Further reading: Samsung files complaint to remove NVIDIA’s graphics chips from the United States

In Samsung’s defense, NVIDIA did start the fight, but what I would really like to know is how much these companies pay to lawyers? Whatever it is, take the majority of those fees and apply it to research and development. Let product strength and unique technology be your defense in court, but perhaps I’m naive when it comes to licensing fees and such.

#4: Android and its many flavors

There is one reason to have non-stop flagship updates: so we can get the latest version of Android without waiting months or years for over-the-air (OTA) updates.

Android being “fractured” used to be a common thing for Apple and its fans to say when discussing Google’s operating system, but the knock began to quiet down when Jelly Bean released. Jelly Bean, by sheer Google-sized force and the dying off of old smart devices, quickly rose to dominance in the Android ecosystem. And, for a time, things were good. Then came Kit Kat and its new features were fairly miniscule enough to not cause many complaints about not having the latest Android OS.

Now there’s the massive Android OS overhaul that is Lollipop and the clamor is back. The Google search results for “lollipop update” calls up a list of enormous size of people wondering when their device will get the newest version. It is probably safe to assume the next flagship device will come out featuring Android 5.0 before you ever get an OTA update.

This is where Apple’s small market share really is of benefit, despite that Apple only cares about its consumers running the last two or so generations of its devices. The products are running its hardware and its software. There’s streamlined coordination at work.

Google, on the other hand, is stuck with herding cats. Like cats, Android OEMs enjoy doing their own thing. Android OEMs have their own skins, their own hardware setups and other vendor-specific changes. Google can talk Android One all it wants with regard to emerging markets, but it’ll be a tough sale to try to bring that to established markets. Google desperately needs to change its cats to cattle and cowboy-up.

Perhaps Project Ara will save Google from this fiasco. I imagine that Ara will have very specific specifications that Google will need to enforce to even have a functioning modular device, so there’s hope yet.

The reason this is an issue for 2015 has to do with how amazing Android 5.0 is. To put it bluntly, Lollipop is awesome. Once consumers get their hands on it, there’s going to be even less incentive for them to upgrade their devices to some new, incremental flagship.

#5: A wild slate appears!

Another year, another slate. Thank the heavens for third-party cases because I am disgusted by each and every smart device’s appearance year after year. I get it: rectangle.

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This is probably the single most reason I was thrilled when I heard news of the Moto 360. I know, in your head you’re telling me that the Moto 360 is a watch. Yes, but it is a watch that didn’t compromise the information displayed on its screen even though all of the formatting being pumped through it was designed with rectangles in mind.

And before I get hate-mail from the normally peaceful rectangle-loving crowd, I don’t have anything against the rectangle. Can we all just admit that there could be a little more done with the aesthetics of it?

In my Google+ circles, I have a page that does nothing but post concept art for smart devices. Most are unrealistic, like transparent tablets, but there are some that are so incredible that I have to really wonder who is helming the ships of these OEM companies’ design teams.

Every year, we are introduced to a new smart device that pushes the limit on thin and light. Every year, I have to search for a new case that adds more heft and bulk to that device. I am not a klutz, I had my Nexus 5 for a long time without a case on it and never got close to dropping it, but the physical feedback of a thousand-dollar device that is cardboard-thin and feather-light is just terrible.

I’d like to see companies stop wasting their time competing with who can make the thinnest, lightest smart device that only has the battery power of a toy car. Let’s make it thicker and add in a bigger battery and some design aesthetics, which will increase its weight. Heck, throw some grippy material on the sides for fun.

At least Russian manufacturer Yota is trying something new with its two-sided smartphone. On the front of the device is the traditional display, while on the back is a mirrored display that uses e-ink. It may be a bit gimmicky, but kudos to them for thinking outside of the box.

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Anyone remember all of the teaser material that OnePlus put out for its One device? It was supposed to have this radically new design and bring something fresh to the market. Yeah, let’s just say the hype they generated did not live up to my expectations. The device didn’t even match the sketches OnePlus teased us with.

Additionally, let’s end the whole plastic vs. metal debate. Plastic has never bothered me. I loved the design on my Samsung Epic 4G Touch and it was a device I really hated having in a case. I gag in my mouth every time I see the word “premium” used in a sentence with “metal.” I’m sure that “premium” was an adjective that didn’t readily spring to mind with owners of a bent iPhone.

