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Prepare for life in 360 degrees

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A flood of 360 degree cameras has arrived to feed the content machines of Facebook and Youtube, among other. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK highlights some of the best options.

It’s not quite virtual reality, but 360 degree photos are the closest we can get to immersive content without wearing goggles or downloading apps. We see them reflected in all settings: exotic destinations, extreme sports and live music, and even family dinners.

The reason that these seemingly high-tech images are becoming so commonplace is simple: 360 degree cameras are becoming more common by the month. And the reason for that is even simpler: the world’s two biggest content platforms, Facebook and YouTube, now support the format.

Most 360 degree cameras work on the principle of a round device with front and rear wide-angle lenses, producing dual 180 degree images which are stitched together by the increasingly mundane magic of automated software.

The first of these devices were so expensive, they were out of reach of most consumers. Ironically, that was good for the category, as it meant that most of the early images were shot by professionals and therefore of high quality. There is nothing like perception of perfection to get a technology off the ground.

Before long, as happens in any expanding gadget category, prices began coming down fast, and the format exploded. Today numerous consumer electronics brands have added 360 degree cameras to their ranges, resulting in a wide range of styles, shapes and claims for market leadership.

This is all rather useful for consumers, who can choose devices that suit their pockets, both cost- and format-wise.

Here we focus on three devices that cover a wide price range as well as a range of user requirements. Two of them, the Samsung Gear 360 and LG 360 Cam, were both launched at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona a year ago, and remain popular choices. The third? That’s a story all on its own:

LyfieEye Spherical 360

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The LyfieEye Spherical 360 camera was launched as a fundraising campaign on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform in October last year with a target of $25 000 to build the device. It raised more than $53 000, and the finished product was showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January this year.

Its standout differentiator may well be its price – a competitive $129 – but more important is the fact that it is small enough to plug into a smartphone. Unusually nowadays, it was launched first for Android devices, reflecting the dominance of the Google mobile operating system across the world, including in South Africa.

Testing it for a few weeks has made it clear that its sheer convenience, portability and direct integration with a smartphone gives this device an edge over almost all other competitors. The highly compact package includes a 7-inch extension called a LyfieLink, which allows it to be positioned a small distance from the smartphone for greater versatility. A USB 2.0-to-Type-C Converter means it can be fitted to the latest devices that use USB-C ports.

It offers both still and video recording, with immediate playback. The playback modes include flat and spherical 360 degrees, as well as virtual reality. Videos can be trimmed during playback. It allows pinch-zooming to zoom in and out of a video, which are recorded at 30 frames per second in 1920 x 1080 high-definition.

Via the smartphone’s own connectivity and apps, the images can be uploaded instantly to Facebook 360 and YouTube 360, or shared via instant messaging apps like WhatsApp. It is also compatible with all virtual reality headsets.

“Preview, record, and share the entire moment,” ran the Kickstarter marketing, and it lives up to this promise. It is available for online purchase from anywhere in the world for $129 at www.lyfie.com.

LG 360 Cam

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LG made a big splash at last year’s Mobile World Congress with the roll-out of its virtual reality ecosystem, including an LG 360 VR headset that is one of the lightest in its class. The big excitement, though, was sparked by the 360 Cam, which can create content both for the VR headset and for the Facebook and YouTube 360 platforms.

The device is compact, elegant and appealing, suggesting an intense focus on cutting edge industrial design. It captures images and videos onto a Micro SD card, hekped along by dual 13 megapixel lenses and 2560 x 1280 or 2K video recording.

At that resolution, it is one of the best value for money 360 degree cameras available, but both the app and the resultant quality clearly need work. One hour battery life is not bad for a device that can easily be recharged with a portable battery back, but that can become a problem out in the field.

It retails in South Africa for R3500 upward, meaning it won’t fit all budgets, but is great as a bundled device with smartphone contracts.

In the next few weeks, LG is expected to up the ante on its VR family, so look out for both new models and enhancements to this one.

Samsung Gear 360

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The market leader in South Africa despite a steep price, the Samsung Gear 360 is the evidence that appetite for the format is unquenchable. At a retail price of R6999, it is a high-end purchase, aimed at the same market that has made the high end Samsung S6 and S7 phone ranges among the most popular flagship handsets in this country. In fact, it is only compatible with these phones, along with the Note 5.

The shape of the device, a spherical ball on a tripod, gives it the appearance of a robot, but also speaks to the versatility of the dual fish-eye lenses. The lenses have 15 MP sensors, and support 30 MP stills. They record video at 30 frames per second in 3840 x 1920 – or 4K – resolution, making it the Rolls Royce of 360 video shooting.

The user can also choose to use a single lens to shoot in 180 degrees. The best of both worlds, one could say.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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SA consumers buy 3.2m smartphones in Q1

Smartphone sales in South Africa grew by 12.4% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2018, reaching around 3.2 million units for the period.

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However, the value of the smartphone segment increased by 22.8% as sales of entry-level devices to low- and mid-income consumers continued to drive the market, according to point of sale data from market research firm, GfK South Africa.

GfK South Africa’s data reveals that telecommunications retail enjoyed a strong start to the year, with revenue growing 22.4% year-on-year. The growing popularity of phablets and higher unit prices (as a result of a weaker rand) helped to drive this increase in revenue, against a backdrop of low or negative growth in many segments of the consumer technology market.

“The mobile device market showed good growth in the quarter, despite rising prices during the period under review,” says Norman Muzhona, Solutions Specialist for Telecommunications at GfK South Africa. “In addition to the exchange rate, the introduction of popular, new mid-tier devices by several leading vendors helped to drive higher retail revenues in the telecoms market.”

