Last year was dominated by Artificial Intelligence – and the year before by Big Data and IoT. But what about next year? How can local companies predict the next wave to ensure innovation and differentiation? One largely needs to follow the breadcrumbs of technology releases, and the ensuing innovators and influential early adopters who dictate the pace of consumption, with their followers lining up behind them.
Over the following 12 months a variety of Extended Reality (XR) products are coming to market that demonstrate a new era of human-computer interaction. Extended Reality is a broad grouping of technologies that change the way we experience digital content. This encompasses all the Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) technologies, enabling profoundly engaging experiences unimaginable a few years ago. From deeply immersive design, training and entertainment applications in VR, to informative or engaging digital overlays in AR, to integrated MR content that allows for digital and real-world interactions, the new realms of XR are set to change the way we experience the world.
Releasing later this year, all signs point to The Oculus Quest being the realisation of the Virtual Reality (VR) dream: affordable, relatively powerful, untethered VR with six degrees of freedom and top tier controllers. Hot on their heels, rumour has it that Apple Glasses will launch their AR headsets in 2020 (though, as yet, unconfirmed). Adding to the competition, Microsoft plans to release their new HoloLens toward the end of the year, promising a significant upgrade on their advanced technology.
The hype built by Oculus (and others) during the launch period of version 1 VR headsets sold a vision that was far removed from the product brought to market which led to VR being perceived as an expensive and complicated device with little content. But the reality in 2019 is quite different where there is an explosion of content on affordable devices. The reason? VR has built out its benefits steadily, beyond entertainment and simulation, into life-changing advancements, becoming widely used for cognitive-based therapy (CBT) – tackling anxieties and phobias around heights, spiders, or a fear of flying, through to social anxiety or body image. Known as Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) it allows patients to access cost-effective anxiety treatment, which can be implemented at home, and its immersive power potentially bypasses the use of medication in many cases, getting a nod too from the powers that be. The American Psychological Association (APA) outlined that VR is “particularly well suited to exposure therapy”, dispelling whatever doubt or criticisms may be looming.
That’s not all. While XR is already used in simulation (flight and military, among others), its usage is expected to dramatically increase within entertainment, museums and tourist attractions, education, and within the transformation of retail e-commerce, offering virtual shopping within various outlets.
Colin Payne, CEO of Sozo Labs, a part of the Alphawave Group, adds, “This presents global and local companies with a choice. Do they invest in the development of platforms that may be somewhat tired by 2022, or seize first-mover advantage as the innovators and owners of XR in their industry space? This next 12 months is the time to make that leap. Out of the ordinary brands really do see that, seeing the opportunity to develop and experience enhanced training or customer experience or even just generating publicity by being innovators in this new space.”
“VR will take centre stage within the next year. Affordability has improved and is pitched to be the next upgrade on social media or mobile phone gaming, arguably waning in our voracious appetite for novelty, and needing to re-invent themselves perpetually,” he says.
“Technology that was previously accessible to labs will soon be in homes and this has been worked on for years by these industry leaders. And the usage has dramatically shifted too – with price down to a few hundred dollars. Even headsets like the Samsung Gear VR that turn smartphones into virtual reality displays is already around $100.”
Sozo Labs has been engaged in the XR space for nearly three years, experimenting in each new iteration of technology. “We have applied these skills across a multitude of applications including data, property and environmental visualisation, as well as marketing experiences, game development, and education. Industry leaders ahead of the curve are already enquiring to ensure they remain the innovators in their respective field.”
Parent company CEO, Frans Meyer, concludes, “Alphawave Group has been building successful technology businesses over the past two decades, and has decided to invest in XR. Our goal is to understand the space and potential market opportunities by diving in and actually developing content and doing projects for customers. We’re convinced the market will grow and the applications will become apparent. We’re backing the team at Sozo Labs to lead this for us and look forward to seeing the growth as the real industry leaders step forward to assume first mover advantage.”
For further information visit Sozo Labs www.sozolabs.com
Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008
Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as it reaches the end of its support, writes BRYAN TURNER.
The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.
On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.
Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.
Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.
While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.
Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.
Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager.
The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.
A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2005.
Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery
Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.
“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.
Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”
Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.
Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”
Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.
“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”
* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on firstname.lastname@example.org.