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First Apple centre for blind opened in W Cape

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Kaleidoscope has launched the first technology centre for the blind in Worcester in the Cape. Aimed at empowering the blind and visually impaired with employability skills for the open labour market, the Apple training centre is believed to be one of the first.

Equipped with modern information technology equipment and software, Kaleidoscope will be the first organisation in Africa that will be able to empower blind and partially sighted persons by training them in the most recent accessible Apple touch screen and touch type technologies which will result in more successful job placements of blind persons.

“Considering the fact that currently 97% of persons who are visually impaired are unemployed, there is an enormous need amongst blind and partially sighted people in South Africa to be trained in affordable accessible modern technology to enhance their employability,” says Freddie Botha, Executive Head of Kaleidoscope (previously known as the Institute for the Blind).

“It is very important to empower our blind and partially sighted persons to enable them to enter the open labour market on the same level as sighted applicants and employees. This centre will be an extension of our rehabilitation, skills training and career development department.”

He continues: “No other organisation in Africa provides in the all-inclusive, comprehensive, specialised training needs of visually impaired persons.  The establishment of a new modern technology-training centre will be the final stage where blind and partially sighted school learners, students and adults will be referred to in their rehabilitation process. After completion of their training in this technological field they are qualified for their future of independence and self-sufficiency.”

Being visually impaired is in itself is a major challenge, however, according to Hein Wagner, Kaleidoscope’s brand ambassador, motivational speaker and global adventurer, with the appropriate training, support and guidance, quite possible to overcome.

He says that the additional challenge in the South African context is the huge cost of importing adaptive technology to make computers accessible for the blind. “Up until a few months ago it would cost you more than R10 000 to convert a standard PC into an accessible text to speech computer for the blind,” he explains. “An average Braille display would put you back just short of R80 000 and with 97% of the blind in SA unemployed, it is time to find an alternative way to equip the visually impaired with affordable tools and training that will help them to enter the job market and become economically active.”

This is exactly what Kaleidoscope will aim to achieve with the opening of the Apple training centre. “Since I moved over to the Apple product range three years ago I’ve never looked back. All Apple’s equipment including the iPhone, iPad, MacBooks and even the Apple TV as well as the Apple arm watch is fully accessible to the visually impaired, straight from the box. Whether I’m tweeting, sending a whatsapp, checking in on Facebook, reading my daily news, tracking my fitness, answering my e-mails, browsing the web or working through a complicated spread sheet, I am using an Apple. I further never thought I would buy an Apple TV as a blind person, however due to Apple’s inclusive design principles, for the first time even television became accessible to me.”

Wagner says that the training will focus on both using the technology for personal and business use and the aim is to train at least 400 students in the first year of operation. “It is our duty to train the visually impaired on the most recent accessible touch screen, laptop and desktop computers, to make them more employable once they leave our facility,” he adds.

“ABSA understood our vision for technology empowerment and partnered with us to make this dream a reality with a R3-million initial investment into the facility.”

The centre will be equipped with iPhones, Ipads, Macbook airs, Mac minis as well as the latest Apple technology used to do visual/keynote presentations.

All the training modules will begin with the basics of Voiceover – the Apple accessibility tool for the blind. Students will also be trained on both iOS and the latest Apple Mac operating system.

“We’ve designed the facility to be very blind friendly with a logical layout and underfoot tactile markings in order for the blind to navigate the open-plan centre with ease and independence,” says Wagner. “Our trainer, Philip Crous, is also blind as we believe that a trainer who is blind himself will use the most ideal method to transfer his knowledge and skill to the students in such a high tech facility.”

“On the personal computing side we will focus on social media, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, whatsapp, and a number of accessible apps for the visually impaired. On the business side we will focus on e-mail, safari/web-browsing, Pages, numbers to mention a few.”

Students will also receive training on the latest ERP and CRM applications that they will most likely face in the corporate environment once employed.

Wagner says that Kaleidoscope will also engage with the corporate sector to ensure the placement of persons with visual impairments and support the employee as well as the employer to ensure effective work and training placement.

As to why Absa got involved in the initiative, Wagner says: “We shared our vision and dream with Willie Zastron head of ABSA Business Banking and his team that we aim to develop a training model where persons with visual impairments are empowered in effective career development skills so that they will be able to function on the same level as sighted persons in the corporate sector and other training and working environments.

