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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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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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