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These smartphones are the business

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Two new smartphones on the market show that even in the Bring Your Own Device era, there is still life left in phones geared towards the enterprise market, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The corporate technology revolution that carries the label “Bring Your Own Device” means individuals in many organisations now choose what phone or computer they bring to work, rather than having a standard imposed by Company Policy.

But that doesn’t mean the end of phones geared towards the enterprise. Quite the opposite: BYOD has resulted in a network nightmare for many organisations, and even a backlash, as companies seek to regain control.

It helps, however, if the phones they want to mandate for company use make sense to both the company and the employee.

Two phones released in South Africa in the past week promise to do just that.

The new BlackBerry Classic harks back to the once wildly popular Bold, boasting a QWERTY keyboard combined with a more generous and interactive display than the old Bold could ever offer. It also brings back the trackpad, which, along with the keyboard, set BlackBerry apart. The return to these near-retro features gave the device the “Classic” label.

The company describes is as a “no-nonsense smartphone built to meet the needs of productive people who appreciate the speed and accuracy that can be found with a physical QWERTY keyboard”.

The other big benefit is a 22-hour battery life, building on the battery management that puts BlackBerry ahead of most of the pack, along with Sony and Huawei. Long life is helped by a smaller touch screen – only 3.5-inch – but which offers excellent HD resolution at 294 dpi. Corning Gorilla Glass 3 means less scratching and potentially more durability.

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The phone offers the usual BlackBerry World app store, as well as Android apps through the Amazon Appstore. The BlackBerry 10 web browser is claimed to be among the top mobile browsers for “web fidelity”, i.e. online content appearing as it was intended. Notifications and messages can be brought to a tablet or computer via BlackBerry Blend, underlining its productivity credentials for the workplace.

The BlackBerry 10.3.1 operating system is powered by a 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and supported by 2GB RAM and 16GB of device storage, expandable by up to 128GB. A 2MP front camera and 8MP rear upgraded imaging sensors.

Finally, it offers an answer to Siri and S-Voice with BlackBerry Assistant, a digital assistant and can be used with voice and text commands to manage email, contacts, and calendar, among other native BlackBerry 10 applications. Most significantly, the feature responds to different contexts, such as responding silently if one types and speaking back if one speaks.

Individually, any one of these features is available elsewhere. As a package, it is a compelling executive option. The price tag of R6000 upward means it is not aimed at the younger generation that made the Curve one of the most popular phones in Africa.

That could well turn out to be a target market for another phone aimed squarely at the enterprise.

The Proline SP4 is the first Windows phone to be branded by a South African computer manufacturer, namely Pinnacle Africa. The Proline range of PCs, notebooks and TVs are well-known across the continent, with 15 000 units rolling off the assembly line every month.

Pinnacle’s decision to emblazon the same brand on a phone had less to do with market share than with a need it encountered among its corporate clients.

“You won’t find it in stores,” says Max Stone, brand executive at Pinnacle Africa. “We’re targeting it at the corporate market as an affordable business tool. It’s also aimed at an entry-level user within the corporate market, so it still has a manual, and we’ve set up a website for support and frequently asked questions.”

The phone offers several differentiators for corporates. The most attractive, apart from price, is the option of branding the cover with the company’s logo, and to preload the device with the company’s app if it has one for staff. That is all made possibly by Pinnacle’s own assembly line, which is geared to customising products belt elsewhere.

The phone is also a dual-SIM handset, meaning that it can carry both a company SIM for business calls, paid by the organisation, and a pay-as-you-go SIM for private use. A Kid’s Corner provides security of company information – and blocking unwanted content and payments – when the phone is used by family members at home.

That’s not the only area where it attempts to emulate BlackBerry’s security reputation. It is designed to boot up in such a way that malicious coding can’t be inserted. As a Windows 8.1 phone, every app is validated in the Windows Store.

At only R999, the specs of the phone will be appealing to both the employer and employee in the target market. A 4-inch screen, 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 512MB of RAM and 4GB internal storage don’t shoot the lights out for high-end users, but those would probably be BYOD troublemakers anyway! The presence of FM radio is probably the dead giveaway, since that is a feature in demand in the mass market, but rare on high-end phones,

“We’re expecting good take-up,” says Stone. “Then we’ll also look at other devices, perhaps a high-spec option like a 5.5-inch or 6-inch phablet. We can go all the way to 8-inch devices and still use the Windows 10 environment.”

That may be significant, but not nearly as significant as the impact such phones could make in the ever-shifting corporate environment.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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