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Tech gets in touch with human – and animal – needs

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The annual IFA tech expo in Berlin delivered both the usual cut and paste slew of copycat devices and some truly new technology, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

One of the standout features of the annual IFA technology trade expo in Berlin, Germany, is how much effort brands make to stand out. The result is that many of the big launches happen two or even three days before the main event, to avoid getting lost in the noise.

As a result, the likes of Huawei, Sony, Acer and Lenovo had all made their big announcements well before the crowds began arriving on Friday morning.

Huawei in particular stood out, with its most aggressive assault yet on the high end of the smartphone market. Until recently, it was best known for its network infrastructure, from base stations to 3G and 4G wireless Internet devices. As Glory Cheung, chief marketing officer of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, put it, “We have base stations as far north as the Arctic Circle and as high as the Himalayas. The smartphone is the human extension of what we do.”

Huawei unveiled its new Mate S, a 5.5-inch device that packs in every gram of the company’s innovation in an effort to demonstrate that it is no copycat manufacturer. There were numerous cut-and-paste phone and TV makers at IFA, with one very average brand plastering its stand with the overused and meaningless slogan “Game changer”.

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For Huawei, if the game is about positioning it alongside the market leaders like Apple and Samsung rather than the entry-level copycats, the Mate S does indeed change its own game.

It introduces several new and enhanced features around touch and control of the device, starting with what may be the best fingerprint recognition technology on a phone today. Dubbed Fingerprint 2.0, it allows the fingerprint pad on the back of the phone to be used not only for quick and accurate biometric identification – and therefore secure mobile payments – but also as an additional control and navigation mechanism. This means that it becomes a trackpad on which the user can swipe down or across to activate various functions.

More impressive but still a feature in search of a function is a technology called “force touch”, which makes the screen pressure sensitive – to the extent that it can be used as a scale to weigh small items.

And then there is Knuckle Control 2.0, which appears to combine the knock code of LG phones with the drawing function of Samsung Note devices, and then takes it to a new practical level. With a knuckle, the user can draw a crop line around any shape in a photo – whether a shoe or a ship – and crop out only that shape, rather than be confined to the usual geometric shapes. The knuckle can also be used to activate shortcuts by drawing, for example, a C for Camera or W for Weather.

Huawei’s slogan for the launch, “Touch. Made powerful.”, was one of a handful that did not come across as mere hype.

Another brand that has tried to keep pace with the smartphone leaders through its own innovation, Sony, also got in ahead of IFA to launch its new Xperia range in Berlin. Its direct competitor to the Mate S, the Xperia Z5 Premium, is a world first. It is the first handset to feature 4K display and recording – linking the phone to the current high-end in TV display.

Translated into numbers, that means 3840×2160 resolution. Translated into English, it means a dazzlingly sharp display that is almost outrageous in its visual quality.

The handset features a 5.5-inch screen and 3400 mAh battery, addressing Sony’s consumer research finding that battery life is currently the number one concern of phone buyers. Sony also launched a standard Z5 with 5.2-inch display and a Z5 Compact, with a 4.6-inch screen that is likely to retain the enthusiasm that the similarly sized Z3 Compact generated in the market.

But Sony and Huawei showed off the latest iterations of their wearable technology, joining Samsung, Garmin, Fitbit, Runtastic and Withings, among many others, in the race for attention.

Once again, Huawei surprised, taking a leaf out of Apple’s marketing book by calling its new device simply the Huawei Watch. But it was also no cut-and-paste job: the watch has an elegant, round face that gives it the appearance of a regular fashion watch rather than a geek tool.

Under the surface, though, it pushes the Android Wear standard for wearables to the limits. It’s not only a full activity tracker – with 6-axis motion sensor – and heart-rate monitor, but is also compatible with both Android and iOS devices. That’s a first for a major smartphone manufacturer.

While the big names compete for share in such intensively competitive segments, new niches are also emerging within these segments. For example, health-monitoring

One of the most intriguing is activity tracking for dogs and cats. A company called Tractive used IFA to showcase its GPS pet tracking device. While the initial focus was on locating lost animals, it raises fascinating possibilities, like solving the mystery of where cats go wandering in the course of a day. Some of the Tractive devices also measure body temperature, warning the owner when the pet needs water, shade or rest.

It’s a great example of technology getting in touch with more than just human needs.

* 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

Africa News

Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities

Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.

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Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.

Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.

Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.

African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.

Embracing mobility to drive ROI

Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.

Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.

Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.

By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:

·         Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities

·         Access both historical and planned work information when requested

·         Permit customers to sign when the job is completed

·         Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders

·         Create new fault reports on routing

·         Facilitate documentation through photo capturing

·         Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.

The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.

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Brands fall for app vanity

The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.

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Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion  of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity. 

In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis. 

While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities. 

Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI). 

It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind. 

Why apps won’t win the internet

The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement. 

Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance. 

Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps. 

However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year. 

On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.

When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience. 

In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development. 

So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base? 

The logical app alternative 

The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are. 

Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short. 

Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience. 

Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.) 

Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts. 

Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI. 

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