Friday, November 16, 2012


Batteries are something of a conundrum. On the one hand, there is the continuing need for better batteries in mobile devices, longer last, storing more energy in a smaller space and with reduced weight. On the other hand, batteries can sometimes fail catastrophically. The higher the energy density (the more energy stored per gram or per unit volume) the greater the consequences of a catastrophic failure. In fact a bomb can be considered something of a battery, lots of energy stored in a compact space. Though the reaction that releases the energy is not reversible and it is hard, though not theoretically impossible to power a car with gunpowder (per Huygens), it is an efficient energy storage device. Today's batteries are less efficient but still share some properties with explosives, especially when they fail. With rechargeable batteries, dependent on a reversible chemical reaction, there is always the possibility that physical structures embodied in the two chemistries (anode and cathode)will bridge, resulting in a short. They can generate high temperatures, melting themselves, melting the device they are in, and potentially starting fires. This is a rare event, but, again, major increases in energy density would make a catastrophic battery failure much more consequential.

Of course, aside from better batteries, the best way to deal with battery life is to lower the energy drain. As the most energy intensive part of most mobile devices, the primary focus has been on the display and display related subsystems. Monumental progress has been made here and further progress continues to come. A second path has been to remove the mechanical components from the device, specifically the optical drive. Spinning up the drive, takes substantial energy. Further, as removable storage is more a form of communication, simply relying on the internet rather than a disc makes sense along several factors.

Battery improvements and reductions in power drain can carry battery life only so far. Most likely, in the future, there will be more ubiquitous application of wireless battery charging. However, wireless battery charging only gets rid of the power connector, not the need to access a wired power source. The original "One Laptop per Child" design had a hand crank to generate power as a wired source for the intended user set might be unavailable not just inconvenient. Of course, cars used to be hand cranked to get them started and watches had to be wound. There is another watch technology that might be relevant as well, energy harvesting. Self winding watches are less popular, as watch batteries have gotten better, but it is still viable. With improvements in micro-machining and 3D printing, energy harvesters can be mad very small and durable, I would think just the thing for a mobile device. As with better sunlight viewability, I expect someone will at least try marketing a device more adapted to actual usage models. Perhaps energy harvesting will not show up until the mobile market fully turns its attention to wearable computing.

More is Better

Today's lead article in VentureBeat discusses the new iPad Mini. Though the term "display" is used 5 times in the article, extolling the importance of the display, the lead-in photo (shown here) shows just how challenging it is using a mobile device outdoors. As seen in the photo, the contrast could not be much more than 10 to 1. In "Wither Pixel Qi" I discuss my surprise that the mobile industry does not move toward displays with better outdoor visibility. Though generating good color in an outdoor display is something of a challenge, there are alternatives to a standard LCD that provide trade-offs that might be more appropriate for a mobile device.

The author also goes on to give a generic definition of a "retina display","...instead of the lush Retina Display resolutions of 2048 by 1536, we get the same 1024 by 768 resolution we were so happy to run away from two years ago. (Since the iPad Mini’s screen is smaller, its resolution still looks sharper than on previous iPads.) It is described as a pixel format rather than a pixel density (pixels per inch) or a brand name. In, "Your existing HDTV is already a true 'Retina Display' ” in August's High Resolution Raymond Soneira explains the human factors of the pixel density perspective on classifying displays. In describing how the display "looks sharper than previous iPads" the VentureBeat author also makes reference to the human factors but at the same time ascribes the 2048 x 1536 resolution as "lush" apparently independent of screen size or pixel density.

As display professionals, we know, that especially in small displays, more pixels = less aperture which equals a dimmer screen. The challenged performance of the screen in daylight, as seen in the image would be that much worse with a "retina display" per the author's terms. However, in the minds of many, more is always better even when their eye's tell them such is not the case.

In "Trinitron, Retina, & What do you call an Apple TV" I compare the Trinitron name with the marketing mojo in "retina display". In a large sense, Trintron had an advantage in that most consumers had no idea what a Trintron was, only that it was better. Others could introduce sets using the trinitron technology (such as Mitsubishi's Diamondtron); however, because they could not use the Trintron trade name, Sony was in an unassailable position. If consumers have a specific idea what "retina" means, a specific number, then it is a small matter to equal or even out-do "retina" with a "more is better" spec.

Even better, someone can fix or improve the daylight performance. As I have related before, in TV set marketing, frequently the industry will focus on a specific spec, pushing it to performance levels beyond human comprehension.... until someone steps out of line and starts pushing a different spec. Brightness wars, were followed by contrast wars until the CRT industry settled on Black level. In the mobile wars, fixing the resolution issue was an obvious first step to enabling smartphones as a platform. Now that the issue is fixed, I expect that the device makers will move on. If more is better, how about some more outdoor contrast.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Federated Media Abandoning Banner Ads

"Federated Media plans to refocus all its resources into the two areas of advertising it believes is growing. The first is its premium conversational & native advertising, which includes sponsored posts, special coverage sections, and ads/promotions that are more directly integrated with a publisher’s content. The second area is in less expensive, “programmatic” advertising, which automatically displays ads on websites at all times. The ad agency purchased startup Lijit in October 2011 as a response to the growing demand for programmatic ad buying."

Personally, I have pop-up blocking enabled and other ad blocking software. On most sites I never see the advertising except for that which is integrated with the content. In "Cross Platform Portability" I relate why it is important to have consistent screen aspect ratios to enable ads on the content periphery. With banner ads not proving their worth, frequently not actually being visible, programmatic ads become that much more important.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Will NFC "Sweep Away" QR Codes?

