Monthly Archives: March 2018

Looking Forward To iOS 12: New Features We Would Love To See

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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For all the hype and hoopla about iPhone 8 and, to a much greater extent, the outrageously expensive iPhone X – the adoption of iOS 11 has been decidedly ho-hum. By the third week of January, the global adoption rate of the latest version of Apple’s mobile platform had climbed to 65%, more than 10 percentage points lower than iOS 10’s adoption rate in January 2017. What’s more, iOS 11 has been touted as one of the buggiest updates in recent years (both iOS 11.2.1 and iOS 11.2.2 were launched to fix important glitches). There are rumours about the iPhone X getting a price cut (and maybe a new ‘blush gold’ colour option, to push up the faltering sales figures). iOS 11.3 has only just been released (there will be an iOS 11.4 update too) – and in what follows, we will look at certain fixes and new features that users would love to see in this year’s iOS 12 update:

  1. Dark Mode API for developers

    Last year’s iOS 11 did have a ‘hidden dark mode’, but the Cupertino company probably missed out on the chance of doing so much more. Although iPhone X has not done as well as expected, it has ‘set Apple up for the next decade’ (in the words of Apple CEO Tim Cook) – and since it has a OLED display screen, the battery performance of the device can be significantly enhanced by keeping most of the screen dark. With across the board availability, Dark Mode would make the task of reading at night/in low-light areas considerably less strenuous on the eyes. It would also be great if iOS 12 came with a Dark Mode API for third-party app developers – enabling the latter to determine how their new applications would ‘behave’ when the Dark Mode is activated. The triggers for activation – for instance, the ambient lighting – should be included in the ‘Settings’ menu.

  2. A more customized Control Center

    For years now, Android-users have gloated over the (much) greater flexibility available on their handsets, in comparison with iPhone-users. iOS 11 has made the Control Center more customized, and this summer’s iOS 12 update should take matters further forward. For starters, app shortcuts need to be included over here, along with the option to add other important settings. Users are not given any option to toggle the Bluetooth and/or wifi to ‘off’ from the Control Center – and this is another thing that should be addressed by Apple (a stronger 3D Touch option in iOS 12, maybe?). What’s more, things like ‘screen mirroring’ and music controls should be easily removable from this section. iOS should ideally be striving to deliver Android-like levels of personalization, and there’s still a long way to go for that.

  3. Group calling on FaceTime

    Given that FaceTime Audio made its debut way back in 2013 (in iOS 7), it’s downright surprising that multi-user calling options have not yet become available on it (iOS 11 was rumored to have it, and fans were disappointed). It has been reported that Apple is struggling with am patent-related issue over this – and provided that things get sorted out soon enough, iOS 12 might very well finally come with FaceTime Group Calling (video calling). The phone screen can be divided into multiple quadrants, to facilitate multi-person video calling, and users will have the option of turning off the visual feed option as well (i.e., operating in ‘audio-only’ mode). Of course, the functionality of this multi-user video calling feature would crucially depend on the internet speed and network strength of each participant.

Note: Both FB Messenger and Whatsapp already offer group-calling options. The new iOS update can offer FaceTime video calling for upto 4-5 participants.

  1. A smarter Siri to keep up with the competition

    Siri on iOS 11 is fairly good in its own right – but it is still not a patch on other popular virtual assistants like Google Assistant and Amazon Echo. In iOS 12, users would love to see an upgraded Siri with a series of improved features – from greater accuracy in answers and quicker response capabilities, to better contextual conversations, improved voice recognition, and (hopefully) some cool little games and activities, to keep up engagement levels. SiriKit, which was introduced in iOS 10, could also do with some enhancements – preferably in the form of aids for music and shopping functions. The biggest point of concern is that there is not much buzz about Siri improvements in iOS 12 till now. Let’s just hope that Apple will give its much-loved mobile digital assistant the performance boosts to compare with its competitors.

Note: In a artificial intelligence (AI)-based test survey in February, the accuracy of answers given by Siri on HomePod was 52.3%. There is much room for improvement over here.

  1. Quoted replies and ‘@’ mentions in Messages

    The number of monthly active users WhatsApp users crossed the 1500 million mark last December. The Telegram app registers close to 400000 new users every day. While both these applications are hugely popular among iPhone-users worldwide, there is no way of neglecting the native ‘Messages’ app on the platform – and that is precisely where the shortcomings of the latter become evident. iOS 12 should bring in an update that allows users to quote specific messages from chat threads (just like WhatsApp and Telegram does), and reply directly to them. In addition, group conversations should start allowing people to tag anyone with ‘@username’. This will ensure that notifications are sent to a particular user only when (s)he is mentioned in a group chat. Being notified for each and every message is unnecessary and can be rather irritating.

Note: iOS 10 brought split-screen multitasking to the iPad. If iOS 12 extends the same feature to the iPhone, it will bolster the convenience levels of users.

  1. App icons that are rearrangeable

    Make no mistake, Apple does allow people to ‘reorder’ folders and icons on the Home screen. However, the way in which these are pre-arranged in rows cannot be altered – giving a somewhat sandboxed feel to the overall system. For example, a person might want to put a frequently used application at a position which can be easily reached with the thumb – but such customizations cannot be made presently. While making the entire grid positions customizable might be off the table for iOS 12, people should at least be able to arrange app icons according to their preference and convenience. Providing a dedicated ‘app drawer’ would also be a nice option, to prevent the screen from becoming cluttered. The average iPhone-user has 30/35 apps installed on his/her handset – and it’s important to keep them properly organized.

Note: We will, in all likelihood, have to wait till iOS 13 for dynamic icons.

  1. More features in the Camera app

    Wish to change the video format? You will have to head to the ‘Settings’ menu, to make the necessary tweaks. That’s an extra hassle – one that iOS 12 should resolve. The Camera application itself should allow people to make changes by tapping on the video format displayed on the screen. The ‘Time Lapse’ tab should also receive this functionality. There are reports of Apple working on several major changes in the Camera app – like an all-new ‘Pro’ section for playing around with the white balance, ISO, shutter speed, and other key controls. There are no questions about the quality of iPhone photography – but it’s time that the Camera app had more of the controls.

  2. Better Face ID; Improvements in Portrait Mode

    The Cupertino tech giant is eyeing the release of three new iPhones in 2018 – and each of them will have TrueDepth Camera (which debuted on iPhone X). While opinions remain divided over FaceID replacing Touch ID in the latest generation of iPhone models – it certainly seems that the former will feature in most (if not all) future models. In such a scenario, it would make a lot of sense if iOS 12 brought in more recognition patterns for Face ID, along with significant improvements in the reliability and accuracy factors. Apple also has some catching up to do with the ‘Portrait Mode’ (iPhone 7 Plus had it first) – which appears rather mediocre compared to that of Google Pixel 2. With the A11 chip present in the latest iPhones, it is certainly possible to make enhancements in this context.

Note: This keeps on surfacing every year and nothing happens – but the absence of a ‘Back’ button is often problematic. Maybe, the iOS 12 update will have something regarding this?

  1. Smarter iPhone unlocking

    Apple can easily take a leaf out of Android’s Smart Lock system, to make the iPhone unlocking smarter than ever before. It should be possible for users to unlock the handsets in trustworthy Bluetooth or wifi networks, after upgrading to iOS 12. For instance, a connected Apple Watch will be able to unlock a iPhone (it can already unlock paired Mac systems). In future, unlocking a device by syncing it with the Apple CarPlay system should also be a possibility. In the Apple ecosystem, security concerns are accorded much more importance than in Android – and that probably makes it next to impossible for iPhones/iPads to unlock in all scenarios. However, unlocking should be possible in more frequent (and safe) use cases, the range should be improved, and devices – once unlocked – should remain in that state for a few hours. It’s all about implementing proper geofencing and wifi standards in the next iteration of the iOS platform.

  2. Return of the wish list

    Why iOS 11 did away with the wish list feature in the App Store is anyone’s guess (the other tweaks were mostly good). As a result of that, iPhone-users were stripped of the option to add applications to their personal wishlists, to purchase/download them later. Given that it is not always possible to install a new application as and when one sees it at the store (the cellular data may be week, the price may be rather high), and memorizing the names of many apps is hardly possible – it is highly recommended that iOS 12 brings back this feature. At present, users cannot even see their previously saved wishlists either. If wish lists indeed make a comeback, that would boost app downloads and revenues in the long-run too.

  3. Arrival of ‘always-on’ displays

    Android has it, and iPhone does not. ‘Always-on’ displays can have implications on the battery lives of devices – but on the OLED displays of iPhone X and its successors in 2018 – not much battery juice will be consumed for lighting up a small section of the screen (battery used in OLED depends only on the number of lighted pixels). While more elaborate updates can wait till 2019, the iOS 12 update can bring an ‘always on’ screen with the clock (multiple designs), calendar, a summary of new notifications, and (perhaps) some of the home screen widgets. The display needs to be customizable – and going forward, Apple should provide a new API to facilitate developer access to this screen. Reduced colors and the dark background will make sure that there is no excess battery drain.

