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Goodbye to point-and-click

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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Veeam passes $1bn, prepares for cloud’s ‘Act II’

Leader in cloud-data management reveals how it will harness the next growth phase of the data revolution, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

Veeam Software, the quiet leader in backup solutions for cloud data management,has announced that it has passed $1-billion in revenues, and is preparing for the next phase of sustained growth in the sector.

Now, it is unveiling what it calls Act II, following five years of rapid growth through modernisation of the data centre. At the VeeamON 2019conferencein Miami this week, company co-founder Ratmir Timashev declared that the opportunities in this new era, focused on managing data for the hybrid cloud, would drive the next phase of growth.

“Veeam created the VMware backup market and has dominated it as the leader for the last decade,” said Timashev, who is also executive vice president for sales and marketing at the organisation. “This was Veeam’s Act I and I am delighted that we have surpassed the $1 billion mark; in 2013 I predicted we’d achieve this in less than six years. 

“However, the market is now changing. Backup is still critical, but customers are now building hybrid clouds with AWS, Azure, IBM and Google, and they need more than just backup. To succeed in this changing environment, Veeam has had to adapt. Veeam, with its 60,000-plus channel and service provider partners and the broadest ecosystem of technology partners, including Cisco, HPE, NetApp, Nutanix and Pure Storage, is best positioned to dominate the new cloud data management in our Act II.”

In South Africa, Veeam expects similar growth. Speaking at the Cisco Connect conference in Sun City this week, country manager Kate Mollett told Gadget’s BRYAN TURNER that the company was doing exceptionally well in this market.

“In financial year 2018, we saw double-digit growth, which was really very encouraging if you consider the state of the economy, and not so much customer sentiment, but customers have been more cautious with how they spend their money. We’ve seen a fluctuation in the currency, so we see customers pausing with big decisions and hoping for a recovery in the Rand-Dollar. But despite all of the negatives, we have double digit growth which is really good. We continue to grow our team and hire.

“From a Veeam perspective, last year we were responsible for Veeam Africa South, which consisted of South Africa, SADC countries, and the Indian Ocean Islands. We’ve now been given the responsibility for the whole of Africa. This is really fantastic because we are now able to drive a single strategy for Africa from South Africa.”

Veeam has been the leading provider of backup, recovery and replication solutions for more than a decade, and is growing rapidly at a time when other players in the backup market are struggling to innovate on demand.

“Backup is not sexy and they made a pretty successful company out of something that others seem to be screwing up,” said Roy Illsley, Distinguished Analyst at Ovum, speaking in Miami after the VeeamOn conference. “Others have not invested much in new products and they don’t solve key challenges that most organisations want solved. Theyre resting on their laurels and are stuck in the physical world of backup instead of embracing the cloud.”

Illsley readily buys into the Veeam tagline. “It just works”. 

“They are very good at marketing but are also a good engineering comany that does produce the goods. Their big strength, that it just works, is a reliable feature they have built into their product portfolio.”

Veeam said in statement from the event that, while it had initially focused on server virtualisation for VMware environments, in recent years it had expanded this core offering. It was now delivering integration with multiple hypervisors, physical servers and endpoints, along with public and software-as-a-service workloads, while partnering with leading cloud, storage, server, hyperconverged (HCI) and application vendors.

This week, it  announced a new “with Veeam”program, which brings in enterprise storage and hyperconverged (HCI) vendors to provide customers with comprehensive secondary storage solutions that combine Veeam software with industry-leading infrastructure systems. Companies like ExaGrid and Nutanix have already announced partnerships.

Timashev said: “From day one, we have focused on partnerships to deliver customer value. Working with our storage and cloud partners, we are delivering choice, flexibility and value to customers of all sizes.”

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‘Energy scavenging’ funded

As the drive towards a 5G future gathers momentum, the University of Surrey’s research into technology that could power countless internet enabled devices – including those needed for autonomous cars – has won over £1M from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and industry partners.

Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) has been working on triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG), an energy harvesting technology capable of ‘scavenging’ energy from movements such as human motion, machine vibration, wind and vehicle movements to power small electronic components. 

TENG energy harvesting is based on a combination of electrostatic charging and electrostatic induction, providing high output, peak efficiency and low-cost solutions for small scale electronic devices. It’s thought such devices will be vital for the smart sensors needed to enable driverless cars to work safely, wearable electronics, health sensors in ‘smart hospitals’ and robotics in ‘smart factories.’ 

The ATI will be partnered on this development project with the Georgia Institute of Technology, QinetiQ, MAS Holdings, National Physical Laboratory, Soochow University and Jaguar Land Rover. 

Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the ATI and the principal investigator of the TENG project, said: “TENG technology is ideal to power the next generation of electronic devices due to its small footprint and capacity to integrate into systems we use every day. Here at the ATI, we are constantly looking to develop such advanced technologies leading towards our quest to realise worldwide “free energy”.

“TENGs are an ideal candidate to power the autonomous electronic systems for Internet of Things applications and wearable electronic devices. We believe this research grant will allow us to further the design of optimized energy harvesters.”

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