deeptrance

Archive for 2010|Yearly archive page

Your phone is your credit card

In Digital Flash Media, microSD, Mobile Payment, SD on August 24, 2010 at 10:59 am
Mobile phone manufacturers market share in Q3-...

Image via Wikipedia

A handful of companies are pushing the case for the phone to be your payment medium. I am not talking about the likes of Obopay who primarily another level of middlemen between the money and the recipient. My focus is on companies miniaturizing antenna technology to fit in the microSD formfactor. The storage device now doubles as an NFC device. It draws power when placed in the microSD slot of the cell phone.

The 2008 market share looks really old but it is true that iPhone still comes under the ‘others’ portion of the world wide pie. An estimated 60% of the phones used in the US come with a microSD slot.

Tyfone, based in Portland, Oregon, aims to bring all your financial (and identity) data to your cell phone through their microSD based ecosystem. Their selling point stems from the disparity between mobile carriers and financial institutions in the US. This is best explained by their CTO, Siva Narendra, in the video below.

Tyfone’s SideTap SD memory cards have undergone extensive and successful trials with multiple partners over the last 18 months. In the coming months, consumers will be able to purchase SideTap MicroSD memory cards and use them at major retailers. Tyfone will soon announce partnerships that will make the first wave of this important payment technology available for consumers, financial institutions and retailers.

DeviceFidelity, on the other hand, has focussed on becoming the credit card equivalent for NFC enabled storage devices. They have already partnered with Visa to provide In2Pay solutions to all types of cellphones including the iPhone. CEO, Deepak Chain, cited In2Pay’s open architecture as the hassle free approach to introduce mobile payment programs into the existing infrastructure.

Bank of America now provides a microSD based VISA card. It is not clear who the technology implementer is.

Wireless Dynamics were the first to get into the development of SD based NFC solutions but slipped out of my radar in recent times. A quick visit to their website identifies them as a design and manufacturing group. Probably that’s where their strengths are.

Your memory card will soon be your credit card and will enjoy their best days before NFC becomes native to cellphones. Either way, loosing your phone will become akin to loosing your wallet. Take care.

Case of the Photo Kiosk Virus

In Digital Photo Kiosks on August 19, 2010 at 8:48 pm
Snapshot of a Front USB port

Image via Wikipedia

I still remember the time when we delivered the first driver and firmware solution for a photo card reader – Smart Media or SSFDC was the media used. The company’s CEO proudly carried it around and tried copying personal pictures from the media to his computer. Something went wrong. Forget the fact that he was unable to copy, he lost all the vacation pictures he already had on his media. We were able to restore the media but not the pictures. Granted it was beta software and hardware but lesson learnt all around. Lessons to be precise – those of Backup and Write-protect.

There is a piece of news originating from Australia that underlines the need for write protection in public kiosks. A FujiFilm kiosk at a BigW store managed to infect a USB thumbdrive with the Trojan.Poison-36 virus. It is possible that the kiosk got infected through a prior user’s medium. This was passed on to subsequent users. It appears to be a costly oversight and it is not clear if it is the store owner or kiosk vendor’s decision to 1) not have write protect feature on and 2) not have anti virus software enabled. I know of some kiosks disabling AVS for thumbdrives to save time. It could be the case here as well.

The customer affected by this issue has posted a blog entry. I really like the comment from one Katie – she works for rival Kodak. Talk about ‘a Kodak moment’.

Truth is I have worked on both FujiFilm and Kodak kiosks in the US and they both have write protect enabled by default. In the case of FujiFilm’s ADPC line of kiosks, the USB front port is often disabled to prevent mischief. For ADPC 5, my team developed a patent pending solution to protect USB front ports from doing anything other than transferring pictures from drive to system. We have also provided a secure solution where selective writes are allowed under certain conditions. The onus is on the system integrators and the store owners to ensure that these protective features are enabled.

Lifehacker gives some simple tips for end users to avoid these issues. Resorting to legacy CD or DVD drives is a good band-aid but time consuming. Using a SD media with its write protect switch enabled (as suggested in one comment) is probably the simplest solution. However, as I’ve noted there, this solution won’t work when there is a genuine requirement to write back to the medium. So, the onus is on having anti virus protection and system supplied write protect solution.

Eye-Fi Cards

In Digital Flash Media, SD on August 19, 2010 at 10:10 am

It wasn’t exactly love at first sight for me when it comes to Eye-Fi. Judging by the fact that they were causing access issues in one of my reader designs. Still, I got the chance to try them as part of the testing process. Once the main issue (frequency related – Eye-Fi operate at higher frequencies (but within specifications) than regular SD media) was solved, I got to play around with the media. It’s intrinsic uses were evident but I was a little speculative to begin with. The solution isn’t entirely wireless – you still needed the single slot reader shipped with the media to install the applications – but still pretty impressive once you get past installation.

courtesy: amason.com

Eye-Fi

News is that Target will now start selling Eye-Fi cards. Read Eye-Fi cards come to Target.

