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Durban tech gets sunlight

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When you think of Durban, you think of sandy beaches, surfers and good curry. But there is much more as LIRON SEGEV finds out when chatting to ADAM SHAPIRO, CEO of Autopilot Workflow Solution.

Adam Shapiro CEO of Autopilot Workflow solutions, a Durban based tech company says that “It’s actually a lot more active – and relevant – than some people think. Consultants are generally surprised when they come to Durban and see the level of tech that is produced in Durban.”

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Recognising that Small and Medium businesses are the future of the SA economy, Adam and his business partner Hannes Bantjes founded Autopilot Workflow Solutions  to help business owners manage staff and their time  “running a small business is a tough gig, business’s need to “do what they do” but also handle the admin of running their business. As business owners we know that time is such a precious commodity for entrepreneurs, that’s when things fall through the cracks”.

So what is the Durban tech scene like and what problems does Autopilot solve? Adam shares his views in CliffCentral.com:

What are the challenges in the Durban market?

  • Budget: When I say budget I refer to budget for companies to purchase software products and services, but there is also a serious lack of venture capital companies or Angel Funders.
  • Staff: There is a critical shortage of GOOD software developers in SA and even more so in Durban. Finding great staff is hard and the competition to keep them is fierce. We can’t always compete on price, but we sure can compete on lifestyle, Durban must have one of the most incredible climates in the world, that along with the lack of traffic and the Indian Ocean makes up for a lot of its shortcomings.
  • Trends: Keeping up with the trends. Tech is always changing and we need to be ahead of the game all the time.

Can you give a few examples of Durban based companies?

For a start there are plenty of significant HQs in Durban Mr Price, Toyota, Unilever, Derivco (with globally used tech), SA Home Loans, and Tongaat Hulett.

But to me its super exciting to see the number of hubs, co-work locations and industry talks being adopted here. This is drawing the tech community together, and spawning a number of Durban based tech companies.

Some examples of great tech companies are:

  • UX Foundry Is another company with a similar history to Autopilot. They started their lives as a user experience consultancy that also built custom solutions for clients. They soon realised that the real opportunity is in owned platforms and products and saw instant messaging for business as a big opportunity. The developed X&Go which has has become a platform for creating custom instant messaging apps for businesses.
  • Sage Alchemex Alchemex started in a garage in Durban in 2001 with 3 employees/founders. Alchemex provides affordable, innovative and powerful business reporting software. In 2011 Alchemex was acquired by the Sage Group. They now have over 60 employees and delivering reporting solutions globally.
  • No logo Studios That product is called MyBonsela , Influencing the path-to-purchase from the manufacturer to incentivise sales people with direct, cash based rewards for sales and other soft rewards, like follow ups, presentation, professionalism.
  • ShipScene is a real-time vessel tracking system with 9 UHF receivers along the coast of South African and up to Ghana, with agreements with other providers to swap data internationally. The system processes about 23 million records a day and is built 100% from the ground up by Durban tech companies over the last few years and is hosted within the city of Durban. It’s mostly used by Lawyers (for ships who owe money internationally) and logistics / chandelling companies who use it to be alerted when a vessel has arrived in a harbour or zone or even a custom GPS point. The system sends out daily reports to hundreds of users with a detailed breakdown of every vessel movement in every port in our country in the last 24 hours.

Does the Durban dev community get together and share ideas etc?

Yes, there are are many initiatives happening in Durban to share and collaborate such as:

  • Code Retreat – Code retreat is a day-long, intensive practice event, focusing on the fundamentals of software development and design.  Instruct is a series of lectures and presentations hosted by Chris Tite an entrepreneur and software architect from Kalidecode.
  • Lean Coffee – Durban software developers love to attend events but are hesitant to present or contribute at these events. This means you end up having a few people driving the events and the rest of the community casually tagging along. We’ve started to introduce new event formats, such as Lean Coffee, that are more informal and involve group discussions rather than one person giving a presentation.
  • Dev2  Developer evenings are held every quarter, they have 4 presenters who cover technically interesting topics. There is generally a good turnout of about 100-150 developers . Participants range from entrepreneurs to hard core geeks.
  • DUT Symposium on Web, Mobile & Software Development Technologies September 2015

You provide workflow and automation how did you come up with that?

Back in 2001, just off the back of the .com bubble (and bust), myself and my Autopilot co-founder Hannes Bantjes started our first venture, pilotfish. Back then we were a small software development company that found ourselves building more and more bespoke / custom workflow solutions to solve business automation needs.

