15 December 2010

The Future of Firmware (or software in general)

There have been a lot of privacy stories in the news recently. Articles ranging from how governments would really like to stop Wikileaks from releasing information they consider sensitive to stories of people falling foul of extreme pornography laws when their naughty holiday snaps are viewed by customs officials to stories about security professionals being detained and having their equipment confiscated at airports. While I personally beleive that all the information published by Wikileaks should be publicly available via the freedom of information act anyway (without actual names maybe - that would fall foul of the Data-Protection Act), the fact that these articles are newsworthy says much about how our governments censor and control our everyday access to media.

It may be time that manufacturers empower us with the freedom to control how much we choose to disclose about ourselves in a similar way. For laptops and computers, this issue has been addressed several years ago. There are both hardware and software encryption systems to protect our data. What about portable devices though? Is it time that manufacturers gave us the option of encrypting our camera images, our video camera footage and in fact all our digital works? There also seem to be a number of stories about security professionals being parted from their devices when they are detained at airports so let me predict the future of hand-held devices for any of those big companies out there that would like to create the next iPhone etc.

First of all encryption is going to come to all things mobile. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there that welcome this. What people consent to in the privacy of their own home or holiday apartment etc. is their own business. If they want to keep a digital momento of it then I see no harm in it but with todays cameras and camera phones you can never be sure that your 'artistic' works are safe from prying customs officials eyes. Encrytped data will become the norm and anyone who wants to be in this movement at the ground level should probably have already produced their ePDF equivalent data format by now.

I also predict encrypted backup storage in the cloud. Those security professionals need to be able to wander into any store and pick up a new device which meets this minimum specification. Within 5 minutes of purchase they should have been able to restore their contacts list and most recent data from online storage facillities. For anyone who has ever had a phone lost or stolen, you know exactly what I'm talking about. I would also expect phones to come with the ability for the owner to track where their lost phone is (or for this service to be available to police forces in the case of stolen phones). Obviously your contacts list and recent media creations will need to be encrypted and backed-up automatically or else few people would take the time. The first company that offers this sort of service will probably be the market leader for several years.

It's also likely there will be more compatability between models in terms of accessories and interfaces. You have only to look at recent historical memory card formats to see what happens to technology over time. Cameras used to have all sorts of different formats but eventually SD started to dominate due to its lower prices. These days most cameras seem to use SDHC. Not going with the flow can cost suppliers in terms of sales. I would expect this sort of convergence to continue. Along the way will be some other developments which will also be merged into the finished devices.

Batteries would be the next logical development. Being able to use standard batteries are a good selling point of many video cameras aimed at the Youtube producer market. We have been told time and again that litium polymer batteries provide more power and for longer but every manufacturer seems to provide different sized batteries. I expect to see some developments here along the lines of new battery ranges which are compatible with existing standard sizes (AA, AAA, C & D). Even if normal zinc-carbon batteries cannot power devices for more than one or two hours, the wide availability of them catches a buyers attention. It would be better to have 10 minutes talk-time in an emergency than none at all because your battery is flat. I would be surprised if we didn't also see solar and motion-powered (wind-up?) recharging facillities built into future devices.

So to summarise, mobile devices will:
Make use of encryption as standard,
Have rapid data movement to a new device,
Use standard parts and interfaces,
Implement green energy systems

At least that's my theory, feel free to differ.

Next week I hope to return to more technical postings. I intend to start with a downloadable archive of scripts for quickly setting up a number of PC's and adding them to a domain. I adapted these from various online tutorials to acheive a set of scripts which allow me to rapidly configure our lab machines here. Check back soon, it will be worth it.