Rugged and Mobile becomes HTC Premium Partner

29 06 2009

Hi Everyone

Just a quick announcement to say that we became HTC premium partners last week. What does this mean to you I hear you say!  Well not only do we get access to all sorts of main Manufacturer resources (both technical and human!), but more importantly to us it means that we are able to forge ahead and build HTC into our own support and service process even further.

We truly aim to be the service leading company in our market and businesses who buy HTC through us will now be exposed to even greater service, support and knowledge.

Watch out for more announcements like this as manufacturers and distributors pick up our story and start to love us just like HTC!

We’re always eager to hear about your stories so let us know if you use HTC or have something to say about them.

Regards

Dave Kind

The Rugged and Mobile blog.





iPhone v3.0 – Part 2 – The new iPhone 3GS

20 06 2009

In the last post we looked at upgrading your existing iPhone with v3.0 of the new OS. This post takes a look at the new hardware that came out with the OS update, the iPhone 3GS.

Apple kept the launch of the 3GS pretty low-key and at first glance it seemed to not really bring too much to the table. After having a first look at the device however it seems it does in fact bring some good reasons to upgrade and we look at some of these here.

Hardware updates

Case/form factor
From the outside, the 3GS looks, feels and is in fact exactly the same as the existing 3G iPhone and if you lie them side by side, screen up there is in fact no difference at all. There is some glossier text on the back of the case but that’s about it! It comes in the same black or white colours and I’m not sure if that’s wise considering the people who will want the new one, will want everyone else to know it!!!

However despite this if we look inside the 3GS then we see a few changes and upgrades have been made.

The main parts
So lets look at the main parts of the iPhone first. The “S” in 3GS is for “Speed” and Apple has made some changes to the processor, RAM and storage to justify this. The CPU is now running at 600MHz, up from 412MHz and the RAM has been increased from 128 to 256MB. Storage sets the 2 models apart in 16GB or 32GB forms, doubled from the 3G 8GB or 16GB options. The graphics chip has been replaced by one that is not only more powerful, but also supports more open standards such as OpenGL ES 2.0 and after looking at some reports on playing games on the 3GS I can confirm that this is certainly an area that is far more slick.

So what does this mean? Well Apple says the 3GS is twice as fast as the 3G but i think what is certainly apparent is that the 3GS is much more slick, jerk free and the load times seemed to be better. Scrolling through lists of contacts, for example, seemed much nicer and the freezing moments typical of the 3G weren’t apparent at all to me.

So all in all a nice evolution rather than a power revolution.

Battery
The battery has always come under criticism, especially with business and heavy users and it remains the same in the 3GS. The power consumption is said to be slightly better, especially for music listening and WiFi but I found no difference in everyday usage at all.

Compass
Perhaps the most intriguing change is the inclusion of a compass. There is a dedicated compass app and I thought at first that it was GPS based. However the 3GS does in fact contain a real compass that has an API to get readings from it.

At first glance this seems a little odd but then when you use Google maps it suddenly becomes apparent that this brings some cool functionality. For one, Google maps can now rotate so that it is always pointing up which much more natural when navigating. GPS is pretty good but it does get sketchy when you’re stationary as it needs your bearing and speed to determine this.  Its pretty cool and a pretty worthwhile inclusion.

When I saw this the second thought came to mind which is how along with the new navigation API in v3.0, this will give navigation applications something that other PDAs don’t and it’ll be interesting to see how developers use this.

GPS
I still can’t find anything on the GPS other than the limited spec on the Apple website but I have been told that there are no change here. The GPS in the 3G was comparable to other phones and should be fine in the new 3GS.

Camera
The camera is now up from 2.0 to 3.0 Mega pixels, not ground breaking but it’s getting there. It comes with auto focus and better software but still no flash. However the biggest change here is that you can now start to record video too.  The software that comes with the camera is also far better.

