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Bixby brings AI to life

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Samsung has announced its AI service – Bixby. The cloud-based AI interface is imbedded in all the phone’s applications and it will soon be seen on all of its devices. CRAIGE FLEISCHER of Samsung South Africa, tells us what we can expect.

Technology is supposed to make life easier, but as the capabilities of machines such as smartphones, PCs, home appliances and IoT devices become more diverse, the interfaces on these devices are becoming too complicated for users to take advantage of many of these functions conveniently.

User interface designers have to make trade off decisions to cram many functions into a small screen or bury them deeper in layers of menu trees. Ultimately users are at the mercy of the designers with an increasingly steep curve that makes learning a new device difficult. This is the fundamental limitation of the current human-to-machine interface. Since Samsung makes millions of devices, this problem impacts the core of our business.

Samsung has a conceptually new philosophy to the problem: instead of humans learning how the machine interacts with the world (a reflection of the abilities of designers), it is the machine that needs to learn and adapt to us. The interface must be natural and intuitive enough to flatten the learning curve regardless of the number of functions being added. With this new approach, Samsung has employed artificial intelligence, reinforcing deep learning concepts to the core of our user interface designs. Bixby is the ongoing result of this effort.

Bixby will be a new intelligent interface on our devices. Fundamentally different from other voice agents or assistants in the market, Bixby offers a deeper experience thanks to proficiency in these three properties:

  1. Completeness

When an application becomes Bixby-enabled, Bixby will be able to support almost every task that the application is capable of performing using the conventional interface (i.e. touch commands). Most existing agents currently support only a few selected tasks for an application and therefore confuse users about what works or what doesn’t work by voice command. The completeness property of Bixby will simplify user education on the capability of the agent, making the behaviours of the agent much more predictable.

  1. Context Awareness

When using a Bixby-enabled application, users will be able to call upon Bixby at any time and it will understand the current context and state of the application and will allow users to carry out the current work-in-progress continuously. Bixby will allow users to weave various modes of interactions including touch or voice at any context of the application, whichever they feel is most comfortable and intuitive. Most existing agents completely dictate the interaction modality and, when switching among the modes, may either start the entire task over again, losing all the work in progress, or simply not understand the user’s intention.

  1. Cognitive Tolerance

When the number of supported voice commands gets larger, most users are cognitively challenged to remember the exact form of the voice commands. Most agents require users to state the exact commands in a set of fixed forms. Bixby will be smart enough to understand commands with incomplete information and execute the commanded task to the best of its knowledge, and then will prompt users to provide more information and take the execution of the task in piecemeal. This makes the interface much more natural and easier to use.

We know that adopting new ways to interact with your devices will require a change in user behaviour. The inconvenience of learning a new interface can cause friction and force users to revert back to old habits (e.g. the touch interface). At the same time we believe the key to success for a new voice interface is to design a scheme that reduces friction and makes the experience significantly more rewarding than the existing interface. So at its core, Bixby will help remove friction. It will simplify user education with new voice interfaces and will make using your phone even more seamless and intuitive.

Another example of removing friction will be the dedicated Bixby button that will be located on the side of our next device. Confusion around activating a voice interface is a barrier we have removed to make it feel easier and more comfortable to give commands. For example, instead of taking multiple steps to make a call – turning on and unlocking the phone, looking for the phone application, clicking on the contact bar to search for the person that you’re trying to call and pressing the phone icon to start dialling – you will be able to do all these steps with one push of the Bixby button and a simple command.

There has been a lot of excitement and speculation about what we will deliver with the launch of the Galaxy S8, especially due to the advancements in artificial intelligence. We do have a bold vision of revolutionising the human-to-machine interface, but that vision won’t be realised overnight. Ambition takes time.

Bixby will be our first step on a journey to completely open up new ways of interacting with your phone. At the launch of the Galaxy S8, a subset of preinstalled applications will be Bixby-enabled. This set will continue to expand over time. Our plan is to eventually release a tool (in SDK) to enable third-party developers to make their applications and services Bixby-enabled easily.

Starting with our smartphones, Bixby will be gradually applied to all our appliances. In the future you would be able to control your air conditioner or TV through Bixby. Since Bixby will be implemented in the cloud, as long as a device has an internet connection and simple circuitry to receive voice inputs, it will be able to connect with Bixby. As the Bixby ecosystem grows, we believe Bixby will evolve from a smartphone interface to an interface for your life.

Bixby is at the heart of our software and services evolution as a company. We are fundamentally and conceptually changing our attitude toward software and services and working hard on innovation throughout all aspects of our mobile ecosystem. Our investment in engineering resources speaks for itself – we have thousands of software developers supporting this effort. This is something that I’m very excited about. Innovating in software and services enables opportunities for creativity and the ability to build new experiences from the ground up. With the continued investment from Samsung on artificial intelligence, the possibility of what Bixby can become is endless.

  • Craige Fleischer,  Director Integrated Mobility at Samsung South Africa

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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