Note: The last couple of iOS updates have made improvements to iPhone notifications – but there are still scopes for further streamlining. Apart from customized notification grouping, people should also have the option of ignoring do-not-disturb (DND) settings.

     12. Improvements in the Files system

The Files app in iOS 11 is promising, but not much more than that. It does not quite function like a dedicated mobile file manager/file explorer yet – and that’s something that the upcoming platform update can address. Putting it differently, the software should be overhauled in such a way that, people are able to check out all the documents stored locally on their iDevices at one go. With more and more media content being stored on iCloud worldwide, storage is also an issue (Apple currently offers 5GB free storage, which often turns out to be inadequate). If iOS 12 allows users to purchase additional iCloud storage space without that being added on to the personal storage limits, things will become a lot easier. Google offers similar features (photos on Google Pixel), and upgraded iPhones/iPads can do the same.

Four new animojis have been added to the iOS 11.3 (it is, rather curiously, been made available only on the sixth-gen iPad). In iOS 12, app developers would love to be able to create and register custom animojis (with a separate Animoji API). Parental controls need to be improved, a user should be able to mark Messages as ‘unread’, a double-tap feature to put devices to sleep can be included, and there is need for a greater sync between timers and alarms (the way they are set and displayed). Phil Schiller might have referred to the iPad (more specifically, the iPad Pro) as the ‘ultimate PC replacement’ – but until it gets multi-user support and seamless user-switching features, its popularity will remain limited. It also remains to be seen what (if anything) iOS 12 does for Apple Music – given that it is still well behind Spotify, in terms of global subscribers (38 million vs 70 million).

iOS 12 (codenamed ‘Peace’) will be announced at this year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC 2018 has been scheduled from the 4th to the 8th of June), along with tvOS 12, macOS 10.14 and watchOS 5. Given the early troubles iOS 11 ran into, Apple is expected to focus on strengthening the security, reliability and performance levels in the new version – instead of going for big feature additions. Even so, iOS 12 will have more than its fair share of interesting new stuff – and we’ll have to wait and see how many of the features listed above actually makes the cut.

Busted! Finding The Truth Behind The Top 14 Smart Agriculture Myths

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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The facts behind the biggest modern farming myths

 

Over the next three decades, global food demand levels will rise by close to 70% – thanks to the exponentially growing population. A recent survey found that >800 million people worldwide do not have access to sustainable levels of food/other agricultural resources. The importance of the primary sector is further underlined by the fact that 4 out of every 10 people in the global workforce are employed over here (even though farming is not a particularly favourite field of activity for millennials). With the total volume of arable land steadily diminishing due to a series of factors (climatic changes, urbanization, large-scale industrialization, etc.) – the focus has shifted towards maximizing the yield from the available land resources. This is precisely where the concepts of ‘smart farming‘ and ‘precision agriculture‘ come into the picture.

Going by reasonable estimates, the market value of smart agriculture will soar to $27 billion in 2020 – with the use of big data, sensors and other advanced IoT tools becoming increasingly mainstream. However, the growth of digitization and automation for farming has been accompanied by a fair number of misleading myths. In what follows, we will bust a few of the most common smart farming myths:

  1. Present-day farmers are not willing to invest in precision farming and automation tools

    While the terms ‘agriculture’ and ‘digitization’ did not quite go hand in hand traditionally, the times are changing. In France, more than 65% of full-time crop-growers have expressed their interest in investing their resources on precision farming tools and technologies. The scenario is roughly similar across the globe, with the emphasis squarely on boosting yields, increasing margin earnings, and doing away with the uncertainty factors (e.g., those associated with fertilizers and/or irrigation). With the demand for automated farm management software and gateways increasing, large companies have started to offer real-time farm-based data, like soil conditions, crop cycles & performance, and moisture levels, as a ‘service’ to the farmers. These, together with higher-quality equipments and dynamic pricing, are bolstering yield quality and farm revenues.

Note: The challenge lies in making the technologies uniformly available to all farmers. Providing the latter with the necessary training is also vital.

  1. Smart agriculture is for large-scale agricultural farms only

    There is, without a shadow of a doubt, a direct correlation between the size of the farm, and the ability of its owner to spend big bucks on smart farming tools. However, considering that smart agritech solutions are meant for only the biggest of farms would be too naive. Nearly 76% of the total food in the world is produced in small, family-based farms (as per a UN FAO report) – and this makes the implementation of high-end precision tools in such farms absolutely critical. Such farms are, on average, <2.5 acres in size, and often suffer from various constraints – with fund crunches being the most common. Over the next few years, we can reasonably expect commercial farming practices to become prevalent in small farms too, aided by customized and powerful smart farming tools.

  2. ‘Digital Farming’ and ‘Digital Agriculture’ are one and the same

    This is probably the biggest misconception related to smart farming out there. The origins of digital farming can be traced back to the mid-90s, when the first set of tractors with built-in GPS capabilities arrived on the scene. At present, the John Deere tractors have become relatively common in US farms (in particular), along with satellite imaging, agricultural drones and smart sensors. These are all pushing ‘digital farming’ to newer and greater heights. It has to be, however, kept in mind that ‘digital agriculture’ is a different – and a much more inclusive – concept. While ‘digital farming’ is mostly limited to field-centric data and operations, ‘digital agriculture’ includes everything, right from digital platforms for agriculture (like the one SAP is working on), food technology awareness generation, and tech-backed transportation & logistics, to supply chain optimization, food safety, and better engagements of farmers with other stakeholders. The progresses made thus far in ‘digital farming’ make up only a small section of an integrated farm management system – which is what ‘digital agriculture’ is all about.

Note: Innovative and high-utility digital solutions for agriculture have been released by several leading players, like IBM, Bayer and Monsanto.

  1. Using big data and analytics is risk-free in the agricultural domain

    The worldwide big data market, currently valued at ~$41 billion, is expected to be worth $88.5 billion in 2025 (~115% increase). Buoyed by the performance and efficiency boosts brought about by systematic application of big data in other fields and use cases, it is increasingly being used for creating databases for digital farming tools too. The practice, unfortunately, comes with its own share of risks and uncertainties. For starters, unlike factory-based or workplace operations, agricultural activities and outputs are affected by natural factors (even though technology is being used to minimize their effects) – and there is no way of accurately predicting certain things. In other words, the crop-growing industry is a highly segmented one – and over here, big data is useful, but not always all-encompassing. What’s more, the analytics reports also fail to bring out the right picture at times (for instance, it is impossible to ascertain the percentage of yield increases caused by favourable climate conditions, and the percentage due to application of agritech solutions). With the right insights and greater accuracy of data, these uncertainties can be done away with in future – but there is still a long way to go.

  2. Maximizing the grid resolution is the only important factor for weather data collection and analysis

    Not quite true, While increasing the grid resolution should, theoretically, offer more accurate data outputs – problems would still remain over the maintenance and delivery of the higher number of grid points. In addition, it has been seen that agricultural weather grids generally fall short of 100% accuracy – and hence, simply increasing the resolution levels do not always provide the benefits originally expected. Instead, farmers and smart farming service providers need to maintain a proper balance – by ensuring that the collected data will indeed be relevant for their day-to-day operations (concentrating only on grid resolution can be counterproductive). The resolution for numerical weather prediction, or NWP, needs to be optimized, and end-to-end analytics platforms (with custom agronomic modeling) have to be created. These would deliver greater value to contemporary agricultural practices.

  3. Food technology should follow cold, hard logic

    Agriculture is not a so-called ‘hard science’ – and it would be a gross mistake to expect it to behave as one. It is one thing to ‘know’ what crops SHOULD be grown at what time (with the help of the agritech tools and assistants), but such data need not necessarily match the food patterns – or even the preferences – of human beings. For instance, the conditions in a farm in the Netherlands might not be in favour of dairy farming – but there is a high chance that such ‘logical conclusions’ will not be heeded. The rising awareness and concern over environmental hazards, welfare of animals and personal health risks also have important roles to play in modifying the behaviour of customers – forcing them to think beyond the price tags and supply-side elements. A clear example of this would be the steadily falling consumption of red meat across Western Europe. Digitized agriculture promises plenty of advantages, and large-scale overhauls in farm activities are required – but long-standing food habits are not going to change anytime soon. This is not a field that is driven by logical expectations only.

  4. Startups will dominate the precision agriculture industry

    Smart agriculture is all about innovations. Not surprisingly, new players are making big splashes in this domain – from investors and incubators, to tech service providers and partner companies. On the other hand, the established, large-scale companies are feeling the heat – since most of them fall short on that much-needed ‘innovation’ factor. This, however, does not mean that precision farming will be dominated by only startups in the foreseeable future. While coming up with revolutionary agritech ideas is easy for them, they often run into problems during the idea validation stage – primarily because they do not have the specialized manpower resources to test/implement their proofs-of-concept (PoCs). As a result, agritech startups are collaborating with big organizations, to access the better facilities, real validation, and improved marketing options. Hybrid models are becoming more and more common – and in future, it will be the business partnerships (and not the startups alone) that will make a difference.

