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The incredibly disappearing gadgets

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Remember when you bought software in a box off the shelf? Then came the Internet and it all disappeared into the background. Now gadgets may go the same way, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Do you remember when software was something consumers and small businesses bought in a box off a shelf in a store? Today, that sounds like a quaint way of packaging something that will live out its useful life on a computing device.

But now, even the device itself may go away. Or, at least, the device as we know it, as a large box on a desk or a mobile device that only just fits into a pocket or handbag.

Anything that relies on a display, on a connection to the Internet, or on data storage, can potentially be reduced to a computer chip with projection capabilities.

The best clue to that came last month at Lenovo Tech World in San Francisco, when CEO Yuanqing Yang, together with actor Ashton Kutcher, unveiled the new Moto Z phone and its family of snap-on add-ons called Moto Mods (reported in this column during June).

One of these Mods was a snap-on projector called the Insta-Share Projector, which projects a screen onto any surface, and picks up finger gestures in order to make the display interactive.

Today, the Insta-Share can project anything from a virtual keyboard for the phone to a 70” wall display, more than big enough to watch movies. In future, it may provide even bigger displays from a smaller device.

Add this to the a new device launched by Sony at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year, the Xperia Projector, which projects an interactive display onto any surface, and you start seeing a trend emerge.

And then add to these the comments made by Google CEO Sundar Pichai in his “Founders’ Letter” in April, and you have a revolution in the making: “…the next big step will be for the very concept of the ‘device’ to fade away. Over time, the computer itself—whatever its form factor—will be an intelligent assistant helping you through your day. We will move from mobile first to an AI (Artificial Intelligence) first world.”

The Xperia Projector had already signalled this shift.  Right now, the Projector is an object the size of a small PC tower. But, with the rapid advance of miniaturisation, it’s easy to envisage it shrinking dramatically.

Once you can cram its intelligence into a keyring, pendant or even a ring, for example, it could be the end of the smartphone as we know it. In a restaurant, all you’d need is a serviette on which to project the interface of the “phone”. In a few years’ time, then, it could be a good idea to invest in serviettes, but certainly not in smartphone hardware.

“Today we are dependent on our phones, but as the communication paradigm shifts to new forms of communication, we want to be at the forefront of new ideas,” said Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai at a media briefing in Tokyo. He envisaged a company that would focus on building greater intelligence into devices and services, rather than focusing exclusively on the hardware.

“At Sony we have a lot of different technology and a lot of great products that push the boundaries of communication intelligently,” he said.

On the other side of the world, at the EMC World conference in Las Vegas in May, the flip side of this vision emerged from a keynote address by Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell, in explaining why his company had paid a record $67-billion for storage leaders EMC.

“It all begins with the modern data centre,” he said. “Once, the data centre was used to manage the back office and make it more efficient. Now, it has to support the business as the business becomes more digital. Every company has to become a software company to compete and succeed.”

He outlined an even more vigorous vision than Hirai’s: “The future will be defined by technology that is so powerful, it will be difficult to comprehend. 2001 was the beginning of a new model for computer delivery. Today those marvels seem like relics from a museum. Processing power increases 10 times every five years. Think 15 years from now, to 2031. We’ll have a 1000-fold increase over what we have today.”

This will mean less and less dependence on storage on devices and premises. In the same way software and the Internet became invisible as it evolved, so will storage.

And if all you need is the interface to a computer, rather than the computer itself, even tablets and computers will become invisible.

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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.

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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. 

Nokia 1

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.

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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. 

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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.

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