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Acer ups its high-end game

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After a tough year in the notebook market, Acer aims to claw back market share with dazzling new devices aimed at the high-end, mid-range and entry-level gamer market, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The personal computer market took a beating in 2016, but few felt it as painfully as Acer. The Taipei-headquartered company renowned for its slim notebooks and elegant 2-in1 devices has seen its market share slip from more than 10 per cent five years ago to below 7 per cent last year.

It’s bad enough that global PC sales also slumped over this period, meaning that Acer had a declining share of a declining market. In 2017, Acer is aiming for a reversal of fortunes on all fronts.

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At the Next@Acer launch event in New York last week, it launched a gaming notebook that, to the serious gamer, is a thing of eye-watering beauty. The Predator Triton 700 drew gasps of approval from the media, not least for new cooling technology that enabled it to pack the most power yet seen in a gaming laptop of its size.

It is just 18mm thick, but includes a 15.6-inch Full High-Definition monitor, the kind of mechanical keyboard preferred by gamers, a powerful 7th Generation Intel Core processor, the latest Nvidia GeForce GTX 10-Series graphics card, and up to 32GB of memory.

Normally, much of the space in the chassis would be taken up by the powerful fans needed to cool such a machine. However, Acer has ploughed research and development into cooling, and has used the Triton 700 to showcase the innovative dual AeroBlade 3D metal fans that increase airflow by 35 per cent, yet take up less space within the device.

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And you can see the fans in action: in its quest to make the device distinctive, Acer has placed the trackpad behind the keyboard, in the form of a transparent glass plate. In other words, the trackpad is a window into the insides of the machine.

If the Triton 700 turns gamers’ heads, it is likely only because they have managed to wrench their attention away from the new jewels in Acer’s Predator range of gaming hardware. The New York event saw the unveiling of two new 27-inch Predator gaming monitors, each more eye-catching than the other.

The Predator X27 brings absurdly high resolution to the gaming experience, using Nvidia’s G-Sync high-dynamic range (HDR) technology. The screen resolution is four times that of regular high-definition, hence the term 4K used to describe it, and it used Quantum Dot technology for better colour accuracy. Most importantly for gamers, it features a 144 Hz refresh rate, almost consigning motion blur to history.

Only fellow-Taipei manufacturer Asus has made an equivalent monitor, turning the high-end gaming display market into a two-horse race, at least for now. But that’s not the only trick Acer had up its sleeve.

It also unveiled a 27-inch curved monitor, the Predator Z271UV, which it says “puts every corner of the screen at the same distance from the gamer’s eyes – this creates more immersive gameplay with a wider field of view and increased perceived area of peripheral vision”.

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It also features Quantum Dot, which Acer explains in similar terms to that used by TV manufacturers: “With a Quantum Dot film that is coated with nano-sized dots of various types that emit very specific colored lights, the new displays can produce a wider color gamut compared to standard monitors, increasing color purity and efficiency.”

According to Victor Chien, president of the Digital Display Business at Acer, this makes gameplay more lifelike than ever before.

“The Predator X27’s 4K resolution at 144 Hz and Acer HDR Ultra technology create dazzling visuals that must be seen to be believed,” he said. “Acer’s new Predator Z271UV will also thrill gaming enthusiasts with its rich color gamut and immersive curved display.”

Does it just look good, or does it make for better gameplay? Acer says of the

HDR technology: “It not only delivers a broader, more deeply saturated color gamut, but a luminance range several times greater than that of traditional dynamic range monitors. By dimming the backlight behind parts of the screen displaying black, blacks appear deeper and darker on those parts of the panel, a significant bonus for people who play games with darker scenes.”

The monitors include eye-tracking technology, designed to complement a traditional keyboard and mouse: the camera automatically rotates as the gamer focuses on the sides of the screen.

“Pairing eye tracking with mouse and keyboard or gamepad controls offers a richer, more immersive gaming experience as gamers are able to mimic actions that occur in real life, such as ducking for cover or aiming at a target,” says Acer. So far, a hundred games support eye tracking.

Acer also announced a new entry-level laptop for casual gamers, but it is unlikely to be released in South Africa, with its small but hard-core gamer community. However, The Predator Triton 700 will arrive before long, at a price that is as eye-watering as the device: R34 999. Only serious gamers need apply.

A slightly more accessible device, the Predator Helios 300, also announced during Next@Acer, will arrive later in the year, starting at R25 999.

Designed for both gaming and movie watching, it offers 15.6-inch or 17.3-inch Full HD displays, while Dolby Audio Premium and Acer TrueHarmony promise “immersive audio with crisp, rich acoustics”. Running on Windows 10, it is certified for Skype for Business an includes Microsoft’s voice-activated Cortana smart assistant application.

Most of the new products were demonstrated in the IMAX theatre at New York’s Lincoln Square, featuring the largest IMAX screen in the world. While the message was not spelled out, it was clear that Acer hoped it would symbolise the company going large once again.

* For more information, visit www.acer.com/nextatacer

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

Africa News

Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities

Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.

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Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.

Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.

Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.

African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.

Embracing mobility to drive ROI

Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.

Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.

Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.

By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:

·         Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities

·         Access both historical and planned work information when requested

·         Permit customers to sign when the job is completed

·         Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders

·         Create new fault reports on routing

·         Facilitate documentation through photo capturing

·         Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.

The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.

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Brands fall for app vanity

The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.

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Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion  of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity. 

In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis. 

While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities. 

Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI). 

It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind. 

Why apps won’t win the internet

The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement. 

Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance. 

Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps. 

However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year. 

On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.

When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience. 

In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development. 

So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base? 

The logical app alternative 

The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are. 

Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short. 

Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience. 

Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.) 

Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts. 

Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI. 

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