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Solving the Case of the Grumpy Smartphone

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We all wrestle with the frustration of love affairs with fresh new phones that end in frustration as they become ageing grumps. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK looks at reasons and solutions.

When that fresh new smartphone enters our lives, it often matches both our budgets and our lifestyles. It’s an expression of ourselves and of the hope that, this time, it’s going to be a long-term relationship.

A year later, it’s just like all the rest of them. Slow, cantankerous, temperamental, and prone to shut down on you just when you need a meaningful conversation.

Are phones designed to become ageing grumps? Is this a form of planned obsolescence that guarantees the manufacturers will keep selling new, improved devices as we become more addicted to the faster, better and – the real hope – fresher?

Well, yes. If phone makers didn’t keep making better phones, they would go out of business. But the truth is, they can’t help it. The technology going into the phones that are made today is simply not advanced enough to cope with the demands that we all make of the devices tomorrow.

As new apps emerge that give us new capacity and capability in our work, social, and entertainment lives, we push last year’s phone to the limit and are surprised that it groans under the weight of our expectations.

It’s not just that new apps are ahead of their time. In most cases, they could work on phones made six years ago or more. It’s that there are just so many of them. This is the main clue to The Case of the Grumpy Smartphone.

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The core reason why smartphones were so much faster than humans is that they are not smart enough to clean up after themselves.

There are a number of specific reasons. These include two major slowdown factors:

1. Most apps run in the background on the phone, even when you’re not using them. As you install more apps, more apps are running in the background, using more data, more battery power and more system memory. This gradually slows down the phone, even in the absence of any use of these apps. Because they are also constantly draining the battery, they reduce the life of the battery.

2. As your storage fills up with saved files (photos, videos, documents), as well as cached files from websites you visit or attachments to your chats and received emails, each new file is stored in small chunks of data spread across the phone’s drive – the storage that lies within the device. As more chunks of data are spread more widely, it makes retrieval of the files slower, but also slows down the storage of new files.

You would think that deleting a file or app would solve the problem, but it does such a messy job, it’s almost as bad as spilling coffee on the handset. As one does. When you delete files, the freed up space is spread out across the drive, and new files have to find enough space in all these new holes to fit in comfortably. All of this results in the phone becoming less efficient over time.

There are many workarounds to clean up the mess, but none of them represent a real solution.

The first smartphone to address the problem directly, the Huawei Mate 9, was launched in November 2016. It introduced machine learning algorithms that monitor the user’s behaviour, shuts down unused apps, optimises processor use for the tasks at hand, and prevents fragmentation of files.

In short, it cleans up after the user, using artificial intelligence (AI). Not the kind that will graduallly develop self-awareness and take over the world, but rather the kind that has context awareness and keeps doing one job better as it learns.

At the launch, Huawei claimed that, over an 18 month period, you would end up with a more efficient, better performing phone.

We’re now at the halfway mark in testing Huawei’s claim, so the phone still has 9 month to prove itself. If it performs as advertised, “machine learning” may well be the next standard feature in smartphones.

“In future we will introduce more AI fucntions, like components in charge of different aspects of the phone’s performance,” says Likun Zhao, GM of Huawei Consumer Business Group in South Africa. He feels strongly that the evolution of the handset is about to enter a third era, following the early feature phones as the first and the basic touchscreen smartphone, pioneered by Apple, as the second.

“We think the big change from version two to version three is AI. The smartphone plus AI equals the intelligent phone.”

Huawei, he says , defines the intelligent phone according to three key features: “First, intelligent interaction, which is very simple: the phone will be like your eyes, your ears, nose, tongue and brain; the smartphone can listen, hear, taste, and feel.

“Second, is borderless display. Today it all depends on the screen, text, and voice, but we think in future it will also be based on the actions of users, behaviour of users, and even proactive perception, like tracking your eyes automatically. This means the screen is no longer the border; it extends to your body.

“Third is proactive, intelligent services, starting with machine learning, but with AI becoming like the brain, where the phone can think, and can study behaviour.”

At that point, the phone begins to refresh itself, which means it is also likely to start treating its users better. But this could be anything from two to 10 years away, so what do you do in the meantime?

First, on most Android phones, there is a maintenance option. On the latest Samsung S8 devices, it’s labelled Device Maintenance, and allows the user to optimise the phone’s “maintenance status”. With one click, you can close apps running in the background, free up storage from temporary files, identify apps that are making abnormal use of the battery and shut those down, and clean up apps that are vulnerable to malware, which can infect and damage the phone’s software.

