Hudl for youdl

People weren’t expecting much when supermarket chain Tesco announced that it was releasing its own tablet in 2013. Better known for their grocery shopping and cheap jaffa cake knock offs, it seemed an odd addition to their product line. But if there’s one thing UK supermarkets are learning from their American counterparts like Walmart, it’s that customers are happy to buy anything and everything at one place for the sake of convenience. (Another example of this would be ASDA and Sainsbury’s growing clothing range).

What’s more, the Hudl surprised people by being actually pretty decent. Sure, it wasn’t going to compete with the likes of the ipad mini and the Samsung Galaxy, but it was one of the best value, and crucially, best priced tablets on the market, coming in at release date for just £119. This could be dropped even further when you factor in club card points.

In previous times, budget tablets were something of a false economy, as they simply couldn’t pack in enough hardware and features to justify themselves. Slow and prone to crashing whenever you did more than one thing, many a rueful consumer wished they had listened to the adage “buy cheap, buy twice”. Fortunately we have reached the point where £100 or even less will get you something not only functional, but of good quality as well. This has been well demonstrated by the Hudl, especially as sales figures have already passed the half million mark in just 1 year.

Now the supermarket chain hopes to replicate this success with a sequel, the somewhat obviously named Hudl two. Being release Oct 9th 2014 many husbands and wives may come home having spent more than they anticipated after the weekend shop.

The Hudl two is set to be a big improvement on its already respectable younger sibling, and it’s not only the screen size increase from 7 inch to 8.3. There is a new quad core processor, promising more speed and power-up to 3 times as much in fact if rumours are to be believed. It will also operate on the latest version of android Kitkat, with all the features this entails. The enticing price point is still there, at £129. That’s just £10 than the original Hudl on its release date.

Some other numbers being thrown around are 8 years of battery life, with 16GB of memory and SD card slot making this up to 32GB.

Tesco recently shelved their smartphone development due to too much competition, but it seems that with the Hudl 2 they have a real contender. And with the Christmas countdown just starting it could well be that sales will exceed that of its predecessor.

Yesterday many of you may have experienced stuttering videos, sluggish webpages and downright sloth-like internet speeds. But for once it’s not the time to blame your internet service provider for yet another betrayal. As they like to say in bad movies, this one goes all the way to the president!

Wednesday the 10th of September saw a mass protest by internet companies in regards to the ever confusing issue of net neutrality. Various big names in Tech, like Netflix, KickStarter and even that old standby pornhub, either purposely slowed down their sites, or (somewhat more pragmatically to avoid lost users) installing widgets to demonstrate exactly what an internet influenced by the cable companies looks like.

The big fear is that if new legislation is passed, it will allow these companies, such as Comcast and Time Warner, to dictate the speed at which you are able to access specific sites. For example, Comcast would give priority service to those visiting one of its affiliates, and slow streaming if you were to visit a rival site.

It is the Federal Communications Commission that will have the power to decide which way the wind blows, in America at least. The hope is that the FCC will reclassify broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, giving it the same status as other utilities like water and electricity, thereby sheltering it from corporate interest.

Critics, such as those on the National Cable and Telecommunications Association have called the move nothing more than a cheap PR stunt. Given that they lobby on behalf of the cable companies, this stance can be hardly surprising.

On the other hand, it is easy to see their viewpoint, as it is the cable companies that invest in the actual infrastructure of the internet, in the form of cables, wiring and all those other boring essentials.

The real issue is that there is not enough competition among these cable companies, firstly to give customers more choice, and secondly to drive down prices. After all, isn’t that the American dream?

going dark

As mobile devices become more and more advanced, there are a plethora of options available for marketers to utilise their ever growing features. One of the earliest examples of this is QR code reading, which are those black and white square things you occasionally see on menus and at bus stops.

Quick response codes are basically a combination of barcode and web link, where you phone scans the image and it takes you to a link, sends an email or even just a text.

Geo-Targeting is on another level entirely. Initially it worked in conjunction with social media, so you would” check in” somewhere using facebook or the like, and advertising or discounts for businesses in that area would be sent to your phone. This kind of advertising that is tailored to customer location and venue

Now many smartphones now have GPS trackers within them, allowing a devices immediate location, and by extension the location of the owner. Obviously there are immediate advantages to this for the user, particularly for planning journeys. We’ve all seen that person walking down the street with a focused look on their face and their eyes glued to their phone screen as it leads them to their destination- even if the large signpost above them does exactly the same thing.

