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Internet of Things: Simpler than you think

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The Internet of Things is one of the latest buzzwords in the IT industry. It promises to transform how we live and work, but for some its still very difficult to understand. VINCE RESENTE, Enterprise Technology Specialist at Intel attempts to demystify the IoT.

Ah, the Internet of Things. It’s the topic on everyone’s lips – the buzzword of the year. It promises to transform the way we live and work, to free us from mundane tasks, and create entirely new jobs in entirely new industries.

Ask anyone in technology to explain the IoT and they’ll probably use words like sensors, big data and networks, and tell you how, together, these produce real-time insights and business intelligence.

No wonder the man on the street isn’t as excited about the IoT as those in the industry are. For something that is expected to have massive impacts on the lives of every person on the planet, the IoT should be easier to understand.

Demystifying the IoT

The high-level definition of the IoT is a collection of sensors that feed information into a database to make sense of things.

That’s not the most user-friendly explanation.

Let’s rather think of the IoT as a human body – we’ll call him John.

John’s central nervous system is the database and his senses (sight, smell, touch, etc) are, well, the sensors.

When information enters John’s nervous system (database) through his senses (sensors), he interprets it immediately and responds accordingly – he pulls his hand away from a hot stove; he sidesteps an uncovered manhole; he turns down the volume on the TV if it’s too loud.

The heat from the plate, the sight of the open manhole, and the TV volume is all data, which John analyses in real-time, allowing him to make instant decisions. He uses this information to protect himself by predicting outcomes before they occur – like falling into the manhole and seriously injuring himself.

Making businesses smarter

This is, in essence, how the IoT works.

Businesses in any vertical can monitor and analyse just about any variable. This analysis allows them to make better business decisions in response to changing conditions, in real time. They can also predict what is likely to happen in the future and put measures in place to protect themselves from financial loss or to better position themselves to leverage future opportunities.

These decisions – or business intelligence – keep them ahead of their competitors, help them save time and money through unnecessary downtime, and ensure their systems always perform optimally.

Let’s consider some of the variables a courier company – we’ll call it ABCDeliveries – might monitor. By monitoring traffic patterns through apps like Waze, GPS data and traffic light sensors, ABCDeliveries can calculate the fastest route between destinations, saving it time on the road and allowing it to complete more deliveries in a day, which equates to more revenue. By monitoring the weather, ABCDeliveries will know when to move packages undercover to prevent damage from rain or hail, saving it money in insurance claims.

A key aspect of the IoT is that big data is time-stamped. Traffic information from yesterday is useless to ABCDeliveries today. It needs to know what is happening right now so that it can react appropriately.

Humans as sensors

Thousands of South Africans use the IoT every day, possibly without realising it. Anyone who travels with the Waze navigation app is essentially part of a bigger IoT ecosystem.

Users opt in to share their movements and to report road hazards, faulty traffic lights and police sightings, meaning they are, essentially, the sensors that submit data – of John’s senses. This information is disseminated to other Waze users travelling on the same route.

If 20 people give a hazard report a thumbs up, it’s likely still there. If 10 give it a thumbs down, it’s probably not and Waze will remove it from the hazard list. That’s a big data decision made in real time in response to data coming in from thousands of sensors.

The effects? People are able to avoid congested roads and discover new routes that get them to work faster. Imagine how much simpler our lives will be when we can look inside our fridges from our phones while doing grocery shopping, or when we can turn on the heaters from work to arrive to a warm home in winter?

There is not a single vertical that will not benefit from the IoT, but we first need to understand how it works so that we can get more people excited about it – and more people developing for it – so we can all realise these benefits sooner.

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Tech promotes connections across groups in emerging markets

Digital technology users say they more regularly interact with people from diverse backgrounds

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Smartphone users – especially those who use social media – say they are more regularly exposed to people who have different backgrounds. They are also more connected with friends they don’t see in person, a Pew Research Center survey of adults in 11 emerging economies finds.

South Africa, included in the study, has among the most consistent levels of connection across age groups and education levels and in terms of cross-cultural connections. This suggests both that smartphones have had a greater democratisation impact in South Africa, but also that the country is more geared to diversity than most others. Of 11 countries surveyed, it has the second-lowest spread between those using smartphones and those not using them in terms of exposure to other religious groups.

Across every country surveyed, those who use smartphones are more likely than those who use less sophisticated phones or no phones at all to regularly interact with people from different religious groups. In most countries, people with smartphones also tend to be more likely to interact regularly with people from different political parties, income levels and racial or ethnic backgrounds. 

