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AppDate: Santa has a bag full of apps

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In his latest AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Santa’s Bag, WolframAlpha, Kaspersky Virus Scanner for Mac, WeChat Mobile Wallet, the Mziiki African music streaming service, Opera’s new Mini browser, My Ford Mobile, Office Lens and Android Pocket.

Santa’s bag

The festive season is upon us and that means shops are going to be packed with people looking for gifts for their friends and family. The Santa’s bag app makes shopping a little more bearable as it lets users set budgets, plan gift ideas, create wish lists, track progress and create to-do lists. If only it could go out and make all the purchases for you too!

Platform: Android and iOS
Expect to pay: A free version is available, with the full version costing R40.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

WolframAlpha

Ever wondered what the tides in Honolulu are like at this time of year? Or what the derivative of cos X is? Well, you could Google these questions, but you would have to sift through dozens of near-hits before you find the correct answer. With WolframAlpha, these answers are fewer clicks away. The app is designed for engineers, mechanics and even rocket scientists. It works so well that Siri uses many of its algorithms to provide answers to some of the questions an iPhone user asks. The app specialises in a range of academic categories, from maths to chemistry to astronomy.

Platform: iOS
Expect to pay: R40
Stockists: Visit the Apple Play Store.

Kaspersky Virus Scanner for Mac

The Kaspersky Virus Scanner for Mac quickly scans Mac OS X devices for malware and viruses. It is simple to install and, once on a computer, runs in the background without bothering the user – except for when a threat is found. Flash disks and portable hard drives are scanned as and when they are plugged into a USB port. New virus signatures are automatically updated when they become available.

Platform: An Apple desktop or notebook running OS X or later
Expect to pay: A free download is available but with limited functionality. The full version costs around R70.
Stockists: Visit the Apple App Store

WeChat Mobile Wallet

The WeChat Mobile Wallet, which was recently launched in partnership with Standard Bank, lets users load money from their bank accounts onto their phones. They can then use this money to pay for purchases at participating retailers using the SnapScan feature. The service also allows money transfer to other WeChat users. At the time of launch, users could buy airtime and pay for prepaid electricity, but other offerings will be made available in the near future.

Platform: Any mobile operating system that supports WeChat
Expect to pay: A free service, but loading cash costs R9,95, regardless of the amount being loaded to the wallet.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Mziiki African music streaming service

The Mziiki music streaming app allows users to stream over 625 000 African songs. Like many other music streaming services, users can save the songs to their devices for offline listening. The app also offers the ability to create playlists and can set songs as the phone’s ringtone. The app’s user interface is well laid out, with album art easily viewable for a quick song selection. One of the best features offered by Mziiki is that song downloads are free, with the user only paying for the data used while streaming a song.

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

New Opera Mini browser

The latest version of the Opera Mini browser now supports video compression, meaning users spend less on data when streaming videos from YouTube channels and the like. Other additions include installable web applications, allowing users to launch applications directly from the browser homepage. Opera has also improved the download feature, as it now alerts users when downloads are complete. There is an option to open new web pages without leaving the current one.

Platform: Android, iOS, Windows Phone 8 and above, BlackBerry OS 10 and above
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

My Ford Mobile

The MyFord Mobile application allows users to access their car’s vital stats through an Android Wear or Apple smartwatch. The app only works with Ford’s electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles, and users can access the range and charge status for the car’s battery, the vehicle’s mileage summary, and the car’s location. Users can also remotely lock and unlock the car and set its temperature.

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

Office Lens

Office Lens is like having a scanner in your pocket as it trims, enhances and makes readable pictures of whiteboards and docs. It is then able to save them to OneNote where they can be used as PDFs, Word and PowerPoint documents. The app includes OCR so that written notes can be converted to characters and the text copied and imbedded straight into documents.

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

Android Pocket

Even though Internet access is available throughout most of South Africa, there are still many dead-spots or places with very poor Internet access. Android Pocket lets users browse and then save pages to their devices, making them available offline. News stories, videos and blog posts can also be saved and can be synchronised across a range of devices.

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

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

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read on about Hastings’ views on international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement. To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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