One of the bright spots on the horizon is with Moto Maker, Project Ara and flexible screens. If you’re an OEM and you’re lazily making a flexible screen device that just looks like squashed phone, you’re doing it wrong.

I’m focusing this point on hardware. I know there are a lot of people who are unhappy with software related things, like OEM skins over stock Android, but there are market options for that. You don’t like TouchWiz and don’t like to root your device? Try another manufacturer. Unlike the stagnant hardware options, software has variety.

#6: The return of the Sith…erm, Windows

Microsoft is really everyone’s favorite kid to bully, but as in any good plotline, the disenfranchised may rise up. Next year will bring us Windows 10 and, if rumors are to be believed, it may spell disaster for Android OEMs.

Microsoft is skipping the Windows 9 designation and going straight for 10 in a move, it says, to illustrate how Windows 10 is a huge leap from the junk that was Windows 8. It’s a good thing Microsoft used the name 2000 and Vista before Windows XP and 7, respectively, or we’d really be getting up there in numbers…

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To put it short, Windows 10 is purported to be bringing that El Dorado of device integration, one operating system across all devices with real-time connectivity. If Windows 8 was an expeditionary foray into the abyss, then Windows 10 may have finally staked a claim in that new world.

Google was ridiculed in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s for believing in such an always-connected concept. Now that its Chromebooks have begun to really hit their stride as more and more people are constantly connected to the internet, Google has two operating systems on its hands (Chrome OS and Android) and Chromebooks are typically lacking in offline usability. Google may have been, unfortunately, too far ahead of the curve.

If Microsoft can keep its business sector devotees on board, bring this one-experience package to the market and breathe life into its app store, it may make for a rocky year for Android OEMs. Especially when keeping in mind that Microsoft now owns Nokia, so it’s capable of enforcing Apple-like standards on its mobile devices.

In closing

I hope that this article is read as an opinion piece with the intent to always demand more from our Android partners and to always question where we’ve been and we’re we are going. It is not meant to be read as a treatise against market options or support of Android simplification.

The thing that makes Android great is its versatility. It has so much opportunity and adaptability! OEMs need to be careful to not grow complacent in innovation or experimentation, nor get bogged down in profits, senseless rivalry and competition, arrogance, or fruitless and needless endeavors.

Some of my thoughts may fall into the latter. Others you may like. You have a voice and you should express it! You can start in the comments below or on social media. Thanks for reading!

 

Come comment on this article: Top 6 Reasons Why Android OEMs Should Expect Dismal Growth In 2015

Imagination MIPS Creator CI20 review

Posted by wicked December - 19 - 2014 - Friday Comments Off

The Bottom Line

PROS
  • Dual-core processor
  • 1GB memory
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • Runs Android & Linux
CONS
  • Android support needs to be improved
8.0

The CI20 is a versatile board. It has greater performance than the Raspberry Pi and includes more memory. The built-in Wi-Fi is a great plus, as is the built-in Bluetooth. At $65 it is more expensive than the Pi, but you get more for your money.

The popularity of Single Board Computers (SBCs) for both hobbyists and developers (as a prototyping platform) has been rising steadily for many years. However, since the launch of the Raspberry Pi these little computers have achieved a whole new standing. In the wake of the success of the Raspberry Pi, lots of different SBCs have been released and many like the BeagleBone Black and Hardkernel’s range of ODROID boards have achieved a measure of lasting popularity. However all these boards have one thing in common, they all use CPUs based on designs by ARM. However that has now changed. Imagination Technologies has started to ship the Creator CI20, a SBC which uses a dual-core MIPS based processor.

Imagination announced the CI20 back in August and the company has now started selling the board via its online web store. For just $65 (or £5o) you can get your hands on a development board that will run either Android or Linux, and includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 4GB of on-board storage.

Imagination-CI20 (2)

Creator CI20 vs the others

Compared to the other SBCs on the market, the CI20 is very impressive. It has a dual-core processor, something that neither the Raspberry Pi or the BeagleBone Black offer; 1GB of RAM, double that of the Pi and BeagleBone Black; and includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The only downside is that the CI20 is about twice the price of the Raspberry Pi. However it is only marginally more expensive than the BeagleBone Black. In either case the extra cost isn’t superfluous, the CI20 packs more punch, and has more connectivity options than the other two. The only mainstream SBC that stacks up more evenly with the CI20 is the newly announced ODROID-C1. The quad-core C1 costs just $35, however it doesn’t include any on-board flash, or Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth.