The Center’s new report is the third in a series exploring digital connectivity among populations in emerging economies based on nationally representative surveys of adults in Colombia, India, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, the Philippines, Tunisia, South Africa, Venezuela and Vietnam. Earlier reports examined attitudes toward misinformation and mobile technology’s social impact

The survey finds that smartphone and social media use are intertwined: A median of 91% of smartphone users in these countries also use social media or messaging apps, while a median of 81% of social media users say they own or share a smartphone. And, as with smartphone users, social media and messaging app users stand apart from non-users in how often they interact with people who are different from them. For example, 52% of Mexican social media users say they regularly interact with people of a different income level, compared with 28% of non-users. 

These results do not show with certainty that smartphones or social media are the cause of people feeling like they have more diverse networks. For example, those who have resources to buy and maintain a smartphone are likely to differ in many key ways from those who don’t, and it could be that some combination of those differences drives this phenomenon. Still, statistical modelling indicates that smartphone and social media use are independent predictors of greater social network diversity when other factors such as age, education and sex are held constant. 

Other key findings in the report include: 

  • Mobile phones and social media are broadening people’s social networks. More than half in most countries say they see in person only about half or fewer of the people they call or text. Mobile phones are also allowing many to stay in touch with people who live far away: A median of 93% of mobile phone users across the 11 countries surveyed say their phones have mostly helped them keep in touch with those who are far-flung. When it comes to social media, large shares report relationships with “friends” online who are distinct from those they see in person. A median of 46% of Facebook users across the 11 countries report seeing few or none of their Facebook friends in person regularly, compared with a median of 31% of Facebook users who often see most or all of their Facebook friends in person. 
  • Social activities and information seeking on subjects like health and education top the list of mobile activities. The survey asked mobile phone users about 10 different activities they might do on their mobile phones – activities that are social, information-seeking or commercial in nature. Among the most commonly reported activities are casual, social activities. For example, a median of 82% of mobile phone users in the 11 countries surveyed say they used their phone over the past year to send text messages and a median of 69% of users say they took pictures or videos. Many mobile phone users are also using their phones to find new information. For example, a median of 61% of mobile phone users say they used their phones over the past year to look up information about health and medicine for themselves or their families. This is more than the proportion that reports using their phones to get news and information about politics (median of 47%) or to look up information about government services (37%). Additionally, around half or more of mobile phone users in nearly all countries report having used their phones over the past 12 months to learn something important for work or school. 
  • Digital divides emerge in the new mobile-social environment. People with smartphones and social media – as well as younger people, those with higher levels of education, and men – are in some ways reaping more benefits than others, potentially contributing to digital divides. 
    • People with smartphones are much more likely to engage in activities on their phones than people with less sophisticated devices – even if the activity itself is quite simple. For example, people with smartphones are more likely than those with feature or basic phones to send text messages in each of the 11 countries surveyed, even though the activity is technically feasible from all mobile phones. Those who have smartphones are also much more likely to look up information for their households, including about health and government services. 
    •  There are also major differences in mobile usage by age and education level in how their devices are – or are not – broadening their horizons. Younger people are more likely to use their phones for nearly all activities asked about, whether those activities are social, information-seeking or commercial. Phone users with higher levels of education are also more likely to do most activities on their phones and to interact with those who are different from them regularly than those with lower levels of education. 
    •  Gender, too, plays a role in what people do with their devices and how they are exposed to different people and information. Men are more likely than women to say they encounter people who are different from them, whether in terms of race, politics, religion or income. And men tend to be more likely to look up information about government services and to obtain political news and information. 

These findings are drawn from a Pew Research Center survey conducted among 28,122 adults in 11 countries from Sept. 7 to Dec. 7, 2018. In addition to the survey, the Center conducted focus groups with participants in Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines and Tunisia in March 2018, and their comments are included throughout the report. 

Read the full report at https://www.pewinternet.org/2019/08/22/in-emerging-economies-smartphone-and-social-media-users-have-broader-social-networks.

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Nokia to be first with Android 10

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Nokia is likely to be the first smartphone brand to roll out Android 10, after its manufacturer, HMD Global, announced that the Android 10 software upgrade would start in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Previously named Android Q, it was given the number after Google announced it was ditching sweet and dessert names due to confusion in different languages. Android 10 is due for release at the end of the year.

Juho Sarvikas, chief product officer of HMD Global said: “With a proven track record in delivering software updates fast, Nokia smartphones were the first whole portfolio to benefit from a 2-letter upgrade from Android Nougat to Android Oreo and then Android Pie. We were the fastest manufacturer to upgrade from Android Oreo to Android Pie across the range. 

“With today’s roll out plan we look set to do it even faster for Android Pie to Android 10 upgrades. We are the only manufacturer 100% committed to having the latest Android across the entire portfolio.”

HMD Global has given a guarantee that Nokia smartphone owners benefit from two years of OS upgrades and 3 years of security updates.

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