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What to expect from tech in 2017

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A round-up of views from leading thinkers in the South African high-tech world points to the digital reshaping of the world in 2017.

This has been a year where companies have started repositioning themselves to take advantage of the evolution towards digital. With the likes of Big Data, cloud computing, and virtualisation becoming familiar territory, several industry leaders expect the coming months to usher in a digital ‘gold’ rush.

Responsive computing

High performance networks and solutions providing superior performance, says Riaan Graham, sales director at Ruckus Wireless, sub-Saharan Africa, will be a major driver of what service providers will have to offer in the coming months.

“While cost used to be a driver for connecting people, the focus has turned to performance. People have become unforgiving of unresponsiveness whether that is watching streaming movies at home or accessing critical back-end data on an app while meeting with a client.”

Graham says technology that provides for additional insights will be critical going forward. He cites Wi-Fi location-based services as an example. This can provide companies with key data on becoming more efficient with connectivity and providing supporting services to cater for what users want.

“As the use of connected devices increases across South Africa and the rest of the continent, so too will the cost come down. Already, we are seeing more Wi-Fi hotspots being deployed with consumers, enterprises, and smart cities demanding fast, reliable, and secure access.”

Social business

But it is not necessarily all about hardware and related devices, says Grant Theis, co-founder of ttrumpet. “Over the past few months, businesses have shifted from an informing model to a communicating and engaging one. This has seen social software for business becoming widely adopted with applications to enhance relationships, collaboration, networking, social validation, and more. A result of this has been the rise of the bot, and in particular Intelligent Agents,” he says.

Not only have social networks embraced these but the impact has been more widespread.

“Even companies are integrating instant messaging into a call centre environment and extending these support situations to social networks. Thanks to the richness of this data, agents have a better set of tools to record user history, provide responses, conduct security validation, and so on.”

Such has been the popularity of these bots that Medium.com has found that almost 12% of Facebook bots have had users ask them to tell a joke or say something funny.

Consumer-led world

Stefan Marnewick, CEO of Incredible Connection, believes this points to not only a changing mindset amongst business users, but also consumers and their buying patterns.

“Consumers expect a seamless shopping experience across an increasing range of devices. Ultimately, they are looking for interactive and engaging online and retail environments. These expectations extend to options to pay, trade-in, swap, rent, and share,” he says.

Consumers have come to expect convenience, personalisation, and a different level of interaction from retailers as a direct result of this growing digitalisation of the store environment. “Retailers and other companies have to rethink how they segment their customers but also how they utilise the data they have at their disposal. It is all about performance and speed. Just as with high performance networks, agility and the ability to adapt to a different environment will be the key to success in 2017,” says Marnewick.

Digital, digital, digital

Gavin Meyer, executive director at Itec SA, says the focus will be about digitalising business through solutions that are tailored to the specific organisational structure and needs, as well as those that meet the demands of the customer network of a company.

“Globally, organisations are driven by consumer demand to create more digitalised businesses and this means that these companies must have a stronger online presence and back-end services and solutions that are streamlined, integrated, and innovative from a technology stand point,” he adds.

It is clear, says Meyer, that moving towards a digital business model provides decision-makers with numerous benefits not least of which are doing things more cost-effectively and efficiently.

“Think a more competitive business model that is able to deliver on the immediate needs of customers. These encompass mobile workers, digital connectivity, cloud services, business collaboration with staff and partners and the like, all of which delivered through streamlined processes,” he says.

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Samsung in lock-step with its rivals?

Tonight Samsung will kick off the next round in the smartphone wars with the S10 range, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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When Samsung unveils the new S10 smartphone at an event in San Francisco today, it will mark the beginning of the 2019 round of World War S. That stands for smartphone wars, although Samsung would like it to be all about the S.

Ever since the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013, Samsung has held both technology and thought leadership in the handset world. Back then, Apple’s iPhone 5 was the last device from the American manufacturer that could lay claim to being the best smartphone in the world. With the 2013 launch of the iPhone 5s, Apple entered an era of incremental improvement, playing catch-up, and succumbing to market trends driven by its competitors.

Six years later, Samsung is fighting off the same threat. Its Chinese rival, Huawei, suddenly wrested away leadership in the past year, with the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro regarded as at last equal to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Galaxy Note 9 – if not superior. Certainly, from a cost perspective, Huawei took the lead with its more competitive prices, and therefore more value for money.

Huawei also succeeded where Apple failed: introducing more economical versions of its flagship phones. The iPhone 5c, SE and XR have all been disappointments in the sales department, mainly because the price difference was not massive enough to attract lower-income users. In contrast, the Lite editions of the Huawei P9, P10 and P20 have been huge successes, especially in South Africa.

Today, for the first time in half a decade, Samsung goes into battle on a field laid out by its competitors. It is expected to launch the Galaxy S10 Plus, S10 and S10 e, with the latter being the Samsung answer to the strategy of the iPhone XR and Huawei P20 Lite.

Does this mean Samsung is now in lock-step with its rivals, focused on matching their strategies rather than running ahead of them?

It may seem that way, but Samsung has a few tricks up its electronic sleeve. For example, it is possible it will use the S10 launch to announce its coming range of foldable phones, expected to be called the Galaxy X, Galaxy F, Galaxy Fold or Galaxy Flex. It previewed the technology at a developer conference in San Francisco last November, and this will be the ideal moment to reclaim technology leadership by going into production with foldables – even if the S10 range itself does not shoot out the lights.