But on the other hand it also allows for more effective geo-marketing, with users being able to receive advertising content directly to their devices rather than having to register and check in as it were. This means content can be sent automatically, increasing convincing, but also potentially increasing invasiveness.

One of the big reasons why QR codes were, and even now continue to be popular is exactly this lack of invasiveness, while smartphones are getting a reputation of being something of a big brother tool. Such perceptions are a big part of the growing trend for mobile users to “go dark” using 3rd party software and downloads to hide and distort their personal information from marketers.

Although a small minority, with the increasing availability for users to easily download such software like Xprivacy and AVG PrivacyFix, this could be a rising issue for both these users and the marketers.

Taking the example of QR codes, Geo-Marketing needs to really focus on letting their target markets opt in or out of promotions, putting a sense of autonomy and independence to users, rather than having decisions forced upon them.

Waterfox sure looks the part

Internet browsers have been duking it out for some time now, with the three main competitors –Google chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer being in fierce competition for users. Meanwhile, Apple’s Safari remains relegated to the side-lines, and has yet to hit 5%.

While Internet Explorer formerly dominated the market between 2002 to 2008, it is now Chrome that holds the biggest sway, with roughly 60% of all internet users opting for it as their browser of choice.

The advent of 64 bit computing could well see something of a shakeup in these stats however, and offers great marketing potential for all three. Chrome has already released a beta version of its browser available for free download, but it is firefox that has certainly done better on the branding, with its powerful new offering going under the apt and memorable title – waterfox.

Although still very much in the beta phase, 64 bit browsers are being developed in order to get the most out of 64 bit computers and operating systems. It’s a bit of an over-simplification, but the main draw of them are their lightening quick speed.

It’s not so much that they improve your internet connection, but are much more efficient at processing incoming data. While unnoticeable in simple web pages, those with a wide array of plugins and media will be noticeably quicker. Sophisticated web pages could well become the standard for various company sites.

Tech experts agree that the widespread shift from 32bit to 64bit is going to happen inevitably, but there is wide debate as to when this point will be reached. The issue is that while 64bit operating systems and browsers are generally backwards compatible with 32bit scripts, plugins and programs, the reverse is not true for 32bit OS on 64bit scripts and the like.

In fact 64bit processors have been available for the last 10 years, but it is industry and internet 32bit standard that have stopped them being more widely adopted. The debate is actually very similar to the UK digital, analogue switch for terrestrial television, with factors like cost, usage and legacy all being important factors.

Image of Tor in action

Originally developed by the U.S Naval Research laboratory, Tor is a free downloadable software that helps to prevent your anonymity on the internet from being exposed. The program functions by routing the information being sent and retrieved by your computer to a directory server. This server then passes the information through a number of different nodes (relay points) that are each encrypted and randomly chosen. The process is similar to taking a winding route in a forest to stop someone following you, rather than just a straight path.

Tor is generally used to protected internet users from “traffic analysis”, where 3rd parties record information about your internet behaviour and interest. This information can be used to learn a great deal about you, such as name, address, current location and even details of financial transactions. On a benign level this involves advertisers using this information to target specific ads towards you.

But there are more extreme examples, such as oppressive regimes locating and imprisoning users that speak out against them, or identify thieves making ill use of your financial details.

Tor is also frequently used as a way to bypass national firewalls in countries where internet use is restricted, such as china and Iran. Bloggers use the software so they can communicate safely. Conceivably, if your company has blocked you from using Facebook on their computers, then you could also use Tor to post that ever so vital update about your cat.

The Tor system isn’t fool proof, and users still need to be careful about what information they give out in forums and the like. But it does allow for a platform of communication and dissent where there might not otherwise be one.

Internet anonymity has always been a difficult issue, and even more so in the wake of the extremist group IS using Tor and other similar programs to hide their own anonymity. Yet others claim that open commination is one of the cornerstones of democracy, and Tor is an enable of this. Strangely a lot of government bodies also use Tor, both in military and law enforcement, as a way of protecting their own surveillance operation, so it is far from correct to say that it is a tool of terrorists.

Mario has come a long way since his 12x16 pixel days

Pixels are a bit like money, the more you have then the better things are looking. Pixels are in essence tiny display points of colour, of which there can be thousands or even millions within a given area. Pixels are usually measured by the number horizontal pixels x the number of vertical pixels. This is commonly referred to as the screen display or resolution.