Here is a detailed look at how the CI20 compares to the Raspberry Pi:

Device Raspberry Pi Creator CI20
CPU 700MHz ARM11 Broadcom CPU 1.2GHz dual-core Imagination MIPS32 CPU
GPU Videocore IV PowerVR SGX540
Memory 512MB 1GB
Storage SD card slot 4GB onboard flash, SD card slot
Connectivity 4 x USB, HDMI, Ethernet, 3.5mm audio jack Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, 2 x USB, HDMI, 3.5mm audio jack
OS Linux Linux, Android
Connectors Camera interface (CSI), GPIO, SPI, I2C, JTAG Camera interface (ITU645 controller), 14-pin ETAG connector,
2 x UART, GPIO, SPI, I2C, ADC
Price $35/£24 $65/£50

Android 4.4 KitKat

The CI20 is able to run Android 4.4. The firmware provided by Imagination is based on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), but it has some limitations. First this is just a vanilla version build from the publicly available source code. It doesn’t include any Google services, which means there is no Google Play. This can make getting apps for the CI20 a little hard. I tried using Amazon’s Appstore, but because Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets all use ARM based processors there aren’t many MIPS compatible apps in their store – maybe 10 or so. There are of course other third party stores, and it may be possible to side-load Google’s apps on the CI20, but I haven’t tried.

CI20-running-Android3

The current version of Android for the CI20 is a good proof of concept, and it shows the versatility of the board.

There are also a few other minor problems with the CI20. Having used several different ARM based media boxes (which are basically just boards like the CI20 packaged into a nice case), I had high expectations of the CI20. I had visions of being able to build a my own media box using the CI20. However there are several key things that don’t yet work under Android. The most important of which is support for external USB drives. Although SD cards can be used and I was able to play a movie from the SD card without any problems, I was unable to use an external USB flash drive. It simply wasn’t recognized by Android.

Unfortunately, when playing a movie from the SD card the sound didn’t work over the HDMI cable, and neither did it work via a Bluetooth speaker. While Wi-Fi works, there are no settings for the Ethernet.

What this all means is that the current version of Android for the CI20 is a good proof of concept, and it shows the versatility of the board. It proves that Android is fully MIPS compatible, and that with extra effort the CI20 could become a very useful Android board. However as it currently stands, there is work to be done. Imagination is also going to bring Android 5.0 Lollipop to the CI20, but there is no official release date.

Linux

As well as Android the CI20 is able to run Linux and it is clear that Linux is the primary operating system for this board. Many of the problems which exist under Android don’t appear with the Linux default Linux distro. USB flash drives are recognized and the Ethernet works as expected. Several different Linux distros are available for the CI20, the default one is Debian 7.0. The other distros  include Gentoo, Angstrom and Arch.

CI20-running-Linux

Flashing a new firmware on the CI20 is quite easy. You need to download the firmware you wish to use and write it on an SD card using Win32DiskImager. With the power off, move the JP3 selector from 1-2 to 2-3. Insert the SD card into the CI and power on the board. The LED will go from red to blue to show that the flashing process has started. After about 10 minutes the the LED will go back to red. Power off the board, remove the SD card and move the JP3 pin back to its original position. Then just power on again to boot into the new OS.

Wrap up

The CI20 is clearly a versatile board. It has greater performance than the Raspberry and includes more memory. The built-in Wi-Fi is a great plus, as is the built-in Bluetooth. The Android support is good, but some work needs to be done to make it more friendly and more usable out of the box. The Linux support is excellent and is really the best OS available for the board at the moment. Like the Raspberry Pi, the CI20 has a set of GPIO pins which means the board is an attractive option for hardware enthusiasts. In a nutshell the board is more expensive than the Raspberry Pi, but the extra costs bring benefits.

Nymi Band Discovery Kit Released, Unlock Devices With Your Electrocardiogram

Posted by wicked December - 15 - 2014 - Monday Comments Off

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What is one of the things we all dread the most? For me, it’s seeing a pop-up that reads, “Your password has expired, please change it.” And each website or device has different criterias, some like only alpha-numeric, some require special characters, while others require at least one capital letter. Oh, the humanity!

It’s no real surprise when news stories break with details of a company getting hacked because some employee had a simple password or had a litany of passwords written down on a note document in their hard drive. And then there are the less-than-secure password manager apps.

What hasn’t been in the news as much is the release of FIDO Alliance’s v1.0 specifications relating to passwords and authentication. FIDO stands for Fast IDentity Online and is an industry consortium comprised of giants like Google, Microsoft, PayPal, Visa and MasterCard, Netflix, Bank of America, and over a hundred more. (You can read more about the v1.0 release here.)