Screen
OK, I lied at the beginning of this article because there is in fact one small change to the outside of the iPhone 3GS. Apple has changed the screen coating to use a new oleophobic coating that attracts far less fingerprints and dirt and is easier to clean (with one swipe on your jeans it is said!) if it does fall foul of too many pinkies playing with it.

I didn’t notice this until told, but again I also use a screen protector on my every day iPhone so might not have noticed it as some would. It’s a nice touch however on a phone that has been criticised for this in the past.

Software

So what software changes does the 3GS bring with that you won’t get on with an OS upgrade on the 3G? There are quite a few but the main ones are mentioned below.

API
Firstly what won’t be apparent until us developers start delivering apps are all the changes that have been made to the iPhone API. So much has happened here and it’s not what I’m talking about on this article but we what i will say is that the new API should continue to see all sorts of innovative applications being available in the App Centre both for the 3G and 3GS phones.

Voice control
Yes it comes with voice control and yes it isn’t very good both at recognition and with the functionality it gives you. If this is your bag then I think you’ll be disappointed but if it isn’t I don’t think you’ll notice or use it at all.

Compass
The software app that comes with the compass on the 3GS is nice and smooth, works well but unless you’re navigating your boat or running up mountains (For god sake buy a Rugged compass/GPS!!!) then its novelty value in my humble opinion. Like I said above, I think the compass will drive a lot of software further down the line but as a stand alone thing it’s hardly revolutionary now is it!.

Nike+ integration
Finally Nike+ comes to the iPhone. I used to use my iPod Nano however and quickly stopped using that when the Nike+ USB wristwatch came out so I’m not so sure if people will use the iPhone for this purpose. I guess its one way off showing off you have the latest iPhone down the gym!!!

The rest
There are so many tweaks that I have already talked about in the first part of this blog series. Google maps has already been mentioned earlier in this post and there are all sorts of tweaks I could mention.

Summing up
So the question is, “Is it worth upgrading your iPhone 3G to the 3GS?” I would answer that with a resounding yes if you want a truly slick, evolved phone that is even nicer to use and has some nice new features you won’t find anywhere else. If however like me you’re a business user then you’ll find most of the tweaks that you’ll need will be present on the 3G after you upgrade it’s OS and the choice will be one of desire rather than necessity in my view.

With my free upgrade looming, one thing is for certain. What else is there that competes with this at the moment? I think I will have a nice natural move onto the 3GS when my time comes, whilst I will still have plenty of takers for my spare 3G!!

Next we look at one of the most heated discussion with the new v3.0 software update. The iPhone Internet Tethering feature

The Rugged and Mobile blog.





iPhone v3.0 – Part 3 – The tethered internet debate and discussion

20 06 2009

I live and breathe rugged and mobile devices but the past few days one little mobile phone has been keeping me unusually busy on blogs and forums! Yes the little Apple iPhone has stirred up a few more hornets nests and here we talk about the tethered Internet option that is causing all sorts of debate online.

For those not in the know, “tethered Internet” is a new service that the iPhone can use to allow you to use it to link your laptop to the Internet, typically through the 3G connection of the phone.

On Thursday, here in the UK, we learnt that O2 will be enabling the tethered option but were quickly brought back down to earth when they released not only the pricing model they will be implementing but also the no less draconian attack on anyone who now uses their iPhone tethered without subscribing to one of the costly services.

Summary of O2 subscriptions

Basically, you have to pay. There’s no pay as you go option for using your iPhone tethered, it’s all monthly based subscriptions and you can’t get out of it whether a personal or business customer. The model can be seen on the O2 website.

Had a look? Did you fall off your chair too?! I personally feel that the pricing model is pretty poor, especially considering you’re doing essentially the same thing on the laptop as you are with the iPhone most of the time.

It’s clearly O2 not understanding the iPhone community and thinking they can jump on the iPhone bandwagon and charge a ridiculous price, that can be argued, should be free or at least already paid for via the Bolt on. What’s even more cheeky is that they do their up-most to get you using the WiFi network anyway so half the time you’ll be using “The cloud” instead of the more costly 3G and I think most laptops come with a WiFi connection these days!

