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Can you take the weather with you?

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The technology for forecasting the weather has been getting more and more local in recent years. Now it’s personal, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When Crowded House, one of the rock sensations of the late 20th century, sang the lyrics, “Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you,” they weren’t referring to a gadget. But their song about the effect of one’s attitude on one’s environment is an apt metaphor in a world of smartphones, apps and gadgets that can monitor every element of the human and natural elements.

For a few years now, we’ve had a semblance of carrying the weather with us, thanks to apps like AccuWeather, which have become a standard feature on smartphones.

Two years ago, a company called Netatmo took the concept a step further, when they launched a personal weather station at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It comprised two tubular devices, one for indoor and a weatherproof one for outdoor monitoring, with the two connecting to each other and to a smartphone or computer via Wi-Fi.

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It’s surprising that, for a weather-obsessed country like South Africa, it has taken so long for the device to arrive here. It’s now being distributed locally by the Core Group, meaning it will be available in all iStores. Eventually, all electronics outlets should stock it.

The big question will be, of course, whether it does much more than AccuWeather. Will consumers be able to justify a gadget costing more than R2500, when they can instead have a free app that does the job reasonably well?

The answer lies in how much more Netatmo offers, and how easily it does so. We ran it through the Gadget Five-question User Test to answer these and other questions consumers will have before reaching for their wallets.

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  • Ease of use

It’s easy enough to set up, although it requires a number of steps, some of which don’t quite live up to the ease-of-use promise. For example, the outdoor module requires batteries to be fitted into a decidedly unfriendly battery compartment, which uses screws to be fitted in place. A lot like they used to do in the mid-20th century. However, the ease of set-up, either via a downloadable application on a computer or an app on a smartphone, more than makes up for this. The two modules integrate seamlessly with a home Wi-Fi network. Once set up, the app and application deliver vital statistics seamlessly and without further intervention.

  • General performance

The weather station begins monitoring the environment the moment set-up is complete, and starts delivering data on aspects of the home and its immediate surrounds that might never have been considered before. From actual humidity level to what the humidity probably feels like to noise levels to carbon dioxide concentration in the home, it is almost a case of too much information, but that would be a matter of the needs, interests and benefits that the user perceives.

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  • Add value to your life

Whether the weather and environment in tiny detail adds value is a question of how much data you want about the world around you. This will become very much a matter of what kind of data personality you are. Those who love activity monitors like the Fitbit are the most likely candidates, as it will add yet another layer of data on all the health and activity information being monitored, collected and analysed.

From a weather forecast and monitoring point of view, the device will come into its own for anyone with specialist weather or temperature monitoring needs. It would be exceedingly useful for all the South African restaurants that serve red wine at room temperature due to their lack of understanding of what the term actually means for wine (it’s in fact average European room temperature, 16 degrees, rather than any temperature to which a room is heated). More likely, though, it would be used for people looking for an extra edge in keeping a cigar or wine collection in perfect conditions. Serious gardeners may also find it gives them an extra edge. No doubt, there are numerous specialist purposes that will see the device succeed in niche markets.

  • Innovation

The level of innovation in the device lies in the extent to which it integrates environmental measurements that cannot be offered or matched by local weather stations. Carbon dioxide levels in the air inside the house and the noise level in the environment are the two key variables that will enter the user’s life once the Netatmo Weather Station is activated. Of course, that also means the user has to learn what terms like ppm (particles per million, in reference to carbon dioxide levels) and db (decibels) really mean.

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My home showed a measure of 315ppm, compared to a general carbon dioxide concentration level in the Earth’s atmosphere reaching 400ppm this year, according to NASA. 350ppm is regarded as an upper safety level, which suggests the air is cleaner indoors than outdoors. So much for convincing the kids how much healthier it is to be outdoors!

More seriously, what it does reveal is that so-called greenhouse gases are not evenly distributed. If someone regards these measure as important, the Netatmo will help them make key decisions about their living and working environments.

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  • Value for money

The Netatmo Weather Station for Smartphone is not cheap. In the USA it retails for between $140 and $170, so that a poor Rand exchange rate means it makes for a seriously expensive set of devices in South Africa. However, for those who already are inveterate gadget geeks, or have strong professional or hobbyist reasons for having this kind of data at their fingertips, it is well worth the investment.

In summary, not only can you now take the weather with you, but your entire environment.

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

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

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

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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