Lately, Google has been busy implementing some aspects of FIDO. With Lollipop, Google introduced Trusted Devices baked into Android, which allow certain connections like the Bluetooth pairing of your smartwatch to disable your Android device’s lockscreen. Additionally, Google recently added support for the use of USB security keys as a method for its 2-Step-Authentication.

But one of main things FIDO hopes to achieve is the use of biometrics in identity authentication, including among wearables. We have already tasted the first iterations of this technology with facial recognition and fingerprint scanners.

And now, thanks to Nymi, a member of FIDO, we can use our body’s unique electrocardiography as a method of authentication. Nymi, formerly incorporated as Bionym, has just released the developer kit for its biometric wristband purchasable by anyone.

nymi_picture2

The kit includes the final version of the band, but only in one color, charging cable, and a USB bluetooth dongle. The important thing to note, however, is that it only works with certain Windows PC applications at the moment, with Android and Mac support coming soon in the beginning of 2015.

The band works by reading your ECG over the course of several scenarios, like at rest or after mild exercise. There are two authentication steps with the band: the band itself must be in proximity to your device and the band must be worn by you. As an added security step, there is a circuit running through the circumference of the band, so if the band has been cut off or if not being worn, it will not work.

You can pick up the developer kit for $79 and shipping begins today (12/15/14). Nymi reports that the retail price will be $149.

Again remember, this is the developer kit and though it is the final product, support is limited to three Windows applications. However, because it is the final product, as support broadens to Android, Nymi says you will not need to purchase a new band.

Source: Nymi

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Nanoport: A Magnetic Technology That Can Change Smartphones Into A Tablet

Posted by wicked December - 5 - 2014 - Friday Comments Off

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In the tech world, like physics, there seems to be a quest for unification. One, ultimate, idea that encompasses all other ideas. This hunt manifests itself in the constant debate about the size of smart devices. Whether consumers would be happy with something the size of a phablet and only own one device or would people rather have something that fits better in the hand and also own a tablet?  (This generalization assumes that many would not see the utility in owning both a phablet and a tablet.)

Nano Magnetics Ltd has now begun working on the development of a device that straddles the middle-ground of this discussion.  It’s introducing the concept of possessing multiple small devices that can turn into a larger, connected device.

Nano Magnetics is the company that is famous for its electroplated Nanodots, which are usually the size of balls from ball bearings, and people are able to construct whatever they see fit as if they were playing with magnetic Legos.

How it works is that a user can have one smartphone then, using Nanoport magnets and technology, can connect this first device to another and another and so on. Once the Nanoport magnets are activated, the devices will instantly and seamlessly share data among each other.  So if you wanted a tablet-sized screen, you can connect multiple Nanoport enabled devices.

A Nanoport example device debuted at last January’s CES 2014, but what was shown was more of a demonstration of the hardware aspect, specifically how the magnets stood up to the stress of usage.  Today, as we inch closer to CES 2015 this January, Slashgear has reported that Nano Magnetics will demo a fully functioning Nanoport device.

What we are left in the dark on is how exactly are we to turn pre-existing smartphones into Nanoport “blocks”.  Will we be able to DIY upgrade our current phones? Can we only obtain this function by purchasing devices that come with Nanoport technology?  And how annoying will it be to watch a movie that has gaps in the screen from where one smartphone’s display ends and the other begins?

To maybe answer that last question, I give you a YouTube video uploaded by Nano Magnetics:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Source: Slashgear

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Bluetooth SIG announces new 4.2 standard

Posted by wicked December - 3 - 2014 - Wednesday Comments Off

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The folks that manage the Bluetooth standards over at Bluetooth SIG announced an update to the standard taking it to Bluetooth 4.2, which includes some significant upgrades and changes. Perhaps the biggest change to come with this update is the ability for Bluetooth 4.2 devices to connect directly to the Internet using a new Bluetooth Smart Generic Attribute Profile (GATT) architecture.

Up to now, Bluetooth devices needed some sort of intermediary device to be able to connect to the Internet. With the new standard, devices will be able to connect to an access-ready router or similar access point and establish an Internet connection without the assistance of another device or app. Probably the biggest impact this new capability will have is going to be in the area of home automation as it will make it much easier for manufacturers to produce goods that can be controlled from anywhere in the world via the Internet.