The function also balances battery life and screen resolution for everyday use, or enhances specific functions for games, entertainment or other forms of high performance. Most Samsung and Huawei smartphones have similar functions.

If the function is not available on your phone, or it does not offer a powerful enough set of maintenance tools, many apps perform a similar role.  For example, AVG Cleaner conducts an analysis, doing a particularly good job of identifying content that has been cached and can be deleted if not needed on the phone. Its only drawback is that it demands payment for a Pro version that allows automatic cleaning and to optimise battery use.

It’s worth shopping around in your app store to find equivalent phone maintenance apps that don’t demand payment for every additional function. However, it may also be worthwhile forking out a few rands or dollars to protect your investment in a device that cost hundreds or thousands when you were first persuaded to enter a relationship.

  • 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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Hi-tech reinvents the massage

Virtual reality is invading the world of health and beauty – or is the other way round? ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK discovers a new role for VR through the ancient art of massage.

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Sheer Bliss founder Nadine Hocter gives Bryan Turner a VR massage at the World Wide Worx offices

Imagine you are sitting at your office desk, stretched by deadlines and stressed by office politics. A minute later, you are sitting on a idyllic beach, watching the sunset, and someone is gently massaging your neck.

That’s probably a common fantasy, but now it is also a reality, thanks to the next big step in massage therapy. The ancient art is being transformed by virtual reality (VR), with massage clinics and therapists the world over discovering the transformative power of the technology.

In South Africa, the revolution is led by a company called Sheer Bliss, which works in the corporate space, mainly visiting company offices and call centres. The massage is quick – typically 6 minutes – but the combination of working the most stressed muscles and offering a brief escape to a beach paradise amplifies the experience.

Massage therapy goes back in history several thousand years, first as a sacred form of natural healing in India and later to pamper royals and the rich in ancient Egypt. These days, it is democratised, at least if you can afford it. But thanks to VR, it can now become a mass market experience. Sheer Bliss conducts an average of 27,000 massages a year, with teams in Johannesburg, Cape Town and KZN. Its mobile massage concept means it can also cater for conferences and large sporting events.

However, it’s not so much a case of VR saving the massage industry, as massage giving VR a boost, by providing a wonderful use case for its practical application.

“We needed to find something new to offer our customers,” says Nadine Hocter, founder of Sheer Bliss. “At the same time, we were looking at a way to future-proof the business. I was really lucky in that a group of MBA students at GIBS were given Sheer Bliss for their innovation project. 

“We spoke about various ways of making our original massage more immersive. VR was mentioned, but it was in a meeting with a client who wasn’t biting that we sold the idea. Without realising it at the time, our business moved into a class encompassing the 4th Industrial Revolution.”

Visit the next page to more about how Sheer Bliss became the first virtual reality massage therapy business in South Africa.

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Drones fight forest fires

The South African forest fire season began a month ago, and an estimated 20807 hectares of land were burnt in the Western Cape.

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With such rampant and regular breakouts of forest fires, the quest to contain them before they cause widespread destruction, including property damage and loss of life, remains an issue of high importance for non-governmental organisations and the relevant government agencies. Equally important is the need to safeguard against the loss of the lives of firefighters during missions to contain these blazes.

As this continues being an issue, mainly because of the dense vegetation found in the Western Cape, coupled with the dry weather that is typical for this time of the year, the need to use unmanned aircraft to fight fires is ever increasing.

Drones are particularly crucial for forest fires that tend to get out of control quickly and that put both pilots and crew at risk. There’s only a small containment window between when the fire starts and when it gets out of control. Drones give firefighters a bird’s eye view of the terrain and helps them determine where the fire moves next so they can swiftly make decisions about where crews should go and who should be evacuated.

If you’re a firefighter responsible for forest fire response, mitigation and rescue, the benefits of drones are immense. We’ve detailed the main 4 benefits with supplemental stories below.

1. Drones Gather Situational Awareness in a Short Time

A drone helps you decide within minutes the type and amount of resources to send to the scene. Some drones are also equipped with thermal sensors, which uses infrared radiation to help first responders locate heat signatures of humans and fire hotspots that show where fires are most likely to spread. Even before your personnel arrive on the scene, commanders are able to make decisions just from these images live-streamed to their computers.

