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Fitbit Versa comes to SA

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Earlier this week, Fitbit announced the Versa smartwatch – the company’s lightest smartwatch to date, featuring a battery life of up to four days and cross platform capability.

Fitbit this week launched the new Versa smartwarch globally, including in South Africa. The Versa is available at Makro, Incredible Connection, Dion Wired, Dis-Chem, Totalsports, Due South, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Cape Union Mart and Takealot for R3 199. It is Fitbit’s lightest metal smartwatch yet, featuring advanced health and fitness features, more than four days battery life, and cross platform compatibility.  

Beginning in May, these new Fitbit features will be available:  

  • Quick replies: Android mobile device users can respond to messages on the go using Fitbit Versa and Fitbit Ionic  smartwatches, and create and send up to five custom pre-populated quick replies of 60 characters or less to text messages and messenger apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
  • Female health tracking: Available to all adult users who identify as female in the Fitbit app to track their menstrual cycle and symptoms. Versa and Ionic users will also be able to view female health tracking information on-device. 

“We’re thrilled for consumers around the world to experience Versa, a beautifully designed smartwatch for all with advanced health and fitness features, access to our large global social network and smart features people find most useful at an approachable price,” said James Park, co-founder and CEO of Fitbit. “We believe Versa is a smartwatch that will have mass appeal, attracting new audiences and helping us capture a previously untapped segment of users in this growing wearables category.”

Fitbit provided the following information:

Powered by Fitbit OS 2.0, Versa makes your daily and weekly health and fitness data even more accessible on the go with a redesigned dashboard, which delivers action-oriented motivational messages, tips and tricks, and support to help you stay on track to reach your goals. Advanced health and fitness features include personalised on-device workouts with Fitbit Coach, enhanced 24/7 PurePulse® heart rate tracking, 15+ exercise modes plus automatic SmartTrack™ swim tracking with water resistance up to 50 meters, and automatic sleep stages tracking.

“The new features of the Versa will provide consumers with a lifestyle companion that caters to fitness needs and overall well-being support,” said Vincent Lamoureux, Director of New Markets of Fitbit. “It is designed to focus on fitness in addition to aspects relating to health, which will help consumers lead a holistic, healthful lifestyle. This is why we believe the Versa is the smartwatch for all.”  

In addition to new quick replies for Android users, Versa has the smart features you need including: app, calendar, call and text smartphone notifications; access to Fitbit’s growing App Gallery, now with more than 700 popular brand, developer and Fitbit Labs apps, and customisable clock faces; and on-device music for more motivation with access to Deezer, and personal music playlists. All of these features come with 4+ days battery life,iii and, like all Fitbit devices, Versa is compatible across Android, iOS and Windows devices. 

Pricing and availability 

Fitbit Versa is available today at global retail partner stores worldwide. The device is also available for sale at Fitbit.com and major online retailers for R3,199 (ZAR) in black with a black aluminum case, gray with a silver aluminum case, or peach with a rose gold aluminum case; accessories range from R499 – R1499 (ZAR). Fitbit Versa Special Edition is available for R3,699 (ZAR) in a lavender woven band with rose gold aluminum case or charcoal woven band with graphite aluminum case, each with an extra black classic band. 

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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