For me it regretfully means that this is totally outpriced for me. I’m not paying £9.99 or £14.99 per month for occasional use, it’s extortionate and almost as much as my BT broadband!! I would have been much happier if they did what T-Mobile do and offered a £1 per day or £2 per 5 days charge or something more on demand like this.

For the time being that BT mobile dongle looks very appealing!

The strong arm of O2

I’m confused because I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong, but now O2 have made a statement about dealing with users who aren’t paying, I wonder now if the iPhone is the answer to all my needs any longer.

The statement can be viewed here O2 statement on tethering.

Can they detect what you’re doing
Yes they can, depending on what you are doing but the question also raises can they manage the detection, how many people will they actually be able to detect and will they really do anything if detected.

In terms of web traffic its simple to detect the browser headers and determine whether you’re browsing from a mobile or full windows/mac browser. Its how websites determine whether to serve you with the full or mobile version of its pages. I would imagine its easy to marry this up to your account and to then detect you.

As for Email, I’m not so sure. You will still have a mobile version of the email client but I don’t know if this is so detectable. What is for sure is that the ports are all the same so some kind of packet inspection would be required which I would have thought would be costly to implement and costly on the efficiency of the service. They could well be creating more effort by doing all of this than letting people get away with it.

What will give you away however is bandwidth. There is supposedly a 10GB limit on the iPhone bolt on anyway so if you break this regularly or by a lot then I think you’ll be putting yourself in the firing line if O2 start shooting.

Also don’t forget that, the tethering application itself could easily send back some data indicating your account/ phone number that could be looked up on your account. I’m not sure as I haven’t seen the code on this but in theory it could do?

My opinion, well ethically I feel comfortable to keep doing what I do, if I get on the wrong side of O2 then I am not abusing anything bandwidth-wise and am sure I will get a warning rap on the knuckles before they start talking bans. I for one am not abusing the system and think it would be totally unreasonable. I am happy to move contacts and use the phone jailbroken anyway if I have to!

Unlocking the tethered option on the iPhone

Rather than repeat this there is a post, enabling tethering on iPhone if you want to enable the tethered option on the iPhone. Remember you need v3.0 of the OS to do this and try it at your own peril. I’m not going to say anything more.

Alternatives

Is there any way round all this? Well try at your own peril but I have been doing something that O2 said was OK anyway and in fact I have had no issues with at all.

Using your O2 SIM in another phone
I have a HTC Windows Mobile phone that stays in my laptop bag. Totally naively I have been taking the SIM out of the iPhone, popping it into my HTC phone and then using the Windows mobile Internet sharing application to “Tether” my laptop. I have done this occasionally, on and off for the past 12 months with no problem at all. I very rarely browse the internet but I have done and I mainly use this to complete documents and email them whilst on the train and to update my blog in periods of business down travel. My bandwidth usage is pretty low.

Conclusion

So there we have it, O2 have clamped down and by doing so, the iPhone has simply brought a way for you to spend more money rather than a great new service that arguably you already pay hard-earned cash for. I for One will have a little dabble and will continue to do what I’m doing but I think the morale of the story here is that as long as you aren’t stupid and abuse your bandwidth, you will probably be OK (But don’t quote me on that!!!).

The Rugged and Mobile blog.





iPhone v3.0 – Part 1 – Upgrading the iPhone 3G

20 06 2009

Hi Everyone

As you know I’m a Microsoft bod at heart but as with so many others the iPhone really did catch my attention. I like to think (or fool myself) that I’m not bothered how it looks but one thing for certain is that I am bothered at how well it helps me run my hectic business schedule. It has been great and after 12 months of use and abuse it was time to test out the 2nd major update it’s tiny little operating system has had.

The upgrade process

I’ll be honest, I was quite happy with the latest incarnation of v2 and my iPhone 3G does everything it needs to do for me. It’s always a risk upgrading from a stable version of an OS to a new one, especially when I rely on it so much for work. But…the voices of Gadget were running wild in my head and the text I received from O2 saying OS3.0 was ready to go, was just too much for me to ignore.