Note: Contrary to what is widely believed, large scale agricultural farms are not necessarily more efficient. In fact, a recent study revealed that output from smaller farms can be nearly two times more than their larger counterparts (much higher yield-per-hectare).

  1. Farming does not require education

    Once upon a time, agriculture used to be more about physical strength than mental acumen – but those times have now been relegated to the pages of history. On average, a crop-grower using smart farming tools and data have to handle as many as 4 million data points annually (this is based on a Farmer’s Business Network report). On top of that, farmers need to be capable of operating the self-driving tractors, the smart field sensors, the drones and a host of other cutting-edge technical tools and accessories. For maximizing field outputs at the time of harvest, a wide range of advanced machines and gateways have to be used by farmers – and unless they have proper education and the required training, the task would be beyond them. Managing a ‘smart farm’ is not the easiest task in the world – and ‘smart farmers’ must be well-educated.

  2. If the rainfall data is accurate, the overall quality of weather data will be optimal

    At very high precision levels, maintaining high accuracy of virtual rain gauge data can be a big challenge. Many issues can crop up – from calibration errors and signal problems, to faulty radar setups and field clutter – affecting the accuracy of rainfall data/predictions. However, even if the rainfall data is mostly accurate, that does not necessarily mean that the overall weather data quality will also be optimal. It has to be kept in mind that wind/temperature forecasts are not related to rainfall forecasting (rainfall is not a parameter in Numerical Weather Prediction models either). Hence, it is not the standalone accuracy of rainfall data, but the overall relevance, personalization and actionable nature of the weather data that should be paid attention to. It might very well happen that the rainfall forecasts are fairly spot-on, but other key weather parameters might be wide of the mark.

Note: IoT-based agritech tools, powered by LoRaWAN or Sigfox, can be used to generate high-accuracy weather data, mitigate water wastage (through over-irrigation), and bring down the uncertainties associated with agriculture.

    10. Every crop-grower will be happy to share their data

In an ideal world where everyone trusts everyone, a farmer should be more than willing to share their field data on the value chain – to exploit the latest digital agritech innovations. Thanks to the continuous malpractices against crop-growers since decades, this much-needed trust factor is missing (between farmers and large corporations). As a result, the farmers might not be very keen to share their confidential on-field data to corporate houses – in fear of manipulations and unauthorized usage. However, they cannot afford to keep working in isolation either – since that would mean they will ignore the potential smart agriculture optimizations. In any digital farming initiative, feelings of mistrust and suspicion are major bottlenecks. There are no quick fixes – and it would be great for everyone concerned if the trust-factor gradually builds over time.

    11. Truly usable and affordable smart farming tools do not exist yet

This one is far removed from the truth. We are in a highly digitized economy, one which technology has ceased to be a bottleneck long ago. Farmers (at least those who are willing to invest) can easily lay their hands on vertical agriculture tools, automated (GPS-powered) tractors, robotics, competitively-priced sensors, nanotechnologies, smart irrigation management systems, and a whole lot more. LPWAN technologies are gradually taking connectivity-related problems out of the equation, and food blockchains are also being implemented. Many manual (and hugely time-consuming) on-field tasks can be replaced with automated processes with the help of the available technology. Further adding to the convenience of farm-owners is the fact that the average prices of smart farming tools are on a downward trend. Apart from the already launched tools, many others are currently under development. Technology is not holding the primary sector back, that’s for sure.

    12. Establishing on-field weather stations is vital

For generating location-based weather forecasts, the importance of optimally operated weather stations is immense. That does not, however, mean that farmers should always install such stations onsite. There have been many cases where the performances of weather stations have suffered due to instrumentation issues, or incorrect calibration, or simply wrong placement. In addition, the value of such stations for forecasting weather is limited (i.e., they contribute only a small section of an entire day’s weather forecast) in regular NWP models. What’s more – weather stations typically deliver information pertinent only to a small area, and cannot be referred to for large-scale analysis. Put in another way, these stations are not of much use on their own. The dynamic changes in climatic conditions cannot be captured by these either. The costs of maintaining full-blown weather stations on crop-fields are also not insignificant.

     13. Farmers will be ready to spend big bucks

Problems like excessive competition and overproduction made food production a ‘buyer’s market’ – where farmers had little say. With the advent of technology, this is gradually being converted into a ‘seller’s market’. For getting quantitatively and qualitatively enhanced outputs, customers have to cough up more money – with farmers standing to earn more. However, even the crop-growers who are ready to invest on precision agriculture have to be made familiar with, and thoroughly convinced about, the value propositions associated with each new technology. Putting it in another way, the value of each new solution has to be ‘proved’ continuously, to motivate the farmers to spend money for it. With most farmers having shortage of resources – their ‘purchase decisions’ are, expectedly, taken after carefully weighing all the probable pros and cons of the different agritech tools and machinery. They have to be first made aware of the lingering issues with their fields/operations, and then acquainted with the tools that can resolve those issues.

      14. Food industry is a domain solely for consolidated businesses

The $66 billion Bayer-Monsanto merger deal has generated quite a bit of buzz among agritech and foodtech enthusiasts worldwide. There are several large corporations with global presence in the food industry. However, it cannot be inferred from these information that multinational companies rule the roost, as far as the food industry is concerned. The true picture is, in fact, quite the opposite – with 8 out of every 10 food producers in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa being small landholders. Extreme fragmentation has traditionally characterized the worldwide food industry, and continues to do so. Food security and land ownership are key causes for this fragmentation – and barring a few sub-segments (grain production, for example), both small local land-owners coexist with billion-dollar stakeholders. Every player has to ‘optimize’ its operations to generate value. Unlike, say, the telecom industry, agriculture will not be ‘ruled’ by a couple of MNCs.

By the end of 2024, ~225 million smart agritech devices will be in active use (in 2014, the corresponding figure was a measly 12 million). The CAGR of the agricultural IoT market is expected to hover around the 20% mark over the next few years. Precision farming tools and techniques are set to pick up further momentum – and it’s high time we knew the truths behind the many myths shrouding this domain.

 

Blockchain For HR Management – Opportunities And Use Cases

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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Blockchain for HR management

 

Among the most important trends in digital transformation of our times, blockchain technology (also known as distributed ledger technology, or DLT) will rank right near the top. By 2021, the value of the global blockchain industry will be hovering around the $2.3 billion mark – about 6.75X more than the corresponding figure at the end of last year ($339 million). In an earlier article, we had discussed the probable use cases of blockchain technology in different industries, apart from the financial sector. In what follows, we will put the human resource management (HRM) sector under the spotlight, and find out how the implementation of blockchain can disrupt this field of activity:

  1. For authenticating/validating resumes of job-seekers

    People lie on their CVs frequently. In a recent CareerBuilder survey, it was found that almost 6 out of every 10 resumes received by HR departments contain false information, in some way or the other. The onus lies on the HR personnel to individually verify and backcheck all the academic and professional achievements cited by a prospective employee, as well as the references mentioned by him/her. The process, apart from being frustratingly time-consuming, can turn out to be financially expensive too. With the help of a reliable HR blockchain, fraud detection and all the necessary verifications can become easier, faster and more reliable than ever before – with all career-related ‘data blocks’ being stored in immutable resume blockchains. Ascertaining resume accuracy is a point of concern for entrepreneurs/recruiters across the globe, and blockchain technology will be handy in automating the overall screening process.

Note: The prototype of a resume verification blockchain network is already in the final stages of development in Japan. In 2016, Recruit Technologies and Ascribe entered into a collaboration with blockchain technology for automated resume checking.

  1. For storing important employee data

    From day-to-day expenses and employee performance tracking, to insurance records, payroll management, psychometrics and employment history maintenance – blockchain technology can help HR departments digitally store all the key information about workers, in a completely secure manner. This, in turn, will render the role of third-party employee contract/data maintenance agencies (in effect, middlemen) completely unnecessary. Prompt payments will ensure that people will be able to start working immediately, without any delays caused by recruiters/contracting parties. In the foreseeable future, the role of conventional financial, recruitment and employee contracts/data storage will gradually diminish – and decentralized operations will become more mainstream.

  2. For recruiting talents from the gig economy

    The gig economy (alternatively known as the ‘access economy’) is growing fast. In the US, as much as 35% of the total workforce is made up by freelancers – the members of the so-called ‘on-demand economy’. By the end of this decade, this stat will rise to 43%. The need for quickly, and accurately, assessing the skill, knowledge, proficiency and relevant experience of the ‘contingent employees’ is rising – and that’s precisely where blockchain tech can have a big role to play. On a HR blockchain, third-party vendor credentials can be verified easily, since it is impossible to ‘edit’ records (blocks) at any node, without making wholesale changes to the entire network. In essence, the arrival of blockchain in HR will usher in a transparent, decentralized marketplace – one in which freelancers and companies/employers will be able to find and contact each other directly (no role for external recruiting agents).

