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AppDate: Santa has a bag full of apps

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In his latest AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Santa’s Bag, WolframAlpha, Kaspersky Virus Scanner for Mac, WeChat Mobile Wallet, the Mziiki African music streaming service, Opera’s new Mini browser, My Ford Mobile, Office Lens and Android Pocket.

Santa’s bag

The festive season is upon us and that means shops are going to be packed with people looking for gifts for their friends and family. The Santa’s bag app makes shopping a little more bearable as it lets users set budgets, plan gift ideas, create wish lists, track progress and create to-do lists. If only it could go out and make all the purchases for you too!

Platform: Android and iOS
Expect to pay: A free version is available, with the full version costing R40.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

WolframAlpha

Ever wondered what the tides in Honolulu are like at this time of year? Or what the derivative of cos X is? Well, you could Google these questions, but you would have to sift through dozens of near-hits before you find the correct answer. With WolframAlpha, these answers are fewer clicks away. The app is designed for engineers, mechanics and even rocket scientists. It works so well that Siri uses many of its algorithms to provide answers to some of the questions an iPhone user asks. The app specialises in a range of academic categories, from maths to chemistry to astronomy.

Platform: iOS
Expect to pay: R40
Stockists: Visit the Apple Play Store.

Kaspersky Virus Scanner for Mac

The Kaspersky Virus Scanner for Mac quickly scans Mac OS X devices for malware and viruses. It is simple to install and, once on a computer, runs in the background without bothering the user – except for when a threat is found. Flash disks and portable hard drives are scanned as and when they are plugged into a USB port. New virus signatures are automatically updated when they become available.

Platform: An Apple desktop or notebook running OS X or later
Expect to pay: A free download is available but with limited functionality. The full version costs around R70.
Stockists: Visit the Apple App Store

WeChat Mobile Wallet

The WeChat Mobile Wallet, which was recently launched in partnership with Standard Bank, lets users load money from their bank accounts onto their phones. They can then use this money to pay for purchases at participating retailers using the SnapScan feature. The service also allows money transfer to other WeChat users. At the time of launch, users could buy airtime and pay for prepaid electricity, but other offerings will be made available in the near future.

Platform: Any mobile operating system that supports WeChat
Expect to pay: A free service, but loading cash costs R9,95, regardless of the amount being loaded to the wallet.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Mziiki African music streaming service

The Mziiki music streaming app allows users to stream over 625 000 African songs. Like many other music streaming services, users can save the songs to their devices for offline listening. The app also offers the ability to create playlists and can set songs as the phone’s ringtone. The app’s user interface is well laid out, with album art easily viewable for a quick song selection. One of the best features offered by Mziiki is that song downloads are free, with the user only paying for the data used while streaming a song.

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

New Opera Mini browser

The latest version of the Opera Mini browser now supports video compression, meaning users spend less on data when streaming videos from YouTube channels and the like. Other additions include installable web applications, allowing users to launch applications directly from the browser homepage. Opera has also improved the download feature, as it now alerts users when downloads are complete. There is an option to open new web pages without leaving the current one.

Platform: Android, iOS, Windows Phone 8 and above, BlackBerry OS 10 and above
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

My Ford Mobile

The MyFord Mobile application allows users to access their car’s vital stats through an Android Wear or Apple smartwatch. The app only works with Ford’s electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles, and users can access the range and charge status for the car’s battery, the vehicle’s mileage summary, and the car’s location. Users can also remotely lock and unlock the car and set its temperature.

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

Office Lens

Office Lens is like having a scanner in your pocket as it trims, enhances and makes readable pictures of whiteboards and docs. It is then able to save them to OneNote where they can be used as PDFs, Word and PowerPoint documents. The app includes OCR so that written notes can be converted to characters and the text copied and imbedded straight into documents.

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

Android Pocket

Even though Internet access is available throughout most of South Africa, there are still many dead-spots or places with very poor Internet access. Android Pocket lets users browse and then save pages to their devices, making them available offline. News stories, videos and blog posts can also be saved and can be synchronised across a range of devices.

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

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

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IoT sensors are anything from doctor to canary in mines

Industrial IoT is changing the shape of the mining industry and the intelligence of the devices that drive it

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The Internet of Things (IoT) has become many things in the mining industry. A canary that uses sensors to monitor underground air quality, a medic that monitors healthcare, a security guard that’s constantly on guard, and underground mobile vehicle control. It has evolved from the simple connectivity of essential sensors to devices into an ecosystem of indispensable tools and solutions that redefine how mining manages people, productivity and compliance. According to Karien Bornheim, CEO of Footprint Africa Business Solutions (FABS), IoT offers an integrated business solution that can deliver long-term, strategic benefits to the mining industry.

“To fully harness the business potential of IoT, the mining sector has to understand precisely how it can add value,” she adds. “IoT needs to be implemented across the entire value chain in order to deliver fully optimised, relevant and turnkey operational solutions. It doesn’t matter how large the project is, or how complex, what matters is that it is done in line with business strategy and with a clear focus.”