This resolution number is usually followed by a p or i (e.g 1280×720p). This denotes whether the display is progressive or interlaced. Progressive means a whole image is displayed at once, while interlaced has only half the current image shown, with the next immediate image taking up the other half. This is done so quickly though (1/60th of a second) that the human eye can barely detect it, though it does attribute to the flickering you see on older TV’s.

Displays come in a wide range of options and categories. For example, high definition or HD display is 1280×720p, but despite the name there are even greater levels of display, such as the developing Quad HD, with a horizontal pixel count of 2,560. Every year there is a push in the amount of pixels able to be displayed on screens, be it phone, tablet or TV. Now it is common to see the latest phones, such as the iPhone 5 with displays of 1136 x 640.

Like bytes and megabytes, megapixels are equal to 1000 pixels, and high display devices such as top of the range cameras usually measure their picture taking quality in megapixels.

So it is clear that the pixel density affects the clarity of the image. Just think of how bad and blurry a small graphic looks when it is saved and then resized larger. The most common measurement for pixel density is pixels per inch (PPI).

It is said that the human eye can only detect so many pixels per inch, with apple creator Steve Jobs famously declaring that the iPhone 4 retina displayed the maximum number distinguishable at 326 PPI.  Other experts have pegged this number higher, at around 600 for those with exceptional eyesight. Jobs did wear glasses after all.

Obviously the size of the screen can affect the PPI number, which is why smartphones typically have a higher PPI even if they have lower resolutions than some TV’s. The rise of the larger phablet has also pushed screen resolution technology to new heights.

Pixel density is close to reaching its peak, at least for conventional viewing. Unconventionally viewing, the likes of which is being looked at for VR and the Oculus Rift may present entirely new challenges.

steam machine rough concept

Gamers are a critical bunch, and rightly so given what they’ve had to put up with lately. They criticise big name developers for releasing sequel games with little innovation besides better graphics. They criticise console makers for bad pricing and unpopular features. And of course they are critical of their media portrayal as either overweight, socially inept nerds, or impressionable children that will replicate the first act of violence they witness in GTA.

One thing that seldom attracts their ire is gaming company valve, and their bearded guru Gabe Newell. Not content with releasing several of the most critically acclaimed games of all time, (Half life, Portal) Valve are looking to extend their Midas touch into the console market.

Cue the steam machine. With an unspecified release date in 2015 it’s not even out yet but has already generated considerable buzz in the gaming community. Running off valves gaming download service Steam, users will be able to transfer their existing accounts to the steam machine and have access to a massive games library from the get go.

 

steam 2

 

The steam machine’s controller has also been the subject to some speculation. Originally featuring mini touchscreen pads, the peripheral is now undergoing further revisions based on feedback, and speculation is rife as to what it will look like next

Taking the portability and accessibility of the console and combining with the PC’s flexibility and transferable hardware the steam machine hopes to features the best of both worlds. By swapping in more powerful graphics cards and the like, steam machine owners can keep their consoles (or rigs if you are more of the PC camp) current and up to date, with nary an issue of backwards compatibility.

With PC gaming on the rise, and console users being increasingly unimpressed by the big 3 of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, Valve may have chosen just the right time to throw a fresh contender into the fray.

 

(Note that the steam machine is sometimes called the steam box, and the two terms should be thought of as interchangeable).

 

Raspberry pi logo

For those looking for a cheap way to get into computing and learn about programming from the ground up there is now a tiny little friend to help you out. The Raspberry pi is a cute little bit of hardware. Only the size of a credit card and costing a mere £30.00 or so, it is a fully functioning computer with USB access ports and an SD card reader.

Considering its size, the Raspberry pi has a decent amount of processing power behind it. Sure it won’t be putting IBM out of business, but there is a surprising amount of utility to this little beauty. Plugging in to a TV or monitor for visual display, the Raspberry pi can function with keyboard and mouse. Despite its diminutive stature, the pi can carry out the vast majority of tasks a full sized PC, albeit at a slower pace. It can surf the internet, play video games and of course use word and spreadsheet programs.

 

pi

 

The pi works off a few different programming languages, such as python and scratch, making it very useful for educational purposes.  In fact the pi was original developed to help children learn about computers, and if there is a young budding Bill Gates in your family then the Raspberry pi would make an excellent present that doesn’t  cost the earth.

There is a healthy community behind the project, with a wide variety of tips, tutorials, youtube videos and downloads available for the raspberry pi. Due to the open nature of the pi there are also a number of peripherals available for it, from a touch-screen interface to expanded memory and power. People have built simple robots, music sets and motion capture camera rigs all with the Raspberry pi as their basis.