As more and more businesses took their admin and production related tasks online, they started having to deal with a greater amount of digital systems, which all need to ‘talk’ to each other and traffic information between the programs and the people involved. This become our niche for the decade up to 2013. With our specialist experience in the workflow solutions market we began to identify a need for a leaner, self-setup product that was accessible to more types of businesses.

We searched high and low for workflow products that catered for small businesses, but could not find anything amazing. The products in the market were either too basic, and that ranged from email, Excel and pieces of paper to the complex (i.e expensive system that takes technical and analysis consultants ages to implement and costs a fortune).

In 2013 we took the leap to make that a reality, and started formulating both Autopilot the business and Autopilot the product to bring the big value of process automation to more types and sizes of businesses. It’s particularly appropriate in SA’s initiative to grow the economy via SME successes. Workflow automation can fundamentally help businesses operate more effectively which gives them a greater chance of growing and succeeding.

What problem does Autopilot solve?

  • HIGH-LEVEL – helping SME’s to succeed (tackling an aspect in that goal)
  • We realise that it’s tough to start up a business finance, market, sales
  • But we can’t help once they have started we can help, Scheduling, debtors, birds eye view

We have seen so many small business owners chasing down indecipherable email trails to get to the root of problems or sorting through piles of paper or different computer files and folders to track down invoices, orders or delivery notes. If business practices are erratic and inefficient, you spend too much time, which is money, fighting the chaos in front of your nose instead of spending the time looking at strategic things – planning ahead and improving the way you operate. Important issues can fall through the through the cracks, this can be overcome with the use of a good system.

We provide a number of common templates that can be customised for your particular business. The solution has complex intelligence under the hood, but is user friendly for the small business owner who might not be a computer whizz.

Being cloud based means no more expensive on-site software, custom hardware requirements or costly user licenses, no hassling with software maintenance and upgrades and no need to be on the office network to access business data. Autopilot works across internet-connected devices, so you can analyse and act on your business activities wherever you are. Rapidly review what’s happening and what needs attention, and have peace of mind that things are going according to plan without hand-holding and nothing is slipping through the cracks.It’s not just about task management as you will find with many other online tools.

· Effective collaboration around business data, regardless of location

· Reducing typical workforce and task management problems, which affords less hand-holding, micro-managing, and the need to be in-office ‘checking and chasing’.

· Reducing wasted time and effort in business functions, so that owners and managers can get back time to focus on strategic matters, so, if they need to go up to Jhb (or anywhere) for face to face business meetings, they actually have the time to do that.

What technology have you used to build Autopilot?

We built Autopilot on the Microsoft stack, HTML5, SQL database and hosed on the Azure platform. We are on the Microsoft Bizspark program which has been an incredible opportunity for us. Microsoft are really making a huge difference to start-ups like Autopilot not only for a software point of view, but also for mentoring and the provision of business skills.

How much does Autopilot cost?

We have taken the fact that SMME’ can’t afford the sophisticated and expensive high-end solutions that many larger companies use to streamline the flow of data through the business, and have charged accordingly, our pricing model is either R180 per user per month for unlimited workflows or R90 per user per month and R2 per workflow. There are no set up costs if you use our existing templates. There are also no long term contract, so if you are not happy with our product, you are free to leave at the end of the month, fortunately that has never happened.

What is your ideal customer?

Our ideal customer is a business with between 10 and 50 employees which is often a challenge because many small businesses think workflows – and workflow solutions – are only appropriate for larger companies and enterprises. Changing this perception is core to our mission.

We are talking to business owners and managers about solving their headaches. We are giving managers and business owners a bird’s eye view of what’s going on – a dashboard and operational overview rather than having to go from desk to desk.”

Any other target markets?

Yes, we also have a “Corporate Supplier pack” allows corporates to buy Autopilot licences for their suppliers or other SMME’s that they are mentoring or developing.

We see this as a big part of our business growth as it allows Corporates to obtain valuable Enterprise Development and Supplier points that count towards their BEE scorecard.

But also make a real measurable difference to emerging businesses in South Africa. The third “bonus” would be that interaction between the supplier and Corporate would improve, this would hopefully improve interaction between the corporate and the supplier.

How do you market your product?

So far, Autopilot has been marketed online via blogs and search engine optimisation. Word-of-mouth has also helped as has working closely with existing clients.

Our plan is to solidify things in Durban and then move out nationally before taking Autopilot overseas. Our vision is that, by the end of the year, we will have reached markets in the rest of Africa and begun to sell in the United States

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Acer gaming beast escapes

Acer this week unveiled two notebooks that take portable gaming to new extremes.

