Android at Home: Did Google Already Demo Its Rumored Home Entertainment Device at I/O Last Year?


The Wall Street Journal today reports that Google is working on designing and marketing a home-entertainment device that would "stream music wirelessly through the home." The interesting part here is that Google might actually market this device. Chances are, after all, that the hardware will look pretty similar to what Google showed off at its I/O developer conference last year.

In the context of explaining its [email protected] initiative (which, until now, hasn't really shown much promise), Google also showed a few Android-based music devices that featured wireless streaming and access to Google Music. Last year, Google called them [email protected] hubs and the code name at the time was Project Tungsten. In the demo, Google used a tablet with prototype software that allowed its users to select different output devices – including the Android hub.

At the time, Google stressed that these were just "conceptual examples" and not actual products. It's quite possible that this is changing now and that Google is turning these prototypes into actual products.

Google project tungesten

Google I O 2011 Keynote Day One  YouTube

Here is also a video to the presentation (the discussion of the music devices starts about 46:45 minutes into the video):

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2:49 pm

Open Sesame: A Safer Way to Log In To Your Google Accounts


Google has introduced an interesting new way for logging into your Google accounts by just scanning a QR code on the screen and without having to actually type your password into a computer. To use this new feature, just head over to and a QR code will appear on your screen. Scan the barcode on your phone (you can use any app that can read QR codes for this, including the popular RedLaser app on the iPhone or Google's own apps).

This new log-in mechanism will be especially useful when you are using a public computer where you can't be sure that somebody hasn't installed a keylogger or a similar device.

Gmail login phone

The feature was first described by Walter Chang on Google+, though it's possible that this tool has been available for longer.

How it Works

Here is how it works: Google presents you with a one-time use barcode on the screen. You scan the code and your mobile scanner app will recognize that it's a link and take you to your mobile browser. Google will then ask you to type in your password on your phone and to confirm that you really want to log in on the computer, too. Once confirmed, your desktop browser will receive notice from Google that you are good to go and open a Gmail session for you.


Now, obviously, as the good folks on HackerNews point out, if you are on a computer you don't fully trust, you can never be 100% sure that whoever installed a keylogger on the machine isn't also doing other nefarious things while you are logged in.

Still, this is definitely safer than just typing your password on a computer that isn't yours and may even add some extra security for those who sometimes have to work on unsecured WiFi networks as well.

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10:26 am

London Gets “Europe’s Largest Free WiFi Zone” Ahead of 2012 Olympics


Not too long ago, a number of cities in the U.S. were experimenting with offering free WiFi to its citizens. Most of these projects were launched just as the recession was about to hit and quite a few of them were quickly abandoned as the money well dried up. While we haven't heard much about new city-wide projects in the U.S. since then, London is about to get what its backers call "Europe's biggest WiFi zone."

This network will cover central London and will be provided by mobile carrier O2. Timed to coincide with the 2012 Olympics in the city and the Diamond Jubilee, O2 plans to cover "Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea."

Installation of the hardware has already started and the roll-out should be complete by March.

Olympic Class WiFi?

It'll be interesting to see if this network will be able to handle the traffic generated by millions of visitors when the 2012 Olympics start. Given that many of them will try to offload their data connections to WiFi instead of paying for roaming costs (and maybe even attempt to make the odd Skype call now and then), it's hard to imagine that the network will be able to hold up.

5:23 pm

United Airlines Pilots Go Paperless With 11,000 iPads


We have seen a number of airlines trial iPad-based electronic flight bags. A regular flight bag, the one you see pilots pull behind them at the airport consists of all the necessary ground maps, in-flight charts and manuals they need to get you safely from one point to another – that’s 12,000 sheets of paper in total. Now, United is the first airline to completely switch to iPad-based flight bags for all of its pilots. By the end of the year, all United and Continental pilots will have switched to iPads loaded with Jeppesen’s Mobile FliteDeck software. This software, by the way, is freely available in the app store for anybody, though you have to pay a subscription fee to get access to all of Jeppesen’s data.

FliteDeck only launched in July, so United is definitely on the cutting edge here. It’s interesting that United chose to go with the iPad-based Mobile FliteDeck, as the company is only marketing this product to general and business aviation customers. For commercial customers, the company offers FliteDeck Pro, which runs on Windows-based tablets PCs.

To get an idea of what Mobile FliteDeck looks like in practice, here is a short introduction video from Jeppesen:

In total, United expects to save about 326,000 gallons of fuel by using iPads instead of heavy paper manuals. On an airplane, after all, keeping every extra pound up in the air costs money.