Note: In 2017, Australian startup ChronoBank started issuing Labour Hour (LH) tokens – in a bid to remove the uncertainties associated with payments and work commitments.

  1. For removing inefficiencies in payroll management

    Bitwage, a global wage management service, has already given us an idea of how blockchain can weed out the inherent problems in payroll operations. With the technology being embedded in the mobile and cloud space, the service automatically converts bitcoins to local currencies – so that workers can get paid in the latter. This process is particularly of help in overseas payroll management systems, where the frequent currency value fluctuations (high volatility) can pose problems for both employers and workers. What’s more, many intermediaries – banks and other financial institutions – are involved in international payroll systems, causing additional expenses and (often) inordinate delays. With cryptocurrencies being used as a payments standard, cross-border payroll processing cycles will be shortened considerably.

  2. For keeping up with the increasing diversity of employee careers

    By 2019, the number of ‘millennials’ in the world will overtake that of ‘baby boomers’. On average, millennials stick at a job for less than 3 years (for US millennials, the figure is 2.8 years) – and this relatively frequent ‘job-hopping’ behaviour adds to the challenge for HR professionals to keep up with the experiences and skills that potential employees might have gathered over time. In addition, education and academic achievements are evolving fast – with the advent of online training courses, availability of digital badges, and the huge pool of courses. It is possible to keep adding ‘certification blocks’ and/or ‘experience blocks’ to a career blockchain, and individuals can constantly monitor who gets access to such personal data (with ‘access keys’). Human resource management is, by default, data-heavy – and blockchain can do its bit to ensure that employers can find the best talents.

Note: As the educational and/or professional experiences of candidates mount up, the chances of manual forgeries and impersonations also increase. Such risks can be avoided in a blockchain-powered HR system.

  1. For using smart contracts to make digital process management easier

    Imogen Heap’s Mycelia has showed the way in which blockchain technology can help musicians make money once again. Similar ‘smart contracts’ – which are basically lines of code specifying what would happen if and when certain given conditions are met – can also be used by HR departments, to digitally manage issues related with employee benefits and policies. Records of employee awards and recognitions can also be stored securely in a blockchain network. According to experts, smart contracting would help in bringing about greater transparency, awareness and confidence levels for all parties involved – with everyone knowing the timing and circumstances of payments and other receivables (non-monetary benefits) at all times. All digital processes related to HR management can be made streamlined and efficient with decentralized ledger systems.

  2. For creating & maintaining independent employee digital IDs

    Third-party employment agencies, at times, can offer misleading information about a particular job-seeker. This, in turn, makes it doubly difficult for recruiters to find the true qualifications and capabilities of that person. Satoshi Nakamoto’s blockchain tech opens up the possibility of the creation of fully sovereign digital IDs for employees. They will have full control over such IDs – and all the data included in a particular ID will be added after due verification by the concerned parties. Yet another advantage of such digital IDs will be that the ‘owners’ will be able to allow and track access by dedicated ‘digital tokens or keys’. Instead of having to manually check the references of applicants, HR departments can simply request access to the digital ID blockchain – which will have all the certifications cross-verified by the concerned authority (say, a university). Considerable time will be saved in this way – and the process would be that much more reliable.

Note: As in the financial and other sectors, blockchain in HRM will help in bringing back the ‘trust’ factor to recruitments, employee management processes and payroll systems.

  1. For digital certifications

    The University of Calgary and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have already made some progress in this context. While the former lets students to enroll in the digital co-curricular records, the latter has piloted a full-blown diploma program – that offers students a completely certifiable digital diploma (a traditional diploma in physical format is also provided). The high-end education transcripts in such digital certifications ensure that there are no chances of data manipulations at any time, and only the authorized personnel will be able to decode and view it (in our case, HR recruiters). Irrespective of whether one works to work as a traditional corporate employee or a provider of ‘talent-on-demand’ – digital certificates stored on HR blockchains will benefit everyone.

  2. For managing transactional data and facilitating seed funding

    The importance of blockchain technology for resume/background verification of candidates has already been highlighted. However, that’s not all there’s to it – and decentralized ledgers can also be used to store and manage different types of important transactional data, like employee tax documents, address changes, and even emergency medical records. With uncertainties cleared out and every corporate record digitally stored and shared – the implementation of blockchain should also help companies in acquiring seed funding with greater ease. A number of leading tech vendors are already experimenting with alternative HR blockchain options – which can deliver multiple compatible advantages in the Industry 4.0 regime.

  3. Managing the legal and privacy matters

    This would call for a fine balance. There are locations where recruiters are not supposed to make enquiries about the previously drawn salaries of workers. However, if that data is stored on the blockchain network, and the recruiters are given access – this information can be viewed without the explicit permission (or even knowledge) of the concerned job-seeker. As a result, probable cases of privacy violations, and consequent legal hassles, might arise. There is considerable speculation over these matters at present – and it will be interesting to find out how enterprises decide to maintain long-term records of their employees in a shared digital network. The key would be to implement HR blockchains in a way that delivers benefits to everyone, without compromising anything or anyone.

Smart contracts in distributed blockchains also help in verifying work permits (from international workers), as well as for calculating/recording employee retirement benefits. In fact, many manual management functions can be replaced by blockchain software. It has to be, however, kept in mind that the technology cannot, and is not intended to, replace human presence in the HR sector. Instead, it will help the professionals in this domain gain access to ‘better’ information quickly, and perform more efficiently.

It’s still very early days for blockchain technology in HRM. Challenges remain, primarily in the form of lack of knowledge and awareness about the technology – as well as the problems with finding present scenarios in which historical information can be relied upon. For starters, the role of blockchain will be limited to automated verifications and learning – and if the results are as desired – the technology can be expanded to more of the use cases listed above. 2018 is widely expected to be the ‘year of the blockchain’, and the transformational benefits on the HR sector should become evident before the year is out.

 

 

5G Is Coming: An Overview Of The Advantages & Challenges

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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5G advantages and challenges

 

The ‘first-ever 5G Olympic games (Pyeongchang Winter Olympics)‘ has come and gone – and the 5G experience at the event was just a tad underwhelming. While the 5G application demos were instructive enough – the fact that no one could actually try out the technology on their handsets pegged things back a touch. At the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games though, the implementations are set to be turned up by a couple of notches – with Intel collaborating with NTT DoCoMo to create a full-blown 5G network for the event. According to reasonable estimates, the world will have more than 1.1 billion 5G connections by 2025 (accounting for ~15% of the total connections). Taken together, the fourth and fifth-generation wireless standards will make up around 67% of all the mobile connections worldwide. In today’s discussion, we will take you through some key benefits of the 5G technology, along with a few potential problems:

  • (Advantage)

    Higher speeds than ever before –

    For the average Joe, this is going to be the biggest benefit of 5G connectivity. Early reports have shown that data rates in a 5G device can be more than 10 GBps – almost a thousand times faster than a 4G handset (i.e., 4G LTE networks). An ultra-HD movie that takes XX minutes to be downloaded on a stable 4G connection, will become downloadable in 10 seconds or less. Since the bandwidth will be much higher, the average response time will also go down a lot (1 millisecond in 5G; 45-50 milliseconds in 4G). The significantly higher throughput rates (around 10 times greater than 4G) will also make online gaming and general 4K video streaming possible at, literally, blazing speeds. No more frustrating waits for a web page to load!

Note: Huawei is set to launch its first 5G handset – powered by the Balong 5G01 chip – later this year. Qualcomm’s made-for-5G X50 chip will be used by many of the OEMs in the 5G race, including LG, HMD Global and Xiaomi.

  • (Challenge)

    The cost factor

    For any new technology to be of practical use, it must not be prohibitively expensive. The mass adoption of 5G might face some initial roadblocks regarding this. For starters, the initial subscription plans are likely to be more expensive than the ones currently available. The annual investments required for upgrading to 5G might push towards the $200 billion mark – raising questions over the justifications of actually switching over from 4G to 5G. A 2016 report suggested that a nationwide 5G coverage for the United States would probably cost more than $300 billion. In addition, the carriers will also have to incur heavy expenses for upgrading their existing infrastructure, to accommodate the new devices and antennas required by 5G systems. It’s going to be a full-blown overhaul, and it ain’t going to be cheap.

Note: Over the long-term, the 5G subscription prices might gradually come down – to match the growing demands of users.