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Acer  unveiled two new Predator Helios gaming notebooks this week at the next@acer global press conference in New York. They include the powerful Predator Helios 500, featuring up to 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processors, and the Predator Helios 300 Special Edition that includes upgraded specs from its predecessor and a distinctive white chassis. Both feature VR-Ready performance, advanced thermal technologies, and blazing-fast connectivity.

“We’ve expanded our Predator Helios gaming notebook line in response to popular demand from gamers seeking extreme performance on the go,” said Jerry Kao, President of IT Products Business, Acer. “The Predator Helios 500 and Helios 300 gaming notebooks feature Acer’s proprietary thermal technologies and powerful components that, coupled with our award-winning software, deliver unparalleled gaming experiences.”

“The 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processor for gaming and creation laptops is the highest performance Intel has ever delivered for this class of devices; purpose built for enthusiasts who demand premium gaming experiences whether at home or on the go,” said Steve Long, Vice President and General Manager, Client Computing Group Sales and Marketing, Intel. “Intel and Acer’s long relationship has produced amazing products over the years, and the new Acer Predator Helios gaming notebooks are powerful examples of what’s possible with this unprecedented level of performance.”

Predator Helios 500 is a gaming beast featuring overclocking, 4K 144 Hz panels

Designed for extreme gamers, the Predator Helios 500 is a gaming beast. It features up to overclockable 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processors and overclockable GeForce GTX 1070 graphics. Intel Optane memory increases responsiveness and load times, while ultra-fast NVMePCIe SSDs, Killer DoubleShot Pro networking, and up to 64GB of memory keep the action going, making the Helios 500 the ideal gaming notebook for graphic-intensive AAA titles and live streaming.

Top-notch visuals are delivered on bright, vibrant 4K UHD or FHD IPS 17.3-inch displays with 144Hz refresh rates for blur- and tear-free gameplay. NVIDIA G-SYNC technology is supported on both the built-in display and external monitors, allowing for buttery-smooth imagery without tearing or stuttering. For those looking for maximum gaming immersion, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, and display and HDMI 2.0 ports support up to three external monitors. Two speakers, a subwoofer, and Acer TrueHarmony and Waves MAXXAudio technology deliver incredible sound and hyper-realistic 3D audio using Waves Nx.

The Helios 500 stays cool with two of Acer’s proprietary AeroBlade 3D metal fans, and five heat pipes that distribute cool air to the machine’s key components while simultaneously releasing hot air. Fan speed can be controlled and customized through the PredatorSense app.

A backlit RGB keyboard offers four lighting zones with support for up to 16.8 million colors. Anti-ghosting technology provides the ultimate control for executing complex commands and combos, which can be set up via five dedicated programmable keys.

Acer’s PredatorSense app can be used to control and monitor the notebook’s vitals from one central interface, including overclocking, lighting, hotkeys, temperature, and fan control.

Predator Helios 300 Special Edition brings a sophisticated design twist to gaming notebooks

Acer’s budget-friendly Helios 300 gaming line sees the addition of a Special Edition model featuring an all-white aluminum chassis accented with gold trim, an unusually chic design for gaming notebooks.

The Helios 300 Special Edition (PH315-51) allows for ultra-smooth gameplay via its 15.6-inch FHD IPS display with an upgraded 144Hz refresh rate. The rapid refresh rate shortens frame rendering time and lowers input lag to give gamers an excellent in-game experience. It’s powered by up to an 8th Gen Intel Core i7+ processor, overclockable GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, up to a 512 GB PCIe Gen 3 NVMe solid state drive, and up to a 2 TB hard disk drive.

The Helios 300 Special Edition also comes equipped with up to 16 GB of DDR4 memory, and is upgradable to 32GB. Intel Optane memory speeds up load times of games and applications, access to information and improves overall system responsiveness. In addition, Gigabit Ethernet provides fast wired connections, while Gigabit Wi-Fi is provided by the latest Intel Wireless-AC 9560 that delivers up to 1.73Gbps throughput when using 160 MHz channels (2×2 802.11ac, dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz).

The Helios 300 Special Edition also includes two of Acer’s ultrathin (0.1 mm) all-metal AeroBlade 3D fans designed with advanced aerodynamics and superior airflow to keep the system cool. They can be controlled with Acer’s PredatorSense app, which offers three usage modes:

1. Coolboost mode:

For heavy loading games, rendering, streaming, and extended video consumption

2. Normal mode:

For productivity tools like Microsoft Office

3. Silent mode:

For web browsing and online chatting

Price and Availability

Predator Helios 500 will be available in South Africa in June starting at R34 999.00

Helios 300 Special Edition will be available in South Africa in August 2018. Exact Price will be communicated closer to the time.