Computing is as much a part of our life as any other piece of technology now, and a good knowledge of the magic behind the circuits is sure to prove beneficial towards a career or education. The Raspberry pi offers an accessible way in to this sometimes intimidating world.

Project Morpheus

By now most of us have seen oculus rift in action, and been duly impressed by what we witnessed, by its sheer ambition if nothing else. But despite its refinements and the impressive range of videogames it has been adapted for, from first person shooters to epic RPG’s like Skyrim, it still looks and feels like an unwieldy prototype, particularly  because of its size. Indeed the oculus rift creators recently announced that they did not think their product suited console gaming.

Cue Sony stepping up to the VR challenge and throwing their own wire trailing goggled hat into the ring. Although only a prototype itself, Project Morpheus looks much more like a finished product already, with its sleek design and considerable size reduction.

Designed for the PS4, Project Morpheus makes smart use of the PlayStation motion tracker controller, using it to register the position of your hands and relay this as visual display data. Immediately running from a 1080p display the visuals are sharp and crisp. There are the inevitable lags and frayed pixels, but overall considering Project Morpheus’s infancy things look on the whole very impressive.

Sony already have four demos to showcase the immersive Project Morpheus.  Eve: Valkyrie is a space simulator seeing you hurtle though the cold depths of space, while The Deep sees you exploring the cold depths of the ocean. Whether dodging ships or being besieged by sharks the sense of being outside gravity is surprisingly effective.

Street Luge on the other hand is a game that emphasises speed, and aims to give players the rush of a rapid downhill descent, without the risk of ending up as a smear on the sidewalk.

The real stand out, in terms of varying gameplay and variety of feedback is Morpheus Castle. Using a variety of medieval weaponry you wail away at a training dummy in a courtyard, smashing its body and severing its legs. Whirl your arm to generate force with a face and take lunging slashes with a sword. We could even see the return of plug in peripherals like swords and crossbows.

Project Morpheus is by no means going to the total VR experience we keep seeing in sci-fi, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.

Smart Watches and Android Wear

 

If you’ve ever fancied yourself a James Bond gadget wannabe then you are one step closer to realising your goal. Smart watches are pretty much what you’d expect from the name; smart phones in watch form, worn on the wrist and looking quite stylish and well, smart.

Currently smart watches work best in conjunction with smartphones, with information typically being relayed by Bluetooth between the two devices. It’s simply an issue of power, as without this low energy connection the smartphone uses too much juice to last very long. As such don’t expect them to replace your phone just yet.

One of the biggest contributing factors to the development of the tiny smart watch is, ironically, the growing size of the tablet phone. So rather than fishing around in your pocket or satchel for your cumbersome 5.7 inch Galaxy note once you receive a notification, you can simply glance at your watch.

The two smart watches currently available are the Samsung Galaxy Gear and the LG G Watch, so your purchasing options are somewhat limited. But if the market looks to be successful, expect the range of smart watches available to explode.

 

Galaxy Gear Smart Watches

The Galaxy Gear has a 1.63 inch display, 320×320 resolution and a 1.9 MP camera. It is priced around £119.99.

 

G watchz

The G watch has a similar 1.65 inch LCD display but an inferior 280×280 resolution and no camera. It is currently priced around £149.99.

 

Both have 4GB of memory and support Android Wear.

 

Android Wear

android wear

 

Android Wear is basically a simplified version of the current android OS, and hopes to get a leg up on the competition by being there first. This does mean there will be a lot of trial and error on their part as they work on the best way to operate on a device with a screen less than two inches across.

Android Wear functions in union with phones working off Android 4.3 or above and it seems unlikely they will work on further backwards compatibility. It currently has about 35 different apps, ranging from fitness ones to the ubiquitous flappy birds.

The utility of Android Wear comes from its voice recognition software. Much like with the Xbox one you start with the magic words “ok android” and make your request. This could be to call a friend, search out some information or even take your heart rate. As with any voice recognition software there is always the potential for hilarious miscommunication, or problems with noisy backgrounds.

Lastly the smart watch will be able to tell the time. In Hong Kong and the UK. It’s funny to think how used we have become to checking the time on our phone.

 

In Summary

 

Although early adaptors and gadget geeks will have fun showing off their new toy to friends, it’s a little too early for the rest of us to truly gain from such a purchase.