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The shape of 2018

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The next wave of digital technologies like chatbots and augmented reality are on their way and the promise to change our lives as dramatically as the smartphone did, says ERNST WITTMANN, Regional Manager – Southern and East Africa at TCL

We’re seeing technologies such as chatbots, augmented reality and video that has transformed the way we use our mobile devices. Here are a few of the mobile and digital trends that are likely to unfold during 2018.

  1. Artificial Intelligence and chatbots

Artificial intelligence and chatbots will continue to mature next year, making it easier than ever for people to interact with technology and to carry out complex tasks. Powered by machine learning (computer systems that learn from experience without being programmed) and Artificial Intelligence, natural language processing allows us to speak or type to computers in our usual sentences, simplifying our interface with devices and apps.

Robo-advisors are already a hot trend in financial services—these are smart bots that give wealth management advice on a website or mobile app. Gartner forecasts that such chatbots will power 85% of all customer service interactions by 2020. Virtual assistants that live on your smartphone are also becoming increasingly popular. One example is Google Assistant, which lets you ask for directions to the nearest Chinese restaurant, send messages, check appointments, and so on, using your voice.

We’ll use voice recognition and chatbots for applications as diverse as seeking technical support for a new washing machine to making a mortgage application to seeking investment advice. And virtual assistants on mobile phones will become ever more powerful and allow us to automate more tasks. For example, what if Google Assistant could not only tell you where the Chinese restaurant is, but also make a booking for you?

  1. Augmented and virtual reality

IDC forecasts that global spending on augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) will nearly double from $9.1 billion in 2017 to $17.8 billion next year. AR/VR traffic on the Internet will increase 20-fold between 2016 and 2021, according to Cisco. Both technologies have been around in some form for several years, but companies have struggled to find practical uses for them.

When it comes to consumer VR, the technology remains expensive and gaming dominates the landscape. Consumers today need to buy expensive, dedicated hardware to get a true VR experience. Prices of this equipment are likely to fall in 2018, while smartphone VR headsets will also get cheaper and better.  Apps will become more diverse—we’ll see a healthy mix of educational, simulation, virtual tourism and entertainment applications come to market.

AR captures the world through a mobile device camera and puts a digital overlay on the video and image the user sees on the display. Applications are numerous—from seeing how furniture you’re browsing on a retailer’s website might look in your lounge to providing labels and information about the parts in your car when you’re trying to find out why it won’t start in the morning.

In 2018, the technology looks set to build on the popularity of crazes such as the Pokemon Go AR game a couple of years back, and AR lenses for Snapchat. Cool apps are starting to come to market—there’s a great AR feature in the Google Translate app that lets you point your camera at text in a foreign language (a street sign, for example) and view the translation on your display.

We can expect to see great strides in 2018, for applications ranging from marketing to corporate learning and training. Google’s ARCore tools for building AR apps for Android will help fuel growth—every Android smartphone beyond Nougat with a camera is essentially ready for advanced AR apps. ARCore is a platform that simplifies the development of augmented reality apps on Android. It uses:

·         Motion tracking to understand and track the phone’s position relative to the world.

·         Environmental understanding to detect the size and location of flat horizontal surfaces like the ground or a coffee table.

·         Light estimation allows the phone to estimate the environment’s current lighting conditions.

  1. The Internet of Things

Gartner estimates that there are more than 8.4 billion “Things” available on the internet today, up more than 30% from a year ago. Sensors and devices are taking over in smart homes, cities, offices, cars and factories, ranging from control instrumentation to streetlights to smoke detectors.  These devices can monitor themselves and the environment around them (temperature or GPS location, for example), and share this data with other devices and services.

They can use this data to automate actions—for example, a shelf sensor could request inventory when stock is running out—and provide humans with real-time data for better decision-making—for example, a shop floor manager can get info about machine uptime and potential maintenance issues in a factory. This enables companies to drive down operational costs and improve productivity.

  1. Visual search

This trend is closely related to the growing maturity of technologies such as image recognition. With visual search, you simply point your smartphone’s camera at a work of art, a building, a household appliance or even a part for your car. The visual search app will be able to identify the object, and possibly even direct you to sites where you can purchase it online if it’s for sale or find more information.

Google is currently trialling visual search in its Google Lens feature. Pinterest also has a similar feature called Pinterest Lens, and Amazon’s CamFind can helps shoppers locate a real-world item in Amazon’s inventory by snapping a photo.

  1. More and more video

People will increasingly watch more video content online—especially on their mobile devices—in the years to come. Cisco’s research indicates that IP video traffic will be 82% of all consumer Internet traffic by 2021, partly driven by a doubling of video-on-demand traffic between 2016 and 2021. Live Internet video will enjoy especially strong growth, growing 15-fold from 2016 to 2021 and accounting for 13% of Internet video traffic by 2021.

Social media networks such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram have all launched live streaming video, and adoption is rapidly growing among consumers and brands alike. People are beginning to share experiences such as concerts and holidays in real-time with their friends and families; companies are likely to use live video to supplement brand activations, for virtual launch parties and even candid behind-the-scenes looks at their offices and factories.

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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