For those concerned with privacy, and who isn’t these days, the new Bluetooth 4.2 standard brings a new level of privacy to devices that have their Bluetooth antennas turned on. The devices will no longer be trackable. The new devices will also be more power efficient. Users will also find that connection speeds are bumped up 2.5 times over the current standard and almost 10 times more data can pushed across a Bluetooth 4.2 connection as part of a huge capacity improvement.

The downside for those who are interested in this new standard is that it will take some time before any manufacturers are able to actually implement the new standard and get devices out to market. We anticipate this should occur during 2015.

source: Bluetooth SIG
via: Engadget

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ARM’s secret recipe for power efficient processing

Posted by wicked November - 20 - 2014 - Thursday Comments Off
ARM SoC Fabrication Wafer Processor

There are several different companies that design microprocessors. There is Intel, AMD, Imagination (MIPS), and Oracle (Sun SPARC) to name a few. However, none of these companies is known exclusively for their power efficiency. That isn’t to say they don’t have designs aimed at power efficiency, but this isn’t their specialty. One company that does specialize in energy efficient processors is ARM.

While Intel might be making chips needed to break the next speed barrier, ARM has never designed a chip that doesn’t fit into a predefined energy budget. As a result, all of ARM’s designs are energy efficient and ideal for running in smartphones, tablets and other embedded devices. But what is ARM’s secret? What is the magic ingredient that helps ARM to produce continually  high performance processor designs with low power consumption?

A high-end i7 processor has a maximum TDP (Thermal Design Power) of 130 watts. The average ARM-based chip uses just two watts max budget for the multi-core CPU cluster, two watts for the GPU and maybe 0.5 watts for the MMU and the rest of the SoC!

In a nutshell, the ARM architecture. Based on RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing), the ARM architecture doesn’t need to carry a lot of the baggage that CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computing) processors include to perform their complex instructions. Although companies like Intel have invested heavily in the design of their processors so that today they include advanced superscalar instruction pipelines, all that logic means more transistors on the chip, more transistors means more energy usage. The performance of an Intel i7 chip is very impressive, but here is the thing, a high-end i7 processor has a maximum TDP (Thermal Design Power) of 130 watts. The highest performance ARM-based mobile chip consumes less than four watts, oftentimes much less.

This isn’t the world of desktops and big cooling fans, this is the world of ARM.

And this is why ARM is so special, it doesn’t try to create 130W processors, not even 60W or 20W. The company is only interested in designing low-power processors. Over the years, ARM has increased the performance of its processors by improving the micro-architecture design, but the target power budget has remained basically the same. In very general terms, you can breakdown the TDP of an ARM SoC (System on a Chip, which includes the CPU, the GPU and the MMU, etc.) as follows. Two watts max budget for the multi-core CPU cluster, two watts for the GPU and maybe 0.5 watts for the MMU and the rest of the SoC. If the CPU is a multi-core design, then each core will likely use between 600 to 750 milliwatts.

These are all very generalized numbers because each design that ARM has produced has different characteristics. ARM’s first Cortex-A processor was the Cortex-A8. It only worked in single-core configurations, but it is still a popular design and can be found in devices like the BeagleBone Black. Next came the Cortex-A9 processor, which brought speed improvements and the ability for dual-core and quad-core configurations. Then came the Cortex-A5 core, which was actually slower (per core) than the Cortex-A8 and A9 but used less power and was cheaper to make. It was specifically designed for low-end multi-core applications like entry-level smartphones.

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At the other end of the performance scale, came the Cortex-A15 processor, it is ARM’s fastest 32-bit design. It was almost twice as fast as the Cortex-A9 processor but all that extra performance also meant it used a bit more power. In the race to 2.0Ghz and beyond many of ARM’s partners pushed the Cortex-A15 core design to its limits. As a result, the Cortex-A15 processor does have a bit of a reputation as being a battery killer. But, this is probably a little unfair. However to compensate for the Cortex-A15 processor’s higher power budget, ARM released the Cortex-A7 core and the big.LITTLE architecture.

The Cortex-A7 processor is slower than the Cortex-A9 processor but faster than the Cortex-A processor. However, it has a power budget akin to its low-end brothers. The Cortex-A7 core when combined with the Cortex-A15 in a big.LITTLE configuration allows a SoC to use the low-power Cortex-A7 core when it is performing simple tasks and switch to the Cortex-A15 core when some heavy lifting is needed. The result is a design, which conserves battery but yet offers peak performance.

