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On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a fridge

Why can’t experts predict the weather accurately? That’s one of the modern world’s longest-running jokes and even Simon Gear, South Africa’s most popular meteorologist, often admits that even he gets it wrong.

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But at the very least, it can help us pack a jersey or motivate for that extra round of golf by pointing at the forecast for sunshine. In some cases, such as the Capetonian drought, it’s even more relevant.

Suffice it to say, we talk about the weather a lot and, armed with modern weather apps, we have made it more parcel to our lifestyles than ever before – even if predictions aren’t always on the money. Yet recently the weather became a much more active part of my world when it joined my connected reality.

I have a rather substantial garden, one that demands its own levels of attention including watering. For that, I relied on a standard controller that would periodically open the taps to the sprinklers. But recently it was replaced with a new controller, one we’ve taken to call ‘Diamond,’ because my wife loves it so much. Diamond can do what my previous controller did, then goes much further. A true Internet of Things (IoT) gadget, it has smarts that changed the way I water my garden.

Once Diamond connected to my wifi, it asked for my location, as well as the type of plants found in the different watering zones, and the watering times. It then devised a smart metering schedule which can be dynamically informed by the predictions from Simon and his peers. That’s right, by using an online connection, Diamond is aware of any afternoon precipitation and will thus avoid doing any watering. While the rest of us murmur on about the weather, Diamond makes it a central part of its life without any instruction. Costing on the lower end of a few thousand Rands, Diamond will pay for itself in no time through water savings.

Diamond is a simple example of the IoT phenomenon. When you hear predictions about billions of connected devices and how they will change the world, Diamond is a contributor to that reality. From doorbells that send photos of the visitor to your phone, to industrial equipment that alerts operators that they require repairs: such devices will provide us with many new ways to engage with, and manage, our society.

Consider electricity consumption; I recently spent some time with Prof. Willie Cronje and his team from the Wits’ School of Electrical & Information Engineering. They are doing exceptional work on pico-grids, interoperable with multiple electrical sources; and storage devices such as solar panels, wind generators, batteries, and the like. They are also working on IoT devices that will regulate electricity consumption and spending. These make decisions such as switching other devices on and off at the optimal time. One example is a simple fridge unit that will cause fridges and freezers to “overcool” when electricity is cheaper.

Smart devices are getting smarter, and cheaper, by the day. In addition, their ability to make micro decisions in split seconds based on accurate information is mind-blowing. What the impact will be on our world is still impossible to predict. Some go so far as to imply a luxurious utopia for all. That’s far too naive for me, but there is no denying the massive potential hidden in this new era. That also implies new areas of uncertainty which is why we should debate and weigh the potential of smart devices around us. Whatever the future will be, rest assured it will be written through the influence of a smart, connected world. It’s not a topic anyone in a position to make decisions should ignore or take for granted.

What possibilities do these devices pose for tomorrow? That’s a topic all on its own. In the next instalment of this series, I will comment more on the prevalent economic and cultural dynamics of this convergence.

But in the meantime, my garden looks great, my water bill is lower, and my wife is very impressed with this new controller. In just a few swift changes it’s made my previous system look like a relic from prehistoric times. Pretty soon that experience will resonate in systems and services all around us. Your fridge will no longer be a fridge. It will be a connected decision-maker, acting in our interest. But online, it will be just one of the billions of IoT devices changing how we run the world.

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Samsung S10 in lock-step with its rivals?

Tonight Samsung will kick off the next round in the smartphone wars with the S10 range, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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When Samsung unveils the new S10 smartphone at an event in San Francisco today, it will mark the beginning of the 2019 round of World War S. That stands for smartphone wars, although Samsung would like it to be all about the S.

Ever since the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013, Samsung has held both technology and thought leadership in the handset world. Back then, Apple’s iPhone 5 was the last device from the American manufacturer that could lay claim to being the best smartphone in the world. With the 2013 launch of the iPhone 5s, Apple entered an era of incremental improvement, playing catch-up, and succumbing to market trends driven by its competitors.

Six years later, Samsung is fighting off the same threat. Its Chinese rival, Huawei, suddenly wrested away leadership in the past year, with the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro regarded as at last equal to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Galaxy Note 9 – if not superior. Certainly, from a cost perspective, Huawei took the lead with its more competitive prices, and therefore more value for money.

Huawei also succeeded where Apple failed: introducing more economical versions of its flagship phones. The iPhone 5c, SE and XR have all been disappointments in the sales department, mainly because the price difference was not massive enough to attract lower-income users. In contrast, the Lite editions of the Huawei P9, P10 and P20 have been huge successes, especially in South Africa.

Today, for the first time in half a decade, Samsung goes into battle on a field laid out by its competitors. It is expected to launch the Galaxy S10 Plus, S10 and S10 e, with the latter being the Samsung answer to the strategy of the iPhone XR and Huawei P20 Lite.

Does this mean Samsung is now in lock-step with its rivals, focused on matching their strategies rather than running ahead of them?

It may seem that way, but Samsung has a few tricks up its electronic sleeve. For example, it is possible it will use the S10 launch to announce its coming range of foldable phones, expected to be called the Galaxy X, Galaxy F, Galaxy Fold or Galaxy Flex. It previewed the technology at a developer conference in San Francisco last November, and this will be the ideal moment to reclaim technology leadership by going into production with foldables – even if the S10 range itself does not shoot out the lights.

