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Welcome 2019: Year of the End-user Application

By CHRIS BUCHANAN, Client Solutions Director, Dell EMC South Africa

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2018 has been a stabilising year for end-user devices. Headlines about declining PC sales and booming smart device shipment numbers were not as frequent. Why? Because end-users are more certain about what they want (a device that makes them more productive) and device vendors are better at delivering on those expectations.

Consider touch screens. A decade ago such a thing was seen as exotic and something most people don’t want. Today you get touch screens on many laptops and they are indispensable. I’ve gone through that myself: I never saw the appeal, until I got a notebook with a touchscreen. Now I go around the office, coaching people on how to use touch interfaces most effectively. Touch allows for fast “corridor meetings” quick collaboration and easy reviews of documents. Even projectors in boardrooms are being replaced by large touch displays.

Tactile is the leading emerging user interface, which I believe is one of the trends we’ll see in 2019: more stylus combinations and affordable touch screens.

BYOD is also changing. In 2018 cloud and user devices started converging in a serious way. It has become a lot easier to separate personal and business data, as well as securing end-point devices. The revolution is not over – good data and security behaviour requires proactive companies with good policies and processes to back both. But as far as the tools are concerned, we’re spoilt for choice. 2019 will make that trend commonplace.

But it will above all be the year of software, aka applications. This is where the action will be in 2019.

What is the point of an end-user device such as a laptop or smartphone? It’s to run software. The better and smoother the software runs, the happier users are. Like the issues with internet browsers on smaller screens a few years ago, the software needs to look the same no matter the device. The presiding paradigm for devices was to throw more power at applications, and more recently we’ve been creative in how we interact with applications, namely touch and gesture. But what about improving the application experience itself? How do you know your people like the applications and actually use them properly?

Here’s an example: a large company decides to change its messenger/VoIP service. The decision was based on the cost of license fees – success is measured by how fast the project is rolled out. Yet what actually happens is that people don’t like the new application. They don’t use it often and start relying on workarounds. Soon enough the collaboration culture is being eroded. In the end, the change was actually a failure, but because it was measured in terms of ROI or project performance the company saw it as a success. The most important metric of all was never available: business value.

Until fairly recently people were essentially forced to adopt new applications and the focus laid on adding more power or device support. But cloud services and shadow IT expose a lot of dissatisfaction with this process. In 2019 we’ll see much more focus on the end-user experience from an application perspective, including metrics on how applications are adopted.

VMWare’s Workforce One is an example of this: it lets administrators see if the software is being used and by who. Unimaginative companies will punish employees for not toeing the line. Progressive companies will use such information to select the right software for their people. That is important because today it’s the users – not the businesses – who dictate technology expectations.

This even reaches into personal devices. Dell Cinema, our software-based enhancements for media and gaming experiences, is proving to be popular. Even a small matter such as how streaming media behaves is a big deal – and that’s more about software than hardware.

In 2019 the differentiator won’t be faster hardware or higher-res screens. Those will remain attractive, but it’s the software that will count most. Software has been the priority for users for a while, but now we have the tools and platforms to really take that up a few notches.

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CES: Most useless gadgets

The worst gadgets of CES also deserve their moment of infamy, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s fairly easy to choose the best new gadgets launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week. Most lists – and there are many – highlight the LG roll-up TV, the Samsung modular TV, the Royole foldable phone, the impossible burger, and the walking car.

But what about the voice assisted bed, the smart baby dining table, the self-driving suitcase and the robot that does nothing? In their current renditions, they sum up what is not only bad about technology, but how technology for its own sake quickly leads us down the rabbit hole of waste and futility.

The following pick of the worst of CES may well be a thinly veneered attempt at mockery, but it is also intended as a caution against getting caught up in hype and justification of pointless technology.

1. DUX voice-assisted bed

The single most useless product launched at CES this year must surely be a bed with Alexa voice control built in. No, not to control the bed itself, but to manage the smart home features with which Alexa and other smart speakers are associated. Or that any smartphone with Siri or Google Assistant could handle. Swedish luxury bedmaker DUX thinks it’s a good idea to manage smart lights, TV, security and air conditioning through the bed itself. Just don’t say Alexa’s “wake word” in your sleep.

2. Smart Baby Dining Table 

Ironically, the runner-up comes from a brand that also makes smart beds: China’s 37 Degree Smart Home. Self-described as “the world’s first smart furniture brand that is transforming technology into furniture”, it outdid itself with a Smart Baby Dining Table. This isa baby feeding table with a removable dining chair that contains a weight detector and adjustable camera, to make children’s weight and temperature visible to parents via the brand’s app. Score one for hands-off parenting.

Click here to read about smart diapers, self-driving suitcases, laundry folders, and bad robot companions.

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CES: Language tech means no more “lost in translation”

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Talking to strangers in foreign countries just got a lot easier with recent advancements in translation technology. Last week, major companies and small startups alike showed the CES technology expo in Las Vegas how well their translation worked at live translation.

Most existing translation apps, like Bixby and Siri Translate, are still in their infancy with live speech translation, which brings about the need for dedicated solutions like these technologies:

Babel’s AIcorrect pocket translator

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The AIcorrect Translator, developed by Beijing-based Babel Technology, attracted attention as the linguistic king of the show. As an advanced application of AI technology in consumer technology, the pocket translator deals with problems in cross-linguistic communication. 

It supports real-time mutual translation in multiple situations between Chinese/English and 30 other languages, including Japanese, Korean, Thai, French, Russian and Spanish. A significant differentiator is that major languages like English being further divided into accents. The translation quality reaches as high as 96%.

It has a touch screen, where transcription and audio translation are shown at the same time. Lei Guan, CEO of Babel Technology, said: “As a Chinese pathfinder in the field of AI, we designed the device in hoping that hundreds of millions of people can have access to it and carry out cross-linguistic communication all barrier-free.” 

Click here to read about the Pilot, Travis, Pocketalk, Google and Zoi translators.

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