  • (Advantage)

    Many new use cases

    5G will usher in a large number of new applications – for use cases that are not even close to being possible in the 3G/4G regime. Teslasuit used the MWC UK platform to showcase the minimal latency of the technology, by connecting a VR headset with a computer system – and ensuring that viewers received a full-fidelity VR experience. Remote surgeries, with the help of haptic feedback, will become possible – while 5G will also be of value for drones for delivery, autonomous vehicles, monitoring and predictive maintenance, and creation of smart cities. Location-tracking will also become faster and more accurate (finding missing people should become a simpler task) – while the new high-speed wireless standard can also be used by governmental bodies for investigative purposes. All 5G use cases in general, and the AR/VR capabilities in particular, will make use of very high bandwidth applications.

Note: In the 5G millimeter wave, the average latency can be as low as 1 millisecond.

  • (Challenge)

    Uncertainties over coverage and radio frequencies

    There are reports indicating that 5G macro-optimized will, in all probability, use the 6 GHz (maybe, slightly lower) frequency. The catch over here is, this radio frequency band is already being used by satellite links and many other different signal types. This particular frequency range is already overcrowded – and it is very much possible that there will be some lingering problems with data transmissions (i.e., in sending/receiving signals) in this radio frequency. Complicating matters further is the fact that the 5G network cells will offer lower coverage than those of 4G (in spite of the exponentially higher bandwidth). This would mean that more cell towers will be needed to make 5G technology mainstream over time. The coverage of 5G can be upto 300 meters in the outdoor environment, and a rather lowly 2 meters indoors.

Note: Frequency bands of upto 30 GHz will be used by 5G small cells. 5G Ultra Dense and 5G Millimeter Wave will use higher radio frequencies (upto 100 GHz and upto 300 GHz respectively).

  • (Advantage)

    Role of 5G in IoT

    Along with artificial intelligence (AI) and edge computing, 5G wireless technology will be right at the heart of the burgeoning IoT revolution over the next half a decade or so. Apart from expanding the realms of possibilities for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), 5G is also expected to play a major role in the development of Industry 4.0 in general, smart city applications, smart industrial software, powering connected cars, and smart homes & buildings. Seamless mobility, negligible latency, full scalability, and (hopefully) reliability will help 5G in making many high-end, mission-critical IoT projects implementable with ease. The general feeling is that the improved performance levels and network capacities of 5G technology will make it a key driver of ‘massive IoT’.

Note: At high frequency ranges, data losses become an increasing risk. In a 5G ecosystem, such problems can be bypassed through dynamic beamforming.

  • (Challenge)

    Data/Signal losses can be due to a myriad of factors –

    We have already mentioned about the probable losses in the 5G millimeter wave. These losses can happen due to different reasons – right from penetration problems, to foliage losses, rain attenuation, and a host of other factors. It also remains to be seen whether the ‘speed advantage’ of 5G indeed matches the expectations of software developers and end-users. The technology is still under development, the final specifications are yet not confirmed by the IEEE – and the speeds that can be achieved in a controlled test environment might be impossible to achieve in a real-world scenario, thanks to technological shortcomings. The first full 5G network might arrive in the US in early-2019 – but expecting it to be fully operational immediately will be too naive.

Note: Apart from the United States, China, South Korea and Japan are also in the frame to launch 5G networks within the next few quarters. By the end of 2025, 4 out of every 10 5G connections in the world will be from China.

  • (Advantage)

    Switch to a software-defined standard

    5G might very well turn out to be the last incremental update in wireless connectivity. Unlike 4G (and older generations), which is determined by modulation and frequency (i.e., interface-defined), 5G will be the first-ever software-defined wireless standard. New frequency bands/waves can be quickly included in 5G networks, and since everything becomes programmable – newer wireless protocols will become available via software updates. In other words, the architecture-focused 5G can be dubbed as ‘continuous G’ – the standard that marks the end of ‘generational improvements’ in wireless networking technology. All improvements will be continuously integrated, and maybe there will be no 6G.

Note: 5G technology will not be a direct replacement of 4G (in the manner in which 4G replaced 3G). It will have the capability of working with 4G networks – ensuring that the older generations do not have to be immediately replaced.

  • (Challenge)

    The security cloud 

    For all the advanced computing and networking power of 5G technology, there still remain doubts over how it will handle critical security and privacy concerns. A mid-2017 report revealed that both 3G and 4G were exposed to ‘stingray’ attacks, and other alarmingly common forms of data hacks. To make 5G a viable and ‘safe’ technology, the onus will lie on the carriers to incorporate robust endpoint security standards (behaviour-based instead of the regular signature-based) for identifying/removing malware, create pre-tested firewalls, monitor DNS activities and establish strong data integrity assurances. Better identity management systems will be required as well, along with smart sandboxing solutions. Cloud networks and data virtualization will have very important roles to play in 5G environments – and if the security assurances are not up to the mark, people might be wary of adopting the new wireless generation.

Note: The operability of Massive MIMO (multiple input multiple output) systems will also have a big influence over 5G performance levels. ZTE, Huawei and Facebook are some of the big players who have already showcased such systems.

  • (Advantage)

    A solution for the ‘last-mile issue’

    5G should finally be able to offer a way to resolve the much-talked-about ‘last-mile issue’, related to the non-availability of network connectivity in rural/sparsely populated semi-urban areas. Even in a developed nation like the United States, these problems exist in a big way – and what’s more, creation of hi-speed fibre-based networks is not an economically viable solution for such areas. With the help of the 5G technology, it will be possible to build powerful wireless hotspots – and together with LPWAN technologies like LoRa (by Semtech) and Sigfox – can make internet in non-urban areas more mainstream. The biggest beneficiary of this would be the precision farming sector, with companies rushing to come out with unique, cutting-edge agritech tools. Of course, we will have to wait for the technology to become available on smartphones and tablets – for its benefits to become fully apparent in this context.

Note: The benefits of 5G connections will not be limited to low-population zones only. Since the technology will be using larger pipelines for bolstering cell reception qualities, the performance should be better in heavily populated areas too.

  • (Challenge)

    Making 5G available to everyone

    And let’s be fair – if this doesn’t happen, all the hefty investments for the upgradation will make little sense. We are still presumably a fair way away of having the technology available on mobile devices – and the first set of 5G device prototypes are comparable in size to big computer systems. The enormity of the task of implementing nationwide 5G network architectures cannot be underestimated either. In addition, more awareness have to be generated among the not-particularly-tech-savvy section of the global population – so that they grow motivated to give 5G a try. The early 5G trials have kickstarted things, and by the turn of the decade, we should have a full commercial rollout.

Note: Cellular drones, LTE-U, LTE for IoT and C-U2X are some of the most important technologies under IoT.

  • (Advantage)

    Support for parallel multiple services and heterogeneous services

    With bi-directional bandwidth shaping, smaller antenna sizes and the (much) greater bandwidths, 5G will revolutionize mobile technology. People will be able to use multiple services simultaneously (say, tracking weather updates during a voice call). The underlying technologies of 5G will also be powerful enough to support private networks and other high-end heterogeneous services. A recent survey found that – in an ideal scenario – 5G can bring about a hundred-fold increase in network efficiency and traffic capacity levels, and a three-fold increase in spectrum efficiency levels. The average connection density levels should also go up in a big way.

Note: Seamless carrier aggregation will make it easy to access and use higher bandwidth levels.

  • (Challenge)

    Need for skilled personnel

    Making 5G operational on a worldwide basis will need active involvement of a really large number of highly-trained software and data network engineers. Since the existing infrastructures (mostly) will be overhauled, the importance of providing training to the available manpower would be paramount. From conceptualization and installation, to deployment, maintenance and fault-detection/repairs/debugging – every phase of 5G will require expert human help. In the mobile app development space per se, the need will be for developers and testers who can collaborate to design truly 5G-compatible applications.

Note: 5G is also known as the ‘IMT-2020’ technology. Its predecessor is referred to as ‘IMT-Advanced’.

For best performances in already crowded wireless spectrums, 5G devices should ideally be capable of dynamic bandwidth selection. Moreover, it has to be kept in mind that we are not creating ‘a faster network’ just for the heck of it. The infrastructure and the applications have to be upgraded according to the practical use cases…instances where 5G can indeed help the customers.

As many as 18 carriers – Verizon, Sprint, Vodafone, AT&T, Telstra among others – have plans to release 5G devices in 2019. It will be fascinating to see how the technology makes the most of its powerful advantages, while tackling the challenges in the best possible manner. The 5G revolution is almost upon us – and although there are still a few rough edges – it is set to take up wireless connectivity to the next level.

