Microsoft’s Edison Lab

The Verge: Stevie Bathiche, Director of Research at Microsoft’s Edison Lab, shares some intriguing work in the area of displays. Watching the video I was most interested in the display wall where kids can see other kids, who are far away, and interact with them as if they were just on the other side of the ‘window’.

Update: I had to remove the embedded video, which started in a zoomed-in state with no way to zoom out. Apologies. The video can be seen at the link.

Wi-Fi Protected Setup Security Hole

Stefan Viehbock:

A few weeks ago I decided to take a look at the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) technology. I noticed a few really bad design decisions which enable an efficient brute force attack, thus effectively breaking the security of pretty much all WPS-enabled Wi-Fi routers. As all of the more recent router models come with WPS enabled by default, this affects millions of devices worldwide.

Two hours and the WiFi network you thought was secure can be compromised. In addition to possible negative health effects from a router sitting right next to you transmitting WiFi signals at maximum power, the relatively high potential for security breaches make the inconvenience of hardwired Internet connectivity at our home worthwhile.

Update: Viehbock has released his tool to brute force crack WPS.

The Costanza Strategy

MG Siegler:

Idea for Microsoft: whenever you decide on something brand-related, you should pause — then pick something that’s the exact opposite of your initial thought.

8000 Strike At Nanjing LG Display Plant

Leslie Hook, FT:

By Wednesday evening the dispute, which involved some 8,000 people and forced a partial shutdown of production at LG Display’s factory in Nanjing, appeared to be moving towards resolution after three days of protests.

The reason for the strike: year-end bonuses. Modularizing LCD panels is labor intensive, so LCD manufacturers rushed into China to set up LCD module factories. I gather from this strike cost has been increasing for some time. At some point companies will look to mechanized labor as a solution. Earlier this year Foxconn CEO Terry Gou revealed plans to use one million robots by 2013. But as soon as labor robotization becomes the norm for simple, repetitive tasks the China advantage will start to disappear.

Nokia N9

Dan Hill:

For all the value in a limited product range—the confidence, the ease of inventory, the simplicity—it cannot be the only way, in all cases. Nokia, with the N9, has quickly indicated that other design strategies are possible, and that they can be good.

Other good designs are certainly possible, but good design is no longer confined to merely external industrial design. Good design is intuitive, fades away, and lets us get to what we want. Good design is both external and internal. Good design reduces unnecessary manufacturing steps, reduces the number of components, reduces failure rates. Good design is systematic and embraces hardware, software, the complete experience. Apple’s way is certainly not the only way for everything, but it is the most effective method today in transforming fantastic ideas into beautifully crafted devices with an impossibly affordable price that millions upon millions buy.

In this one simple move of rejecting smoothness in the connection between glass and body, and in underscoring this by an interface gesture—the ‘swipe’ from this edge—Nokia have elided physical and digital gestures to suggest a new range of possibilities in handset design. The N9 has thus got closer than any other mainstream phone in realising the value in “the polyphony of the senses”, as Bachelard wrote. Combined with many of the new directions in Meego’s interaction design and architecture, the N9 sketches some alternative trajectories for the mobile phone.

The “edge swipe” does seem unique. But I feel this bulge, this visual separation of display and body is a mere blip, an anomaly, in the smartphone design zeitgeist, which I think is rapidly headed down a different path toward a different future. My guess is most design, engineering, and manufacturing efforts will be aligned to making the display be a more prominent part, more than it already is, of our smartphone experience. I imagine a smartphone that’s 90% display. I’m imagining this future because I want to carry less—less physical material. But I think many others would like a similar future. Imagine a display with an order of magnitude faster electron mobility than LTPS allowing for a significant portion of electronics to be integrated directly into the glass. All the chips you see when iFixit tears apart a smartphone, they wouldn’t be there anymore; they’d be on the glass itself. A remarkably thin sheet of durable, flexible, transparent glass. Also embedded into the glass would be photo sensors and solar cells. No more camera sub-systems with a backside illuminated image sensor coupled with a multi-lens system; the display itself, with photo sensor embedded pixels, will be the viewfinder, the lens, the camera. Embedded solar cells along with some type of piezo-kinetic recharging system would make this future smartphone last all day without needing hefty, heavy batteries. Other technologies complete the picture: multitouch input, a Siri-like digital concierge, a secure biometric-connected digital ID, NFC-based wallet, etc. This is what I want: A smartphone future where the display is dominant, a display that is the body.

