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Goodbye to point-and-click

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At the intersection of customer-centric innovation and user experience (UX), we’re also seeing some profoundly interesting trends developing in the global technology UX space, which are changing the way we interact with, and think about, computing.

While pointing, clicking, and typing still have their place, we’ve also cemented tapping and swiping into our collective consciousness in the past few years. Additionally, speaking is now becoming a fixture. Although voice is not yet a popular interface in South Africa, I think it will soon grow in usage here, as voice and intelligent assistants continue to evolve at an impressive rate.

This makes sense for sheer convenience when you consider that research shows we can type about 40 words per minute, but can only speak about 150 words per minute comfortably. Soon, we won’t just use voice activation in smart phones, speakers and cars, but far more ubiquitously with laptops, and multiple devices around the home and office.

Moving to multimodal input

In fact, our interaction with smart devices will become more multimodal, moving toward what is most natural for the user or the environment they are in. That means instead of using voice or keyboard and mouse or tapping and swiping in isolated ways – we’ll increasingly use them together in more layered ways (imagine touching the screen while voicing a command). We’re beginning to move in this direction with innovations like far-field mics facilitating voice-enabled intelligent AIs such as Cortana and Alexa in some of our Lenovo laptops because it can be easier to talk to your PC in addition to using a traditional input like the mouse. The layering of visual and audible content as well as voice and touch is another example, because sometimes it’s just easier to tap the desired result versus saying a command out loud, or glancing at the display for data instead of listening.

Overall, voice is an area that still needs to evolve – and it will. We’re currently in what I call the ‘Wild, Wild West’ of voice. Just consider the multiple voice offerings all jostling for customer attention: Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant, Siri, Bixby, and so on.

Choices to fit your needs

The unanswered question in the face of these options is choice. In my view, consumers will not want to be confined to one ecosystem. I believe the longer-term winners in voice will be the companies that make offerings which are interoperable with others – like our latest ThinkPad X1 series and Yoga 730 that are Cortana and Alexa-ready. The point is to empower users to play music, get news, or shop online using just their voices. This reflects a shift that is redefining the PC to something much more than a work-focused or task-based machine; in various form factors, PCs will fit into your suite of home-based consumer products, capable of being your intelligent digital assistant and playing a role in running your home appliances – all via voice.

The evolution of sight + sound

This leads me to a point about a growing user experience trend around the integration of video and voice. Over the next year or so, when customers speak a command, we’ll increasingly see a tailored response applicable to that command. For example, a simple question might be answered solely by your voice assistant. But a more complex request may provide the user with a more rounded response: it could be a graphical visualisation, or even a video. In line with this direction is our new Lenovo Smart Display with Google Assistant built-in. It’s all about the evolution of sight and sound with the intention of saving a user’s time and making their home life smarter and more convenient by adding context-relevant visuals. Users will be able to begin their morning with the latest weather, traffic situation, and meeting schedules, or relax in the evening by video-calling friends and watching YouTube – once again, just by using their voice.

Changing orientations

We expect to see an increase in both video content and video usage frequency as this trend takes hold. Data suggests that smartphones are held in portrait mode up to 94% of the time – which has been driving the use of portrait video, given that smartphones are the dominant consumption device. As a result, more portrait video is showing up in other form factors such as laptops, tablets, desktops, and now in the Lenovo Smart Display that transitions seamlessly from landscape to portrait mode. And with millions of millennials livestreaming and watching hours of videos online each day, we will see better cameras, better displays, more augmented reality (AR) video content, and more evolved AI that does a better job analysing video to help with better user recommendations.

I’m excited for what these voice and video trends will bring. Expect users to become more willing and savvy as they use voice skills with devices in more sophisticated ways. And expect voice to become more intelligent and useful in AR settings, IoT applications in the smart home and office, and for handling better cross-device interaction. Interesting times are ahead.

  • Thibault Dousson, General Manager, Lenovo South Africa & SADC 

 

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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