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Goodbye to point-and-click

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At the intersection of customer-centric innovation and user experience (UX), we’re also seeing some profoundly interesting trends developing in the global technology UX space, which are changing the way we interact with, and think about, computing.

While pointing, clicking, and typing still have their place, we’ve also cemented tapping and swiping into our collective consciousness in the past few years. Additionally, speaking is now becoming a fixture. Although voice is not yet a popular interface in South Africa, I think it will soon grow in usage here, as voice and intelligent assistants continue to evolve at an impressive rate.

This makes sense for sheer convenience when you consider that research shows we can type about 40 words per minute, but can only speak about 150 words per minute comfortably. Soon, we won’t just use voice activation in smart phones, speakers and cars, but far more ubiquitously with laptops, and multiple devices around the home and office.

Moving to multimodal input

In fact, our interaction with smart devices will become more multimodal, moving toward what is most natural for the user or the environment they are in. That means instead of using voice or keyboard and mouse or tapping and swiping in isolated ways – we’ll increasingly use them together in more layered ways (imagine touching the screen while voicing a command). We’re beginning to move in this direction with innovations like far-field mics facilitating voice-enabled intelligent AIs such as Cortana and Alexa in some of our Lenovo laptops because it can be easier to talk to your PC in addition to using a traditional input like the mouse. The layering of visual and audible content as well as voice and touch is another example, because sometimes it’s just easier to tap the desired result versus saying a command out loud, or glancing at the display for data instead of listening.

Overall, voice is an area that still needs to evolve – and it will. We’re currently in what I call the ‘Wild, Wild West’ of voice. Just consider the multiple voice offerings all jostling for customer attention: Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant, Siri, Bixby, and so on.

Choices to fit your needs

The unanswered question in the face of these options is choice. In my view, consumers will not want to be confined to one ecosystem. I believe the longer-term winners in voice will be the companies that make offerings which are interoperable with others – like our latest ThinkPad X1 series and Yoga 730 that are Cortana and Alexa-ready. The point is to empower users to play music, get news, or shop online using just their voices. This reflects a shift that is redefining the PC to something much more than a work-focused or task-based machine; in various form factors, PCs will fit into your suite of home-based consumer products, capable of being your intelligent digital assistant and playing a role in running your home appliances – all via voice.

The evolution of sight + sound

This leads me to a point about a growing user experience trend around the integration of video and voice. Over the next year or so, when customers speak a command, we’ll increasingly see a tailored response applicable to that command. For example, a simple question might be answered solely by your voice assistant. But a more complex request may provide the user with a more rounded response: it could be a graphical visualisation, or even a video. In line with this direction is our new Lenovo Smart Display with Google Assistant built-in. It’s all about the evolution of sight and sound with the intention of saving a user’s time and making their home life smarter and more convenient by adding context-relevant visuals. Users will be able to begin their morning with the latest weather, traffic situation, and meeting schedules, or relax in the evening by video-calling friends and watching YouTube – once again, just by using their voice.

Changing orientations

We expect to see an increase in both video content and video usage frequency as this trend takes hold. Data suggests that smartphones are held in portrait mode up to 94% of the time – which has been driving the use of portrait video, given that smartphones are the dominant consumption device. As a result, more portrait video is showing up in other form factors such as laptops, tablets, desktops, and now in the Lenovo Smart Display that transitions seamlessly from landscape to portrait mode. And with millions of millennials livestreaming and watching hours of videos online each day, we will see better cameras, better displays, more augmented reality (AR) video content, and more evolved AI that does a better job analysing video to help with better user recommendations.

I’m excited for what these voice and video trends will bring. Expect users to become more willing and savvy as they use voice skills with devices in more sophisticated ways. And expect voice to become more intelligent and useful in AR settings, IoT applications in the smart home and office, and for handling better cross-device interaction. Interesting times are ahead.

  • Thibault Dousson, General Manager, Lenovo South Africa & SADC 

 

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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