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Bend it, shape it, this is the future of smartphones

In San Francisco last week, Lenovo unveiled what may well be the future of smartphones, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

“Bend me, shape me, anyway you want me,” went the silly Sixties pop song. And now the gadgets industry is going the same way.

The fully bendable phone and the foldable tablet screen are finally on the way. Modular phones – as with Lego, you just attach the functionality you want – have made a big arrival in 2016. So, just when you thought that every possible improvement to the smartphone had been made, someone goes a step further.

“Innovation never stands still – I can’t remember a time when there has been more innovation in this space,” said Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel Corporation, during a keynote address at the Lenovo Tech World conference in San Francisco last week.

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Ashton Kutcher with the Lenovo CEO, Yuanqing Yang.

Lenovo CEO Yuanqing Yang – or YY, as he is nicknamed – used the event to announce the latest smartphones and concept phones from Lenovo and its 2013 acquisition Motorola. And he made an even bolder statement: “We will show you something that will change the industry and your life.”

Before unveiling the real new products, however, Lenovo teased the audience with two working prototypes that are still some years from hitting the shelves: the Cplus, a bendable phone that wraps around the wrist, and the Folio, a foldable tablet where the screen itself folds in half to become a standard smartphone display. Both were working devices, rather than artists’ concepts.

“We are turning this vision into reality step by step,” said YY. “You will see a whole new species of device from Lenovo. This year we will launch two revolutionary products.”

With that, he unveiled the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, the first phone to embrace Google’s Project Tango, a technology platform that allows a mobile device to detect its position relative to itse environment without external connections or signals. That makes the phone a platform for both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications.

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As YY put it, the Phab 2 Pro has more sensors and cameras than any other phone: “It understands its environment and augments your experience. It lets you place virtual objects into a real living room.”

It helps that the phone is a huge 6.4” phablet with 4050mAh battery, to support both the visuals and the demands on power made by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 chip.

The phone has no less than three rear cameras: a 16 Megapixel main camera, a depth camera, and a motion-tracking camera, to “enable the magic of Tango functionality”. It is also the first smartphone device to feature Dolby 5.1 audio capture, which records more true-to-life sound, along with Dolby Atmos sound output.”

Due out in the USA in September at a recommended retail price of $499, it is expected to reach South Africa shortly after that.

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The Moto Z happens to be the thinnest smartphone in the world, at an absurdly slim 5.2mm, despite a 5.5” display and 2600mAh battery.

The virtual reality feature builds a “point cloud” of space around the user, and transforms it into a fully virtual space, taking into account real objects in the area. The user can then start exploring and shaping the virtual world through the screen. The application allows one not only to build virtual furniture, for example, but also to generate blueprints that can be taken to manufacturer.

YY kept the biggest unveil for last, declaring: “This is definitely a game-changing product.”

Actor and high-tech investor Ashton Kutcher joined him on state to announce a new family of devices bearing the Motorola logo. Two new Moto phones, the Z and the Z force, were just the starting point. The real news came with the unveiling of Moto Mods – an “ecosystem with two flagship smartphones and a collection of interchangeable backs that transform your mobile experience into exactly what you need, exactly when you need it – a battery powerhouse, a big screen projector or a boombox”.

Unlike the LG G5 announced at Mobile World Congress, with a slide-out bottom that allows components to be swapped, the Moto Mods are magnetic snap-on backs for the Moto Z phones.

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With Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor and Moto TurboPower charging, the Moto Z and Z Force area powerful handsets in their own right.  The Z Force introduces Moto Shattershield, guaranteeing the screen won’t crack even If dropped on concrete from a dew metres. The Z, on the other hand, happens to be the thinnest smartphone in the world, at an absurdly slim 5.2mm, despite a 5.5” display and 2600mAh battery.

And therein lies the real potential of the device. Because it is so thin, snapping a magnetized module onto the back does not make it unduly bulky. That means a Power Pack can double usage time, the Insta-Share Projector can be fitted to create a 70” interactive virtual screen on any surface, and the JBL SoundBoost speaker module can be added to turn the phone into a boombox.

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The bendable concept tablet, the Folio

The Mods are open to third party developers, and Kutcher also helped announce a $1-million prize for the best Mod prototype created by an individual or company in the next nine months.

It was difficult not to take YY seriously when he declared: “This will create a new era for the smartphone and for Lenovo.”

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

 

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3D printed room-service? Visit the hotel of tomorrow

To mark its 100th birthday, Hilton predicts the trends that will change travel and hospitality in the next 100 years.

Intergalactic getaways, fast-food nutrient pills, 2-3 hour working days and adaptable, personalised rooms that can transport guests everywhere from jungles to mountain ranges. These are some of the predictions for the next 100 years that the Hilton hotel group has put together in celebration of its 100th anniversary.

In a report supported by expert insight from the fields of sustainability, innovation, design, human relations and nutrition, findings reveal the impact of the growing sophistication of technology and climate change on the hotel industry in the future.