He continues: “They immediately understood our need for work and training empowerment and advised us to present them with a business and implementation plan.  Willie Zastron and his team’s commitment and trust towards Kaleidoscope is so inspiring and gives us so much strength in the fulfilment of this great need in technology empowerment of persons with visual impairments.”

Commenting on Absa’s involvement, Sazini Mojapelo, Head of Citizenship for Barclays Africa, says: “A key priority of our Citizenship strategy is to help young people gain access to the skills and opportunities they need to unlock their potential. To this end we seek to empower young people with the skills necessary to achieve financial and economic independence and security.

Mojapelo adds: “In our interactions with Kaleidoscope we identified numerous synergies between the work they were planning and our involvement in enhancing the employability prospects of young people. We are extremely proud to partner with Kaleidoscope and extend services to more people –including those visual impairments.”

Substantial initial funding for the centre was also received from Blinden Stichting voor Zuid Afrika (Blind Foundation for South Africa) – initiated by Rene and Sandra de Vries from the Netherlands after visiting Kaleidoscope and the Rotterdamse Stichting Blindenbelangen (Rotterdam Foundation for the needs of the Blind) which supports and promotes social and cultural well-being of partially sighted, blind, deaf-blind and multi-disabled persons irrespective of their circumstances.

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Samsung S10 in lock-step with its rivals?

Tonight Samsung will kick off the next round in the smartphone wars with the S10 range, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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When Samsung unveils the new S10 smartphone at an event in San Francisco today, it will mark the beginning of the 2019 round of World War S. That stands for smartphone wars, although Samsung would like it to be all about the S.

Ever since the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013, Samsung has held both technology and thought leadership in the handset world. Back then, Apple’s iPhone 5 was the last device from the American manufacturer that could lay claim to being the best smartphone in the world. With the 2013 launch of the iPhone 5s, Apple entered an era of incremental improvement, playing catch-up, and succumbing to market trends driven by its competitors.

Six years later, Samsung is fighting off the same threat. Its Chinese rival, Huawei, suddenly wrested away leadership in the past year, with the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro regarded as at last equal to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Galaxy Note 9 – if not superior. Certainly, from a cost perspective, Huawei took the lead with its more competitive prices, and therefore more value for money.

Huawei also succeeded where Apple failed: introducing more economical versions of its flagship phones. The iPhone 5c, SE and XR have all been disappointments in the sales department, mainly because the price difference was not massive enough to attract lower-income users. In contrast, the Lite editions of the Huawei P9, P10 and P20 have been huge successes, especially in South Africa.

Today, for the first time in half a decade, Samsung goes into battle on a field laid out by its competitors. It is expected to launch the Galaxy S10 Plus, S10 and S10 e, with the latter being the Samsung answer to the strategy of the iPhone XR and Huawei P20 Lite.

Does this mean Samsung is now in lock-step with its rivals, focused on matching their strategies rather than running ahead of them?

It may seem that way, but Samsung has a few tricks up its electronic sleeve. For example, it is possible it will use the S10 launch to announce its coming range of foldable phones, expected to be called the Galaxy X, Galaxy F, Galaxy Fold or Galaxy Flex. It previewed the technology at a developer conference in San Francisco last November, and this will be the ideal moment to reclaim technology leadership by going into production with foldables – even if the S10 range itself does not shoot out the lights.

However, the S10 handsets will look very different to their predecessors. First, before switching on the phone, they will be notable by the introduction of what is being called the punch-hole display, which breaks away from the current trend of having a notch at the top of the phone to house front-facing cameras and speakers. Instead, the punch-hole is a single round cut-out that will contain the front camera. It is the key element of Samsung’s “Infinity O” display – the O represents the punchhole – which will be the first truly edge-to-edge display, on the sides and top.

The S10 range will use the new Samsung user interface, One UI, also unveiled at the developer conference. It replaces the previous “skin”, unimaginatively called the Samsung Experience, to introduce a strong new interface brand.

One UI went live on the Note 8 last month, giving us a foretaste, and giving Samsung a chance to iron out the bugs in the field. It is a less cluttered interface, addressing one of the biggest complaints about most manufacturer skins. Only Nokia and Google Pixel handsets offer pure Android in the local market, but One UI is Samsung’s best compromise yet.

