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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.

classic1

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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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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