It’s worth noting that United is relatively far behind when it comes to bringing WiFi to its fleet, so chances are that your pilot will actually use the iPad for its designated purpose and won’t be watching YouTube videos. It’s also worth noting that these tablet-based systems are really just stop-gap solutions, as both Airbus and Boeing, as well as various third-party manufacturers offer built-in electronic flight bags that integrate with the airplane’s existing screens and avionics systems. Chances are, if you are flying on a modern Airbus today, for example, your pilots have a full keyboard to access all this data as a built-in solution already.


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3:26 pm

Skype WiFi Comes to iOS: Get Online for $0.06 Per Minute


If you’re a frequent traveller, you know how much of a hassle paid WiFi networks can be. For a while now, recent Microsoft acquisition Skype has been trying to make things a bit easier by giving its users the ability to pay for WiFi access with the money they already have on their Skype accounts. Even better, Skype WiFi access is metered by the minute, so you don’t have to pay for an expensive hourly or daily pass just because you need to send an email from your laptop. Prices start at $0.06 per minute, though may be higher depending on the provider. Until now, Skype Wifi was only available for Windows machines and Macs, but starting today, you will also be able to use Skype’s new Wifi app for iOS to get online.

Once opened, the Skype WiFi app simply recognizes that you are on a network that supports payment with Skype credits (there are about a million of these worldwide). Once you sign in, you simply click the “Go Online” button and start using the Internet. Just remember to also go back to the app and click “Disconnect” before you get on your plane or leave that coffee shop in Rome.

Skype ios app wifi

For travellers who don’t want to pay roaming costs while abroad and who just want to get online quickly at the airport to download a book or magazine before a flight, this app could come in very handy. There are no caps on data usage while you are online and you only pay for the time you were actually using the WiFi. Once online, you can also use Skype to make phone calls.

For most people, this is probably a cheaper option than paying for a daily pass, though frequent travellers are probably still better off with monthly data plans from Boingo and similar companies. In order to give people a chance to try Skype WiFi, access will be free anywhere Skype credit is accepted “from Saturday 20th August 00:00 till Sunday 21st August 23:59 BST for a maximum of 60 minutes.”

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3:41 pm

ChromeOS Just Got a Bit Faster and More Secure


The latest version of Google’s ChromeOS now allows Chromebooks to resume faster and offers support for 802.1x secure WiFi and VPN networks.

When Google first announced the idea of Chromebooks, a series of small, Internet (and Chrome)-centric laptops made by manufacturers like Samsung and Acer, its engineers touted the fact that – unlike other laptops – Chromebooks would actually get faster over time. Chromebooks, Google said, would see the same kind of performance gains that users of its Chrome browser have gotten used to. Now, with the release of the latest stable version of the ChromeOS operating system that powers these devices, Google is starting to fulfill this promise.

The Chrome browser, of course, continues to get faster with almost every release, but according to Google, the company also managed to get ChromeOS to resume from sleep about 30% faster than before. Starting up a Chromebook generally doesn’t take more than 6 or 7 seconds these days and a resume from sleep is virtually instant, so these speed differences won’t make much of a difference in the real world. It is still nice to see that Google is still working on shaving off a few seconds from the startup and resume procedure here and there.

Besides this speed increase, the latest edition of ChromeOS also brings support for virtual private networks (VPN) (an essential feature for many business users) and support for secure 802.1x WiFi networks.

In addition, Google also notes that a number of new services that are compatible with ChromeOS, including Netflix, Amazon’s HTML5-based Cloud Reader and a tech preview of the Citrix Receiver (for running virtual versions of high-end desktop software) are now available.

3:23 pm

Delta Now Offers WiFi on All Flights


Until today, there were only two airlines in the U.S. that offered WiFi Internet access on all of their planes: Virgin America and Southwest Airlines subsidiary AirTran. Today, Delta is joining this group. Delta itself apparently didn’t think that this was enough of an accomplishment to warrant its own press release, so the news is actually somewhat hidden in the announcement of its new Business Class menu.

Given that it’s often hard to predict whether your flight will have WiFi on board or not, this announcement is a big deal for frequent Delta fliers who can now rest assured that they will be able to get online and check their email at 37,000 feet.

Exception: Regional Jets

Delta uses Gogo’s in-flight across its mainline fleet. The exception, though, are regional jets. These flights are generally outsourced to smaller companies and while they feature the mainline logo, are actually flown by crews from other organizations like Pinnacle Airlines, Mesaba or Comair.

Free for August

As our friends at Jaunted note, Delta will also offer free WiFi for the month of August, sponsored by Diet Coke. Just use the code DIETCOKEGOGO when you are on a Delta flight and get online for free.