Pantech Pocket

Brad Molen, Engadget:

Indeed, the Pantech Pocket — which, ironically, is the least likely smartphone to actually fit into your pocket — sports a 4-inch SVGA (800 x 600) display and boasts an aspect ratio of 4:3. It’s bright enough, but isn’t as color-saturated as an AMOLED panel. The premise behind this screen is that you’ll have a better app viewing experience, a wider keyboard and more screen real estate for reading e-books and surfing the web. We found that the Pocket was great for digesting content, but unfortunately this comes at the expense of comfort. Holding the phone was an incredibly awkward experience in almost every way, whether we were making a call or just trying to maintain a solid grip on the device. And we’ll warn you up front: putting the handset up to your ear invokes the feeling that it’s trying to eat your entire face.

Let’s go line by line. Brightness has nothing to do with color saturation. OLED displays are known for over saturated colors and the Pantech Pocket not having overblown colors might be a good thing. In terms of a better app viewing experience the only way this would be the case is if apps were developed specifically for a 800×600 screen. I don’t see this happening. The wider keyboard in portrait mode will definitely be a plus. On a smartphone with a wide aspect ratio the keyboard in landscape mode takes up more than half the screen making it almost unusable. On the other hand portrait is too narrow. A 4-inch 4:3 might be ideal for heavy texters who don’t need or want a physical keyboard—those who text in multiple languages. Next, screen real estate. 800×600 cannot simply be more. Compared to 960×540, it is not. Compared to 800×480, it is.

The iPad also has a 4:3 aspect ratio but it is 9.7 inches big so we’re almost always holding it with two hands. The 4-inch Pantech Pocket is small enough to wield with just one hand, but it seems the more squarish screen doesn’t imbue it with magical properties like it does with the iPad. I have a biggish face so it’ll take something the size of an iPad to make me feel like it’s trying eat my face, but folks with smallish faces it might be wise to try out the Pantech Pocket first.

Design Philosophy: Apple v. Microsoft

Joe Dombrowski, The Verge:

The trend continues into the modern day of the competing text rendering philosophies of Microsoft and Apple. To apple, the font is king. For example, on a capital ‘A’, the middle bar might appear between two pixels. On a Mac, the font would not move the bar, but use two rows of pixels at a lower intensity to accurately render the original font proportions. On the other hand, a Windows system would simply move the line up or down so that it aligned to the actual pixel grid. The result is sharper text, that is easier to read, but does not correspond to the appearance of printed text (Spolsky, 2007). Additionally, Windows does not use a linear scaling of fonts; again, this leads to better readability, but at the expense of the integrity of both font and layout (Guard, 2007).

Fascinating. I did not know this. Would I choose sharper and easier to read text at the expense of it not looking like what it is suppose to look like? No doubt Microsoft ClearType engineers did a lot of homework, even integrating display hardware into the equation. But there seems to be something lacking, a deep understanding of what we want to see on our screens. I like sharpness and readability, but give the either/or choice I would always choose integrity.

I’m no expert, but I figure properly rendering typography on displays is extremely difficult. It’s like trying to make a circle with small squares. Actually, it is trying to do just that. The way Microsoft is solving the problem feels like there are little lies in them. Verdana that only looks 95% Verdana. That doesn’t sound right. Apple’s approach, on the other hand, is truthful even to the detriment of clarity and readability. Helvetica that looks 100% Helvetica even if it doesn’t look good. With the problem of little lies I am not sure, but the problem of clarity can be solved by improvements in display technology. The concept is simple: Make the squares smaller to the point where our eyes can’t distinguish each square. We saw this in the iPhone 4 with the 3.5-inch 960×640 Retina Display. By doubling the resolution to 326 ppi pixels, at about 12 inches from our eyes pixels simply disappeared. Problem solved. I expect Apple is now working hard to solve this very problem on the next iPad as well as Macs.