 

 

Top 14 Tech Trends Showcased At MWC 2018

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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The widely anticipated Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus were announced at the recently concluded MWC 2018 (in Barcelona, Spain). Samsung’s new flagship was not, however, the only new device of note at the event – with Sony, Asus, Vivo, Huawei (laptop) and other big players also coming up with cutting-edge handsets. What’s more – MWC 2018 threw up several interesting trends that are likely to dominate in the foreseeable future. Over here, we will take you through some of these innovative trends in mobile technology (in particular) and digital transformations (in general), that dominated MWC 2018:

  1. AR set to become more mainstream

    iOS 11 gave iPhone-users the first taste of true augmented reality-based applications, thanks to the built-in ARKit tool. Following its success (iOS 11 touched 65% adoption rates by January), Samsung launched the latest version of its flagship smartphone – the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ – with interesting AR capabilities. As a direct response to iOS 11’s Animojis, the Korean tech giant has introduced ‘AR Emojis’ – which use advanced motion tracking technology to create customized emojis (sticker packs) and videos. The camera app of the new phones also has an AR-powered ‘makeup’ tool. Apart from Samsung’s efforts to make AR more accessible to Android users, the Blade Smart Glasses (by Vuzix) also drew plenty of interest at this year’s Mobile World Congress. Going forward, we can reasonably expect that most new flagship smartphones will have some AR capabilities.

Note: The tagline of the new Samsung phones is ‘Do what can’t be done’. Interestingly, the pre-orders of S9 have been somewhat below par till now.

  1. More smart connections. IoT to gain momentum

    Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT, is the segment that will be doing a lot of running in 2018 and beyond. A number of big players – from Intel and Ericsson, to Sierra Wireless and Huawei – presented informative demo sessions at the MWC. Probable scopes of using IoT applications in a myriad of use cases, like aviation, manufacturing (robotics), agritech and development of smart cities, were highlighted – and the total number of IIoT connections was projected to reach 13.7 billion by 2025 (at present, there are less than 3 billion such connections). The consumer IoT sector will continue to grow at a healthy clip too – with smart homes, autonomous vehicles, security tools, wearables and smart gaming consoles/controllers leading the way. According to GSMA Intelligence, the world will have more than 25 billion connected devices by the end of 2025. IoT is growing fast, and it will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

Note: With nearly 11 billion connections, Asia-Pacific is expected to emerge as the biggest market for IoT. North America and Europe, with 5.8 billion and 5.6 billion connections respectively, will take up the second and third spots.

  1. Rise of blockchain technology

    The last year was well and truly the ‘year of the bitcoin’ – with close to 191000 transactions taking place every day (on average). 2018 can very well turn out to be the year where blockchain technology takes centerstage. At MWC 2018, Verizon announced its plans of using its VNS (Virtual Network Services) platform to implement KSI blockchain for a wide range of cutting-edge tech services later this year. The services will be particularly focused on the security and maintenance of digital supply chains. The Hyperledger Sawtooth project (a blockchain initiative by the Linux Foundation) got a new participant in the form of T-Mobile – with the latter developing a unique Identity & Access Management (IAM) resource, known as the Sawtooth Hyper Directory. Using blockchain for developing smart cities was the point of focus for Cisco IoT at this year’s MWC. The concept of coming up with cryptocurrencies for different cities was, in particular, very interesting.

Note: By 2021, the global blockchain market will be worth ~$2313 million – nearly 582% more than the valuation in 2017.

  1. Artificial intelligence to get every OEM hooked

    Virtual assistants like Google Assistant, Amazon alexa, and to a lesser extent, Siri, have already redefined the concept of artificial intelligence (AI) for day-to-day usage. At the MWC, it became more evident that manufacturers are ready to invest more on AI than ever before. For starters, Samsung’s Bixby Vision received several interesting AI-related updates (Bixby currently has well over 10.5 million active users worldwide). LG too jumped onto the AI bandwagon, with the brand new LG V30S ThinQ – which comes with advanced scene-identification and colour selection capabilities to make photographs more appealing (the phone also has improved internal storage space and RAM, but the camera AI is definitely its biggest USP). Manufacturers are warming up to the idea of using AI to make the smartphone-using experience more immersive than ever before for final users – and over the next couple of years, artificial intelligence & machine learning will become integral elements of mobile technology.

Note: The LG V30 was released last September. Launching its successor in less than a year’s time clearly shows that LG is extremely serious about the technology.

  1. Too many phone models with the ‘camera notch’

    The camera notch of iPhone X has received more than its fair share of flak. That, however, is not going to prevent other phone manufacturers to be ‘inspired’, and include similar ‘notches’ in their latest flagship models. The Huawei P20 (with triple lens) – set to be launched at a Paris event at the end of this month – is likely to have the ‘notch’, while Asus Zenfone 5, showcased at MWC ‘18, indeed has it. To be fair, Asus has done a good job of keeping the notch size small, and increasing the screen-to-body ratio (the company referred to a certain ‘Fruit Phone X’ for comparisons!). However, the fact remains that the ‘camera notch’ in iPhone is primarily for Apple’s True Depth camera (used in Face ID) – and the ‘notch’ in other handsets simply does nothing more than housing the front camera. Let’s just put it this way – Apple’s latest designs are being copied by many other manufacturers, and this trend seems strong enough to continue for some time.

Note: Xiaomi and Vivo, thankfully, veered away from launching lookalikes of Apple phones in this regard. The former announced a phone with the camera on a bezel at the bottom, while the latter decided to include a camera that protrudes from the top (in the Vivo Apex).

  1. 5G getting more and more attention

    The recently concluded Pyeongchang Winter Olympics was hyped to be the first ever ‘5G spectacle’ – but the marketing efforts of KT Corp were far from being as revolutionary as originally envisaged. It can be safely stated that the first set of 5G-compatible smartphones will not come before 2019 – and what’s more, IEEE is yet to specify the official standard for the technology. Even so, MWC 2018 was buzzing with the latest news and updates about 5G – with a lot of speculations about which vendor will launch the world’s first ‘5G phone’. MoUs have been signed by Huawei with as many as 45 leading operators – from 30+countries (in North america, Asia and Europe), and the company has started pre-commercial 5G trials. Overall, 5G trials are being conducted in 49 nations across the globe, by a whopping 77 mobile companies. Sprint will probably take a headstart in the United States (with networks almost ready for Atlanta, Los Angeles, and several other cities). The 5G trials are also being held using different frequency bands – sub-3GHz, 3GHz-6GHz, and 6 GHz-30 GHz (3.5 GHz and 26 GHz are the most popular for these tests). The 5G revolution is not going to be limited to the mobile space either. Intel is already working in collaboration with HP, Lenovo and Dell to bring 5G services to the XMM 8000 commercial modems.

Note: A combination of regulation fragmentations and misplaced attentions of mobile operators is causing Europe to fall behind in the 5G race (compared to Asia and North America). China Mobile has plans to kickstart 5G trials in 2018 Q2.

  1. Bezelless phones will be the future

    We have to wait for the end for the last week of this month for the bezelless Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S to be announced. However, the trend of thinning out bezels as much as possible in a bid to maximize the screen-to-body ratio is already well-and-truly in. Following last year’s iPhone X, Asus announced the Zenfone 5 – in which the ‘notch’ is 26% smaller (i.e., more screen area). The Galaxy S9 is also, of course, bezelless, as is the LG V30. The biggest splash in the bezelless space was, arguably, made by Vivo – with a new concept phone (Vivo Apex), that includes the fingerprint sensor AND the earpiece under the display screen (it can be unlocked by swiping on the lower section of the screen). What is, however, slightly disturbing is that – OEM’s are rushing to ‘duplicate’ the bezelless designs of the latest Apple flagship, without providing enough practical justification for the same. Over time, companies have to ensure that the functionalities of their devices do not get hampered in any way by the bezel-free design styles.

Note: The pop-up selfie camera of the Vivo Apex has also generated quite a bit of interest among tech enthusiasts. In general, phones with greater screen real estates are becoming increasingly common.

  1. More implementation of edge computing

    At present, almost 90% of the total volume of enterprise data is created in a data center or a centralized cloud system. A Gartner report has suggested that, in future, nearly three-fourths of the data will be created outside such central systems. The bulk of the computing/processing power is being moved to the network edges – and that, in turn, is enhancing the usability of smart devices – while making them more lightweight (think of a VR headset that looks just like a pair of specs, and you will get the idea). Since most of the connectivity in such tools will be managed wirelessly, people will be able to get a seamless experience of the virtual/augmented reality space. Another interesting offshoot of the greater focus on edge computing is the betterment of IoT infrastructure optimization and security. VMware showcased unique hyper-convergence plans at this year’s MWC, geared to boost edge computing solutions. As the popularity of IoT solutions grows, the demand for more powerful data processing and hence, edge computing will continue to soar.

Note: MWC 2018 clearly underlined the current emphasis on creating relatively small devices with heightened processing capabilities. Edge computing is going to be key for that.

