Saturday 28 November 2009

How will employment be measured?

Many people now believe those countries who have felt the most recent global economic crisis and subsequent recession have now reached the bottom and are now on the road to recovery, however long that proves to be. As with previous recessions, we have seen employment statistics fall and consequently unemployment figures rise. Previous recessions took more toll on manufacturing and manual workers, such as mineworkers and print workers; the most recent has affected more office and knowledge workers. Could this recession be the last in which we can sensibly use the traditional employment figures approaches, especially for this latter group of workers?

In the future, many more highly skilled people will be employees of more than one company at a time. Both organisations and individuals will expect flexibility in employment conditions to ensure efficiency. Technology will make it simple for people to manage their time and contributions to each. Time-shared employees will make their skills available to more organisations at a time. So when the next recession comes the measure of employment should probably account for these multiple employments.

Monday 23 November 2009

3D in your pocket ?

Conoscopy is the technique which might just bring 3D displays on pocket devices. It's a trick that steers the illumination from the backlight to light up left and right eye parts of the screen. It has been demonstrated on 9 and 2.8 inch LCD panels with LED backlighting, by tape manufacturer 3M. Why? Well because the screen employs a special thin film which does the steering of the light. Because the whole screen is used for each eye's image, there is no loss of resolution. The resulting screens also need no glasses to be worn by the viewer. By applying a single image to the 3D display, it will also show normal 2D images without distortion.

The issue with all 3D displays in terms of mass adoption is not the technology which makes it possible but rather the availability of content in the form required to drive them. Eventually we will see 3D displays, and the most common implementations will differ for different categories of device (e.g. TVs or handheld devices). A thin film approach to steering backlights may well be one of them.

Thursday 19 November 2009

Chrome plated NetBooks?

Today Google showed off its new Chrome Operating System for PCs. It also announced that it would be open-sourced to allow developers to partner in its development. This free browser-based system is to be targeted at new NetBook computers, the successful cut-down, underpowered and lightweight laptop PCs. Features of Chrome include fast startup times, no client applications (only web apps), automatic syncing and encryption of users' data.

The more important aspect for the industry is how Chrome will impact on Microsoft's domination of PC systems. Senior executives of the Redmond based giant have recently stated that their strategy is to raise the price of NetBooks by the licensing of Windows 7 on them. Chrome could torpedo this strategy. If the user experience including responsiveness of the browser tabbed applications in Chrome is good enough, this could be a very dangerous time for Microsoft, who need Windows 7 to be a success after the Vista disaster. The licensing model for mobile device operating systems is failing; they can't afford the desktop/NetBook market to fail too.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

The androids are coming...

The androids are coming ... ok so I have blogged about robots before ... this time I am talking about the Google mobile device operating system! The mobile industry has always been sceptical of success for new entrants ... this was true but wrong in the case of Apple with their iPhone. Will it also be the case for Google with Android?

Well first you need a brand. With its integrated hardware and software approach, Apple specifies and and very carefully controls the brand. Whatever carriers partner with Apple and whichever geography they operate in, the iPhone brand and marketing is very strong and totally controlled. Google has one of the most recognised brands on the planet; so much so in fact that it has become the verb for web searching in our dictionaries. With Android however, Google's brand is practically invisible. Outside of the mobile industry, for the ordinary man or woman in the street, they have a much bigger chance of saying they have heard of iPhone than Android. Android phones have virtually no obvious Google branding. Further, because it is an open free-for-all approach, every Android phone's user interface can look very different, and so far this is the case. As more and more manufacturers bring out Android phones, more and more unfamiliar variations appear. This makes things unrecognisable for users and more complex for third party application developers.

Secondly for success penetrating the mobile market, you need a successful business model. There are three typical approaches. The integrated model which has been a success for RIM with the BlackBerry and Apple for the iPhone (and iPod), the Open model such as Linux and Android, and in between the licensing model used by Windows, and until recently Symbian. The latter has now been taken over by Nokia and is being made open-source. While the Open and Licensing models have worked very well in the computer server and desktop market, they have struggled in the mobile market, where the performance/power balance, interaction through the user interface and integration between hardware and software are all more critical. In fact due to the flexibility of open Android, it is more likely to take share from Windows Mobile than from RIM and Apple.

Google's Android will certainly appear on more phones by the middle of next year. Whether their approaches with brand and business model will mean that Android phones appear in many people's pockets remains to be seen. Android might just become the Linux PC equivalent on mobile devices; an open, flexible, system which appeals to hobbyists and hackers. It could make the mainstream too ... but it will have to change or buck the trend to do so.

Friday 6 November 2009

The next smartphone sensor...

Mobile phones have come a long way in the last few years. The high end so-called smart phones are now equipped with a range of sensors that once upon a time no-one associated with phones at all. There are the obvious location sensors such as GPS receivers so that the phone knows precisely where you are (not just roughly from cell towers). Video CCD sensors have adorned phones for some time but have mainly been confined to the obvious camera picture taking application. These can also sense light levels, read barcodes, and provide the means to recognise gestures and expressions. Many high-end phones also know what orientation they are in and how they are being moved through the use of accelerometers. And some know which direction they are facing through magnetometer sensors. This is important in augmented reality applications as well as useful in mapping. In the former it allows the phone to deduce which buildings the camera is seeing for example, while in the latter it means displayed maps can be automatically oriented the right way for where the user is facing.

So what will be the next sensor that we see incorporated in the high-end phones? It could well be the near field communications technology which can form the basis for radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and readers. This would allow a whole host of new application types. In addition it will enable e-commerce on the phone; ticketing and small value purchasing by simply waving you phone over readers, much like the Oyster card is used by Transport for London as an e-ticketing alternative around the UK Capital. The future for smarter phones is bright.