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Sony aims to get ultra-smart

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“Smart” is more than a buzzword for Sony, which is poised to roll out a dizzying array of new gadgets and formats, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It starts with the Eye and the Ear. It is likely to end in the brain and the heart, but perhaps without the capital letters that have been allocated to the other body parts, courtesy of a range of new Sony devices.

The Eye is a tiny continual-capture video camera, the Ear a voice-controlled earpiece for smartphones. They were first demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona in February, along with the Xperia projector, which projects interactive displays that turn any flat area into a working surface, and the Agent, a stationery robot that takes voice instructions.

In Tokyo last week, Sony provided a deep dive into the thinking behind these gadgets, which do not yet have a release date, as the company still regards the devices as conceptual, and is evolving their use cases.

For Tomokazu “Kaz” Tajima, SVP, Head of UX Creative Design & Planning at Sony Mobile, it’s all about preparing for the future. And there could have been no better time than the first two weeks of April.

Spring had come to Tokyo, and with it the city’s famed cherry blossom season.

“The cherry blossom is a symbol of spring in Japan but also symbol of starting new things,” he said while introducing the new strategy at Sony Mobile. “Everyone in Japan feels everything starts with the cherry blossom season. In the last two weeks we completed our fiscal year. All our activity was focused on transformation and preparation for the future.

“We have successfully concluded and completed our transformation programme. We have been preparing for the future by streamlining our smartphone portfolio, and put a strong focus on premium added value devices. We are also focusing on new business creation and opportunity. What you saw at MWC was a result of 2015 activity.”

The key to the new technology, he said, was a new philosophy: “communication with intelligence”.

While the years from 2013 to 2015 were dedicated to the highly-regarded Sony Xperia Z series, the coming three years will see the Xperia X, along with a range of “smart products”, build in more intelligence around a “new communication experience”.

Tajima, who was personally involved in the creation of the Xperia brand, explains that it is a combination of the words “experience” and “ia”, which means  “place” in Latin. In short, Xperia is intended to be “the place where experience is generated”.

The four new smart products launched at MWC under the Xperia brand – Ear, Eye, Projector and Agent – each has a specific context in mind, he said.

“Ear is a very tiny earpiece, for completely hands-free communication without looking down at smartphone. It offers a very intuitive and playful communications style.

“Projector is for family communication at home, and is designed to accelerate family communications.

“Eye is a personal content creation for social networking communications: it captures your life.

“Agent is intended to support a person’s communications life in all its aspects. It has a common voice-based natural user interface, and smart support or assistance.”

The latter is in effect a robot butler that serves up information, communication and entertainment needs rather than the physical. It allows other gadgets and appliances to be controlled from a single point, using natural voice instructions. Some might say it is a glorified voice assistant and remote control, but Sony believes it will keep evolving as more intelligence is built in.

The Agent in particular is likely to be hard sell, as Sony looks for use cases that will persuade households to invest in yet another gadget that is designed to control or access the gadgets that are already around. However, even if it doesn’t sell in large numbers, it serves a similar purpose as other brands’ high-end gadgets that are affordable only by the wealthy: it is proof of technology leadership, which creates greater desirability for the more affordable devices from the same brands.

“With the intelligence and connectivity technology we have, we believe we can find a new business field beyond the smartphone,” says Tajima. “The smartphone field is very busy and competitive. We want to find new fields, and the smart products are just the beginning.”

Asked whether the projector and other new smart technologies would be built into the Xperia X series, Tajima warned against pursuing more compact devices for their own sake, but did hold out hope.

“When miniaturisation is optimised towards smartphones, we will have the possibility of building projection technology into smartphones. But if we sacrifice form factor and size, we don’t think people will enjoy the experience.

“The smartphone is defined by a graphic user interface (GUI), and the size of the interface is almost defining the size of the phone. If we have a breakthrough in the GUI, for example via the projector, we will have the chance to change the form factor of smartphones. So we will try the projector interface through this product once we have that kind of breakthrough.”

That could well mean a time where your smartphone is only an interface, and an interface can be displayed on or transmitted to any device or surface. Think of it as a phone whithout a handset. If that sounds absurd, you may just need a new kind of Ear to hear the future coming.

* 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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Welcome to world of 2099

The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.

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Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.

This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.

Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.

As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.

“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”

The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.

“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”

  •    Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

Use the page links below to continue reading about Tan’s visions.

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Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com

This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.

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Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.

What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.

However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.

As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.

It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.

The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.

To enter the competition follow the steps below:

Competition entry details:

1. Follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter. (We will ONLY be accepting entries via Twitter, so please don’t enter through the comments section of this article.)

2. Tell us on Twitter, via @GadgetZA, mentioning @Takealot in your posting, how many Watts the Poster Heater consumes.

cleardot.gif3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.

4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.

5. The competition is only open to South African residents.

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