I was pleasantly surprised and in fact would go as far as saying that the upgrade was as easy as I have ever experienced. iTunes fired up, the download took about 6 minutes and after another 10 the phone was all done with all my programs, data and in fact everything that was on the phone seemingly untouched and in place. O2 set up the MMS service in seconds and after about a 15 minute painless activity all was done.

The new features

There are lots of new features to talk about, and many of these are tweaks to the API that will become visible through new applications in the near future. However for me these are the main things that impact me, both good and bad on the iPhone itself.

The good…
Spotlight search
The search facility is absolutely fantastic and works just like the web-cast previewed it. One flick left from the home screen, type in what you want and everything just lists whether it’s a contact, file, email, tune or whatever and it’s fast! For me, this is a killer application and one thing I noticed was when searching emails, it doesn’t just search the list stored on the phone, but will search and return results from your server too. I cannot stress how useful this will be to business users searching for that lost email whilst in the field.

Internet tethering
Oh the debate this has caused! I’m discuss this more in a different post you can find here. Internet Tethering.

For me I was really looking forward to being able to use my iPhone to connect my laptop to the Internet and thinking I had an “unlimited” iPhone bolt on was naive! Internet tethering is enabled in the UK with O2 but you have to buy an extra bolt on to your plan to do so, even if you’re a business user. You can see more about this here @O2 Tethering. I don’ know how this will be monitored and I don’t know if you’ll be able to use the service unnoticed if you keep your bandwidth down but it’s a shame O2 just didn’t enable it for free when you’re paying for it anyway.

Cut and paste
The new cut and paste feature is welcomed by me, it will mean much better productivity when writing emails on the move and it works in a nice intuitive manner.

Landscape keyboard
This is now available for texting, email, notes and in Safari and is great for larger fingered people like me. It actually does make a difference and along with the cut and paste it will definitely make the iPhone an even more useful device for editing documents and emails.

MMS and text changes
Long awaited for me, not only can you send pictures directly to other phones (just like every other phone!!!) but also loads of other types of media too. It works well, integrates fantastically with the existing text application and now that you can also delete individual texts rather than having to delete the whole conversation, will mean the iPhone is finally a true communication centre for me. This is going to cost me a small fortune in MMS texts!!!

Calendar tweaks
New tweaks to the calendar include support for CalDAV, which is a commonly adopted calendar sharing standard used by lots of the calendar providers out there.  I’ve already played with this to create a pretty decent team calendar and it syncs well with the iPhone.  The other is subscriptions, so you can get sent calendar updates from, say your favourite band or football team.

Note syncing
This is a biggy for me!! I need notes to help me through my busy days and syncing these with outlook will be a great help for me and my team.

Voice memo
Useful, although the iTalk application I used for free was pretty good too. Where this wins though is that you can quickly share your recordings over email or MMS. I think this will be something that quietly becomes a well used feature of the iPhone.

Shake shuffle
Not a particularly business focused subject but the shake feature in the iPod is really nice!

Operation and speed
One downside that upgrades tend to bring is that they make the device slower as new functionality is crammed onto the same aging hardware. However for me I am pretty sure the phone is a little slicker in places and perhaps just a tad slower in some. The Wifi seems slicker and the 3G handover seems to work better and so far no signal drop-outs like I used to get before.

Now the bad…
Theres not all that much but

Overall design
Is it me or does the overall design and feel appear a bit less appealing? The text underneath the main 4 icons, the SMS icon and the general tone of the graphics seems different in an ever-so-slightly worse manner?

Errors
When sending an SMS text, I sometimes get an error pop-up saying something like “Could not be undone.” not sure what that’s about.

The untested…
There are loads of things I just don’t use, won’t ever use or I haven’t had a chance to test yet. A2DP stereo bluetooth, app centre subscriptions, stocks app upgrades, parental controls to say a few. If anyone has any feedback then your comments are welcomed below.

