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Promising year in tech predicted for SA

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The arrival of hyperscale cloud data centres in South Africa, the commercial maturing of new interactions such as Augmented Reality, and the rise of the intelligent edge paint a promising picture for 2018, writes DOUG WOOLLEY, General Manager of Dell EMC.

But these are not just local events – globally the next year holds a lot of promise. As highlighted in the Next Era of Human-Machine Partnership report from Dell Technologies and the Institute for the Future (IFTF), some profound new realities are just around the corner.

Mega clouds are a very notable prediction from this report. ‘Mega clouds’ are so-called because they will span multiple cloud vendors. Companies and individuals will start expecting to shift workloads, data and other assets between those vendors, avoiding lock-ins and ‘cloud silos’ that are emerging as the migration away from client-server concepts continue.

In South Africa this will be preempted by the arrival of Azure hyperscale datacentres, a clear reflection of the country’s growing demand for cloud’s efficiency and innovation delivery. But the impact will be felt beyond our borders, reaching out to the rest of the SADC region. Doug Woolley, GM of Dell EMC South Africa, is particularly excited about opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa:

“It’s one of our fastest growing regions. We will look at getting more potential investment for the SADC and Indian Island territories. We see a lot of upside, we see a lot of partners engaging with us and also a lot of customers having conversations. And we’ve had good, significant wins in the territory in the past six months. I am very happy with the rate and potential there.”

With this growth of cloud will come the distinct rise of the intelligent edge. This speaks of more decision-making capacity being shifted to devices located away from the core of cloud systems. The sensor on a security system or environmental monitor will not have to wait for feedback from the central hub in order to act, thus drastically reducing response times for all types of situations. Called the IQ of Things, this revolution is already evident in our cars – where sensors feed information to local systems inside the vehicles.

Such systems will start hosting certain levels of artificial intelligence, a force that continues to reshape the world. In 2018, Dell EMC predicts this trend expanding into ‘thinking tasks’ at businesses. Using data, AIs will help companies significantly reduce time spent scoping, debating, scenario planning and testing every new innovation.

AI will also play a growing role in recruiting the right people and skills, which the report refers to as ‘bias checking’. This is the use of AI to get around human shortcomings. Not dissimilar to ‘blind’ auditions where musicians perform behind a screen, AI will be utilised to help inform hiring and promotion decisions without the unseen prejudice of humans.

Numerous companies are already using such practices. But they are the outliers. In 2018, we will start regarding them as the pioneers. Those include companies that will be using Augmented and Virtual Reality for remote interviews of candidates and engagements with customers. As digital entertainment such as e-sports grow in popularity, that tech-savvy audience will also drive the adoption of AR and VR in 2018.

Dell Technologies chairman and CEO, Michael Dell, had sight of this future when he launched the most ambitious technology merger in history between Dell and EMC, a future he has often articulated: “I think it’s nothing short of the beginning of a fourth industrial revolution, and the plot for us is being the essential infrastructure company.”

Today Dell EMC is a true end-to-end provider, from the vital infrastructure in the back to the point devices that people use to realise their ambitions. Even in South Africa, the shift has been near seamless. Less than 5 percent of employees had left the merged companies, shares have grown in key market segments, and a new partner programme is making waves with unmatched returns for everyone involved. These are things Woolley recounts with pride:

“It is always a challenge to bring two cultures together, even if they share similar outlooks. Over the past year, at a local level, we’ve managed to integrate the sales and product teams very well. On a technical level there has also been a lot work to integrate the guys under one infrastructure and leadership. From that people perspective I am very happy.”

Dell EMC believes 2018 will be a significant year in humanity’s progress and it is ready to be an active participant in that evolution, said Woolley:

“We are definitely riding that wave and having those conversations. Without sounding arrogant, I think we have positioned ourselves as the cloud infrastructure player. There is still, as an industry, work to do on how do we move effectively to the next level of cloud, and that is more around the application conversations. Dell EMC is very well positioned to have a meaningful conversation with customers on how do we cloudify their apps and get it on modern infrastructure.”

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Huge appetite for foldable phones – when prices fall

Samsung, Huawei and Motorola have all shown their cards, but consumers are concerned about durability, size, and enhanced use cases, according to Strategy Analytics

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Foldable devices are a long-awaited disrupter in the smartphone market, exciting leading-edge early adopters keen for a bold new type of device. But the acceptance of foldable devices by mainstream segments will depend on the extent to which the current barriers to adoption are addressed.