  1. More smart cities in the world

    NTT DoCoMo has entered a collaboration with Intel to provide a full-scale 5G convergence coverage for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Automated solutions are making public utilities smarter, speedier and more accurate than ever before – and technologies like LoRaWAN and Sigfox are going to play big roles in the development of the required smart solutions. The Samsung demonstration underlined that smart city solutions would include a broad range of things – from cars and public vehicles, to aviation, smart homes, stadiums, waste disposal, and a whole lot more. Fog computing is gaining in popularity, smart public lighting offers advantages, significant amounts of energy can be conserved by smart grids, and for select countries – precision agriculture is proving instrumental in pulling up annual yield levels. All eyes are now on how revolutionary the HD camera drones, the smart city sensors and the 8K video streams (360 degree) at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics turn out to be.

Note: Following the 2016 countrywide adoption of LoRa technology in the Netherlands (KPN), Italy, Belgium and France have also had rollouts of LoRaWan. Actility has also announced that there will be a nationwide LoRa coverage launch (Netzikon) in Germany later this year.

    10. Connected cars to make travels smarter

Uncertainties regarding the availability of Apple Car (Project Titan) might still linger, but there are no doubts about the prospect of the ‘connected cars’ segment over the next five years or so. At the MWC, a new company (Xmoba) was announced by leading car manufacturer SEAT (incidentally, SEAT is also involved in a smart city project for Barcelona) for introducing advanced mobility solutions for cars. The chief objective of this is to create a fully autonomous car with high-speed 5G connectivity. The cutting-edge neural processing unit of the Huawei Mate 10 Pro is being used to prepare a driverless vehicle (the Porsche Panamera is being tested). SAP, the renowned computing company in German, is also getting its hands wet in this domain – with a open-standard mobility service marketplace, the SAP Vehicles Network Solution. Apart from 5G, machine learning standards are at the core of the growing interest in autonomous vehicles.

Note: By the end of 2020, a whopping 98% of all cars are set to have internet connectivity in some form or the other.

      11. Mobile Money to grow huge, and South Africa emerging as the market leader

By 2015, the total transaction volume of mobile money services was already close to $455 billion. That figure will more than double (~$930 billion; estimated) this year. On a YoY basis, there was an impressive 25% rise in the number of registered/verified accounts last year (close to 700 million accounts by 2017 Q4). At the Mobile World Congress, GSMA revealed that the daily mobile money transactions handled by it was more than $1 billion. Another interesting observation in this context was the emergence of South Asia as the leading user of mobile money accounts (it overtook sub-Saharan markets for the first time) – with almost 48% of the total registered accounts in the globe coming from that region.

Note: The value of mobile money transactions is expected to breach the $1 trillion mark in 2019.

      12. Nostalgia matters in the mobile space too

The heavy early demands for last year’s $89.95 Nokia 3310 clearly showed that a major section of mobile-buyers can be swayed by nostalgia. At the 2018 edition of the MWC, Nokia revived yet another old favourite (particularly among fans of The Matrix) – the banana-shaped Nokia 8110 (powered by KaiOS). While it will have 4G connectivity, the price tag (around $100) will still be rather too high for what is, in essence, an upgraded feature phone. However, feature phones in general are enjoying hefty demand levels – with annual global annual sales in the near future expected to be around 600 million. Among the several competitively priced Android Go phones announced at the event, the sub-$100 Nokia 1 handset warrants a special mention. It remains to be seen how feature phones fare in their tussle with budget smartphones. One thing seems fairly certain though: the initial demand for the Nokia 8110 4G will be high.

Note: Launched by HMD Global, the Nokia Android handsets have been a surprising success. In the final quarter of last year, more than 4 million units of these devices were sold – allowing Nokia to capture 1% of the total smartphone market.

      13. The future of wearables under some cloud?

The first quarter of 2018 is fast turning out to be the biggest ever for the Apple Watch (sales are up by ~100% on a YoY basis). Fitbit Versa – an all-new ‘mass appeal’ smartwatch is also set to hit the markets soon. However, the long-term future of the wearables market still remains suspect – and there were no new smartwatch was announced at this year’s MWC (MWC 2017 had Huawei Watch 2). While there are news filtering in about Google’s improvements to Android Wear at its annual developer conference – the other manufacturers are not being proactive, or innovative enough to bring in new customers. There are plenty of fitness trackers and hybrid watches already in the market and more are being launched every quarter – but that much required X-factor to motivate buyers is missing. Apart from Apple Watch, Fitbit and maybe Android Wear, it’s tough to see any other company to make significant progress in the wearables segment this year or the next.

Note: By mid-2021, North America will register the most sales of wearable devices (~380 million), overtaking Asia-Pacific (~258 million). Western Europe will remain in the third spot.

      14. Wireless charging from a distance to become a reality

And that, sooner rather than later. Ossia and Energous are changing the game in this field – and both hosted intriguing demo sessions at MWC 2018. The CEO of Ossia showed that it was possible to charge a Galaxy S7 from a distance of more than 10 ft – with the 2.4 GHz radio frequency transmissions, and signals being sent out by devices. Unlike Energous though, Ossia does not yet have the FCC approval for its wireless charging solution. The Energous transmitter (which is essentially a smart speaker prototype) can be used to charge smartphones, wearables and even wireless earbuds – from a maximum distance of 3 ft. The company has also entered into a deal with chip manufacturers Dialog, to make the adoption of this technology smooth. If these ‘true wireless chargers/transmitters’ become successful, people will finally get an option beyond the troublesome charge cables and charging pads.

Note: The first consumer product announced by Energous is Skiin – an innovative ‘smart underwear.

The demonstration of Temi – a personal robot with a 10” tablet face and a variety of capabilities – was indicative of robot technology having the potential of doing more in the forthcoming future. For the average smartphone-user perpetually worried about device battery performance, the announcement of the 16000 mAh-battery Energizer Power Max P16K Pro was welcome news. Ultrasound gestures is also something to watch out for, while Intellinium’s smart ‘safety shoes’ offered an ‘out-of-the-box’ insight. MWC 2018 was a huge success…and it certainly threw up many fascinating mobile and tech trends.

 

 

IoT Product Design: 12 Mistakes To Avoid

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
Hussain Fakhruddin
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In North America, the adoption of IoT (internet of things) projects had risen to an impressive 27.5% last year – nearly double of the corresponding figure in 2013. The growing popularity of IoT is evident in the UK too, with adoption rates expected to surge towards the 45% mark by 2020 (in 2015, the IoT adoption here was ~30%). While there are no doubts over the spiralling demands for enterprise IoT applications and smart tools for big data analytics – speculations, however, remain over the usability of the tools currently available. Retention levels are, on average, on the lower side – and in many cases, poorly conceptualized/overcomplicated product designs lie at the core of the problem. To put things in perspective, the overall retention of mobile apps hover in the 11%-13% range after the first week. We will, over here, highlight a few common mistakes that have to be avoided, to ensure that your smart products deliver greater value to end-users:

  1. Not adopting an ‘object-first’ strategy

    Designing for IoT is different, and often, rather more complicated that general app design projects. While creating an optimized, user-friendly mobile application (for controlling/monitoring the device, sensor(s)) is obviously vital – you need to focus on the design of the IoT hardware device first. Determine the data capabilities and functionalities required in the device, and develop the ‘smart object’ accordingly. Only when you have a rough idea of how the device will be made and the way sensors will be equipped/embedded/connected to it – should you move on to conceptualizing the app. Making the app first and trying to ‘fit’ an IoT object to it will not be a good idea.

Note: Make sure that there are no ‘points of disconnect’ between the app and the IoT object under question. There should be proper alignment in the actions required to perform the same task on the app and the device (for instance, moving a slider to adjust the volume). Gaps between the physical product (hardware) and the digital product (app) can cause problems for customers.

     2.Making a ‘smart thing’ just for the heck of it

Here’s a rule of thumb: if you are not sure about how a particular component (say, a sensor) will be useful in an IoT product – you are better off not adding it just because you can. Prior to the actual ‘instrumentation stage’, have a clear idea about the reason(s) for which you wish to make an IoT device, the nature and extent of data it will have to collect, and what existing problems it is going to solve. This clear focus will help you in finalizing the ‘intelligent components’ that are necessary for the final product. If you do not do this homework, you’ll end up incorporating too many complicated parts and sensors and processors – and the product’s overall functionality, as a result, will become erratic and restricted. What’s more, indiscriminately adding smart components to the object without analyzing their needs can also open up security vulnerabilities.

Note: Keep in mind that you are creating an IoT product to deliver value to final users. It should never become a platform for you to showcase your advanced tech skills.

  1. Not paying attention to scalability

    In 2011, the size of the big data market worldwide was less than $8 billion. Come 2025, that figure will swell to an astonishing $88.5 billion. Apart from the exponential rate of increase in the volume of data handled by IoT – the underlying technologies in this field are constantly evolving too. In such a scenario, if the product you design is not scalable – it is more than likely to become stagnant and useless in a few years’ time (at best). The tool and its operations should be customizable and expandable, to keep it in sync with the changes in technology, capacities, and proliferation of the global smart sector. In other words, the usability of your IoT product should not be adversely affected by technological refinements.