Over the past few years, mining organisations have deployed emerging technologies to help bolster flagging profits, manage increasingly weighty compliance requirements, and reduce overheads. These technologies are finding a foothold in an industry that faces far more complexities around employee wellbeing and safety than many others, and that juggles numerous moving parts to achieve output and performance on a par with competitive standards. Already, these technologies have allowed mines to fundamentally change worker safety protocols and improve working conditions. They have also provided mining companies with the ability to embed solutions into legacy platforms, allowing for sensors and IoT to pull them into a connected net that delivers results.

“The key to achieving results with any IoT or technology project is to partner with service providers, not just shove solutions into identified gaps,” says Bornheim. “You need to start in the conceptual stage and move through the pre-feasibility and bankable feasibility stages before you start the implementation. Work with trained and qualified chemical, metallurgical, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and structural engineers that form a team led by a qualified engineering lead with experience in project management. This is the only way to ensure that every aspect of the project is aligned with the industry and its highly demanding specifications.”

Mining not only has complexities in compliance and health and safety, but the market has become saturated, difficult and mercurial. For organisations to thrive, they must find new revenue streams and innovate the ways in which they do business. This is where the data delivered by IoT sensors and devices can really transform the bottom line. If translated, analysed and used correctly, the data can provide insights that allow for the executive to make informed decisions about sites, investment and potential.


“The cross-pollination of different data sets from across different sites can help shift dynamics in plant operation and maintenance, in the execution of specific tasks, and so much more,” says Bornheim. “In addition, with sensors and connected devices and systems, mining operations can be managed intelligently to ensure the best results from equipment and people.”

The connection of the physical world to the digital is not new. Many of the applications currently being used or presented to the mining industry are not new either. What’s new is how these solutions are being implemented and the ways in which they are defined. It’s more than sticking on sensors. It’s using these sensors to streamline business across buildings, roads, vehicles, equipment, and sites. These sensors and the ways in which they are used or where they are installed can be customised to suit specific business requirements.

“With qualified electronic engineers and software experts, you can design a vast array of solutions to meet the real needs of your business,” says Bornheim. “Our engineers can programme, create, migrate and integrate embedded IoT solutions for microcontrollers, sensors, and processors. They can also develop intuitive dashboards and human-machine interfaces for IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) devices to manage the input and output of a wide range of functionalities.”

The benefits of IoT lie in its ubiquity. It can be used in tandem with artificial intelligence or machine learning systems to enhance analytics, improve the automation of basic processes and monitor systems and equipment for faults. It can be used alongside M2M applications to enhance the results and the outcomes of the systems and their roles. And it can be used to improve collaboration and communication between man, machine and mine.

“You can use IoT platforms to visualise mission-critical data for device monitoring, remote control, alerts, security management, health and safety and healthcare,” concludes Bornheim. “The sky is genuinely the limit, especially now that the cost of sensors has come down and the intelligence of solutions and applications has gone up. From real-time insights to hands-on security and safety alerts to data that changes business direction and focus, IoT brings a myriad of benefits to the table.”

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Oracle leads in clash of
e-commerce titans

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Three e-commerce platforms have been awarded “gold medals” for leading the way in customer experience. SoftwareReviews, a division of Info-Tech Research Group, named Oracle Commerce Cloud the leader in its 2020 eCommerce Data Quadrant Awards, followed by Shopify Plus and IBM Digital Commerce. The awards are based on user reviews. 
The three vendors received the following citations:

  • Oracle Commerce Cloud ranked highest among software users, earning the number-one spot in many of the product feature section areas, shining brightest in reporting and analytics, predictive recommendations, order management, and integrated search. 
  • Shopify Plus performed consistently well according to users, taking the number-one spot for catalogue management, shopping cart management and ease of customisation.
  • IBM Digital Commerce did exceptionally well in business value created, quality of features, and vendor support.

The SoftwareReviews Data Quadrant differentiates itself with insightful survey questions, backed by 22 years of research in IT. The study involves gathering intelligence on user satisfaction with both product features and experience with the vendor. When distilled, the customer’s experience is shaped by both the software interface and relationship with the vendor. Evaluating enterprise software along these two dimensions provides a comprehensive understanding of the product in its entirety and helps identify vendors that can deliver on both for the complete software experience.

“Our recent Data Quadrant in e-commerce solutions provides a compelling snapshot of the most popular enterprise-ready players, and can help you make an informed, data-driven selection of an e-commerce platform that will exceed your expectations,” says Ben Dickie, research director at Info-Tech Research Group. 

“Having a dedicated e-commerce platform is where the rubber hits the road in transacting with your customers through digital channels. These platforms provide an indispensable array of features, from product catalog and cart management to payment processing to detailed transaction analytics.”

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