It introduces a new interaction area, in the bottom half, reachable with the thumb, with a viewing area at the top, allowing the user to work one-handed on the bottom area while still having apps or related content visible above. One UI also improves gesture navigation – the phone picks up hand movements without being touched – and notification management.

The S10 range will be the first phones to feature the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip, at least for the South African and American markets. That makes it 5G compatible, for when this next generation of mobile broadband becomes available in these markets.

They will also be the first phones to feature Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of the Wi-Fi mobile wireless standard. It will perform better in congested areas, and data transfer will be up to 40% faster than the previous generation.

The phones will be the first to use ultrasound for fingerprint detection. If Samsung gets it right, this will make it the fastest in-screen fingerprint sensor on the market, and allows for a little leeway if one pushes the finger down slightly outside the fingerprint reader surface. It does mean, however, that screen protectors will have to be redesigned to avoid blocking the detection.

Not enough firsts? There are a few more.

Most notably, it will be the first phone range to feature 1 Terabyte (TB) storage – that’s a thousand Gigabytes (GB) – at least for the top-of-the-range devices. Samsung last month announced that it would be the first manufacturer to make 1TB built-in onboard flash storage. Today, it will deploy this massive advantage as it once again weaponises its technology in the fight for smartphone domination.

  • 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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IoT set to improve authentication

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By Sherry Zameer, Senior Vice President, Internet of Things Solutions for CISMEA region at Gemalto

As it rapidly approaches maturity, the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to continue a transformational trajectory, introducing new efficiencies in multiple fields by allowing measurement and analysis on a scale that has never been possible before. From agriculture to logistics, from retail to hospitality, from traffic to health, from the home to the office, the applications for monitoring ”things” are limited only by the imagination.

And South African (and African) businesses are showing abundant imagination in their practical deployments of IoT solutions in multiple settings, creating a better tomorrow through almost universal measurement and the introduction of new levels of convenience – including how to access locations, devices and services securely.

Any company, whether South African or international, should bear in mind that understanding consumer expectations can be the key to unlocking the full potential of IoT devices and related smart services.

According to Gemalto’s latest Connected Living study, improving the way consumers authenticate themselves to services is one of the most anticipated benefits of IoT, highlighting a desire for a more seamless and secure IoT experience.

Consumers are interested in advanced ways of authenticating themselves through automatic (based on behavioral patterns) or biometric techniques, lessening the need to have to intervene manually, all in the name of a much more streamlined authentication process. Smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have already placed fingerprint and facial recognition high on the agenda. There is also a widespread positive sentiment towards IoT’s potential for improving the quality of home life through connected, smart appliances.

Personalised services is something else that wins consumers over. In fact, a fluid, personalised and unified experience with continuity of services, together with security and privacy, is critical for the successful implementation of any technology.

And those types of services are today quite possible. With everything being connected – from small gadgets to digital solutions for large enterprises – IoT is no longer just a buzzword. That much is clear in a piece from Vodacom IoT managing executive Deon Liebenberg. Writing for IOL Online, Liebenberg provides insight into the sheer range of applications for IoT: the 20 use cases he cites range from the obvious, like transport and logistics, to the connected home and wearables; he even suggests tagging pets with IoT transmitters, for those who always need to know the whereabouts of the family cat.

Low-cost tags fitted to cats, dogs, lamp posts, shipping containers or other items are just one part of the puzzle, however. There are other two pieces; arguably the most complex part is the availability of communication networks in areas where there aren’t any WiFi networks, or indeed, anything else.

And that’s where the bigger takeaway from Liebenberg’s piece and other IoT trends articles becomes apparent. The communication networks are there, as are those tags: dedicated IoT networks (like LoraWAN, SigFox and narrowband IoT) are all available in South Africa.

So, too, is the third and final essential component. Software which is able to process the data generated by the tag and transmitted over the IoT network and into the internet. In this regard, there’s no shortage of solutions available from cloud providers like AWS and Azure; electronics giant Siemens, too, is in on the action, having recently launched a new cloud-based IoT operating system to develop applications and services for process industries, including oil and gas and water management.

This combination means it is quite possible right now to enable just about any use case. Business owners, who will know best how IoT can add value in their organisation, can now see their ideas becoming reality. Most crucial of all, IoT solutions delivering new levels of efficiency and convenience are not only possible, they are able to be offered with the simple and effective security that will drive consumer acceptance.

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