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IFA 2019: AI, 5G, voice rule the tech roost

Artificial Intelligence, voice and 5G connectivity shape the digital world as #Coinnovation powers the world’s biggest consumer technology show

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Artificial Intelligence, voice and 5G connectivity are the three big trends shaping consumer electronics and home appliances at IFA 2019. IFA is once again the platform for the world’s leading brands to showcase the innovation, products and services that will dominate real-world stores and virtual shelves on Black Friday, Singles Day, Cyber Monday, Christmas and into the New Year. With all exhibition space fully booked, IFA Berlin will host 1.939 manufacturers and brands across 163.900 square meters net at two exhibition areas – the Berlin Exhibition Grounds and IFA Global markets, Europe’s largest sourcing show for trade visitors at STATION-Berlin.

Hans-Joachim Kamp, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH, the organizer of IFA, says: “IFA’s success story is underpinned by the constant innovation in our industries, and their agility to react to consumers’ needs. IFA continues to be the world’s most important platform for consumer electronics and home appliances and is a key driver for our industries’ growth and innovation. During the six days ahead, our exhibitors, trade visitors, the media and the general public will see more innovation and new products than ever before.”

Dr. Reinhard Zinkann, Chairman of the ZVEI Association of the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association, says: “Consumer confidence has not really been helped by the broader economic context and political developments. As a result, some markets are trading sideways or have become weaker or more volatile. Despite these business challenges, the household appliance industry is doing quite well, which makes us optimistic for the future. IFA as the most important meeting and marketplace for the home appliances industry will help to give us an extra boost.”

Dr. Christian Göke, CEO Messe Berlin, says: “Our IFA team has two objectives: to showcase the best innovation and inspire co-innovation. What you see here in Berlin is the cutting edge of technology, and ready for consumers ahead of the most important shopping season – from Black Friday and Singles Day to Cyber Monday and Christmas. The high standard of innovation on show here at IFA Berlin just underlines how important it is to keep trade barriers low, because without it innovation would be much less dynamic – and that would be harmful for both consumers and society.”

IFA NEXT

As the first IFA Global Innovation Partner of IFA NEXT, Japan will present an exclusive Pavilion at Hall 26, joining startups and cutting-edge IT companies from around the world. The Japan Pavilion’s maxim is “Interface with Consideration and Sensibility” – with examples of new human-machine interfaces developed in line with inherent Japanese traits, developed for a society where cyberspace and physical space are already highly integrated. Through the Japan Pavilion, Japan will showcase a new user interface that enables all levels of society to benefit from digital technologies in a rapidly developing digital economy.

Artificial intelligence, Voice, Robotics, Smart Homes and 5G, the new mobile telecommunications standard, are just some of the key trends at IFA NEXT, the global start-up stage and innovation platform in Hall 26. Two centrally located stages in the hall – the Innovation Engines – will host presentations on new products, technologies and services. Speakers at IFA NEXT will be drawn from a fascinating mixture of startups, technology companies and research institutions.

IFA KEYNOTES

Every year, the IFA Keynote on the first two days of the show are a stage for the best in innovation, and this year is no different – especially given the political and economic background for Friday’s keynote speakers.

  • Richard Yu, CEO of the Huawei Consumer Business Group (IFA Opening Keynote, 6 September, 10:30 a.m.) explains why 5G could be the technology that will significantly change IoT, autonomous driving and smart devices.
  • Cristian AmonPresident of Qualcomm, will explain why 5G will be a fundamental driver of technological progress and usher in the next era of great inventions” (IFA Keynote, 6 September, 14:00).
  • Anthony Wood, the founder, chairman and CEO of Roku is arguably the most successful challenger to Netflix and cable networks alike. Wood talks about the visions and innovations that will transform television (IFA Keynote, September 7, 10:30).
  • With twelve global brands, Arcelik is a market leader in most of its markets, including two of Europe’s largest household appliance brands, Beko and Grundig. During the IFA Keynote, Hakan Bulgurlu, CEO Arçelik, will explain his strategic insights and his company’s global position (IFA Keynote, 7 September, 14:00).

