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Kid’s stuff

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At a time of more focus than ever on the protection of children, the digital world becomes ever more dangerous. Two devices could help change that, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It is deeply ironic that, the more options parents have for keeping their children safe through the use of technology, the more vulnerable their children become.

It doesn’t help that many kids are more tech-savvy than their parents, but that is more of an excuse than a reason for parents to abdicate responsibility for their children’s digital lives.  The real issue is that the seemingly simple process of finding the right phone for a child – in terms of budget, style and capabilities – has become absurdly complex.

And then, once a phone is handed to the child, the parent is usually clueless about how to set it up, how to limit activities and types of access, and how to configure parental control functions.

The solution lies in stylish devices that are designed for children without detracting from their experience and even self-image.

Two gadgets launched in South Africa in the last two weeks address exactly these questions.

KidTech: Huawei P8 Lite adapted for children

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The first, from a new South African company called KidTech, sensibly uses an existing phone, but adapts it extensively for children’s use. The base phone is a Huawei P8 Lite, a stylish, mid-range handset that has already been successful in South Africa for the past two years.

A 2017 edition, released last year, brings the phone up to date for current apps, while the KidTech adaptation makes it relevant, safe and fun for children. It is provided on a Telkom Mobile contract, and comes with parental controls that sort out these deceptively complex tasks:

  • blocks harmful websites and apps;
  • protects children from cyber-bullying and sexually-inappropriate behaviour;
  • allows parents to control when and how the cellphone is used;
  • tracks kids’ whereabouts at any time;
  • sends alerts when the user leaves a designated area, like home or school.

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“The idea came from witnessing arguments about cellphones between kids who want cellphones and parents who are worried about their kids being exposed to all the negatives that cellphones can introduce,” says Antony Seeff, CEO of KidTech.

The company is a subsidiary of the cellphone account management company, Tariffic, and was started by its executive team.

“KidTech has selected a suite of apps which have been pre-installed and pre-configured to ensure that parents need not worry about their kids online,” says Seeff.  “One app helps parents identify if their kids are being the victims of cyberbullying by monitoring all WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger messages and alerting parents the moment certain bullying keywords are used.”

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Nic Botes, KidTech co-founder, says the software is pivotal in preventing bullying and sexually-inappropriate conversations. And it goes further than conversations.

“Photos taken on the phone are also backed up and shared with parents, so they can identify any worrying behaviour before its too late,” says Botes.

KidTech also drew on Tariffic’s 12-year track record and expertise in identifying ideal contracts for specific needs. Usually geared to companies trying to make their staff accounts more cost-effective, Tariffic’s system was used to identify the perfect cellphone contract for kids.

The R249-a-month top-up contract comes with 1GB of data and free WhatsApp use.  Parents can also top up the account with prepaid airtime or data, allowing tight control of bills.

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“The stories that we’re hearing about what young kids are getting up to on their cellphones are frightening”, says Toma Batev, a  KidTech co-founders. “There are many reports of kids under 10 sending nude photos of themselves, and becoming suicidal after being cyber-bullied online. Parents need to be able to protect their children from these dangers.

“Not giving children phones is not a realistic answer. Rather give them the right phones with the correct safeguards and protections.”

Aside from the customised phone, KidTech has has also created a website, http://www.ismychildbeingcyberbullied.co.za, to help with the wider cyber-bullying problem.

* Visit www.kidtech.co.za for more information

Connected MoveTime Family Watch MT30

TCL-MOVETIME-Family-Watch-MT30

Ensuring the safety of children is also the motivation behind a new smartwatch designed for younger kids. The MoveTime  Family Watch MT30 was created by TCL Communication, the company that also produces Alcatel and BlackBerry phones.

It is based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip, developed to allow any manufacturer to make small wearable devices. It takes forward Qualcomm’s own vision for the Snapdragon Wear platform, geared to a “new generation of wearable devices designed just for kids”, as the chipmaker put it.

Qualcomm, which announced the platform last year, explained the motivation: “These 3G or 4G LTE connected kid smartwatches can empower a child with a sense of independence, while giving mom and dad some peace of mind with an always-connected device that provides an age appropriate user experience.”

Devices based on the platform were exhibited by Qualcomm at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier in January, making it all the more surprising that the first gadgets based on the platform have already arrived in South Africa.

Says Ernst Wittmann, TCL’s regional manager for Southern and East Africa, “TCL’s Movetime Family Watch MT30 combines the robust technology of Snapdragon Wear 2100 with TCL’s design and manufacturing expertise to deliver a connected rich and fun experience for kids and peace of mind for parents, It offers seamless connectivity and reliable safety features to help parents monitor their children’s safety in a fun, feature filled watch.”

The watch has a colourful touchscreen, which makes it both enjoyable and easy for young children to use. Aside from playing built-in games, it allows them to add friends through Bluetooth, and to send them emoji icons and messages.

While instant text messaging is not possible on the device, it allows parents and children to exchange voice messages and to make calls. Eight pre-determined numbers can be set on the watch, and the child can make and receive voice calls, using just this device, to and from those numbers. Calls to and from strangers are, therefore, not possible.

The MT30 promises two days of battery life on a single charge, and it is IP67 rated for water resistance up to one metre deep. It is also dust-proof, making it a great playground companion.

GPS functionality allows for location features, which provide parents with instant indoor and outdoor positioning via an app on their own phones, as well as geofencing, meaning they are alerted when the child leaves designated areas. A prominent SOS button allows the child to call for help in an emergency simply by pressing the button – and parents can then also locate the child instantly.

Startlingly, the watch is also a productivity gadget: it provides to-do lists, with reminder functions, both to ensure kids do chores and homework, and remember events or appointments. It also helps teach kids time management.

The MoveTime Family Watch is available on contract at R149 per month, including a SIM card in the watch, or R2699 as a prepaid purchase.

  • 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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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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