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AppDate: Fitbit for Windows 10

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In this bumper AppDate edition, SEAN BACHER highlights Fitbit for Windows 10, the VIDI smart TV streaming app, GridWatch, Fallout Shelter for Android, Vitality points rewards program with Samsung’s S Health, FNB’s banking app named among the best in the world, Opera Mini for Windows Phone, Sniper 3D, Recast and Apple News.

Fitbit for Windows 10

The new Fitbit for Windows 10 app lets users keep track of their steps, sleep and calorie intake. The app makes clever use of the tiled interface offered by Windows 10, making it easy to operate and navigate. Among other features, one can use the updated live tiles for quick access to key information, use the quick actions to set goals, or speak commands to the app through its Cortana support. According to Fitbit, a version of the app will be available for Windows 10 mobile and Xbox One later this year.

Platform: Windows 10
Expect to pay: A free download
Stockists: Visit the Windows 10 app store.

VIDI smart TV streaming app

VIDI – South Africa’s premiere video-on-demand service has announced a streaming Smart TV app. At the time of launch, the app only works with Samsung Smart TVs, but allows VIDI subscribers to stream videos directly to their TV, without having a computer present.

Platform: Every Samsung Smart TV from 2013 onward.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Available through the Smart Hub on a Samsung Smart TV.

GridWatch

Although not exactly a new app, the GridWatch app (developed by News24) is a must for any South African. The app allows a user to select the area where their office or home is located and save that location. They are then able to check that week’s Eskom load shedding schedule in their area according to time and stage. The app is dead simple to use and even has a dedicated torch button for when the lights go out.

Platform: iOS, Windows Phone 8 and above, Android and BlackBerry OS10 and above.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Fallout Shelter for Android

Fallout Shelter, the first mobile game set in the Fallout universe from Bethesda Game Studios, is now available from the Google Play store. Fallout Shelter is a post-nuclear strategy and simulation experience that puts the player in control of a state-of-the-art underground Vault. Build the perfect Vault from a variety of rooms, oversee your own thriving community of Vault Dwellers, and protect them from the dangers of the Wasteland.

Platform: Android
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the Google Play Store.

Vitality points with Samsung’s S Health

A new partnership between Discovery Health and Samsung will see Vitality points being offered to Discovery Vitality members for physical activities. These activities need to be tracked through the Samsung’s S Health 4.0 app. Users wanting to take advantage of this partnership need to have a Galaxy Gear S tethered to their phone. Overall, a rather expensive solution, but one that will not only help keep you healthy, but offer rewards. For example, should a user log between 5,000 and 7,499 steps a day he will earn 50 Vitality points, and between 7,500 and 9,999 steps a day, 100 Vitality points. Over 12,500 steps a day earns 200 Vitality points. Bear in mind that the same benefits apply to Fitbit at far lower cost.

Platform: A Samsung Galaxy S6 or S6 edge and a Galaxy Gear S to track steps.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the Samsung app store from your device.

FNB Banking app named among best in world

The FNB Banking App recently scooped international awards, placing it at the top in the category of banking apps. The app has just been ranked 4th best globally by MyPrivateBanking Research in the category of Mobile Apps for Wealth Management 2015, and 6th best globally by the UX Alliance for usability and ease of use. This follows a recent accolade after the app was voted best banking app in Internet Banking SITEisfaction Survey, which measures internet banking quality and user experience in South Africa.

Platform: iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8 and above and BlackBerry OS10 and above.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Opera Mini for Windows Phone

The recently released Opera Mini browser for Windows Phone is designed not only to take advantage of the tiled format, but also increase Internet browsing speeds and at the same time save the user money through compression algorithms. The browser also offers users an offline mode where web pages are cached for browsing at a later stage. A new Speed Dial option is also now available that lets users view their regular pages with one click.

Platform: Windows Phone 8 and above.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the Windows Phone store.

Sniper 3D

Sharpen your sniping skills through a variety of special ops, assignments and daily missions with Sniper 3D. The game allows a user to choose from a variety of sniper rifles, AR rifles, shotguns and hand guns. The 3D-like graphics make peering down a scope, bullet wounds and cities look very real. The shooter is controlled through the phone’s accelerometers and swiping up and down the screen. A quick tap makes the shooter fire. The game is littered with in-app purchases, but a little patience – and spending credit wisely – means a player will get very far without having to spend a cent of real money.

Platform: iOS and Android.
Expect to pay: A free download, but with endless in-app purchases – some as much as R300
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Recast

Recast allows users to tune into radio station playlists from around the world and listen to them as if they were using a music streaming service. However, what makes Recast better than listening to a live radio station is that all the DJ chatter is cut out and users can skip and fast-forward through tracks. Once installed, the app will pull playlists from over 200 radio stations and display the 10 most played tracks as collected from other users.

Platform: iOS and Android.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Apple News app

The latest News app from Apple offers the best news reading experience on any Apple mobile device. Available with iOS 9, News combines the visually rich layout of a magazine with the immediacy and customisation of digital media. News follows over a million topics and pulls relevant stories based on a user’s specific interests that can be easily shared or saved for later. News is powered by the new custom-designed Apple News Format, a digital publishing format that allows publishers to create interactive and attractive layouts.

Platform: iOS 9
Expect to pay: A free download with iOS 9.
Stockists: Visit the iTunes store for the iOS 9 update.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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