In early December whilst fighting a blaze, SanParks made use of a DJI drone with an infrared camera to capture images of the Rocklands fire in Simonstown.

In a similar incident in the German town of Hechingen, firefighters had to fight against winds that were spreading to nearby wooded and populated areas. The creeks had dried out while the first fire truck that arrived carried only 2,000 liters of water.

Hechingen’s Fire Brigade deployed DJI’s Matrice 210 ruggedised commercial grade drone, a Zenmuse XT thermal camera, and an X4S high definition visual imaging camera. These fed information to the incident commanders and helped them know where to direct their resources, how many units to send and where to increase water supply.  At the end, the crew extinguished the blaze with only 5,000 liters of water mixed with compressed air foam. The drones not only helped them save water but more importantly hastened reaction time helping the Brigade send crews faster to the scene with the exact manpower, units and supplies.

“The biggest advantage came to light during the search for hotspots and extinguishing them,” Hechingen’s Fire Chief Commander Bulach later told DJI, “The simultaneous deployment of the XT and X4S provided me with exact information about where to delete the hotspots and how long until we reached a safe state.”

2. Drones Protect Your Personnel

Drones help you monitor your crew to make sure you’re sending them in the right direction, that they’re safe and to help you determine whether to send backup forces.

On 13 August 2017, Yosemite firefighters battled a 9-day blaze in Southfork, California, that was complicated by weakened timber trees in the nearby region. Flying planes in the tight canyons was dangerous due to a bellowing column of smoke. At the same time, an unexpected thunderstorm spread the fire, blurring the firefighters’ primary containment line and threatening to spread to nearby villages.  The Yosemite fire-force used a DJI drone with the Zenmuse XT thermal payload in their pre-shift early morning hours to map fire lines and livestream information to controllers for operational decisions and situational awareness.  Tony Eggiman, Menlo Park FPD Fire Captain recalled, “the operations major told me later it brought his blood pressure from about 200 down to about 100. He was really happy.”

With aerial intelligence captured by drones, incident commanders can make better-informed decisions that keep firefighters safe while they plunge into fire and other dangerous spots to save other peoples’ lives.

 3. Drones Enable Fast Mapping for Incident Response as Well as for Post-Incident Recovery

Drone solutions for forest fire response typically carry two different cameras: a visual camera and a thermal camera. The visual camera gives you a real-time view of different situations, able to easily spot things such as your fire team or nearby equipment. The thermal camera scouts for heat signature of the human or fire hotspots.

Drones fly lower than helicopters, providing a more nuanced picture of the situation, and can navigate in tight or dangerous spaces where no helicopter pilot would dare to go. With thermal imaging capabilities, they can locate hotspots at a fire scene within seconds, and see people trapped even in areas of thick smoke.

Drones also play an important role after the fire has been put out. During the Carr Fire, crews piloted low-flying drones to capture 360-degree images of the destruction. For the residents forced out of their homes, this provided invaluable information on property damage to assess insurance claims in a faster time, letting victims more quickly take steps to rebuild their lives.

4. Drones Give you Accurate Intelligence for Informed Decision Making

Wildfires often involve large-scale operations where the incident commander must make decisions on personnel and resource deployment. Drones are effective intelligence generators that can capture detailed data and information from the field, and live stream back to the command centre. By having that real-time aerial view, you can see exactly what’s happening and don’t have to rely on second-hand information. You know what’s going on and where. You can also monitor your crew to see their location and that you’re sending them in the right direction.

Drones allowed firefighters of the Gaoming district, Foshan in South China to expertly evaluate 960 people when a fire broke out on Lingyun Mountain near the area, December 12, 2019.

The DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual (M2ED) was flown out within minutes of the response team’s arrival at the incident for fast situational awareness. Two minutes later, the Matrice 210 V2 drone platform was launched, giving detailed information with its sensor’s 30 times zooming ability. The Mavic gave responders their quick incident overlook, while the Matrice provided detailed, high-resolution images for thorough situational awareness. The combination saved more lives, protected firefighters, and shaved firefighting costs. 

As Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Battalion Chief Richard Fields, program coordinator, told the Board of Fire Commissioners in a March 2019 report, “Timely and accurate communication is essential in getting the right resources in place to mitigate an incident.”

Drones have gained a foothold in the sphere of public safety and forward looking government agencies are expanding their use in areas including environmental services, public works, transportation and rescue services. Download DJI’s whitepaper to explore the Best Practices For Deploying Drones At State And Local Government Level.

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