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Samsung’s next big thing: Internet of Bundles

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The bundling of the new Samsung S7 phones with the Gear VR headset is not only a marketing gimmick, but a pointer to the company’s place in the Internet of Things, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

We have seen many incentives to buy new smartphones, from TV sets to DVD players to fridges. These usually bore little relation to the handsets themselves, and often carried completely unrelated brand names.

As the Internet of Things comes closer to everyday reality, it might just start making sense to buy bundles of appliances that can connect to each other. While the everyday reality of a connected universe of appliances is still years away, the possibilities are already becoming apparent on showroom floors. Monitoring a home washing machine from a smartphone at work? Turning on the lounge air conditioning while still in the traffic? All ready for prime time.

It is for this reason that Samsung’s vast empire of consumer appliances, smartphones, components and experimental devices is beginning to emerge as a potential differentiator from brands that compete head-on in one or two product categories.

To put that in perspective, last year Samsung topped the list of patents awarded in the USA – home to the world’s most patent-hungry tech companies. And this year it announced it was cooperating with Microsoft on IoT devices running on Windows 10.

For this reason, last week’s launch of the new Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge phones in South Africa could be seen as representing part of this “new” future for the group. Anyone buying the phone outright or on contract for the first 10 days also receives a free Gear VR unit, which typically retails at around R2000.

Sadly, the virtual reality headset does not have a life of its own: it needs a Galaxy Note 5, S6 or S7 – or their Edge variations – to operate. It has separate docking  ports for the smaller and larger handsets. An Oculus Rift app on the phone  presents a pair of images to the pair of lenses in the headset, which the user’s eyes merge into one surround image.

In that sense, we are still looking at the world of plugged-in things. But bear in mind that Samsung’s most visible competitors in this space, the expensive HTC Vive and Oculus Rift’s own headset, require the user to be plugged into a PC. In other words, the Gear VR, along with LG’s 360 VR, take virtual reality fully mobile.

It is in this context that we can see the full implications of comments like that made by Craige Fleischer, director of Integrated Mobility at Samsung Electronics South Africa, at the S7 launch: “We are committed to empowering our consumers with groundbreaking technological solutions, in order to enhance the user experience of our products.”

The attention on the S7 and S7 Edge will be focused mainly on the extent to which the phones are an improvement over the previous generation, and whether they will maintain Samsung’s technological and sales leadership achieved with the S4 several years ago. That will probably mask the extent to which the ecosystem around these devices is evolving dramatically.

Fast wired charging and wireless charging continues to improve, battery life finally extends beyond a working day, and the devices now carry a hybrid SIM card tray similar to that in the Huawei Mate S – it allows a microSD card as well as a dual SIM card, if that is enabled in the region.

The Samsung Pay function goes well beyond the iPhone’s Apple Pay options, with protection from the Samsung KNOX security system, authentication via fingerprint scanning and tokenisation, and payment via Near Field Communication (NFC), Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST), or Barcode technology. That links the phones to more payment devices than any other handsets, making it the best integrated devices with what we can call the Internet of Payments.

“The beautiful story behind the innovation of our mobile products is centered on putting the customer first and that’s keeping us ahead of the pack,” said Fleischer.

The launch of the handsets comes a few weeks after Samsung showcased its full 2016 range of consumer electronics and appliances at the Samsung Africa Forum, an event held in Monaco but aimed at its partners and resellers in Africa.

Among other, it unveiled:

* The latest version of the Samsung Smart TV operating system based on its own Tizen OS; it automatically recognises other connected devices, including the type of set-top box, game console, OTT box or home theatre system that is connected to the TV.

* A new line-up of SUHD TVs that feature Quantum dot display for more true-to-life display, as well as the world’s first bezel-less curved design.
* A new audio product line-up, including the HW-K950 Soundbar, the company’s first to feature Dolby Atmos.
* Samsung’s Twin Cooling Plus refrigerator  technology, which keeps the freezer frost-free and prevents the build-up of ice, and can turn the freezer into a regular fridge when space is required or the user leaves home for a long period. African consumers were specifically targeted with a vertical freezer, a 180-litre top-mounted freezer, a 1-Door 110-litre fridge, and a small 150-litre chest freezer.

* The Samsung Front Load Washer uses a new AddWash feature that allows a piece of forgotten laundry to be added to the wash via a small second access door.  It also uses EcoBubble technology, which premixes detergent with air and water, penetrating clothes faster.
The specialised technology for each of these product categories is evolving in tandem with Samsung’s Internet of Things initiatives, meaning the two universes are beginning to collide into the concept that is already being hyped as the Smart Home of the near future.

That, in turn, means that the smartphone bundles we will be offered in the near future are going to look a lot like the ones from the past, but will also make a lot more sense.

* 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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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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