Eye-Fi cards provide a great retro fit option for cameras that do not have wireless technologies in built to go wireless. They are available only in the standard SD form factor as of today. Other media types are not as popular to warrant a wireless option. microSD formfactor is a possibility and given that they are used only in mobile devices that are already wifi enabled makes a second antenna-bearing media redundant and might also lead to interference if not done properly.

Product comparison is available at the Eye-Fi site.

They now have the first whiff of competition in the form of Toshiba. Toshiba’s plans are to make this a standard which is good news from a holistic perspective. The image at geek.com hints at peer to peer sharing meaning you can share pictures between cameras if so desired. This is now available only in the ProX2 version of Eye-Fi I believe.

Between NFC and WiFi, the applications for wireless enabled SD cards are ever increasing.

Lexar Debuts Multi-Card 24-in-1 USB Reader

In Digital Media Reader on August 18, 2010 at 11:35 am

Lexar has debuted a new card reader which they are promoting as an iPad companion for professional photographers. I had an opportunity to test the mechanicals of the push and release reader – designed to protect the media slots when the reader is moved around. I loved that feature.

The other features are standard for a USB 2.0 card reader. I can’t believe they are still using the 24-in-1 identifier.

• CompactFlash slot: CompactFlash® Type I and Type II
• Secure Digital slot: SD™, SDHC™, miniSD™, miniSDHC™, MMC™, MMCplus™, and RS-MMC™
• Mobile slot: microSD™, microSDHC™, and M2™
• Memory Stick slot: Memory Stick™, Memory Stick (with MagicGate™), Memory Stick PRO™, Memory Stick PRO Duo™, Memory Stick Duo (with MagicGate), Memory Stick PRO Duo Mark 2, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo™, and Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo “HX”
• xD-Picture Card slot: xD-Picture Card™, xD-Picture Card Type-M, xD-Picture Card Type-M+, and xD-Picture Card Type-H

There is some vague mention about power consumption which appears to defeat the purpose as far as mobility is concerned – the reader is obviously bus powered and draws power from the iPad.

WORM and iSSD from SanDisk

In Digital Flash Media, SD, WORM on August 18, 2010 at 10:34 am

SanDisk is making a sort of re-entry into the storage world’s consciousness. Two of their recent announcements are quite exciting.

One, is of course their proprietary WORM media. WORM stands for Write Once Read Many. I have had the chance to work with the WORM team and the prospects for this media are quite promising. Its foremost application is for the law enforcement agencies where digital evidence was not perceived to be tamper proof. The WORM hopes to allay such fears and can protect data for up to 100 years – at least 10 times longer than conventional storage medium such as DVDs and definitely more scratch proof.

courtesy of dcviews.com

SD WORM

The second is their wafer thin SSD solution – the wafer thin integrated SSD or iSSD coming in at 64GB and smaller than a postage stamp, it opens up the possibilities for space conscious mobile devices. As noted in the press release

“The new category of embedded SSDs should enable OEMs to produce tablets and notebooks with an unprecedented combination of thin, lightweight form factors and fast performance,” said Doron Myersdorf, senior director, SSD marketing, SanDisk. “With our embedded flash storage leadership, SanDisk believes it is uniquely positioned to deliver the ultra compact SSD solutions needed by OEMs.”

Measuring 16mm x 20mm x 1.85mm and weighing less than one gram, the drive uses a Ball Grid Array form factor and a SATA interface, and is compatible with all leading operating systems.

Return of (the) Blockbuster

In Digital Video Kiosks on August 17, 2010 at 10:27 am

News from WSJ is that Blockbuster has got an extension until September 30 from its debtors.

The financial travails on one side, Blockbuster continues to make inroads into the video sharing market on the other side. It is definitely a race against time for the beleaguered company. The NCR fueled kiosks and the new streaming initiatives with Comcast will hopefully pump in enough revenue to keep the company afloat. The price of content cannot be better exemplified than the case of Blockbuster. They must have a better collection of titles than rival Redbox in my opinion. NCR’s decision to replace their DVDPlay kiosks with Blockbuster kiosks at many locations must also be in part due to the better offerings.

As it stands now they are all hustling to get a better footing in the video rental market.

NetFlix – The Epix deal further strengthens their online offering with new age hits like IronMan and classics like the Godfather and perennial favorites like the Indiana Jones series.

RedBox – They have now started offering BluRay titles in many locations along with the standard $1 DVD rentals.

It is an interesting premise with each player having his own stand alone strengths and subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to enter the space of the competition. How will the table look like on September 30?