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LG G7 arrives in SA

LG this week introduced South Africa to its latest premium smartphone, the LG G7 ThinQ, focused on bringing useful and convenient AI features to the smartphone experience.

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Powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform, the LG G7 ThinQ offers 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage to run demanding tasks and apps with. It is equipped with a 6.1-inch Super Bright Display, but the LG G7 ThinQ remains compact enough to use with one hand.

Sporting a new design aesthetic for the G series, the polished metal rim gives the LG G7 ThinQ a sleeker, more refined look, complemented by Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and the back for enhanced durability. Rated IP68 for dust and water resistance, the LG G7 ThinQ is also awarded MIL-STD 810 c certification, having been subjected to a range of extreme temperature and environment tests designed by the United States military.

The LG G7 ThinQ has an 8MP camera up front, rendering clear and natural selfies, with two 16MP cameras at the back that deliver higher resolution photos with more detail, as well as a Super Wide Angle configuration.

As with other leading brands, LG has evolved its signature camera by including AI functionality. The AI CAM offers 19 shooting modes for intelligence-optimised shots. Users can also improve their photos by choosing from an additional three effect options should the AI CAM recommendation not suit their taste.

The new Super Bright Camera captures images that are up to four times brighter than typical photos shot in dim light. Through the combination of pixel binning and software processing, the AI algorithm adjusts the camera settings automatically when shooting in low light.

Live Photo Mode records one second before and after the shutter is pressed for snippets of unexpected moments or expressions that would normally be missed. Stickers uses face recognition to generate fun 2D and 3D overlays, such as sunglasses and headbands, that can be viewed directly on the display.

New to the G series is Portrait Mode, which generates professional-looking shots with out-of-focus backgrounds. This effect can be generated using both front and rear standard lenses as well as the rear Super Wide Angle lens.

LG G7 ThinQ offers further AI functionality with the inclusion of Google Lens features. Google Lens is a new way to search using the AI and computer vision. Google Assistant and Google Photos allow users to access more information on objects such as landmarks, plants, animals, and books. It can identify text or visit websites, add business cards to contacts, events to the calendar or look up an item on a restaurant menu.

A button just below the volume keys launches the AI functionality. A single tap of this button launches the Google Assistant, while two quick taps launches Google Lens. Users can also hold down the button to start talking to the Google Assistant without the repetition of the OK Google command.

With Super Far Field Voice Recognition (SFFVR) and the highly-sensitive G7ThinQ microphone, the Google Assistant can recognise voice commands from up to five meters away. SFFVR is able to separate commands from background noise, making the LG G7 ThinQ an alternative to a home AI speaker, even when the TV is on. Commands for the Google Assistant have been increased in the LG G7 ThinQ so users can get more done with their voice alone.

“The LG G7 ThinQ is strongly focused on the fundamentals and its launch marks a new chapter for our company,” said Deon Prinsloo, General Manager for Mobile Communication, LG Electronics S.A Pty Ltd. “Through the combination of personalised and useful AI functionalities with meaningful smartphone features, this is LG’s most convenient and in the moment smartphone yet.”

Key Specifications

  • Mobile Platform: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform
  • Display: 6.1-inch QHD+ 19.5:9 FullVision Super Bright Display (3120 x 1440 / 564ppi)
  • Memory:
    • LG G7 ThinQ: 4GB LPDDR4x RAM / 64GB UFS 2.1 ROM / MicroSD (up to 2TB)
  • Camera:
    • Rear Dual: 16MP Super Wide Angle (F1.9 / 107°) / 16MP Standard Angle (F1.6 / 71°)
    • Front: 8MP Wide Angle (F1.9 / 80°)
  • Battery: 3000mAh
  • OS: Android 8.0 Oreo
  • Size: 153.2 x 71.9 x 7.9mm
  • Weight: 162g
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a, b, g, n, ac / Bluetooth 5.0 BLE / NFC / USB Type-C 2.0 (3.1 compatible)
  • Colours: New Aurora Black
  • Others: Super Bright Display / New Second Screen / AI CAM / Super Bright Camera / Super Far Field Voice Recognition / Boombox Speaker / Google Lens / AI Haptic / Hi-Fi Quad DAC / DTS:X 3D Surround Sound / IP68 Water and Dust Resistance / HDR10 / Google Assistant Key / Face Recognition / Fingerprint Sensor / Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 Technology / Wireless Charging / MIL-STD 810G Compliant / FM Radio
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