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AppDate: Fitbit for Windows 10

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In this bumper AppDate edition, SEAN BACHER highlights Fitbit for Windows 10, the VIDI smart TV streaming app, GridWatch, Fallout Shelter for Android, Vitality points rewards program with Samsung’s S Health, FNB’s banking app named among the best in the world, Opera Mini for Windows Phone, Sniper 3D, Recast and Apple News.

Fitbit for Windows 10

The new Fitbit for Windows 10 app lets users keep track of their steps, sleep and calorie intake. The app makes clever use of the tiled interface offered by Windows 10, making it easy to operate and navigate. Among other features, one can use the updated live tiles for quick access to key information, use the quick actions to set goals, or speak commands to the app through its Cortana support. According to Fitbit, a version of the app will be available for Windows 10 mobile and Xbox One later this year.

Platform: Windows 10
Expect to pay: A free download
Stockists: Visit the Windows 10 app store.

VIDI smart TV streaming app

VIDI – South Africa’s premiere video-on-demand service has announced a streaming Smart TV app. At the time of launch, the app only works with Samsung Smart TVs, but allows VIDI subscribers to stream videos directly to their TV, without having a computer present.

Platform: Every Samsung Smart TV from 2013 onward.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Available through the Smart Hub on a Samsung Smart TV.

GridWatch

Although not exactly a new app, the GridWatch app (developed by News24) is a must for any South African. The app allows a user to select the area where their office or home is located and save that location. They are then able to check that week’s Eskom load shedding schedule in their area according to time and stage. The app is dead simple to use and even has a dedicated torch button for when the lights go out.

Platform: iOS, Windows Phone 8 and above, Android and BlackBerry OS10 and above.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Fallout Shelter for Android

Fallout Shelter, the first mobile game set in the Fallout universe from Bethesda Game Studios, is now available from the Google Play store. Fallout Shelter is a post-nuclear strategy and simulation experience that puts the player in control of a state-of-the-art underground Vault. Build the perfect Vault from a variety of rooms, oversee your own thriving community of Vault Dwellers, and protect them from the dangers of the Wasteland.

Platform: Android
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the Google Play Store.

Vitality points with Samsung’s S Health

A new partnership between Discovery Health and Samsung will see Vitality points being offered to Discovery Vitality members for physical activities. These activities need to be tracked through the Samsung’s S Health 4.0 app. Users wanting to take advantage of this partnership need to have a Galaxy Gear S tethered to their phone. Overall, a rather expensive solution, but one that will not only help keep you healthy, but offer rewards. For example, should a user log between 5,000 and 7,499 steps a day he will earn 50 Vitality points, and between 7,500 and 9,999 steps a day, 100 Vitality points. Over 12,500 steps a day earns 200 Vitality points. Bear in mind that the same benefits apply to Fitbit at far lower cost.

Platform: A Samsung Galaxy S6 or S6 edge and a Galaxy Gear S to track steps.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the Samsung app store from your device.

FNB Banking app named among best in world

The FNB Banking App recently scooped international awards, placing it at the top in the category of banking apps. The app has just been ranked 4th best globally by MyPrivateBanking Research in the category of Mobile Apps for Wealth Management 2015, and 6th best globally by the UX Alliance for usability and ease of use. This follows a recent accolade after the app was voted best banking app in Internet Banking SITEisfaction Survey, which measures internet banking quality and user experience in South Africa.

Platform: iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8 and above and BlackBerry OS10 and above.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Opera Mini for Windows Phone

The recently released Opera Mini browser for Windows Phone is designed not only to take advantage of the tiled format, but also increase Internet browsing speeds and at the same time save the user money through compression algorithms. The browser also offers users an offline mode where web pages are cached for browsing at a later stage. A new Speed Dial option is also now available that lets users view their regular pages with one click.

Platform: Windows Phone 8 and above.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the Windows Phone store.

Sniper 3D

Sharpen your sniping skills through a variety of special ops, assignments and daily missions with Sniper 3D. The game allows a user to choose from a variety of sniper rifles, AR rifles, shotguns and hand guns. The 3D-like graphics make peering down a scope, bullet wounds and cities look very real. The shooter is controlled through the phone’s accelerometers and swiping up and down the screen. A quick tap makes the shooter fire. The game is littered with in-app purchases, but a little patience – and spending credit wisely – means a player will get very far without having to spend a cent of real money.

Platform: iOS and Android.
Expect to pay: A free download, but with endless in-app purchases – some as much as R300
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Recast

Recast allows users to tune into radio station playlists from around the world and listen to them as if they were using a music streaming service. However, what makes Recast better than listening to a live radio station is that all the DJ chatter is cut out and users can skip and fast-forward through tracks. Once installed, the app will pull playlists from over 200 radio stations and display the 10 most played tracks as collected from other users.

Platform: iOS and Android.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Apple News app

The latest News app from Apple offers the best news reading experience on any Apple mobile device. Available with iOS 9, News combines the visually rich layout of a magazine with the immediacy and customisation of digital media. News follows over a million topics and pulls relevant stories based on a user’s specific interests that can be easily shared or saved for later. News is powered by the new custom-designed Apple News Format, a digital publishing format that allows publishers to create interactive and attractive layouts.

Platform: iOS 9
Expect to pay: A free download with iOS 9.
Stockists: Visit the iTunes store for the iOS 9 update.

* 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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