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.
Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets
Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.
Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.
Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps.
Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.
Vodafone Smart Kicka 4
At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.
The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018.
Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games.
Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.
Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer.
The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past.
Huawei Y3 (2018)
The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are.
Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.
Comparing the 3
All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker.
Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.
SA gets digital archive
As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive.
The southafrica.co.za site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.
Designed as a nation building, educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.
The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.
At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.
Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.
“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.
Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island. The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.