To upgrade or not!
Other than the usual, isolated and unlucky issues some people get with the upgrade process, I can’t really see any reason for not upgrading. My data remained safe, there are great new features to use and the overall look, feel and operation of the device remains pretty good. Give it a go!!

Next we’ll have a look at the new 3GS and discuss the extra features this will bring. Part 2 – The iPhone 3GS

The Rugged and Mobile blog.





A first look at RFID Technology

18 06 2009

Overview

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology that has actually been around for some time, despite the more recent industry buzz. It’s a technology that has evolved slowly over the years rather than suddenly entering the scene with a bang, with its roots coming from military radar as far back as World War 2. It’s said that German planes were encouraged to roll as they returned back to their bases and as they did so the radio signal they reflected back to the base radar systems changed and as such created a crude signature that identified them as friendly.

The British soon developed small receivers that were fixed to their planes. On activation from a specific radar signal, they would wake up and send back a code that effectively identified the plane as friendly. This was known as the IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) system and RFID as we know it today was born!

How does RFID work?

RFID still works today by essentially having a transmitter or scanner and a transponder or “Tag”. The scanner creates the power and the demand for communication, whilst the transponder, which is typically passive, wakes up on demand from the scanner to answer the communication in some way.

A common example of RFID at work is a door entry system that is used to secure offices. Many of us have seen the credit card sized employee badge that is “wafted” by a scanner in order to open a door and the chances are this will be RFID technology at work. As the card comes into range of the door transmitter, it wakes up and communicates with it. If the codes pass a certain test then the door will open.

RFID communication can be secured using industry standard protocols or it can be left open, depending on the application.

The technical bit!

So we know that RFID uses radio waves to operate and today and it pretty much uses the same radio technology as many of the other wireless technologies we know and use daily such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. RFID sits within the 30 kHz to 300GHz bands where some frequency bands within this range (listed below) are available for licence-free RFID systems. These bands are typically where we sell hardware within and support RFID tag reading/writing solutions. This frequency range gives RFID a lot of flexibility in the way it can be used and we typically see the following areas ranges:

• Lower frequency (LF) 125-134 kHz.
Used when a fast read rate is traded off for range. It can also be used in more rugged environments where liquid and or interference from metals could be prevalent. Typical applications include cattle identification and car immobilizer solutions.

• High frequency (HF) 13.56MHz
This is the most commonly used RFID frequency band largely due to the wide adoption of smart card based RFID technology. It gives a good balance between ruggedness and range.

• Ultra high frequency (UHF) 860-960MHz
This is the one the supermarkets are interested in and is thought of as being the most practical for item-level tracking as it offers a good balance between range and the ability to read multiple tags at speed.

• Microwave frequency 2.4GHz
Microwave frequency is used where distance is the key driving force and we see it used in toll road collection booths. This is the same band used by Bluetooth and Wi-Fi systems.

Benefits of RFID

RFID is similar in principle to barcode technology but in application it’s very different and brings with it fantastic new functionality.

Contactless
RFID is a contactless technology capable of identifying and counting a diverse range of objects without contact, line of sight or even human intervention. I have helped develop various asset tracking solutions where either barcodes or RFID were being used and the difference in the application was unbelievable.

Using barcodes you had to find them, then you had to scan them, cleaning or replacing them as you went along. Whilst still a pretty good solution in most cases, with RFID you could simply walk around, wafting your transmitter and all the RFID tags would simply report in as they came in range.

Fast, simultaneous scanning
Depending on the equipment you use, the scanning rate compared to barcodes is unrivalled. Barcodes can only be scanned one at a time but an RFID solution can scan 100’s tags simultaneously.

A great example of this is the often touted RFID supermarket trolley. Whilst costs still inhibit the replacement of barcodes as the primary source of “checking out” in the supermarket, if products all used RFID, then you would simply walk through an RFID archway and your whole trolley would be scanned in one go whilst your loyalty card is updated and your credit card details taken as you walk out the store. The very way we shop could change forever.