Card Capacities on the rise

In Digital Photo Kiosks on August 17, 2010 at 4:31 am
A recent trend in the digital photography sectorhas been the advent and affordability of highcapacity digital media. CES 2008 saw theintroduction of the world’s first 32 Giga Bytemedia from Panasonic. To quote a kiosk maker -“the new media today have more capacity thanthe hard disks in our kiosks!” This seemingly unlimited capacity to store photographs has ledto what some people call Egg ConsolidationFans – i.e. Digital Photography enthusiasts whocan continue to snap pictures without worrying about archiving or deleting the pictures for longperiods of time or the digital photography equivalent of putting of all one’s eggs in a singlebasket.
“In digital camera terms, the (32 GB) card shouldbe able to store around 6800 images from thelatest 12MP compacts (assuming an average filesize of around 4.5MB per image). Or more than190 rolls worth of 36 exposure film, for those whostill think in such terms. Certainly enough to lastfor even the most shutter-happy holidays.”- From DPReview’s report from CES2008
The side effect of this miracle drug comes at the time of printing. The user has to scan from a possible 6800 images and choose the dozen or so preferred ones for print. With an average scan time per screenshot of 10 images being roughly 15
seconds, the entire task of scanning and choosing pictures by a single user during the holiday season will take him or her anywhere from 20 minutes up
to an hour. The bottle neck in print time as evident here is not on the system side but on the user side. One hour of unavailability of a photo kiosk is likely
to turn away at least two other customers in peak season not to mention the initial user’s patience at the kiosk.
One way to address this issue is to exploit an often overlooked part of digital pictures – the information headers or metadata. These fields are updated by
most cameras with details of each shot relative to the camera settings. The information coded within this metadata is available through any photo
editing software or web application. These are usually presented in camera friendly terms such as focal length, ISO value, shutter speed etc. Software libraries should aim to make use of these established technical headers and present them in user friendly terms through the photo kiosk. SCM has developed algorithms to present the same pictures in easily recognizable sets such as portraits, night shots, black and white pictures and many others.
Some of the filters include:
• from a particular date (like a birthday or
holiday)
• only the most recent
• from an outdoor event
• from a certain location
• portraits or close up shots
• scenic or wide angle shots
• black and white pictures only

The Challenge For Photo Kiosk Vendors

In Digital Photo Kiosks on August 17, 2010 at 4:24 am
Digital Photo Kiosks are primarily self-servicekiosks designed with a premium on ease-of-use.The kiosk manufacturers are constantly upgradingthe system side with better components andtechnology. This progress includes enabling highspeed USB digital media readers and better UI experience. Vendors like SCM also ensure that thelatest media formats and specifications arecomplied with in these readers.In the last couple of years, with increased usage of digital photo kiosks, the focus in the industry has shifted to serviceability. Customers have beenimplementing different methods to prevent longdown time of the kiosk. While high traffic areasimplement multiple kiosks, this is not always aneffective solution due to space and costconstraints. Modular digital media readers enableservicing of components without any actualdowntime. The defective media slots can be hotswapped with spare functional ones by the storemanager itself. Lesser downtime means continuedrevenue.The focus is equally divided between what ishappening within the kiosk to what is happening infront of it. – specifically, the increasing capacity of camera cards.
To quote a kiosk maker – “the new media today have more capacity than the hard disks in our kiosks!”

Software Library as a Service

In Digital Photo Kiosks on August 17, 2010 at 4:03 am
Software libraries can be designed with the aim of reducing the time spent in browsing the pictures by quickly cataloguing them. Users can then select a
group of pictures that they want to access instead of scanning each and every one of them in sets of 8, 16 and so on.
The library should ideally be independent of the digital media readers. They can then be employed for all photo kiosks in a generic fashion. This neutrality further allows the software to access input devices other than digital media readers like USB thumb-drives, CD and DVD drives. By providing just a library and back end interface, vendors can ensure that the look and feel of the
kiosk software is not changed. Sorting pictures and cataloging them is expected to enhance the photo kiosk software performance by a minimum of 25% up to almost instantaneous sorting depending upon the options chosen.

At the Digital Photo Kiosk…

In Digital Photo Kiosks on August 17, 2010 at 3:22 am
With increasing sizes of digital media, more pictures can be stored in them than ever before. A 2 GB SD media, for example, can store thousands of pictures. Users seldom delete or archive these pictures until the media is out of space. At the photo kiosk, users with such media spend a lot of time scanning their pictures in a serial fashion. This increases the time spent at the photo kiosk to select and print just a handful of pictures. The long time spent at scanning and choosing pictures prevents other users from accessing the kiosk. Long wait times limit the number of people accessing the kiosk and bring down the revenue for the store owner. So, there is a growing need for technology that will reduce the user’s scanning
time at photo kiosks.
“While the content created is beautiful and numerous how will you find the pictures of your son or daughter from when they were 4 to show when they are 18? Unless you are extremely disciplined and label everything and back up all your content in unambiguous files you are not going to be able to do this easily. Unfortunately neither I nor many of my friends fit into this superdisciplined category.” – Tom Coughlin, Coughlin associates
(quoted from “Lost in the details – where is photo P100085.jpg?” which appeared in Picture Business Magazine, June 2008)
Kiosk software vendors are rising up to this challenge giving options based on the file name and date. This is a simple solution but is indeed the first step in creating an effective consumer experience.