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AppDate: Better handsfree email with messageLOUD

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In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights messageLOUD, TakeAction, Folx 5 Mac download manager, Tetris Twist and Opera – now with ad blocking.|In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights messageLOUD, TakeAction, Folx 5 Mac download manager, Tetris Twist and Opera – now with ad blocking.

messageLOUD gets upgraded

messageLOUD has just been upgraded to read emails without the annoying signature detail thrown in. This is an eyes-free smartphone app that automatically reads your texts, WhatsApp messages and mails out loud, allowing you to keep your eyes on the road. The beta version of the app was originally launched in January, but the final version is now available for download, says South African Garin Toren, Founder and CEO of messageLOUD. When activated, messageLOUD will tell users who is calling, read e-mails in their inbox and will pause music for calls or navigation directions. The app is designed to skip promotional e-mails and its new signature parsing algorithm means all the contact details at the end of a message won’t be read out either.

Platform: Android

Expect to pay: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the Google Play Store.

 

TakeAction

The TakeAction app is designed to help users log service delivery requests quickly and easily. It uses a smartphone’s GPS location and allows users to specify the problem – whether it be a pothole, accident, broken robot or emergency. All incidents reported in an area are grouped together and sent to the appropriate service provider for action.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Folx 5 Mac download manager

In addition to allowing Mac users to manage their downloads easily, Folx 5 also acts as a torrent client. The free version offers a very basic download and torrent option, whereas the pro version will let one split downloads into threads for quicker downloading. The pro version also offers a scheduler, speed control, iTunes integration, password manager and the ability to search torrents.

Platform: Mac OS 10 and above

Expect to pay: A free download with the pro version R280

Stockists: Visit the Apple App Store for downloading instructions.

 

Tetris Twist

Tetris Twist is a new take on the iconic Tetris game. It is HTML 5 based and currently offers 100 levels of gameplay, including multiple levels that players can unlock. One is taken through various cities, including New York, Tokyo, London, Paris, and Amsterdam, with more to be added. Tetris Twist also features new mechanics, such as Gravity mode where Tetriminos rise “up” instead of falling down, Hourglass mode in which Tetriminos are mixed-up as you would see in an hour glass, and Score Cells mode where select cells in the Matrix must be filled with Tetriminos to receive extra bonus points.

Platform: Most computers and tablets with an up-to-date browser running HTML 5

Expect to pay: Free to play.

Stockists: www.coolgames.com

 

Opera – now with ad blocking

The latest Opera browser now incorporates an ad blocking feature, resulting in a dramatic decrease in web page loading times. The improved performance is possible because the filtering happens at the web-engine level – or before the page is downloaded to a computer –

where the browser can fully control the loading process of the page. This is something most extensions do only once the page has loaded. The feature can be switched off, and the ad-blocking feature comes with a benchmark so users can see how much ads and tracking software affect page-loading times.

Platform: Most computers running the latest Opera version.

Expect to pay: A free download.

Stockists: www.opera.com

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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