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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

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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