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New gadgets – and your voice – prepare for take-off

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The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week promises to be the runway for the take-off of thousands of new gadgets, as well as the ancient technology called voice, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

They come in their thousands to Las Vegas partake in the annual circus of consumer electronics. And that is just the exhibitors.

This week, more than 20 000 new gadgets, devices, contraptions and applications will be launched across half a dozen convention centres and venues sprawling across the gambling and meetings mecca. Amid the noise and buzz of new ways of doing robots, virtual reality, smart cars and smart homes, one may just be able to discern the shape of the future emerging.

The Consumer Electronics Show, or International CES as the organisers prefer it to be branded, is the runway from which much of the Western World’s new technology takes off, setting the scene for the year in tech. The most glaring exceptions are smartphones, which tend to wait for the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, and anything from Apple – which is always conspicuous by its absence from tech expos.

However, the shadow of Apple will be highly visible: it is trying to persuade innovators and manufacturers to build its HomeKit smart-home system into their new products. That technology will be at the heart of the company’s new HomePod smart speaker, but it already faces an uphill battle, which visitors to CES will be able to witness first hand.

It is expected that the world’s two leading voice activated “intelligent agents”, Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, will not only give Apple a run for its innovation, but will in fact point the way. Already at the 2017 edition of CES, Alexa was making its appearance in anything from pool cleaners to washing machines. This year it would like to show it can be even more innovative – and more useful.

Google, for its part, is making its biggest appearance yet at CES. Banners reading “Hey Google!” – the wake-up call for devices like the Google Home smart speakers – are plastered across Las Vegas. Both the Home and the new Home Mini are aggressively targeting the market share of Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot.

This outdoor marketing blitz will be matched in the expo halls by the number of products on display bearing the Google logo and some form of smart functionality.

The war between Amazon and Google will be played out on numerous devices, with each trying to gain market share in categories ranging from headphones to smart TVs. That is ironic, since the TV category itself is one of the biggest battlegrounds of CES. In the last few years, Samsung and LG have slugged it out for boasting owners for biggest, sharpest, brightest, thinnest, smartest and other adjectives that serve as a proxy for technology leadership.

This year they are rejoined in earnest by Panasonic, which is both competing with and collaborating with Samsung, among other. In one of the early announcements of CES, the two companies agreed with 20th Century Fox to update the High Dynamic Range (HDR) platform called HDR10+, which will allow content creators and device manufacturers to offer a premium experience for viewers.

Not least, Panasonic’s own devices will benefit from the new specifications. At a press conference on Monday, it unveiled a 2018 line up of eight new televisions using the OLED format, light-emitting technology that allows for thin, flexible and vivid displays. Four of these – the FZ950 and FZ800 ranges, in 65-inch and 55-inch screen sizes – will be the first OLED screens that support HDR10+.

There is a strategic advantage to what seems an esoteric technology enhancement: Amazon’s Prime Video movie-on-demand service already has a catalogue of several hundred hours of HDR10+ content.

Panasonic also claims line honours for another esoteric area of TV display competitiveness: the quest for a better black. The blacker the blacks in an image or video, the more realistic the colours overall. This year, Panasonic’s OLED screens introduce an Absolute Black Filter, which it says helps ensure the purest, most accurate black levels by absorbing ambient light in order to eliminate reflections. This comes into its own in brightly lit rooms, when the level of reflection often makes big screens more of an irritation than a pleasure.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Panasonic has also teamed up with Amazon in a category that is not normally associated with either company: automotive technology.

Panasonic announced on Monday that it is integrating the Alexa voice service with the next generation of in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems, it will make allow users to interact with the smart assistant finside the vehicle, with some not needing any Internet connectivity.

At Panasonic’s CES press conference, Amazon’s Alexa Onboard technology was demonstrated with the Panasonic Skip Generation IVI technology released last year.  Drivers and passengers can use their voices to control car features like air conditioning, entertainment systems, communication and navigation.

“When drivers have access to familiar Alexa contextual commands and responses from inside the car, it opens up a new world of experiences,” said Tom Gebhardt, president of Panasonic Corporation of North America.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube.

What you can ask Alexa in your car

Alexa Onboard technology integrated into Panasonic Skip Gen technology allows a range of voice functionality for in-car users. Panasonic suggested the following questions that customers can ask Alexa while on the move:

  • Navigation: Say, “Alexa, find the nearest coffee shop,” and instantly get directions using only your voice.
  • Music: Ask Alexa to play music from your select streaming services
  • Smart home: Control your smart home on the go with Alexa. Just ask Alexa to warm up your home while commuting, check if your front door is locked, turn the lights on and more.
  • News: Say, “Alexa, what’s the news?” to hear your daily flash briefings.
  • Ordering: Order a meal delivered before you even arrive home from meal delivery services.

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How we use phones to avoid human contact

A recent study by Kaspersky Lab has found that 75% of people pick up their connected device to avoid conversing with another human being.