Key predictions for the hotel of the future include:

Personalisation is King

  • Technology will allow every space, fitting and furnishing to continuously update to respond to an individual’s real-time needs – the Lobby will conjure up anything from a tranquil spa to a buzzy bar, giving every guest the perfect, personal welcome
  • From temperature and lighting, to entertainment and beyond, microchips under the skin will enable us to wirelessly control the setting around us based on what we need, whenever we need it

The Human Touch

  • In a world filled with Artificial Intelligence, human contact and the personal touch will be more critical and sought after than ever
  • Technology will free up time for hotel staff to focus on what matters most: helping guests to connect with one another and building memorable moments

‘Sustainable Everything’ – The Role of Responsibility

  • Only businesses that are inherently responsible will survive the next century
  • Sustainability will be baked into everything about a hotel’s design – from weather-proofed domes, to buildings made from ocean-dredged plastic
  • Hotels will act as the Town Hall of any community, managing local resources and contributing to the areas they serve with community-tended insect farms and vertical hydroponic crop gardens

Menu Surprises and Personalisation

  • Our diets will include more plant-based recipes and some surprising sources of protein – Beetle Bolognese, Plankton Pies and Seaweed Green Velvet Cake will be menu staples!
  • Decadent 3D-printed dinners and room service will provide unrivalled plate personalisation
  • Chefs will be provided with biometric data for each guest, automatically creating meals based on preferences and nutritional requirements

Futuristic Fitness and Digital Detoxes

  • Outswim a virtual sea turtle in the pool, or challenge yourself to climb the digital face of Mount Everest, your exercise routine will be as unique as you are. What’s more, exercise energy generated from workouts will be used to power the hotel, providing a zero-impact, circular system. Guests could even earn rewards based on reaching workout targets
  • Pick up where you left off with trackable workouts and holographic personal trainers
  • Offline will be the new luxury as we seek to find moments of tech-free time

“Since its inception in 1919, Hilton has pioneered the hospitality industry, introducing first-to-market concepts such as air-conditioning and in-room televisions. Last year, Hilton also became the first hospitality company to set science-based targets to reduce its environmental impact,” said Simon Vincent, EVP & President, EMEA, Hilton. “We enter our second century with the same commitment to innovation, harnessing the power of our people and technology to respond to guest demands. Our research paints an exciting future for the hospitality industry, highlighting the growing importance of human interaction in an increasingly tech-centric world.”

Futurologist Gerd Leonhard said: “In 2119 we will still be searching for unique experiences, but they will be more personalised than ever. As technology shapes our lives we will seek out moments of offline connection with others, including hotel team members who will help us truly get what we need from our stays. 100 years from now hotels will have to create opportunities to converse, collaborate and connect, delivering moments that matter, individually, to each and every guest.”

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Gadget ed to chair Digital Council

Specialist financial services provider Sasfin Bank has established a Digital Advisory Council to provide the market with industry-leading expertise and insights on trends shaping the use of technology in financial services.

Digitalisation is one of the most powerful forces for change shaping Finance today. This has turned Fintech into one of the most vibrant sectors in both information technology and among start-ups, generating billions of dollars in investment and development globally. The South African fintech space is dynamic, and Sasfin is playing a leading role in the transformation of local financial services and the resulting enhancement of customer experiences.

“We have been investing in fintech development in-house and acquiring or integrating fintech start-ups,” says Sasfin CEO Michael Sassoon. “Over the last year we have built further digital offerings, integrated via APIs into leading businesses and invested in fintechs. We built and launched B\\YOND, an innovative digital business banking platform and SWIP, a digital wealth and investing platform. We have invested in Payabill, an online SME lender and DMA, a digital trading platform. We recently announced our alliance banking relationship, leveraging open banking, with Hello Paisa to offer seamless banking to the unbanked. We feel that there is a huge opportunity to improve the experience of South African businesses and savers through using technology. We have therefore created an independent forum to assess how to even better improve financial services for South Africans by leveraging the digital economy.”

Arthur Goldstuck, founder of high-tech research consultancy World Wide Worx, editor-in-chief of Gadget, and a globally respected technology analyst has accepted Sasfin’s invitation to head up the Sasfin Digital Advisory Council, an independent think tank that will help Sasfin and its clients decipher the fintech present and future.

“The Sasfin Digital Advisory Council is broader than providing only the bank with a source of insight on how digital services are evolving and lessons from across the world,” said CEO Michael Sassoon. “Sasfin has been involved in fintech investing for many years and we are leveraging this experience as well as the experience of independent experts such as Arthur to provide insights and guidance to interested stakeholders in this space.”

The team appointed to the Digital Advisory Council is being selected for the breadth and range of knowledge they would bring to the table, with further appointments to the Council being announced soon.  There will also be room for the Council to co-opt specialist expertise as it is required.

Goldstuck, who has been covering the fintech sector as an analyst, commentator and columnist for many years, says he sees the role as a welcome challenge.

“There has been a long-standing need for a clear understanding of the impact being made by fintech today, and the exponential change it will cause tomorrow,” said Goldstuck. “My role will be, partly, to curate the wide spectrum of fintech and digitalisation knowledge and insights that the members will bring to the Digital Advisory Council, and help create scenarios that businesses and policymakers may use to navigate the future – both inside and outside Sasfin.”

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