Incremental Advances Lead to Exciting Devices

Carl Weinschenk
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Android: More Vendors, More Flexible and Fun Devices

The exciting mobile devices that are introduced are driven by lower profile—but no less amazing—advances in the components of which those smartphones and tablets are comprised. That’s pretty obvious, but it also is something we should acknowledge once in a while.

Today, Apple is reported to be introducing the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C. While none of the innovations discussed in this post are included in the new iPhones—they are too new, of course—it is worthwhile to recognize that these are the type of innovations that lead to the breathless stories in the consumer media and the glitzy press events.

eWeek reports that Seagate’s Ultra Mobile hard disk drive—which is aimed at mobile devices—features 500GB of storage capacity. It offers the company’s Zero Gravity Sensor for shock management and conserves battery life through sleep, standby and idle modes, the story says. Power consumption control and performance are enhanced via intelligent caching at the system level.

Power, or the ability to use less of it for a given task, is the key to Intel’s fourth-generation Core i3 Haswell processors, according to CIO.com. The story sums up the abilities and limitations of the new processors:

Tablets like Microsoft's Surface Pro that run on Core processors offer great performance but poor battery life. Intel has claimed that, depending on usage, Haswell dual-core chips will offer up to 50 percent more battery life compared to previous Core chips, code-named Ivy Bridge. Intel claims Haswell chips also offer better multimedia performance, but the quality of graphics on the 4.5-watt chip may not be comparable to the more power-hungry chips, which are capable of running more features.

Intel is scrambling to catch up in the mobile sector. The story says that the new chips began shipping before the Intel Developer Forum slated to start today in San Francisco. Agam Shah writes that the company is expected to use the conference to launch Bay Trail, an Atom chip for mobile devices.

The Seagate and Intel products, of course, are aimed at key components of mobile devices and are available today. A more limited technology—and one that is ancillary to the operation of the device and more future oriented—is in the news this week.

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a potentially useful technique called ambient backscatter. The idea is to leverage signals from television towers and other sources that permeate the atmosphere for both power and communication. Batteries or other power sources no longer will be needed. A video at the school’s website explains how the system, which clearly is years away from commercialization, works. It appears to be most likely useful for short-range near-field communications (NFC)-type applications such as electronic payments and finding lost keys, the examples used in the video.

The bottom line is that the big news is made when a vendor releases a shiny product. Keep in mind that each of those devices contains lower-profile new technology that in itself is just as exciting. Apple will grab the headlines, but what Intel, Seagate and students at UW released is just as important.

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