Note: In this context, we should also underline the importance of being aware of the ‘refresh cycle’ of the IoT setups (gateways, nodes, workstations, etc.). This knowledge makes it easy for developers to arrange for timely machine replacements – instead of carrying on with inefficient, outdated systems for long.

  1. Allowing users to be distracted

    As you chalk out your IoT UI/UX design plans, identify and mark out the factors that might cause end-users to be distracted (thereby hampering the immersive nature of your product). For example, if a user is prompted to open his/her email to retrieve a one-time password generated by the IoT system – that can be treated as a source of distraction, since the user is being forced to move away from the actual system. Many first-time IoT developers make the folly of being over-concerned with the external competition (i.e., about similar devices being launched by other developers) – and neglect such ‘internal competition’. Remember, if you allow users to navigate away from your product, you are giving them an opportunity to abandon it altogether.

Note: A smart IoT product should, ideally, be not targeted towards a niche audience. While it takes advanced technical expertise and quite a bit of relevant experience to come up with a proper, useful IoT solution – it should be usable by nearly everyone.

  1. Not understanding the precise functions

    The speed, battery performance, and overall longevity of an IoT object will critically depend on the nature of functions it will perform. You need to carefully examine whether your system would only collect real-time data from sensors, and pass it on to an external gateway/server for processing – or whether some of the processing will take place in the device itself. For the latter, including automated control functions (with controllers) is essential – and that, understandably, has an effect on battery life. In general, the degree of processing required to be done by the device has to be factored in – to devise the correct design and development plans. If your research on the components to be added on the system is half-baked, the final product will also have glitches.

Note: Developers can either go with a gateway-based IoT network (as in the LoRa star-of-stars network) or a multi-SIM network.

  1. Glossing over the IoT security requirements

    From Gmail and Deloitte, to Hyatt Hotels and Equifax – the biggest of players fell prey to serious data breaches last year. As the volume of private, confidential data shared/stored on the cloud is increasing – concerns about hack attacks and unauthorized data access is mounting too. In such a scenario, if the design of your IoT tool has glaring security loopholes, no one will take the risk of investing on it. For a standard IoT tool – you need to pay attention to two things – firstly, the data-level security, and secondly, the device-level security. For the first, strong encryption of all the collected and stored data is important, along with provisioning each smart sensor with external locking systems. On the other hand, device-level security involves using only EPID (Enhanced Privacy Identity) assurance (which significantly reduces hack threats). Avoid trying to cut down expenses by using components with suspect security standards. Every component of your IoT object should be of the best quality.

Note: Specialist app testers and tech device quality analysts are required to make sure that security glitches of any type do not go unnoticed.

  1. Considering endpoints to be the only things that matter

    This, unfortunately, is done by many IoT developers – and the backend systems are receded to a secondary role. However, the fact is that on-field sensors and endpoints, data communications & transfer, processing tasks and overall backend capabilities play equally important roles in shaping the quality of an IoT system – and determining whether the final product is indeed reliable or not. The focus has to be on designing an end-to-end IoT solution – one in which no component or segment is given preferential treatment, and the others treated as ‘less important’. At the time of conceptualizing the object, think of how you can create a ‘complete system’ – and NOT a particular hardware component per se. A holistic IoT system works – something drawn up in a piecemeal manner never does.

Note: Due care has to be taken while checking all the features of the app as well. Even seemingly minor oversights can affect the adoption figures of your product and the app.

  1. Not keeping things simple and not creating value propositions

    If the learning curve of your IoT tool is too steep, expect many prospective users to drop off and start looking for an alternative. Hardly anyone – however tech savvy and enthusiastic they might be – will be willing to go through elaborate instruction manuals to ‘learn’ about your product. This, in turn, brings to light the importance of implementing a simple, intuitive design scheme (for the device AND the app) – one that the majority of users will find it easy to understand and play around with. Relevance, portability and compatibility are the three pillars that an optimized IoT design plan should be based on.

The other factor that needs to be highlighted here is the need to make people understand the benefits of the product. Do not make the mistake of simply rattling off the technical features of your device – and concentrate on sharing its value propositions instead (i.e., the requirements/problems that it will solve). This will: a) get the target users interested, and b) help you establish a relationship with your customers. Over time, you can keep them informed about the biggest USPs of your IoT device, and clarify their queries. Use the mobile app to publicise the value propositions of your IoT tool. The first-time user experience (FTUE) is critical – and if your product does not ace it, it is most likely to fail.

Note: When you create an IoT-powered system (a ‘connected system’), your objective should be to make the lives of the end-users smarter, simpler and more convenient. The overall UX needs to be top-notch – and all the operations should be user-focused.

  1. Not being aware of how data communications will take place

    Seamless communications with the internet lies at the core of every IoT system. As the developer, the onus is on you to know from beforehand whether cellular data (SIM-based), or wifi (if yes, the generation), or LAN (with USB) will be used to establish and maintain the communications. Determining the network connection(s) is vital for designers in a multitude of ways – right from determining the control and/or processing powers required at the endpoints, to the volume of data that is to be transferred from one point to another (say, from the device to the central server). In addition, the reliability of connections in rural/semi-urban locations also have to be taken into account. Gather thorough information about the available technologies at any place, and the likely behaviour-flow of users on your IoT device and app. Based on this, you will be able to determine the most suitable method(s) of communication.

Note: In a business environment, IoT systems have to handle huge volumes of data. The chances of your product’s success crucially hinges on how well it can transform such data into structured, insightful, actionable information.

    10. Not paying attention to the unique requirements of users

Designing an IoT solution is far from being a ‘build once, use everywhere’ task. Data can come in from multiple sources – and you need to find out what type of information a certain group of users (say, crop-growers using an IoT-powered agritech device for the first time) would require. You can then make the object customized, so that it supplies precisely the type of service that would deliver value for any user. Ready availability of relevant, personalized and accurate data is the thing that makes a ‘connected device’ deliver greater value (than traditional devices). The needs of a farmer are radically different from someone looking for a smart home automation tool, or those of smart city planners. You need to be able to mark out the specific needs of each type of user, and customize the operations of your IoT product accordingly.

Note: Data staging and intermediate data processing are also things you need to consider, if the collected data has to be moved to a centralized server or gateway for processing. That will enable stronger security standards, better control parameters, and will also reduce the volume of data to be transferred.

     11. Confusing quality control with testing

If you start paying attention to the quality of your IoT product only AFTER the testers have found a couple of serious faults in it, your approach is seriously wrong. Make it a point to use only such standards and processes and frameworks that come with verifiable certifications – and check whether their performances are affected under any circumstances. Instead of relying upon the testing phase to find out your design mistakes, treat it as an opportunity to confirm the ‘correctness’ of your IoT tool.

Speaking about testing, things here are not exactly the same as that for standalone mobile apps. For starters, there is no scope of treating the first set of customers as the ‘beta testers’ (if the negative word-of-mouth reviews spread, that can spell the end of your device). Also, for sensors and gateways placed on-field (maybe at remote locations), it is next to impossible to update them frequently. Test your IoT product during every stage of design and development. Only well-tested, uniformly efficient connected devices can deliver incremental value to users in the long-run.

Note: For selecting processors, network protocols, radios and other key components of the system, creating a mesh network generally proves to be handy.

     12. Making subscription/sign-in mandatory from the very outset

The IoT product you have created might be of great value. It might offer real benefits, be qualitatively excellent, and have a series of high-utility features. All the good work can, however, be undone – if you do not offer the people the opportunity to check out some of the important features of your product, without having to sign in. A potential user would, understandably, like to play around with a new IoT system for some time – before actually deciding to purchase it/subscribe to it. Never take it for granted that everyone would like to be a ‘captive customer’. Give people the chance to preview your product for free – be impressed by what they see, and THEN sign up or subscribe.

Note: An interactive tutorial can go a long way towards familiarizing new users with your IoT solution.

Avoid giving too many alternative options in the app or the device, which might confuse users. Make sure that there is a seamless integration between the online functionalities and the regular, offline experiences (IoT-based RFID in retail stores, for example). You might also consider the option of using ready-to-use platforms like Xively and Ubidots for IoT development. Such platforms have many useful built-in features (like analytics) – and they make the task of creating a powerful, well-rounded IoT tool that much easier.

Although the average cost of IoT sensors is steadily falling (estimated to be around $0.44 by the end of 2018) – it still requires considerable investment to make an end-to-end IoT system. User-retention is extremely important – with recent researches showing that the cost of acquiring new users can be up to 5X more than that of retaining existing users. Designing for IoT can be tricky – and you need to stay away from the above mistakes to give your product a chance of success.


P.S.: Did you know that we recently launched the first prototype of our breakthrough IoT agritech device, powered by LoRaWAN? For the entire news, head over to https://prwire.com.au/pr/75515/teksmobile-releases-first-prototype-for-agritech-iot-tool-1.