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Wearable workplace arriving

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Although wearable devices are still pricy and rather primitive with regards to their functionality, ANTON VAN HEERDEN of Sage believes that we will soon see better apps for them and perhaps even see business cases emerge.

Think back eight years to the launch of the original Apple iPhone – a device that seemed at the time like an expensive toy for the wealthy. Today, smartphones with fast LTE connections are pervasive in the workforce and we simply take it for granted that we will have access to documents, email, and company data wherever we are.

In much the same way, we’re only just seeing the wearable computing trend start to take root in South Africa, starting with the wealthier consumer. Many fitness fanatics track their runs, cycle rides and gym workouts with fitness bands such as the Fitbit and some early adopters are walking around with Apple Watches on their wrists.

Workplace adoption seems slow so far. Yet with more and more people relying on wearables in their personal lives, can it be long before these devices start creeping into business environments? Tech-savvy workers drove the ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) trend when they started bringing smartphones to work; we should not be surprised if they bring about the rise of ‘wear your own device’, too.

Wearables in the office

For now, wearables face a range of barriers. Battery life for smartwatches and other wearables is poor, and the devices remain pricy compared to smartphones and tablets. Even more importantly, outside niches such as health and fitness, there isn’t a killer app for smart wearables to justify their cost.

Sure, it’s useful to get urgent messages on your smartwatch while you’re in a meeting, but is it worth paying upwards of R7000 for this functionality? Yet we can expect many of these obstacles to mainstream adoption to rapidly fall away. Remember how primitive, expensive and limited the first-generation iPhone really was?

In much the same way, wearable devices will get better and less expensive. Connections will become faster and more stable – you only have to compare the speeds of 3G and 4G to see how quickly the mobile world moves. And as prices fall and more people start using wearables, we’ll begin to see new apps and business cases emerge.

What this means for the entrepreneur

Business owners should be keeping a watchful eye on the wearables market to see how it evolves. From smart glasses and smartwatches, we can expect some interesting use cases to emerge in the next few years. Imagine, for example, the potential benefits of hands-free computing in businesses such as manufacturing or field service.

As prices of wearables fall, businesses may find that simple functions such as the unobtrusive alert of a smartwatch offer productivity, collaboration and efficiency boosts that justify their costs. For example, workers could have access to emails, calls, text messages and alerts with a quick glance.

Another potential spin-off comes from the range of location and contextual data businesses could collect from wearable computers. They could, for example, use this data to optimise their deployment of their mobile field sales and services teams or to track drivers who need to venture into dangerous areas.

Changing the way we work and how consumers behave

Though this may sound dystopian to some, using such data wisely can improve both business processes and working conditions. Research from PwC shows that more than three-quarters of South African employees would consider using a wearable device if their employer used the data to improve their conditions in the workplace.

Of course, small business owners should also be keenly watching their customers use wearable devices. Some life and health insurers are already taking note, offering people they insure incentives to wear fitness trackers and share their data. In time, smartwatches and other wearables could serve as electronic keys, digital wallets, and more.

For now, it might seem hard to imagine wearables as making the same impact as smartphones – but then again when we were texting and calling with the first mobile phones, could we have imagined the progression of technology to create what we have now?

At Sage, we believe the future is mobile and we are giving our customers the power to control their businesses from the palm of their hand. We see wearable computing as one of the most exciting developments in this time of seismic technological change and digital invention, and are looking for ways to use it to reinvent and simplify our customers’ businesses.

* Anton van Heerden, Executive Vice-President and Managing Director of Sage in South and Southern Africa.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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