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Samsung’s next big thing: Internet of Bundles

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The bundling of the new Samsung S7 phones with the Gear VR headset is not only a marketing gimmick, but a pointer to the company’s place in the Internet of Things, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

We have seen many incentives to buy new smartphones, from TV sets to DVD players to fridges. These usually bore little relation to the handsets themselves, and often carried completely unrelated brand names.

As the Internet of Things comes closer to everyday reality, it might just start making sense to buy bundles of appliances that can connect to each other. While the everyday reality of a connected universe of appliances is still years away, the possibilities are already becoming apparent on showroom floors. Monitoring a home washing machine from a smartphone at work? Turning on the lounge air conditioning while still in the traffic? All ready for prime time.

It is for this reason that Samsung’s vast empire of consumer appliances, smartphones, components and experimental devices is beginning to emerge as a potential differentiator from brands that compete head-on in one or two product categories.

To put that in perspective, last year Samsung topped the list of patents awarded in the USA – home to the world’s most patent-hungry tech companies. And this year it announced it was cooperating with Microsoft on IoT devices running on Windows 10.

For this reason, last week’s launch of the new Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge phones in South Africa could be seen as representing part of this “new” future for the group. Anyone buying the phone outright or on contract for the first 10 days also receives a free Gear VR unit, which typically retails at around R2000.

Sadly, the virtual reality headset does not have a life of its own: it needs a Galaxy Note 5, S6 or S7 – or their Edge variations – to operate. It has separate docking  ports for the smaller and larger handsets. An Oculus Rift app on the phone  presents a pair of images to the pair of lenses in the headset, which the user’s eyes merge into one surround image.

In that sense, we are still looking at the world of plugged-in things. But bear in mind that Samsung’s most visible competitors in this space, the expensive HTC Vive and Oculus Rift’s own headset, require the user to be plugged into a PC. In other words, the Gear VR, along with LG’s 360 VR, take virtual reality fully mobile.

It is in this context that we can see the full implications of comments like that made by Craige Fleischer, director of Integrated Mobility at Samsung Electronics South Africa, at the S7 launch: “We are committed to empowering our consumers with groundbreaking technological solutions, in order to enhance the user experience of our products.”

The attention on the S7 and S7 Edge will be focused mainly on the extent to which the phones are an improvement over the previous generation, and whether they will maintain Samsung’s technological and sales leadership achieved with the S4 several years ago. That will probably mask the extent to which the ecosystem around these devices is evolving dramatically.

Fast wired charging and wireless charging continues to improve, battery life finally extends beyond a working day, and the devices now carry a hybrid SIM card tray similar to that in the Huawei Mate S – it allows a microSD card as well as a dual SIM card, if that is enabled in the region.

The Samsung Pay function goes well beyond the iPhone’s Apple Pay options, with protection from the Samsung KNOX security system, authentication via fingerprint scanning and tokenisation, and payment via Near Field Communication (NFC), Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST), or Barcode technology. That links the phones to more payment devices than any other handsets, making it the best integrated devices with what we can call the Internet of Payments.

“The beautiful story behind the innovation of our mobile products is centered on putting the customer first and that’s keeping us ahead of the pack,” said Fleischer.

The launch of the handsets comes a few weeks after Samsung showcased its full 2016 range of consumer electronics and appliances at the Samsung Africa Forum, an event held in Monaco but aimed at its partners and resellers in Africa.

Among other, it unveiled:

* The latest version of the Samsung Smart TV operating system based on its own Tizen OS; it automatically recognises other connected devices, including the type of set-top box, game console, OTT box or home theatre system that is connected to the TV.

* A new line-up of SUHD TVs that feature Quantum dot display for more true-to-life display, as well as the world’s first bezel-less curved design.
* A new audio product line-up, including the HW-K950 Soundbar, the company’s first to feature Dolby Atmos.
* Samsung’s Twin Cooling Plus refrigerator  technology, which keeps the freezer frost-free and prevents the build-up of ice, and can turn the freezer into a regular fridge when space is required or the user leaves home for a long period. African consumers were specifically targeted with a vertical freezer, a 180-litre top-mounted freezer, a 1-Door 110-litre fridge, and a small 150-litre chest freezer.

* The Samsung Front Load Washer uses a new AddWash feature that allows a piece of forgotten laundry to be added to the wash via a small second access door.  It also uses EcoBubble technology, which premixes detergent with air and water, penetrating clothes faster.
The specialised technology for each of these product categories is evolving in tandem with Samsung’s Internet of Things initiatives, meaning the two universes are beginning to collide into the concept that is already being hyped as the Smart Home of the near future.

That, in turn, means that the smartphone bundles we will be offered in the near future are going to look a lot like the ones from the past, but will also make a lot more sense.

* 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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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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