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Asus transforms the Transformers

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ASUS was under pressure to deliver at this year’s Computex expo in Taiwan, and responded by pushing the edges of transforming notebooks once again, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The Computex expo that goes down in Taipei, Taiwan, every June has yet to create the buzz of events like International CES in Las Vegas and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, despite being the only one of these shows that occurs in a technology heartland.

This year was no different, but it wasn’t for want of trying. And few tried harder than the hometown team, ASUS. One of the world’s biggest manufacturers of computer motherboards, it also leads the global market in hybrid ultramobile laptops. According to Gartner, it took 41 per cent of the world market in 2014. That only amounted to 3,1-million units, but it was up 263 per cent on the previous year.

As a result, the ASUS keynote address at Computex earlier this month was expected to be an important pointer to the next phase in the transformation of the laptop. Sure enough, it unveiled the Transformer Book T100HA, which takes the 2-in-1 concept to a new level of performance – and will be one of the first laptops to ship with Windows 10 pre-installed.

T100HA.0

It is both a 10.1-inch ultra-light notebook and a 8.45mm super-thin tablet , and offers 14 hours battery life to cement its mobility credentials. ASUS promises that the transformation between laptop and tablet modes is completely seamless, and that the Windows display automatically adjusts to the appropriate mode.

The device highlights how quickly ASUS is moving to reinforce its claims to the hybrid market. Two years ago, the equivalent device lasted less than 12 hours and was anything but seamless in its transformation.

That won’t be immediately relevant in South Africa, but a wide range of transforming devices from the Taiwanese company has been available on local shelves for some time. One of the more impressive, the Transformer Flipbook TP300L, was first announced at last year’s Computex, drawing applause for its innovative design. The Flipbook’s 13.3-inch screen swivels through a full 360 degrees, turning it into a large tablet, or slate, running Windows 8.1.

2014-10-07-product-4

That’s pretty big for a tablet, and it’s pretty heavy too, weighing in at around 1.75kg. The equivalent device from ASUS’s main competitor in this category, Lenovo, is the 1.2kg Yoga Pro.

Clearly, the intention is not for it to be used in the same mobile fashion as smaller tablets, but rather as a portable device designed to be moved from desktop to desktop – and perhaps even to tray tables in an aircraft, where economy seats no longer allow easy use of foldout laptops.

The specs are decent, with Intel Core i5 processor, Nvidia GeForce 820M graphics processor, 4GB RAM and Full HD 1080p display. Depending on those specs, it could cost upward of R12 000, as much as the Yoga Pro or even the Macbook Air – still the first laptop choice in ultra-mobility.

A more serious issue is the fact that the machine is not particularly fast or responsive, meaning that the serious gamer is not going to be persuaded by the graphics chip. Battery life is good for a heavyweight laptop, at four hours, but well behind its ultra-notebook siblings.

It’s not intended to compete in that category, but any suggestion of compromised performance could have a knock-on effect across the brand.

Little wonder, then, that the pressure was on ASUS at Computex. Lenovo is breathing down its neck: it is world leader in PC sales and second in hybrid

ultramobile laptops, with 1.9-million units shipped last year – not massive, but up 331 per cent on the year before.

Such competitive pressure will ensure that we will see a continued  transformation of the laptop. Judging by Computex 2015, there is little doubt that the Transformer range will continue to be at the forefront of this transformation.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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