On occasion I switch to 960×600 HiDPI mode on my MacBook Pro just to taste what a Retina version would look like. I’m typing this post in this mode now. Let me tell you typography looks absolutely wonderful, the way they should look. Pixels disappear. It’s as if every time a key is pressed real ink is printed on the screen.

In 1994, our family purchased a Macintosh Performa 630CD. The bundled 800×600 12″ monitor seemed positively enormous at the time, but is dwarfed by the giant monitors we use now. The 15 and 17″ 1024×768 monitors we purchased alongside our next two computers (Compaq Presario 4860 and Compaq Presario 7360), though larger, didn’t fare much better. This meant that through Windows 98 and Mac OS 8/9, information density was far more important than design […]

I don’t agree. The 12-inch monitor with a 800×600 pixel format translates into a resolution of 83.33 ppi. The 15-inch with 1024×768 isn’t that much better with 85.33 ppi. The 17-inch monitor most likely did not have 1024×768, but rather 1280×1024. And with that pixel format the resolution does increase a bit to 96.42 ppi. These minuscule increases in resolution, or pixel density, do not indicate “information density” was more important than design. What Dombrowski probably meant to say was that per monitor more pixels and therefore more content was displayed than previous smaller ones. I keep going back to the iPhone 4, but with the Retina Display Apple completely changed how things are done. Before the iPhone 4 a higher ppi on the same display meant more information. Those information bits were smaller, but there were more of them. After the iPhone 4 a higher ppi doesn’t necessarily mean that. More importantly it could mean quite the opposite: the same level of information density, but sharper more readable information, especially in the form of text.

Apple’s design seems to never go out of style. It’s the black slacks and white button down shirt, never at the cutting edge, but always appropriate.

Trendy versus classy. I know the article is about software, but the same conclusion can be applied to hardware. The unibody MacBook Pro I’m using was manufactured in mid-2009. The crazies at Apple probably designed it much earlier than that. Except for a few niggles, I wouldn’t change a thing. And I don’t expect I’d want to for quite some time. The only thing that would force me to seriously covet a new 17-inch MacBook Pro is a quadrupled pixel format of 3840×2400. Thankfully I think it’ll take a few years for Apple to get to that. I want to make the most of my investment and make it last. My choice? Classy over trendy, every time. Who knows? Maybe classy is the new cutting edge.

The FAA And Your Kindle

via Ben Brooks. Nick Bilton, The New York Times:

The F.A.A. requires that before a plane can be approved as safe, it must be able to withstand up to 100 volts per meter of electrical interference.

The Kindle emits 30 microvolts, or 0.00003 volts, per meter. But how about a hundred Kindles? EMT Labs testing manager Kevin Bothmann answers that question:

Electromagnetic energy doesn’t add up like that. Five Kindles will not put off five times the energy that one Kindle would.

Even if it did linearly add up, to get to 100 volts per meter from Kindle electrical interference a 365 passenger Boeing 777-300ER will need 3.3 million Kindles. Or over 9000 Kindles per passenger.

Bilton:

The F.A.A. and other groups seem to be running out of reasons we can’t use digital e-readers on planes during takeoff and landing. Maybe their next response will be: “Because I said so!”

Epson Settles Nokia LCD Price Fixing Lawsuit

Epson:

In November 2009, Nokia filed lawsuits in the United States and United Kingdom against Epson and its subsidiary companies including Epson Imaging Devices Corporation alleging violations of antitrust and competition laws. Epson has denied liability and vigorously defended the lawsuits. Because of the ongoing impacts of the lawsuits on its business and the expense of continuing litigation, however, the company has determined that settlement of the litigation is in Epson’s best interests.

Settlement price: US$80 million.