In "Can We Talk?, I discuss various means of linking mobile devices to both TV and digital signage. The posting concludes that there will be a diversity of communications methodologies. Recently, I saw a news article suggesting the resurrection of IR, as I had discussed. This comes to mind as I read today's "Digital Signage Today" proclaiming NFC will sweep away QR codes.

NFC is, of course, more versatile than a QR code as it can be an active data link rather than a signal and can be bi-directional rather than one way. However the one way and the opt-in nature of QR codes gives inherent security. The one instance where security is mentioned in the "Digital Signage Today" article it refers to a mobile device emulating a secure card such as a hotel key. It seems to me that, although I have never had my pocket picked, capturing someone's NFC information would be easier. Line of sight optical communications such as reading or displaying a QR code seems inherently more secure. Airlines allow a bar code display as a boarding pass. We shall see if they expand this to include NFC. As to Hotel rooms, my preference would be a QR code reader.

This is not to say that NFC use is not going to expand rapidly, but some applications seem much better suited to QR codes.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The New America v. the Old

Much has been made of Mr. Obama's near unanimous support among minority voters. The state with the highest percentage of Black people is Mississippi with over 37%. With Mr. Obama getting well over 90% of the Black vote but only getting 44% of the vote in Mississippi, it is apparent that the vote in Mississippi is approximately as racially polarized among White people there as among Black. If those figures could be further refined for "White Men" no doubt you find an even higher degree of polarization. Mr. Romney had his own near-unanimous voting blocks, that were as large or larger than Mr. Obama's.

Conversely, Vermont has the second lowest percentage of Black population of any state, less than a percent. There are not too many Hispanic people there either; but the state gave Mr. Obama one of his highest winning percentages. Absent Mr. Obama and the democrats having some hidden plan to subsidize the maple syrup industry, it would be reasonable to conclude that the Vermont population is markedly different from Mississippi aside from racial composition.

The Obama team did well when the economy would otherwise have pointed to their defeat, in part because they were very analytical about how they approached the election. They also did well because their team itself was diverse and their message was targeted toward a diverse population. In effect, they expanded their shelf space and went looking for votes in places the Romney team did not. Although, even collectively, minorities in the US are still a minority, a message crafted for everyone and targeted for differing demographics won out over a message that just resonated with the majority. As the minority actually becomes the majority in the US, today's newspapers are filled with recriminations about how the republicans will re-tool themselves and re-tool their message

So why the political discussion on a TV blog? The consumer electronics market has much more in common with an Obama demographic than a Romney. The consumer base is younger and diverse. One would expect that the marketing leadership of the industry would start to resemble the people that they market to in this country not only ethnically but by gender as well. Pursuing the pages of the trade press, looking at the faces, one gets the impression of the Old America rather than the New.

No Apology

One of the virtues (and one of the burdens) of Japanese society is the extreme emphasis placed on loyalty. Loyalty to the country, to one’s ancestors, sometimes even above right and wrong. It is this loyalty that allows the Japanese prime minister to occasionally lay flowers on Prime Minister Tojo’s grave even though he was hanged as a war criminal. It is also this loyalty that prevents Japan from expressing remorse at its actions prior to and during WWII. Japan, as a country pays a heavy price for this and Japanese multinational companies pay this price as well.

TV set sales are down precipitously in Japan because of the aftermath of the Tsunami, the expiring of domestic energy tax credits for TV set replacement, the general slowdown in the economies of Japan and the rest of the world. The one bright spot in the market has been TV set sales in China. However, due to friction between Japan and China over Japan’s actions during a war that ended almost 65 years ago, that market is largely lost to Japanese TV set makers. No apology.

In the recent US presidential election, sitting President Barack Obama defeated his challenger Mitt Romney. One issue that was frequently brought up in the campaign was the president’s supposed “apology tour” shortly after assuming the office. Mr. Romney also titled his autobiography, “No Apology". Transcripts show that although the president mentioned that the US has not always behaved as it should, he never actually apologized for anything the US has done. Though it would certainly cost him politically, perhaps he should. The US has not always behaved as it should and conveying some humility and regret would be a good thing.

Mr. Obama’s reelection was greeted favorably around the world. Although the election was close here, polls taken oversees, of non-US people, showed virtually no support for Mr. Romney and the “no apologies” approach. Although there is some friction between the US and China, there will be no US-China trade war starting on inauguration day as Mr. Romney had promised.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hello Computer: Will Non-touch Screens go Extinct?

In one of the earlier Star Trek movies, the crew travels back in time to the then current era and has to interact with the computers of the day. Scotty addresses the computer by talking to it. When presented with the mouse, he talks into the mouse. Although seeming not familiar with the mouse Scotty is quite facile with the keyboard. He never attempts to touch the screen nor does the desktop have anything like a touchpad.

Although voice and gesture is growing, today it is touch that commands attention. In the early days of color LCD, Apple was one of the last notebook makers to go to color. They lost share and later in one of those "Crystal Cycle" events when there were shortages of notebook screens, Apple was down the list when it came to LCD supplier shipments. Leading the charge in touch, the company secured adequate supplies for all of its products in advance of the rest of the industry. Now it seems it's everyone else's turn to struggle for supply.

Intel is predicting that a majority of Ultrabooks will have touchpanels in 2013. So the question is do the ones that don't, don't have them due to designer's choice or lack of supply. Further, as interacting with the screen becomes "normal" will non-touch screens still have a place on devices meant for close proximity human interaction.

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