However, the S10 handsets will look very different to their predecessors. First, before switching on the phone, they will be notable by the introduction of what is being called the punch-hole display, which breaks away from the current trend of having a notch at the top of the phone to house front-facing cameras and speakers. Instead, the punch-hole is a single round cut-out that will contain the front camera. It is the key element of Samsung’s “Infinity O” display – the O represents the punchhole – which will be the first truly edge-to-edge display, on the sides and top.

The S10 range will use the new Samsung user interface, One UI, also unveiled at the developer conference. It replaces the previous “skin”, unimaginatively called the Samsung Experience, to introduce a strong new interface brand.

One UI went live on the Note 8 last month, giving us a foretaste, and giving Samsung a chance to iron out the bugs in the field. It is a less cluttered interface, addressing one of the biggest complaints about most manufacturer skins. Only Nokia and Google Pixel handsets offer pure Android in the local market, but One UI is Samsung’s best compromise yet.

It introduces a new interaction area, in the bottom half, reachable with the thumb, with a viewing area at the top, allowing the user to work one-handed on the bottom area while still having apps or related content visible above. One UI also improves gesture navigation – the phone picks up hand movements without being touched – and notification management.

The S10 range will be the first phones to feature the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip, at least for the South African and American markets. That makes it 5G compatible, for when this next generation of mobile broadband becomes available in these markets.

They will also be the first phones to feature Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of the Wi-Fi mobile wireless standard. It will perform better in congested areas, and data transfer will be up to 40% faster than the previous generation.

The phones will be the first to use ultrasound for fingerprint detection. If Samsung gets it right, this will make it the fastest in-screen fingerprint sensor on the market, and allows for a little leeway if one pushes the finger down slightly outside the fingerprint reader surface. It does mean, however, that screen protectors will have to be redesigned to avoid blocking the detection.

Not enough firsts? There are a few more.

Most notably, it will be the first phone range to feature 1 Terabyte (TB) storage – that’s a thousand Gigabytes (GB) – at least for the top-of-the-range devices. Samsung last month announced that it would be the first manufacturer to make 1TB built-in onboard flash storage. Today, it will deploy this massive advantage as it once again weaponises its technology in the fight for smartphone domination.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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IoT set to improve authentication

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By Sherry Zameer, Senior Vice President, Internet of Things Solutions for CISMEA region at Gemalto

As it rapidly approaches maturity, the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to continue a transformational trajectory, introducing new efficiencies in multiple fields by allowing measurement and analysis on a scale that has never been possible before. From agriculture to logistics, from retail to hospitality, from traffic to health, from the home to the office, the applications for monitoring ”things” are limited only by the imagination.

And South African (and African) businesses are showing abundant imagination in their practical deployments of IoT solutions in multiple settings, creating a better tomorrow through almost universal measurement and the introduction of new levels of convenience – including how to access locations, devices and services securely.

Any company, whether South African or international, should bear in mind that understanding consumer expectations can be the key to unlocking the full potential of IoT devices and related smart services.

According to Gemalto’s latest Connected Living study, improving the way consumers authenticate themselves to services is one of the most anticipated benefits of IoT, highlighting a desire for a more seamless and secure IoT experience.

Consumers are interested in advanced ways of authenticating themselves through automatic (based on behavioral patterns) or biometric techniques, lessening the need to have to intervene manually, all in the name of a much more streamlined authentication process. Smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have already placed fingerprint and facial recognition high on the agenda. There is also a widespread positive sentiment towards IoT’s potential for improving the quality of home life through connected, smart appliances.

Personalised services is something else that wins consumers over. In fact, a fluid, personalised and unified experience with continuity of services, together with security and privacy, is critical for the successful implementation of any technology.

And those types of services are today quite possible. With everything being connected – from small gadgets to digital solutions for large enterprises – IoT is no longer just a buzzword. That much is clear in a piece from Vodacom IoT managing executive Deon Liebenberg. Writing for IOL Online, Liebenberg provides insight into the sheer range of applications for IoT: the 20 use cases he cites range from the obvious, like transport and logistics, to the connected home and wearables; he even suggests tagging pets with IoT transmitters, for those who always need to know the whereabouts of the family cat.

Low-cost tags fitted to cats, dogs, lamp posts, shipping containers or other items are just one part of the puzzle, however. There are other two pieces; arguably the most complex part is the availability of communication networks in areas where there aren’t any WiFi networks, or indeed, anything else.

And that’s where the bigger takeaway from Liebenberg’s piece and other IoT trends articles becomes apparent. The communication networks are there, as are those tags: dedicated IoT networks (like LoraWAN, SigFox and narrowband IoT) are all available in South Africa.

So, too, is the third and final essential component. Software which is able to process the data generated by the tag and transmitted over the IoT network and into the internet. In this regard, there’s no shortage of solutions available from cloud providers like AWS and Azure; electronics giant Siemens, too, is in on the action, having recently launched a new cloud-based IoT operating system to develop applications and services for process industries, including oil and gas and water management.

This combination means it is quite possible right now to enable just about any use case. Business owners, who will know best how IoT can add value in their organisation, can now see their ideas becoming reality. Most crucial of all, IoT solutions delivering new levels of efficiency and convenience are not only possible, they are able to be offered with the simple and effective security that will drive consumer acceptance.

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