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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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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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