8:57 pm

Chromebooks Take Flight on Virgin America


Google is definitely trying its best to get the word out about its ChromeOS-based Chromebooks. Now, the company has teamed up with Virgin America – one of the Silicon Valley’s favorite (yet perennially money-losing) airlines – to offer travellers to “test-fly” Chromebooks for free onboard their flights and at select gates from July to the end of September. Chromebook users – including those who bring their own ChromeOS-powered laptops on board – will also get free WiFi courtesy of Virgin America and Gogo. Travelers who stay in New York’s Ace Hotel will also find a Chromebook in their rooms. (more…)

4:51 pm

Android Takes Flight With Panasonic's New In-Flight Entertainment System


When it comes to in-flight entertainment these days, quite a few airlines give their passengers the option to watch live TV on domestic flights and on-demand videos and a few games on international trips. Even the most advanced systems on the market today, though, only scratch the surface of what these systems could do if you coupled them with an Internet connection, touchscreen and a decent operating system. Panasonic today announced just such a system. The new eX3 in-flight entertainment system is based on Google’s Android operating system, offers a highly customizable touchscreen interface and offers an Internet connection as well as the ability for airlines to develop their own apps on top of it. Whether this system will ever take flight, of course, remains to be seen.

Panasonic envisions that airlines could offer their customers a personalized experience on this system that would allow them to set their own preferences (weather, news sources, Twitter feeds, Facebook etc.) once and then get the same experience every time they get on one of the airlines’ planes. The company’s executive director of corporate sales product management Neil James likens the new system to a “home theater environment” that – unlike most of the in-flight entertainment systems on the market today – is focused on aesthetics and connectivity.

According to Panasonic, the turnaround from creating an in-flight entertainment package today (movies, TV shows etc.) has generally been around 45 days. With an Internet-connected system, that turnaround time will be close to zero and allow for a far more interesting in-flight entertainment experience than today’s rather stale systems.

Of course, given the state of the airline industry in the U.S., I don’t expect we will see these systems on domestic flights anytime soon (and when we do, we’ll likely have to swipe a credit card to actually use it). After all, just having WiFi access on a plane is sadly still a luxury on too many airlines today…

Panasonic eX3 promo video

10:50 am

Free Internet: 32% of Internet Users Regularly "Borrow" WiFi Access


Do you ever log on to an open WiFi network that isn’t yours? You’re not alone. While in late 2008, only about 18% of U.S. Internet users admitted to borrowing WiFi from open networks, that number has now grown to 32%. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, a non-profit trade organization, far too few consumers take the necessary steps to protect their networks today. At the same time, though, the organization’s research also found that “40 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to trust someone with their house key than with their Wi-Fi network password. More than one quarter of those surveyed said sharing their Wi-Fi network password feels more personal than sharing their toothbrush.”

netgear routerClearly, though, not everybody feels the same way and open hotspots are generally plentiful in most neighborhoods. This doesn’t come as a surprise, though. For most mainstream users, setting up a secure network isn’t easy and acronyms like WPA2, WEP, 802.1x and SSID mean nothing to most people and the majority of hardware manufacturers have done little to make setting up secure networks easier for consumers.

Undoubtedly, using open and unencrypted WiFi hotspots comes with a risk for both owners and users. Firesheep has turned the previously difficult art of eavesdropping on WiFi networks as easy as installing a Firefox plugin, after all. Those who own an open network can also never be sure if somebody isn’t using it for some malevolent activity either. In a USA Today article about this study, Chet Wisniewski, a senior security adviser at network security firm Sophos, argues that pedophiles could use the open network to download child pornography and that terrorists in Southeast Asia have used open WiFi networks to “communicate and to remotely trigger bombs.”

10:54 pm

Using WiFi to Create Smarter, Safer Cars and Intersections


A few weeks ago, I wrote that your next car might just have its own IP address. Besides talking to the Internet, though, there is also a lot of utility in using short-range networks that can link multiple cars together into a single, ad-hoc network and alert drivers of potential hazards. Today, Ford announced a new initiative that will rely on short-range WiFi signals to enable cars to create local networks to exchange data about their positions and speeds to avoid accidents.

Of course, this system only works once a lot of cars and manufacturers offer this feature and agree on a standard, but as the video below shows, there is a lot of potential for this. Cars that can talk to each other (and maybe even get traffic information from local “smart” intersections or highway on-ramps) don’t have to rely on expensive systems like radar. Instead, just basic GPS information, coupled with an ad-hoc WiFi network and some smart software could, as Ford puts it, “warn drivers if there is a risk of collision when changing lanes, approaching a stationary or parked vehicle, or if another driver loses control.”

Not Just Smart Cars, But Smart Intersections, Too

Ford is also proposing “smart intersections” that would be able to talk to cars and be able to “monitor traffic signal status, GPS data and digital maps to assess potential hazards, and then transmit the information to vehicles.”

The company is working with other car makers and the U.S. government to create standards for bringing this technology to deployment. In addition to all of this, the company also announced that it is doubling its intelligent vehicle investment in 2011 and plans to have demonstration vehicles that offer this WiFi-based technology on the road in the next few months.

10:28 am