Major brands have been throwing their foldable bets into the hat to see what the market wants from a foldable, namely how big the screens should be and how the devices should fold. Samsung and Huawei have both designed devices that unfold from smartphones to tablets, each with their own method of how the devices go about folding. Motorola has recently designed a smartphone that folds in half, and it resembles a flip phone.

Assessing consumer desire for foldable smartphones, a new report from the User Experience Strategies group at Strategy Analytics has found that the perceived value of the foldable form does not outweigh the added cost.

Key report findings include:

  • The idea of having a larger-displayed smartphone in a portable size is perceived as valuable to the vast majority of consumers in the UK and the US. But, willingness to pay extra for a foldable device does not align with the desire to purchase one. Manufacturers must understand that there will be low sell-through until costs come down.
  • But as the acceptance for traditional smartphone display sizes continues to increase, so does the imposed friction of trying to use them one-handed. Unless a foldable phone has a wider folded state, entering text when closed is too cumbersome, forcing users to utilize two hands to enter text, when in the opened state.
  • Use cases need to be adequately demonstrated for consumers to fully understand and appreciate the potential for a foldable phone, though their priorities seemed fixed on promoting ‘two devices in one’ equaling a better video viewing experience. Identification and promotion of meaningful new use cases will be vital to success.

Christopher Dodge, Associate Director, UXIP and report author said: “As multitasking will look to be a core selling point for foldable phones, it is imperative that the execution be simplified and intuitive. Our data suggests there are a lot of uncertainties that come with foldable phone ownership, stemming mainly from concerns with durability and size, in addition to concerns over enhanced use cases.

“But our data also shows that when the consumers are able to use a foldable phone in hand, there is a solid reduction of doubt and concern about the concept. This means that the in-store experience may more important than ever in driving awareness, capabilities, and potential use cases.”

Said Paul Brown, Director, UXIP: “The big question is whether the perceived value will outweigh the added cost; and the initial response from consumers is ‘no.’ The ability for foldable displays to resolve real consumer pain-points is, in our view critical to whether these devices will become a niche segment of the smartphone market or the dominant form-factor of the future. Until costs come down, these devices will not take off.”

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New exploit exposes credit cards on mobile phones

Check Point Security has found that handsets using Qualcomm chipsets that hold credit and debit card credentials are at risk of a new exploit.

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Now it’s more important than ever to update your phone.
Check Point security has found a vulnerability in mobile devices that run Android, which allows credit card details to be accessed by hackers.

Mobile operating systems like Android offer a Rich Execution Environment (REE), providing a hugely extensive and versatile runtime environment, which allows apps to run on the device. However, while bringing flexibility and capability, REE leaves devices vulnerable to a wide range of security threats. A Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) is designed to reside alongside the REE and provide a safe area on the device to protect assets and to execute trusted code. Qualcomm makes use of a secure virtual processor, which is often referred to as the “secure world”, in comparison to the “non-secure world”, where REE resides. 

But Check Point “fuzzed” a “hole” into this secure world 

In a 4-month research project, Check Point researchers attempted and succeeded to reverse Qualcomm’s “Secure World” operating system. Check Point researchers leveraged a “fuzzing” technique to expose the hole. Fuzz testing (fuzzing) is a quality assurance technique used to discover coding errors and security loopholes in software, operating systems or networks. It involves inputting massive amounts of random data, called fuzz, to the test subject in an attempt to make it crash.

Check Point implemented a custom-made fuzzing tool, which tested trusted code on Samsung, LG, and Motorola devices. Through fuzzing, Check Point found 4 vulnerabilities in trusted code implemented by Samsung (including S10), 1 in Motorola, 1 in LG, but all code sourced by Qualcomm itself. To address the vulnerability, the runtime of Android needs to be protected from both attackers and users. This is typically achieved by moving the secure storage software to a hardware-supported TEE.

Check Point Research disclosed its findings directly to the companies and gave them time to patch vulnerabilities. Samsung patched three vulnerabilities and LG patched one. Motorola and Qualcomm responded, but have yet to provide a patch, and there is no confirmation of a release date yet.

Check Point Research has urged mobile phone users to stay vigilant and check their credit and debit card providers for any unusual activity. In the meantime, they are working with the vendors mentioned to issue patches.

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