64-bit

ARM also has 64-bit processor designs. The Cortex-A53 is ARM’s power-saving 64-bit design. It won’t have record breaking performance, however it is ARM’s most efficient application processor ever. It is also the world’s smallest 64-bit processor.  Its bigger brother, the Cortex-A57, is a different beast. It is ARM’s most advanced design and has the highest single-thread performance of all of ARM’s Cortex processors. ARM’s partners will likely be releasing chips based on just the A53, just the A57, and using the two in a big.LITTLE combination.

ARM Cortex A50

One way ARM has managed this migration from 32-bit to 64-bit is that the processor has different modes, a 32-bit mode and a 64-bit mode. The processor can switch between these two modes on the fly, running 32-bit code when necessary and 64-bit code when necessary. This means that the silicon which decodes and starts to execute the 64-bit code is separate (although there is reuse to save area) from the 32-bit silicon. This means the 64-bit logic is isolated, clean and relatively simple. The 64-bit logic doesn’t need to try and understand 32-bit code and work out what is the best thing to do it each situation. That would require a more complex instruction decoder. Greater complexity in these areas generally means more energy is needed.

A very important aspect of ARM’s 64-bit processors is that they don’t use more power than their 32-bit counterparts. ARM has managed to go from 32-bit to 64-bit and yet stay within its self-imposed energy budget. In some scenarios the new range of 64-bit processors will actually be more energy efficient than previous generation 32-bit ARM processors. This is mainly due to the increase in the internal data width (from 32- to 64-bits) and the addition of extra internal registers in the ARMv8 architecture. The fact that a 64-bit core can perform certain tasks quicker means it can power-down quicker and hence save battery life.

ARM Cortex A57

This is where the software also plays a part. big.LITTLE processing technology relies on the operating system understanding that it is a heterogeneous processor. This means the OS needs to understand that some cores are slower than others. This generally hasn’t been the case with processor designs until now. If the OS wanted a task to be performed, it would just farm it out to any core, it didn’t matter (in general), as they all had the same level of performance. That isn’t so with big.LITTLE. Thanks to Linaro hosting and testing the  big.LITTLE MP scheduler, developed by ARM, for the Linux kernel which understands the heterogeneous nature of big.LITTLE processor configurations. In the future, this scheduler could be further optimized to take into account things like the current running temperature of a core or the operating voltages.

The future is looking brighter than ever for mobile computing.

There is also the possibility of more advanced big.LITTLE processor configurations. MediaTek has already proven that the big.LITTLE implementation doesn’t need to be adhered to rigidly. Its current 32-bit octa-core processors use eight Cortex-A7 cores, but split into two clusters. There is nothing to stop chip makers from trying other combinations that include different sizes of LITTLE cores in the big.LITTLE hw and sw infrastructure, effectively delivering big, little and eve smaller compute units. For example,  2 to 4 Cortex-A57 cores, tx performance tuned Cortex-A53 cores, and two smaller implementations of the Cortex-A53 CUP tuned towards lowest leakage and dynamic power – effectively resulting in a mix of 6 to 8 cores with 3 levels of performance.

ARM Cortex A50 BIG.litte

Think of the gears on a bicycle, more gears means greater granularity. The extra granularity allows the rider to pick the right gear for the right road. Continuing the analogy, the big and LITTLE cores are like the gears on the crank shaft, and the voltage level is like the gears on the back wheel – they work in tandem so the rider can choose the optimum performance level for the terrain.

The future is looking brighter than ever for mobile computing. ARM will continue to optimize and develop its CPUs around a fairly fixed power budget. Manufacturing processes are improving and innovations like big.LITTLE will continue to give us the benefits of peak performance with lower overall power consumption. This isn’t the world of desktops and big cooling fans, this is the world of ARM and its energy efficient architecture.

Nexus 4 Lollipop OTA Zip file now available to download and install

Posted by wicked November - 16 - 2014 - Sunday Comments Off

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We saw the Lollipop factory image for the Nexus 4 (occam) land a couple of days ago, so we knew it was only a matter of time until the OTA Zip file was posted. Good news for this Sunday morning. It’s available right now for your downloading pleasure.

Updating via OTA route is preferred since you don’t have to worry about losing your data, assuming your device is locked. You should still backup your data however.

We have the download link below and be sure to check out our extensive guide on how to install this bad boy. You won’t find more detailed instructions anywhere else.

source: Nexus 4 (occam) From KTU84P to LRX21T

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