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The Most Useful Gadgets of the Year

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In the second of a two-part feature on his gadgets of the year,
ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK looks at some of the most useful gadgets of the past year.

There is nothing bright, shiny or glamorous about getting one’s work life organised, or about the gadgets that contribute to this cause.

While the focus of gadget watchers is usually on flashy new consumer devices, practical workhorses and accessories tend to be the unsung heroes of the working world.

These are some of the serious, but often unknown, gadgets that made the biggest impact on me this year:

Productivity Gadget of the Year: Samsung DeX Station

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Out of the box, the DeX looks like a simple, if elegant docking stand for a smartphone. But plug it into a keyboard, mouse and monitor, and it turns the handset into a fully functional Android computer. As opposed to the relatively small screen of a smartphone, only the size of the monitor limits the desktop real estate. From there, one can access apps and work on documents, watch videos on a more comfortable screen, and browse websites in desktop mode.

If preferred, a Bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse can also be used. Samsung has had a fold-out keyboard with built-in trackpad designed to go with the DeX. The X-Folding Touch Pro adds a serious cost to the overall price, but is the ultimate in portable productivity.

Samsung also collaborated with Microsoft and Adobe to ensure compatibility with Microsoft Office and Adobe apps, as well as with virtual desktop software makers like Citrix, VMware and Amazon Web Services.

Presentation Gadget of the Year: Logitech Spotlight Presentation Remote

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A standard tool at conferences nowadays, remote clickers allow presenters to move about a stage or room, using a built-in laser pointer to highlight elements on the screen. Now, that is about to look very 20th century.

Logitech has produced a remote control for presentations that is both stylish and highly practical, adding a new dimension to the information on screen, without the content being altered in any way. The Spotlight not only highlights an element on the screen, but also magnifies it, allowing the presenter to zoom in on more interesting or complex content.

It is compatible with all common laptop operating systems, and has a range of 30 metres for the serious pacer.

It has built-in cursor control to activate a video on screen, saving the presenter having to dash back to the laptop computer to press play. The three buttons on the front can all be programmed to perform functions specific to an individual’s presentation content or approach.

Finally, it has one of the most needed features in the world of presenting, namely a timer with vibration alert. Now you’ll know why the audience is fidgeting despite your dazzling presentation style and content.

Projection Gadget of the Year: Sony Xperia Touch

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If smartphones and computers ever vanish into other devices we carry, like earphones, smartwatches and smart-glasses, the Xperia Touch will have played a small role. The second generation interactive projector from Sony, it turns a wall or a desktop into an interactive touch screen.

It is half the size of the first iteration, and we expect the size to keep dropping, even as its functionality increases. That means that any surface – even a writing pad – can be turned into the equivalent of a computer or smartphone. Make it small enough, and it’s all one would need to carry.

Office Decluttering Gadget of the Year: Bluelounge Soba Cable Director

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In busy offices, the bane of everyone’s lives tends to be the clutter of cables that snake, tangle and trip up around most desks where serious technology is in use. Enter the Soba Cable Director from Bluelounge, which promises to “show your cables who’s boss”.

Up to three loose cables can be consolidated into the Soba tube or Vortex, which zips open along its entire 3-metre length. A Y-split allows cables to be routed in several directions, and mounting caps allow the cable to  be fitted along walls or under desks.

This is more than just a conduit for cables, with its innovative zipper allowing for both flexibility and manageability.

The Soba was such a hit for the Accessory Lab last year, it has sold out. However, the rest of the Bluelounge decluttering range can be found at: https://accessorylab.co.za/collections/blue-lounge?utm_source=Gadget.co.za_BlueLounge&utm_medium=Post

Smartphone Accessory of the year: Belkin BOOST UP 

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As more and more smartphones are released with wireless charging as a standard feature – and with the charging technology based on an industry standard – we can expect to see charging pads become as commonplace as portable power banks.

Chances are, the prices will drop as fast, if the Belkin BOOST UP is any indication – it sells at less than R600 at the iStore. It uses the Wireless Power Consortium’s

Qi wireless charging, the standard for most flagship smartphones, meaning that one doesn’t have to dump the pad when one moves to the next handset.

The pad remains plugged into a power supply, and compatible phones begin charging the moment they are placed on the pad. Expect to see them in a coffee shop near you this year.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2geeand on YouTube.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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Pizoelectrics: Healthcare’s new gymnasts of gadgetry

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Healthcare electronics is rapidly deploying for wellness, electroceuticals, and intrusive medical procedures, among other, powered by new technologies. Much of it is trending to diagnostics and treatment on the move, and removing the need for the patient to perform procedures on time. 

Instruments become wearables, including electronic skin patches and implants. The IDTechEx Research report, “Piezoelectric Harvesting and Sensing for Healthcare 2019-2029”, notes that sensors should preferably be self-powered, non-poisonous even on disposal, and many need to be biocompatible and even biodegradable. 

We need to detect biology, vibration, force, acceleration, stress and linear movement and do imaging. Devices must reject bacteria and be useful in wearables and Internet of Things nodes. Preferably we must move to one device performing multiple tasks. 

So is there a gymnast material category that has that awesome versatility? 

Piezoelectrics has a good claim. It measures all those parameters. That even includes biosensors where the piezo senses the swelling of a biomolecule recognizing a target analyte. The most important form of self-powered (one material, two functions) piezo sensing is ultrasound imaging, a market growing at 5.1% yearly. 

The IDTechEx Research report looks at what comes next, based on global travel and interviewing by its PhD level analysts in 2018 with continuous updates.  

Click here to read how Piezo has been reinvented.

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