IFA+ SUMMIT 
The power of data is this year’s top topic at the IFA+ Summit – IFA’s Future Convention. On 8 and 9 September, numerous international speakers look ahead to how disruptive technologies will change and shape our digital future.

With its growing order volume, IFA will continue to drive growth in international and national markets.

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Samsung A51: Saviour of the mid-range

For a few years, Samsung has delivered some less than favourable mid-range devices compared to the competition. The Galaxy A51 is here to change all that, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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It’s not often one can look at a mid-range phone and mistake it for a flagship. That’s what you can expect to experience when taking the Galaxy A51 out into the open.

Samsung went back to the drawing board with its new range of devices, and it shows. The latest Galaxy A range features some of the highest quality, budget-friendly devices we’ve seen so far. The Samsung Galaxy A51 is one of the best phones we’ve seen in a while, not just aesthetically, but in what it packs into a sub-R7000 price tag.

Looking at the device briefly, it’s very easy to mistake it for a flagship. It features a four-camera array on the back, and an Infinity-O punch-hole display – both of which are features of the high-end Samsung devices. In fact, it features a similar camera array as the Galaxy Note10 Lite but features an additional lens in the array. The cameras line up in an L-shape, clearly avoiding looking like a stovetop.

Apart from the camera array, the back of the handset features a striking pattern called Prism Crush, a pattern of pastel shades that come in black, white, blue, and pink. For the review, we used the Prism Crush Blue colour and it looks really great. The feel is clearly plastic, which isn’t too surprising for a mid-range device, but the design is definitely something that will make users opt for a clear case. It’s also great to see a design pattern that deviates from the standard single iridescent colours many manufacturers have copied from Huawei’s design.

Along the sides, it features a metal-like frame, but again, it’s plastic. On the left side, we find a SIM and microSD card tray while the right side houses the power button and volume rocker. The bottom of the phone features a very welcome USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack, which isn’t too uncommon for mid-range phones.

On the front, the device is pretty much all screen, at an 87.4% screen-to-body ratio, thanks to a tiny chin at the bottom and the small punch hole for the camera. The earpiece has also been hidden inside the frame in attempts to maximise this screen-to-body ratio. When powered on, the 6.5-inch display looks vivid and sharp. That’s because Samsung opted to put a Super AMOLED display into this midrange unit, giving it a resolution of 1080 x 2400 (at 405 ppi) in a 20:9 format. This makes the display FullHD+, and perfect for consuming video content like Netflix and YouTube in HD.

Hidden underneath the display is an in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is very surprising to find in a mid-range device. While it is extremely accurate, it takes some getting used to because the sensor is so large that one needs to put one’s entire finger over the right part of the display to unlock it. Most other types of non-in-screen fingerprint sensors don’t mind a partial fingerprint. The display itself feels nothing like the back and that’s because it’s not plastic, but rather Gorilla Glass 3, to prevent the screen from shattering easily.

What’s interesting about this device is finding accessories which aren’t quite available in phone stores yet. When browsing online for screen protectors, one has to be on the lookout for screen protectors that are compatible with the in-screen fingerprint sensor. Make sure to check out the reviews of users before purchasing them.

In terms of software, Samsung has made a great deal of effort to make the experience slick. Gone are the days of TouchWiz (thank goodness) and now we have OneUI in its second version. OneUI makes the phone easier to use by putting most of the interaction on the bottom half of the screen and most of the view on the top part of the screen, where one’s thumbs don’t usually reach.

Out of the box, the device came with Android 10. This is a huge step forward in terms of commitment to running the latest software for major feature updates as well as for Android security patches to keep the device secure.

It also has most of the cool features from the flagship devices, like Samsung Pay, Bixby, and Link to Windows. Samsung Pay is an absolute pleasure to use, even if it still confuses the person taking your payments. From linking my cards, I have stopped taking my wallet out with me because all merchants that accept tap-to-pay will accept Samsung Pay on the A51.

Bixby is useful if you’re in the Samsung app ecosystem, especially for owners of SmartThings devices like Samsung TVs and SmartThings-enabled smart home devices. Otherwise, Google Assistant is still accessible for those who still want to use the standard Google experience.

