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Connect: 20 tech terms decoded

Don’t know your 4K from your 4G? We offer a must-know glossary

THINK NFC stands for Norwich Football Club or USB means universal standard something or other? You’re not alone: recent research by Currys PC World found 27 per cent of adults think their tech knowledge is ‘below average’, with their offspring regularly acting as stand-in IT support. That’s despite 80 per cent of those surveyed owning smartphones and 62 per cent using a laptop every day.

This isn’t a problem that can be fixed by turning it off and on again so we’ve put together a glossary of 20 commonplace tech terms you should understand. Get the hang of these and it’s you that’ll be dishing out the tech support.

4G

If your phone’s still running on 3G, it’s well behind the curve: 4G is now the standard, long-range wireless communication tech used to send and receive text messages, make phone calls and connect to the internet. Faster 4G means that not only do web pages load quicker but video calls are of higher quality. It’s soon to be usurped by 5G, which will be faster still. Expect that in 2020.

4K vs ultra HD

Actually, the terms are interchangeable and describe videos that have four times the detail of a Full HD picture. You need a compatible screen to be able to watch them, with 4K content available from the likes of Sky, Virgin, Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Traditional computer programs simply respond to specific commands from the user but AI is designed to automatically make informed decisions based on each unique set of circumstances. It comes in many forms but most people’s experience of it will be through voice helpers such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri or Google’s Assistant.

Hello kitty: Knightfall is an augmented-reality experience

Augmented reality (AR)

AR is a bit like virtual reality but it uses a device’s camera and screen to mix computer-generated imagery with live video of the real world. It can be used for everything from previewing what a piece of furniture will look like in your lounge to catching made-up monsters in the local park on Pokémon Go.

Bitcoin

Bitcoin is a form of electronic currency that’s entirely virtual — there are no coins or notes. That means it’s mainly accepted online only, with each transaction recorded in a ledger called the blockchain (see above). Bitcoin is just one of many ‘cryptocurrencies’ but it’s by far the most well known.

Blockchain

A ledger where a list of digital records (blocks) is recorded and protected through cryptography, stored across network computers and shared by a community of users. With no central authority, the blockchain serves as a historical record of all transactions that have ever occurred, from digital currency like Bitcoin to things like medical records.

Bluetooth

You’ll know this as the short-range (usually up to 10m) wireless tech most commonly used to connect things like fitness trackers and speakers to your mobile. What you may not know is that it’s powerful enough up to 400m — and it works better with the Internet Of Things than wi-fi due to its ability to utilise weak signals and communicate more effectively in digitally ‘noisy’ environments.

The cloud

Keeping things stored in the cloud — online rather than on a hard drive — not only allows you to access files from anywhere with an internet connection, it also buys you a lot of computing power. But data breaches have put cloud computing on the map for all the wrong reasons. Avoid them by tacking on an encryption service that lets you keep the decoding key.

Game streaming

If you’re playing a song or video stored in the cloud, perhaps through YouTube, Netflix or Spotify, you’re streaming it. You can now do the same thing with computer games too — Project xCloud is an example of how Microsoft is pinging games to mobile users to play anywhere and on anything they like. As with all kinds of streaming, it requires a strong internet connection.

High dynamic range (HDR)

You might have noticed your phone camera has a mode called HDR. If you’ve got a new 4K TV it might be on there too. It refers to the difference between the very lightest and very darkest parts of the picture, so things shot in HDR have more detail in both the bright bits and the shadows.

Hi-res audio

The must-have format for sound if you’re after better-than-CD quality that’s as close to the original studio recording as possible. Hi-res audio files are higher in quality than those delivered through streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, although services like Tidal support it. You’ll require dedicated hardware in order to play it.

IFTTT

A free web-based service that allows you to automate actions between apps, gadgets, platforms and services based on the statement ‘If This Then That’. So a recipe can be set up to automatically trigger something when something else happens, like switch your lights off when it’s bedtime or upload smartphone photos to Google Drive.

Internet of Things (IoT)

With more everyday objects now capable of connecting to the internet, some are also able to communicate with each other, performing tasks that previously would require human involvement. If you’ve got a smart thermostat that comes on when it senses you’ve arrived home and tells the lights to turn on, that’s the internet of things in action.

NFC (Near field communication)

A short-range wireless system for making connections such as contactless payments with mobile phones or pairing Bluetooth accessories without having to fiddle with passcodes. For increased security, it works only at distances of up to 10cm.

OLED

Popular screen tech used on high-end smartphones and TVs. Each pixel emits its own light when a current is passed through it, meaning you get far better contrast and brightness than you would on a standard backlit LCD TV.

Operating system (OS)

In order for all the bits and pieces inside a computer or phone to do anything useful, they need an operating system. Which one they use is usually determined by the manufacturer. Microsoft’s Windows is the most famous one, while iPhones run on iOS and pretty much every other phone uses Google’s Android software.

Twitch: People live-stream themselves playing games such as Fortnite

Twitch

Twitch is a video website that’s dedicated almost entirely to gaming culture. It’s a bit like YouTube but people live-stream themselves playing popular games such as Fortnite.

USB-C

A USB (universal serial bus, since you ask) is a rectangular port found on every computer. USB-C is a newer connection that’s starting to appear on Android phones and laptops to replace Micro USB. You’ll recognise it by its more oval shape, which means it’ll fit the port no matter which way up it is.

Keeping track: The Fitbit is one of the popular wearables

Wearable

Gadgets worn on the body, from fitness trackers to smartwatches to virtual reality headsets — headphones don’t count unless they double as heart-rate monitors.

Wi-fi

Despite what three-quarters of people surveyed in the Currys PC World study thought, wi-fi doesn’t stand for anything — it’s just a pun on hi-fi.

Metro readers share their embarrassing tech mishaps

Box to the future

When I first got Sky+ a friend came round who’d never used it before. She started scrolling through the channels to see what was coming up later and was dismayed when it wouldn’t let her watch the news that was scheduled to be shown that night. Sky+ is good but I’m not sure it’s mastered time travel just yet! Linsey, Brighton

Link not found

My mum used to like sending me interesting things she’d found on the internet but didn’t realise you could paste links into emails. Instead, she would print out the web pages in full colour, scan them back in and send me an email with all the scanned images attached. I’d hate to think how much paper and printer ink was wasted. Kat, London

STOP

My dad got his first mobile phone when I was at university and one day I received a text from him with ‘STOP’ written between all the sentences. He didn’t know how to insert punctuation so had written it out like an old-fashioned telegram instead. I think he secretly wishes he’d never learned how to do it properly. Sarah, West Sussex

Smart plug, dumb user

I have a lot of smart-home kit but if something goes wrong it can usually be fixed by resetting the router. In case it happened when I was on holiday I connected the router to a wi-fi-controlled smart plug I could access via my phone, then wondered why I couldn’t get anything to work after I’d remotely killed the power to it… Paul, Essex