However, the S10 handsets will look very different to their predecessors. First, before switching on the phone, they will be notable by the introduction of what is being called the punch-hole display, which breaks away from the current trend of having a notch at the top of the phone to house front-facing cameras and speakers. Instead, the punch-hole is a single round cut-out that will contain the front camera. It is the key element of Samsung’s “Infinity O” display – the O represents the punchhole – which will be the first truly edge-to-edge display, on the sides and top.

The S10 range will use the new Samsung user interface, One UI, also unveiled at the developer conference. It replaces the previous “skin”, unimaginatively called the Samsung Experience, to introduce a strong new interface brand.

One UI went live on the Note 8 last month, giving us a foretaste, and giving Samsung a chance to iron out the bugs in the field. It is a less cluttered interface, addressing one of the biggest complaints about most manufacturer skins. Only Nokia and Google Pixel handsets offer pure Android in the local market, but One UI is Samsung’s best compromise yet.

It introduces a new interaction area, in the bottom half, reachable with the thumb, with a viewing area at the top, allowing the user to work one-handed on the bottom area while still having apps or related content visible above. One UI also improves gesture navigation – the phone picks up hand movements without being touched – and notification management.

The S10 range will be the first phones to feature the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip, at least for the South African and American markets. That makes it 5G compatible, for when this next generation of mobile broadband becomes available in these markets.

They will also be the first phones to feature Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of the Wi-Fi mobile wireless standard. It will perform better in congested areas, and data transfer will be up to 40% faster than the previous generation.

The phones will be the first to use ultrasound for fingerprint detection. If Samsung gets it right, this will make it the fastest in-screen fingerprint sensor on the market, and allows for a little leeway if one pushes the finger down slightly outside the fingerprint reader surface. It does mean, however, that screen protectors will have to be redesigned to avoid blocking the detection.

Not enough firsts? There are a few more.

Most notably, it will be the first phone range to feature 1 Terabyte (TB) storage – that’s a thousand Gigabytes (GB) – at least for the top-of-the-range devices. Samsung last month announced that it would be the first manufacturer to make 1TB built-in onboard flash storage. Today, it will deploy this massive advantage as it once again weaponises its technology in the fight for smartphone domination.

  • 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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IoT set to improve authentication

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By Sherry Zameer, Senior Vice President, Internet of Things Solutions for CISMEA region at Gemalto

As it rapidly approaches maturity, the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to continue a transformational trajectory, introducing new efficiencies in multiple fields by allowing measurement and analysis on a scale that has never been possible before. From agriculture to logistics, from retail to hospitality, from traffic to health, from the home to the office, the applications for monitoring ”things” are limited only by the imagination.

And South African (and African) businesses are showing abundant imagination in their practical deployments of IoT solutions in multiple settings, creating a better tomorrow through almost universal measurement and the introduction of new levels of convenience – including how to access locations, devices and services securely.

Any company, whether South African or international, should bear in mind that understanding consumer expectations can be the key to unlocking the full potential of IoT devices and related smart services.

According to Gemalto’s latest Connected Living study, improving the way consumers authenticate themselves to services is one of the most anticipated benefits of IoT, highlighting a desire for a more seamless and secure IoT experience.

Consumers are interested in advanced ways of authenticating themselves through automatic (based on behavioral patterns) or biometric techniques, lessening the need to have to intervene manually, all in the name of a much more streamlined authentication process. Smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have already placed fingerprint and facial recognition high on the agenda. There is also a widespread positive sentiment towards IoT’s potential for improving the quality of home life through connected, smart appliances.

Personalised services is something else that wins consumers over. In fact, a fluid, personalised and unified experience with continuity of services, together with security and privacy, is critical for the successful implementation of any technology.

And those types of services are today quite possible. With everything being connected – from small gadgets to digital solutions for large enterprises – IoT is no longer just a buzzword. That much is clear in a piece from Vodacom IoT managing executive Deon Liebenberg. Writing for IOL Online, Liebenberg provides insight into the sheer range of applications for IoT: the 20 use cases he cites range from the obvious, like transport and logistics, to the connected home and wearables; he even suggests tagging pets with IoT transmitters, for those who always need to know the whereabouts of the family cat.

Low-cost tags fitted to cats, dogs, lamp posts, shipping containers or other items are just one part of the puzzle, however. There are other two pieces; arguably the most complex part is the availability of communication networks in areas where there aren’t any WiFi networks, or indeed, anything else.

And that’s where the bigger takeaway from Liebenberg’s piece and other IoT trends articles becomes apparent. The communication networks are there, as are those tags: dedicated IoT networks (like LoraWAN, SigFox and narrowband IoT) are all available in South Africa.

So, too, is the third and final essential component. Software which is able to process the data generated by the tag and transmitted over the IoT network and into the internet. In this regard, there’s no shortage of solutions available from cloud providers like AWS and Azure; electronics giant Siemens, too, is in on the action, having recently launched a new cloud-based IoT operating system to develop applications and services for process industries, including oil and gas and water management.

This combination means it is quite possible right now to enable just about any use case. Business owners, who will know best how IoT can add value in their organisation, can now see their ideas becoming reality. Most crucial of all, IoT solutions delivering new levels of efficiency and convenience are not only possible, they are able to be offered with the simple and effective security that will drive consumer acceptance.

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