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Connected devices are becoming essential to keeping people in contact with each other, but for many they are also a much-needed comfort blanket in a variety of social situations when they do not want to interact with others. A recent survey from Kaspersky Lab has confirmed this trend in behaviour after three-quarters of people (75%) admitted they use a device to pretend to be busy when they don’t want to talk to someone else, showing the importance of keeping connected devices protected under all circumstances. 

Imagine you’ve arrived at a bar and you’re waiting for your date. The bar is busy, and people are chatting all around you. What do you do now? Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know? Grab your phone from your pocket or handbag until your date arrives to keep yourself busy? Why talk to humans or even make eye-contact with someone else when you can stare at your connected device instead?

The truth is, our use of devices is making it much easier to avoid small talk or even be polite to those around us, and new Kaspersky Lab research has found that 72% of people use one when they do not know what to do in a social situation. They are also the ‘go-to’ distraction for people even when they aren’t trying to look busy or avoid someone’s eye. 46% of people admit to using a device just to kill time every day and 44% use it as a daily distraction.

In addition to just being a distraction, devices are also a lifeline to those who would rather not talk directly to another person in day-to-day situations, to complete essential tasks. In fact, nearly a third (31%) of people would prefer to carry out tasks such as ordering a taxi or finding directions to where they need to go via a website and an app, because they find it an easier experience than speaking with another person.

Whether they are helping us avoid direct contact or filling a void in our daily lives, our constant reliance on devices has become a cause for panic when they become unusable. A third (34%) of people worry that they will not be able to entertain themselves if they cannot access a connected device. 12% are even concerned that they won’t be able to pretend to be busy if their device is out of action.

Dmitry Aleshin, VP for Product Marketing, Kaspersky Lab said, “The reliance on connected devices is impacting us in more ways than we could have ever expected. There is no doubt that being connected gives us the freedom to make modern life easier, but devices are also vital to help people get through different and difficult social situations. No matter what your ‘connection crutch’ is, it is essential to make sure your device is online and available when you need it most.”

To ensure your device lifeline is always there and in top health – no matter what the reason or situation – Kaspersky Security Cloud keeps your connection safe and secure:

·         I want to use my device while waiting for a friend – is it secure to access the bar’s Wi-Fi?

With Kaspersky Security Cloud, devices are protected against network threats, even if the user needs to use insecure public Wi-Fi hotspots. This is done through transferring data via an encrypted channel to ensure personal data safety, so users’ devices are protected on any connection.

·         Oh no! I’m bored but my phone’s battery is getting low – what am I going to do?

Users can track their battery level thanks to a countdown of how many minutes are left until their device shuts down in the Kaspersky Security Cloud interface. There is also a wide-range of portable power supplies available to keep device batteries charged while on-the-go.

·         I’ve lost my phone! How will I keep myself entertained now?

Should the unthinkable happen and you lose or have your phone stolen, Kaspersky Security Cloud can track and protect your device from data breaches, for complete peace of mind. Remote lock and locate features ensure your device remains secure until you are reunited.

 

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Five key biometric facts

Due to their uniqueness, fingerprints are being used more and more to quickly identify and ensure the security of customers. CLAUDE LANGLEY, Regional Sales Manager, for Africa at HID Global Biometrics, outlines five facts about the technology.

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How many times in a day are you expected to identify yourself? From when you arrive at work you are required to sign in, visiting your bank, receiving healthcare services… The list is endless. When a system knows who you are, you are able to do any number common, everyday activities. Your identity is unique and precious. It is also easily stolen and the target of many hackers across the globe. Technology is constantly evolving alongside the criminal element, always looking for ways to protect data and identity. One such solution happens to be biometrics and it is rapidly gaining traction in our increasingly complex modern world.

Reliable, secure and fundamentally YOU, unique biometric traits such as fingerprints are being used by banks, enterprises and consumers to verify identity. Biometric solutions offer significant identity protection because they use unique biological details to ensure an account is only accessed by the account holder, a door only opened by the owner. Here are five things that are little known about this technology…

  • The uncut identity. Your fingerprint is unique to you. Nobody can use a copy of it to impersonate you. Good technology is capable of scanning down into the layers of the fingertip to differentiate unique elements of a person’s fingerprint, this data is then encrypted and used as a key to unlocking whichever physical or virtual door that the biometric system protects.
  • The living proof. No, there is nothing to the stories of fingerprints being used without their owner’s knowledge or permission. Biometric solutions can use specific variables to determine if the finger used to access the system is that of a present, living person.  A copy or a fake cannot be used to access a cutting-edge biometric solution.
  • Easy and convenient. Queues and documents and paperwork may well be a thing of the past should biometrics take a firmer grip of government and banking systems. The process of registering is easy, and access to identity documents and records is yours alone.
  • Security blanket. A thousand passwords and a hundred post-it notes stuck on walls and drawers.  An excel file with a list of sites and applications and their corresponding passwords, all a thing of the past.  Nobody needs to remember their password with biometrics, they only need to show up.
  • Anywhere is cool. Schools, airports, networks, offices, homes, toilets, banks, libraries, governments, border controls, immigration services, call centres, hospitals and even clubs and pubs – knowing “who” matters and biometrics can quickly and conveniently confirm your identity where needed.

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