Link to Windows is an interesting feature that started with the Galaxy Note10 and has since trickled down into the mid-range. It allows users to send SMS messages, view recently taken photos, and receive notifications from the phone, all on a Windows 10 PC. This can be enabled by going to the Your Phone app found in the start menu.

The rear camera is phenomenal for a mid-range device and features a 48MP wide sensor. The photos come out as 12MP images, which is a common trick of many manufacturers to achieve high-quality photography. It does this by combining 4 pixels into a single superpixel to get the best colours out of the picture, while still remaining sharp. It also performs surprisingly well in low light, which is not something we were expecting from a mid-range device.

The 12MP ultra-wide angle lens spans 123-degrees, which is very wide and also useful for getting shots in where one can’t move back further. It’s not as great as the main lens but does the trick for getting everyone in for a group photo in a galley kitchen.

The 5MP depth-sensing lens supplements the portrait mode, which adds a blur effect to the background of the photo – the same lens as its predecessor, the Galaxy A50. It features a 32MP wide-angle selfie camera, which is perfect for fitting everyone into a large group selfie.

The processor is an Exynos 9611, which is an Octa-core processor. It performs well in most situations, and there is software built in to give games a boost, so it performs well with graphically intensive games too. In terms of RAM, there are 4GB, 6GB, and 8GB variants, so keep an eye out for which one you are trying. For the review, we had the 4GB, and it performs well with multitasking and day-to-day tasks.

For storage, it comes in a 128GB model on Samsung’s website, which seems to be the standard size. This is extremely welcome in the mid-range segment and is the largest we’ve seen for internal storage capacity as a starting point.

At a recommended selling price of R6,999, the Samsung Galaxy A51 marks the beginning of a great era for Samsung, because it provides a feature-rich handset at an affordable price.

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Prepare now for 2030

Traditional businesses are toast unless they start preparing for the future now, warns ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Various forecasts point to the likelihood that technologies using artificial intelligence will generate up to 15% of the world’s gross domestic product by 2030. PwC suggests that it will add $15.7-trillion to the global economy. 

That, in turn, will ensure that a sizeable proportion of the world’s business will be conducted on advanced digital platforms. In other words, the 15% is just the springboard for vast swathes of activity that will dominate business. Those that stick to the old way of doing things will simply be left out of the new economy.

This means traditional businesses are already toast, but only if they decide not to start preparing now.

“This future economy is something that should be on everybody’s mind and in every government’s strategy,” says Mohammed Amin, Dell Technologies senior vice president for Middle East, Russia, Africa and Turkey. During a visit to South Africa this week, he said it was no longer a matter of selling technology for its own sake.

“If you’re not part of this wagon to the future, you need to jump on it. The world’s IT companies are not pushing digital transformation and multi-cloud strategy just for the sake of selling technology. We’re doing it to optimise your business and to help make you part of the future.”

He says three primary trends need to be leveraged by business.

“I believe that artificial intelligence is the ship that is going to take us for the future. The fuel is going to be data. And infrastructure will be software-defined. You have to build an agile, dynamic infrastructure to thrive in this future.”

Amin, an Egyptian-Canadian, points to the sensation created by his late compatriot, the Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum, who died 45 years ago. Last year, she appeared in the world’s first hologram concert, at the World Youth Forum in Egypt. Then, in December, she performed – as a hologram – for paying audiences in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. 

“Imagine people paying for tickets to watch a hologram. It means the world is open to this. It is moving so fast, and we are in the heart of this.”

It is also an example of how technology companies are no longer focused only on technology but also on enhancing human lives. 

“We’re involved in so many projects, from healthcare to education. Education especially is very important, because it is shifting from ‘what to learn’ to ‘how to learn’. It’s an amazing shift. You need to know how to learn because you will need to experience and learn in so many fields to be qualified for the future.”

Amin does not believe doomsday prophecies of much of the world’s population being rendered jobless by robots and AI. However, some “straightforward” jobs will be readily replaceable. Even lawyers and general practice doctors, for example, could be replaced by smartphone apps.

“The job market will grow, but the profile required is going to change. Jobs will be available, but for certain profiles. By 2030, 85% of the job market will be for jobs we don’t know today. This is the challenge that education faces.” 

  • 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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