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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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Cape Town not so calm – if you’re a driver

Cape Town drivers lose on average 162 hours a year to traffic jams, so will need some tech and a few tips to stay calm

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Cape Town drivers lose, on average, 162 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, and the city is ranked 95th out of around 200 cities, across 38 countries surveyed globally, in terms of congestion issues.

That’s according to the latest INRIX 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, which is an annual analysis of mobility and congestion trends. The study provides a data-rich evaluation of information collected during peak (slowest) travel times, and inter peak (fastest point between morning and afternoon commutes) travel times. Together they provide a holistic account of congestion throughout the day, delivering in-depth insights for vehicle drivers and policy-makers to make better decisions regarding urban travel and traffic health.

Of the further five South African cities surveyed:

  • Pretoria drivers lose, on average, 143 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, ranking as the 64thmost congested city
  • Johannesburg drivers lose an average of 119 hours annually, ranking 61st
  • Durban drivers lose 72 hours, ranking 141st
  • Port Elizabeth drivers lose 71 hours, ranking 75th
  • And Bloemfontein drivers lose 62 hours, ranking 165th

If these hours sound horrific, spare a thought for the poor drivers in Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá who lose, on average, a whopping 272 hours a year stuck in traffic jams!

On average, drivers’ commutes increase by roughly 30% during peak versus inter-peak hours. And the reality is that congestion issues aren’t going away anytime soon. Not here in SA, or anywhere else in the world. So what can we, as drivers, do to make the situation easier to cope with on our daily commute?

Change of mindset

Stressing about the unavoidable, the inevitable, and all the things that are out of our control – like congestion caused by accidents, faulty street lights, or bad weather – is a waste of energy. We should try finding ways of using that time in our cars more productively, to create a less tense, more positive experience. Learning to change our perspective about this challenging time, and associating it with something enjoyable, can drastically alter our reaction to and engagement with it. Rather than expending all our energy on futile anger and frustration, we can channel our focus on things that relax or energise us instead.

Just one more chapter

Being stuck in traffic usually aggravates us because it feels like a huge waste of valuable time. But like a wise man once said, time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. Listening to a podcast or audiobook can not only be entertaining, but also educational, which is a brilliant use of your time. Ifyou think of your car as a ‘learning lab’, a mobile university of sorts, and your time spent inside as away to exercise your brain and grow intellectually, you may even find yourself wishing for bad traffic so you have an excuse to carry on listening to your podcast or audiobook.

Tame your inner Hulk

Pulling up a playlist of your favourite, feel-good songs can do wonders to combat stress levels. Downbeat music has been proven to have a mellowing effect on drivers. Making a quick switch to downbeat music shows measurable physiological improvements, with drivers calming down much sooner, and making fewer driving mistakes. So the next time you feel your inner Hulk emerging, crank up the volume on your favourite tunes.

The power of ‘caromatherapy’

There are numerous studies on aromas and their impact on human emotion, behaviour, and performance. Researchers have found that peppermint can enhance mental and athletic performance and cognitive functioning, while cinnamon may improve tasks related to attentional processes and visual-motor response speed. A study from Kyoto University in Japan revealed that participants reported significantly lower hostility and depression scores, and felt more relaxed after awalk through a pine forest. It makes sense then, to incorporate some ‘caromatherapy’ into our lives. There are plenty of off-the-shelf car diffusers available, or you could add a few drops of essential oil to DIY felt air fresheners. Citrus scents like orange or lemon can provide a boost of energy, while rosemary can relieve stress and anxiety. Take care not to hang anything that might obstruct your field of vision though, and always make sure to test out essential oils at home first, in case a scent makes you dizzy or overly relaxed, which could affect driving focus.

Contemplate your navel

The mind is a powerful thing, and simply willing yourself to relax might be the most effective method of all. While we don’t recommend meditating while driving due to safety reasons, breathing exercises can help you stay focused and feeling calm. One useful practice is the one-to-one technique – breathing in and out for the same count with the same intensity. Deep, measured breaths facilitate full oxygen exchange, helping to slow down the rate of your heartbeat and stabilise blood pressure, as opposed to shallow breathing, which doesn’t send enough air to the lowest part of your lungs, causing you to feel anxious and short of breath. Just always keep your eyes on the road, and take care to ensure you’re not so busy counting breaths that your concentration is compromised.

Not all those who wander are lost

Some of our best ideas come in those moments where we’re alone with our own thoughts, able to really reflect on the ideas we have without having something immediate that needs our attention. Allow your mind to wander, and do a little brainstorming. Alternatively, use the time to simply day dream. Remember, downtime is not dead time. It is both necessary, and important for your mental health. Use this time as an opportunity to take care of yourself.

In-built vehicle tech

“As we spend more and more time commuting, cars are being designed to accommodate longer periods behind the wheel,” says Kuda Takura, smart mobility specialist at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. “Ford uses human-centric design to deliver vehicles that are inviting, accommodating, and intuitive. For example, our SYNCT infotainment system offers nifty, hands-free functions, like allowing drivers to listen to their texts, change music or climate settings, and make phone calls easily with voice control. Our range of driver-assist technologies, like Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection and Semi-Auto Active Park Assist, are also designed to take some of the stress off city driving. If our lifestyle means that we might be spending more time in our cars than we do on holiday, then we should make sure we make the most of that time.”

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Vodacom exits Africa biz services

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Vodacom Group has sold Vodacom Business Africa’s operations in Nigeria, Zambia and Cote d’Ivoire to Andile Ngcaba’s Synergy Communications. The two entities are in the process of concluding the acquisitions, which are subject to the approval of the regulatory authorities within these markets.

Vodacom says the transaction supports the Group’s enterprise strategy in Africa, which has been refocused to grow and strengthen its core business. It will no longer directly service global enterprise customers in these three markets but will rather continue to operate as a pan African telecommunications networks provider through local relationships, like the one with Synergy Communications. 

This acquisition represents a significant milestone in Synergy Communication’s quest to be a leading provider of cloud and digitally based services in key markets across sub-Saharan Africa and provides key additional assets in its build out of a regional footprint. Synergy Communications currently has operations in Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique.

Andile Ngcaba, Chairman of Synergy Communications said: “This is an exciting landmark transaction for Synergy Communications, providing us with additional momentum in the delivery of our strategy as a pan-African enterprise digital Services Provider. Synergy Communications will partner with major global cloud providers and deliver platform-based services to both multi-nationals and local enterprises.”

Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group, said: “Vodacom has a clear vision for strengthening our position as a leading pan-African business and will work with local service providers like Synergy Communications to grow in these markets. Crucially, Vodacom is not exiting any of the territories related to this transaction and remains focused on continuing to deliver exceptional service to our global and multinational clients in these markets through long-term commercial agreements. 

“To support the sustainable growth of pan African digital economies and building connected societies, Vodacom will, via local service providers, continue to service clients in each market. We seek to leverage the collective strengths of Vodacom and Synergy Communications to meet the changing requirements of clients across each of these markets.”

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