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As smart as it gets

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A string of new phone releases reveal the state of the smart art, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series. This week, Huawei, Samsung and Apple in focus.

There was a time when only two smartphone brands could get the world to sit up and take notice when they released new handsets. Now they’ve been joined by a third. Apple and Samsung will have to bunch up their seats at the top table to make space for Huawei.

The latest handset from the Chinese phone maker is one of the most advanced devices ever put in the hands of ordinary consumers. But then, it has to be if Huawei wants to compete with Apple and Samsung, which each recently released their own contenders for that accolade.

Here is a look at where each of the phones claim maximum points:

Huawei Mate 10 Pro

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Phones can’t think yet, but Huawei hopes to change that.

Its secret weapon is the Kirin 970 chipset, a processor designed to augment the smarts of both the phone and its user.  While we often associate artificial intelligence (AI) with machines that think for themselves and function independently of human beings, the Mate 10 points us in a more practical – and useful – direction for the algorithms that power AI.

For example, intelligent photographic algorithms identify different scenes and objects while the user is focusing, and automatically adjusts colour, contrast, brightness and exposure. That means, when one focuses on food or beach scenes, the lighting is automatically adjusted to what suits that kind of scene best.

On a business level, the phone takes the standard contacts list to a new level. It connects the address book on the phone to the user’s LinkedIn account, so that profile information on LinkedIn contacts are directly integrated into the phone’s contact list. This combines callers’ contact details with their professional identity, giving the phone user instant access to useful information on the person calling or being called.

“As we enter the age of intelligence, AI is no longer a virtual concept but something that intertwines with our daily life,” said Likun Zhao, general manager of Huawei Consumer Business Group SA, at the recent launch of the phone. “AI can enhance user experience, provide valuable services and improve product performance. The Huawei Mate 10 Series introduces the first mobile AI-specific Neural Network Processing Unit (NPU).”

The Microsoft Translator app has been customised for the Huawei Mate 10 series to provide the handset with the world’s first fully neural, on-device translations.

A company statement says: “The phone’s NPU allows every Mate 10 user to have native access to online quality level translations, even when they are not connected to the Internet, which means faster and more accurate interactive translation for a smoother communication experience.”

The Kirin 970 is claimed to deliver 25 times better performance and 50 times greater energy efficiency for AI-related tasks, compared to typical quad core chips. Once mobile networks integrate new connectivity technologies, the Mate 10 will also be ready: Huawei says it is “the world’s fastest smartphone supporting super-fast LTE connectivity and download speeds”.

If all one wants is a superb phone, though, the Mate 10 still delivers. A 6-inch OLED display that runs almost edge-to-edge, in a 3D glass body curved on all sides, puts this handset on a par with the elegance of its main competitors.

The new Leica Dual Lens delivers an f/1.6 aperture, drawing level with the LG V30+ as the world’s largest aperture on a phone. The lenses come in a 20MP monochrome sensor and 12MP RGB sensor, with optical image stabilisation.

This is all powered by a mammoth 4000 mAh battery, with “AI-powered battery management, which understands user behaviour and intelligently allocates resources to maximise battery life”.

These smarts are exceptional, but they don’t come cheap. The Huawei Mate 10 Pro has a recommended retail price of R18 999.

Samsung Note 8

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The original Samsung Note, back in 2011, shocked Apple out of its small-screen obsession when it popularised the “phablet” category of large-screen phones. It is astonishing to think, then, that the first Note carried only a 5.2” screen – small by today’s standards.

It is also astonishing to recall that Apple made TV ads that mocked that size. It tried to convince the market that no one would ever want to use two hands to operate a phone. Its mockery was eventually silenced by the market, and Apple gave in with the 5.5” iPhone 6 Plus in 2014.

The Note series is as much about Apple as it is about Samsung, as it tends to clear a path for Apple’s next iteration – which the American media then hails as invention and innovation. Samsung doesn’t mind too much, as it manufacturers many of the key components that go into Apple devices.

Most of all, it tells us about the size of the next, next iPhone. There seems to be a three-year lag between the Note going for the next size up, and Apple following suit, so the iPhone XIII in 2020 can be expected to carry a screen similar to the 6.3” beast on the Note 8.

The Note 8 display is dazzling, thanks to its Quad HD screen, at 1440 x 2960 pixels, with an incredibly dense 521 pixels per inch (ppi). It is powered by the cutting edge Snapdragon 835 chipset, which is also found in the LG V30+ and Sony Xperia XZ1 reviewed last week, meaning greater efficiency for its 3300 mAh battery.

The software allows simultaneous 4K video and 9MP image recording, along with face and smile detection. Facial recognition is the start of the biometrics on this device, rounded out by an iris scanner, and rear-mounted fingerprint recognition.

That sensor goes a step further for the health conscious, with heart rate measurement as well as SpO2 – peripheral capillary oxygen saturation – designed for high-performance sports or fitness enthusiasts to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood. Until now, that was only available on specialist fitness devices.

The one area where Samsung did follow Apple was in its voice assitance technology, which has evolved from the S-Voice search engine to the Bixby AI-enhanced system for context recognition, natural language commands and dictation.

If that sounds like a remarkably rich package, it is matched by its price tag, which starts at R18 500.

Apple iPhone X

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The iPhone X has been hailed by Time magazine as one of the inventions of the year, which says more about American media coverage of technology than it does about the iPhone.

Saying it “is arguably the world’s most sophisticated smartphone, with a screen that stretches from edge to edge, a processor optimised for augmented reality and a camera smart enough to allow users to unlock the phone with their face”, TIme admits in parentheses: “though some of these features first arrived on devices from Samsung and LG”.

Those features to indeed make it a superb phone, in a frame that remains one of the most imitated phone bodies in the world. Probably the most outstanding feature is the one that is no longer there: the home button, which is replaced by a swipe gesture.

Here, Apple does lead the way, towards a phone world where specific buttons will be less important than voice, gesture and context. In most other respects, it matches up to the innovations of its peers. A dual 12MP camera with simultaneous 4K video and 8MP image recording (sound familiar?) and smile detection makes it similar to the Note 8.  However, a telephoto lens now  includes image stabilisation, meaning smooth zooming in and out while filming.

The one area where the iPhone does stand head and shoulders above any Android device is that its software updates roll out uniformly across all devices, and don’t leave any recent models behind. That., however, is a feature of the iOS operating system, rather than the iPhone X as such. In combination, though, it makes for a package as compelling as anything an Android device can throw at the market.

It would need to be, since it starts at R20 499 for the 64GB model, and around R3 000 more 256GB.

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

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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