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When Hisense starts making sense

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Just when everyone thought new smartphones could no longer surprise, along comes a brand that has rediscovered how to turn heads, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When Hisense sent out an invitation to media attending the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to “Embrace the next”, not too many took them seriously. After all, while Hisense is a dominant player in the appliances world and leads China in TV sales, its fairly recent entry into smartphones had been a little tame. Value for money and capable devices, yes. Surprise packages and dazzling specs, no.

But Barcelona brought a real surprise. Hisense unveiled two new phones, each packing a punch of a different kind.

The biggest surprise was the new Hisense A2. It has a predictable 5.5-inch high-definition AMOLED screen, offering 1920×1080 pixels and a decent pixel density of 401 pixels per inch (ppi). But turn it over, and it is suddenly a startling device.

The Hisense A2

The Hisense A2

The rear of the phone presents us with a 5.2-inch e-ink screen: the same technology that allows one to read paper-quality content on a Kindle, and which ensures that device’s battery can last a month.

Hisense revealed it had conducted research that showed 60 per cent of Chinese smartphone users’ time was spent reading on phones to get knowledge. Because one could use a phone to read anywhere at any time, people were becoming accustomed to using mobile devices for small fragments of time to read.

They added this insight to the knowledge that the only use to which any manunfacturer was putting the back of the phone was for cameras and fingerprint readers.

“We think every inch of the phone is so valuable, the back of the phone should not be wasted,” said Dr Ma, vice president of Hisense Multimedia Group, at the launch. “We spent years working on combining a smartphone with e-ink.”

The two main benefits of the e-ink screen are that it doesn’t generate light, so makes for more comfortable reading, and it uses minimal battery power. The typical colour display on a smartphone is responsible for around two thirds of a phone’s battery use.

It’s not the first phone to feature an e-ink screen. A Russian company called Yota launched a similar concept at MWC four years ago. The Yotaphone was especially useful for mapping, as it would keep going on a long trip well after other phones had been drained by both the colour map and the display. However, little has been heard from the manufacturer for the past two years.

Hisense has added an extra twist to its e-ink screen, however.  In “dual mode”, a finger tracking along the e-ink screen on the rear acts as a mouse control on the front screen. A “gesture mode” on the rear controls the back and home functions on the front.

The phone can also be answered on the e-ink screen, so it is an ideal mode for when the battery is severely depleted by app activity on the colour screen. Most apps can be viewed in e-ink mode.

The second surprise from Hisense was its entry into a fairly well-populated market segment, namely sturdy phones that can be used in rough environments. The bulky Cat Phone, made by Bullitt Mobile under licence from Caterpillar, is the quality leader in this category. However, many mainstream manufacturers have built “action” or “rugged” versions of their phones for use on construction sites and the like.

The problem with most of these devices is that they look like they were designed for construction sites. And that is where Hisense has spotted a gap: a rugged phone that also looks like a lifestyle phone.

Due to be launched in South Africa next week, it’s called the Rock, and is a dual-SIM phone with a 5.2-inch high-definition display at 424 ppi. A 16MP rear camera and 5MP on the front and a Qualcomm 1.4GHz octa core processor are packed into a frame that is only 7.95mm thick – almost unheard of in a phone designed for durability.

The Hisense Rock

The Hisense Rock

On that note, it has a large 3000mAh battery for long use out in the field, and is rated IP68, meaning it is both dust and water resistant. The rating is something of a msinomer, however, as the phone can continue recording video while immersed under water. The pièce de résistance, however, is that it can be dropped from three metres onto concrete without either the screen or the insides cracking.

It runs on Nougat, the latest version of Android, and would not look out of place in an office or next to a pool. In demanding terrain, it would be the coolest phone out in the field.

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

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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