Information technology retail revenues for the quarter contracted 4.8% compared to 2017, largely because of decreasing monitor prices and a 38.9% decline in tablet revenues. However, desktop computer revenues grew 39% and mobile computing revenues grew 6.5% year-on-year, thanks to higher prices and increased sales of higher-end products.

Says Berno Mare, Solutions Specialist for IT, Office Equipment and Value Added Services: “Retailers introduced new computing devices priced in the R3000 band during the quarter and enjoyed surprisingly strong demand for these entry-level units.

“Telcos enjoyed robust growth in mobile computing retail sales, thanks to credit deals, subsidised contracts and attractive data offers. However, South African consumers are heavily indebted, which may dampen growth for the rest of the year.”

With consumers rapidly migrating to smartphones, sales of traditional mobile phones continued to decline, down 1.6% year-on-year to around 2 million for the quarter. However, the exchange rate and the introduction of higher-priced brands helped to drive a 8.9% year-on-year revenue increase in mobile phone revenues during the period under review.

This follows the 21% drop in mobile phone unit sales in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015. “Operators continue to lead the transition from feature phones to smartphones as they pursue higher data revenues,” says Muzhona. “The entry-level market for smartphones is fiercely competitive, and the minimum specs of lower cost smartphones is improving all the time.”

GfK South Africa expects the migration from mobile phones to smartphones to accelerate in 2018. However, it remains to be seen if the introduction of 4G-enabled, Voice-over-LTE-ready feature phones will have any impact on the South African mobile phone market.

Sectors of the consumer electronic market that showed strong growth for the first quarter of 2018 include loudspeakers—revenues up 21.6% year-on-year, thanks to demand of Bluetooth-enabled product—and ultrahigh definition (UHD) panel TVs—where revenues grew 33%, thanks to the growing affordability of the technology. UHD unit shipments were up 76%, while the average selling price of the products fell 24%.

Other market highlights for the first quarter of 2018 include:

  • Photo category revenues were up 8.1% year-on-year.
  • Small domestic appliance revenues grew 8%, following a 10.3% decline in Q1 2016 over Q1 2015. Hot air fryers sold well, as did kettles and toasters.
  • Major domestic appliances showed small year-on-year growth over Q1 2016, despite a decline in average selling price in many sub-categories of this market. Cooling products continued to make the highest contribution to growth in this segment.
  • Office Equipment revenues declined 18% year-on-year, led downwards by lower printer and cartridge sales volumes.
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What kids want online

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Kaspersky Lab’s latest report on the online activities of children – based on statistics received from its solutions and modules with child protection features – highlights children’s online activities and the importance of protecting them when online. For example, video content globally, comprised 17% of searches over the last months. Although many videos watched as a result of these searches may be harmless, it is still possible for children to accidentally end up watching videos that contain inappropriate content.

The report shows anonymised statistics from Kaspersky Lab’s flagship consumer solutions for Windows PCs and Macs that have the Parental Control module switched on and from Kaspersky Safe Kids, a standalone service for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices.

In South Africa, communication sites (such as social media, messengers, or emails) were the most popular pages visited by computers with parental controls switched on – with users in South Africa visiting these sites in 69% of cases over the previous 12 months. Software, audio, and video accounted for 17% of searches. Websites with this content have become significantly more popular since last year, when it was only the fifth most popular category globally at 6%. The top four is rounded off with electronic commerce (4.2%) and alcohol, tobacco, and websites about narcotics (3.9%), which is a new addition compared to this time last year.

The report presents search results on the ten most-popular languages* for the last 6 months. The data shows that the video & audio category – including requests related to any video content, streaming services, video bloggers, series and movies – are the most regularly ‘googled’ by children (17% of the total requests). The second and third places go to translation (14%) and communication (10%) websites respectively. Interestingly, games websites sit in fourth place, generating only 9% of the total search requests.

We can also see a clear language difference for search requests: for example, video and music websites are typically searched for in English, which can be explained by the fact that the majority of movies, TV series and musical groups have English names. Spanish-speaking kids carry out more requests for translation sites, while communication services are mostly searched for in Russian.

More than any other nationality, Chinese-speaking children look for education services, while French-speaking kids are more interested in sport and games websites. In turn, German-speaking requests dominate in the “shopping” category. The leading number of search requests for porn are in Arabic, and for anime are in Japanese.

“Kids in different countries have different interests and online behaviors, but what links them all is their need to be protected online from potentially harmful content. Children looking for animated content could accidentally open a porn video. Or they could start searching for innocent videos and unintentionally end up on websites containing violent content, both of which could have a long-term impact on their impressionable and vulnerable minds,” says Anna Larkina, Web-content Analysis Expert at Kaspersky Lab.

As well as analysing searches, the report also looks into which websites children visit or attempt to visit that contain potentially harmful content which falls under one of the 14 preset categories** for the last 12 months.

The mobile trend is again highlighted in the figures for computer games, which are now in fifth place locally on the list at 3%. As kids continue to show a preference for mobile games rather than computer games, this category will only continue to decrease in popularity on computers over the coming months and years.cleardot.gif

“No matter what they are doing online, it is important for parents not to leave their children’s digital activities unattended, because there’s a big difference between care and obtrusiveness. While it is important to trust your children and educate them about how to behave safely online, even your good advice cannot protect them from something unexpectedly showing up on the screen. That’s why advanced security solutions are key to ensuring children have positive online experiences, rather than harmful ones,” adds Anna Larkina.

The Kaspersky Total Security and Kaspersky Internet Security consumer solutions include a Parental Control module to help adults protect their children against online threats and block sites or apps containing inappropriate content. In turn, the Kaspersky Safe Kids solution allows parents to monitor what their children do, see or search for online across all devices, including mobile devices, and offers useful advice on how to help children behave safely online.

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