Automatic
You don’t need to present the tag to the reader. It enables automatic communication between devices where even the range of communication can even be controlled. Toll booths use this technology so that vehicles can quickly pass through, often only having to slow down to a reasonable speed for the barrier.

Large, programmable memory
RFID is a programmable technology that can not only store huge amounts of different data in the tags but it can also be changed. If your door entry solution is compromised then you can simply reprogram the codes in the tags. Or change the tag data depending on some kind of workflow. For instance you could change a “Last scanned” date field on scanning or use a software application to change some other element of the tag data. I think this is the most exciting area of RFID that brings the most opportunity to the end-user or business.

Tags are reusable
Because you can reprogram a tag it means they can be wiped, reprogrammed and re-used. This is proving a vital component to RFID solutions in order to make the ongoing consumable replacement not quite as costly as it would otherwise be. Make sure you have a re-use policy in your RFID solution as well as choosing the right tags for the job because it can often make a huge difference to your bottom line.

Robust
Tags are robust. You can get waterproof, sealed ones. Small ones, big ones and ones designed to be read from large ranges and most are tough enough to survive years of abuse. Added to that the solution they are part of is more robust too. If a tag is covered in dirt, it will still scan. If it’s under water, it will still scan and if you physically can’t find it then it will still scan if in range. Whilst you can get really tough, waterproof barcode labels, they are still susceptible to tearing, dirt coverage and will always require an ongoing replacement strategy if used in more rugged environments.

RFID is also much less susceptible to misreading due to the above.

Embeddable
Tags don’t have to be plastic dongle like devices or plastic card shaped! Car manufacturers are looking at ways to embed RFID tags into car parts in order to better identify specific parts in the fight against car theft. They can also be embedded into other items such as your passport, inside cardboard, clothes labels or even the human body!!

Why RFID isn’t used everywhere

So if RFID is so good why don’t we use it everywhere I hear you say! RFID, great as it is, has still not quite reached its tipping point and the main reason for this is cost. The typical costs to implement an RFID system, to properly create software and to then maintain and replace tags is still extremely high compared to existing technologies such as barcodes. To apply a barcode you’re usually talking 10ths of pennies, to apply the same RFID tag we need to talk full on pennies!

Another area is trust of the technology. We work with lots of new and emerging technologies at Rugged and mobile and what always frustrates me is how they get abused and then become misunderstood. Governments and large companies especially, jump on in there and always abuse or ill adopt technologies giving them a bad rap. We see it with GPS, with LBS, data capture in general and RFID is no exception. The public still see RFID as a way they are tracked and monitored which hides all of its great benefits. All new technology brings new problems that take us humans a little bit of time to get used to. Whilst businesses using RFID for internal projects seem to be gaining momentum now, we still see it hampered just a little bit with wide adoption as we still learn to trust how it is implemented and used.

Lastly standards, as always, have been a hindrance to progress but this is becoming less of an issue these days.

It will be a few years yet before our packet of cornflakes has an RFID chip on it but we are seeing more and more examples of RFID in the mainstream as costs continue to come down.

Who’s using RFID?

Whilst I harp on about RFID not being main stream, when you sit down and think about it, it is being used in many places. It’s used in monitoring cattle or animals, that chip you can have injected in your cat or dog is RFID and it stores all sorts of data about your pet if it’s found by the RSPCA. Marks and Spencer uses RFID tags in it’s Per Una range of clothing. Go and take a look next time you’re in town and you’ll see the tags that get programmed and then used to track and trace items through their supply chain and can ultimately be used to ID the wearer in the future

Most of the hardware manufacturers we resell offer RFID scanners of some nature. Cipherlab, Datamax and Intermec all offer integrated solutions, whereas Motorola, Honeywell, Zebra and Grabba all offer snap-on or 3rd party products.

Don’t forget that Rugged and mobile offers a whole range of RFID hardware and software solutions and we’re always happy to talk and advise you on how RFID can improve the identification and tracking process within your business.

The Rugged and Mobile blog.








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