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Forrester cautions against Blockchain over-exuberance

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While Blockchain technology is worth investigating, CIOs should not be fooled into thinking it is the remedy for all the potential use cases currently under discussion, advises Forrester principal analyst, MARTHA BENNETT.

Stories about digital currencies in general, and Bitcoin in particular, are still filling news feeds. However the industry is now more focused on the underlying technology of the blockchain and the concept of the shared ledger.

This is most clearly evidenced by the raft of startups which have been attracting headlines and investment dollars. A number of established companies are also investing in in-depth research and even proof of concept projects.

Despite what the headlines suggest, all blockchain projects are in the early exploratory phases. It’s not something you can buy and deploy and, what’s easily forgotten in all the euphoria, is that very little has actually been proven yet.

This does not discount the future potential of blockchain technologies. There are many startups with interesting technology approaches and compelling use cases, and some of the world’s best-known technology and consulting firms are working on blockchain projects.

However, it is clear that CIOs should critically assess what their needs are and get a much fuller understanding of their options before jumping on board the blockchain bandwagon.

Many a CIO has asked just how seriously they should be taking blockchain technologies, and when this happens the recommendation is to apply some basic but important reality checks.

At the outset it’s important to define what your understanding is. Like ‘cloud’ or ‘big data’, ‘blockchain’ means different things to different people. It’s important to ascertain what a particular person or company means by the term.

Find out which issues the blockchain technology addresses that aren’t possible to address in any other way and, if it does address these, has this been proven? Similarly, if cost savings are being put forward for using blockchain, has this been proven?

There are many interesting projects in the labs at startups, banks, and consulting firms. Many of these are even functioning prototypes, but it’s already conceded that they won’t scale at enterprise level.

In addition to this, Blockchain is a regulatory quagmire and many development companies fall short by not engaging with regulators before they offer the solution to clients.

Looking past the Bitcoin blockchain and its limitations, one can remain fairly upbeat about some of the alternatives. Ethereum, is of particular interest. With its Turing-complete programming language, it is more suited to complex requirements. But it isn’t the perfect solution either for the types of use cases currently put forward for blockchain solutions in an environment involving trusted parties. Hence the emergence of initiatives such as the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Project.

In short, companies should apply a five- to ten-year timeframe and keep asking ‘why?’

Blockchain technology today belongs in the research or innovation lab. For each project, there must be a detailed explanation of why and how blockchain is more efficient, secure, and lower cost than any of the available alternatives, as well as being legally acceptable.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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