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Thursday, 20 September 2012 12:03

Schools and education departments should embrace tablets

Schools and education departments should embrace tablets

Affordable alternatives exist to take learning to the next level

The remarkable mainstream success of mobile devices – specifically tablets – opens up immense opportunities in education.

If embraced by schools, they can overcome the expense and impracticality of desktop-bound computer hardware, lessen the premium on software and significantly raise the value of technology-aided education.

Proven and affordable

As demonstrated with the recent text book delivery crisis in Limpopo, access to information is a key obstacle to raising education standards in South Africa.

Undeniably, information access is a less immediately pressing issue than access to water, good roads or land ownership. But perhaps government policy makers can be swayed by the fact that tablets are more affordable than is widely known.

iPads are admittedly not the best solution for state schools, but there are Android alternatives that cost half the price of Apple’s models, and must therefore be considered candidates for a government-subsidised distribution model.

In schools that don’t qualify for subsidies, due to a legacy of privilege, another possibility is for learners to bring their own tablets to school. These can be integrated into the school’s network and custom app ‘store’. Private ownership is already becoming more attainable – some cellular contracts offer a tablet along with a handset, at a low premium.

But, even these mechanisms still leave tablets out of reach for many poor sections of society, and state subsidies would be stretched to spread the tablet effect far and wide.

However, there is evidence to suggest tablets with pre-loaded content are more cost-effective than sourcing print course material. But the greatest news of all is that for approximately R1000, schools can buy an Android experience that compares satisfactorily to higher-end models.

Major benefits

Once the acquisition is made, the educational benefits of tablets quickly become evident.

Low-cost, quick content

Among the biggest benefits is the low cost and speed of rolling out tablet apps and content, compared to the PC software acquisition model. This is possible thanks to the app distribution model (downloads of low-cost, low-footprint apps).
More content and choice

App download stores, made popular by Apple, Google – and, to a lesser extent, Nokia and BlackBerry – have also had a huge impact on the accessibility of a wide spectrum of competing apps, congregating on a common store platform.

Mobile apps further tend to be more vertically focused, versus the generic application mindset of the PC platform. The effect is a wealth of choice in affordable apps, with hardware and app vendors all competing for mindshare.

Shareable, richer, trackable digital formats

Tablet content is infinitely more shareable than print books due to the portability of digital formats and the omnipresence of the Internet.

This makes sharing of non-copyrighted material between tablets virtually free, whereas sharing print books is impractical, subject to wear, and costly where distance is involved.

Digital has other advantages too – augmenting content with the aid of, for example, online search, academic research and online dictionaries adds enormous value, contributing to the retention and richness of the lesson.

Finally, digital formats allow tracking of reading and studying patterns, which can be very instructive for guiding (and policing) self-study.


World-changing education formula

It is clear that the tablet platform and app ecosystem are among the great innovations of the new century. With the wave of secondary innovation accompanying the platform, tablets might just amount to a world-changing formula in education.

Published in Hardware
Success of mobile app model takes mobile retail mainstream

For more than a decade, mobile retail occupied a very narrow, highly profitable but insignificant niche involving small-ticket items like ringtones and wallpaper.

Unstructured and fragmented, the industry doddered around in extended infancy, suffering reputational challenges along the way due to the unscrupulous practices of some merchants who largely escaped accountability.

Hit by a tsunami of change

But with the rapid rise of mobile platforms such as the iPad and the success of the app store model this has changed irreversibly.

Just as the Internet shook the foundations of bricks-and-mortar retail, so mobile presents a tsunami of change. Once again, retailers are reconsidering how best to get in front of the tablet and smartphone generation.

What has changed?

The rise of the iPad and the app store model was massively influential in legitimising mobile retail and giving it formal structure. How did this happen?

  • First, new addictive hardware formats (tablets, Kindle-like readers and a new generation of smartphones taking advantage of the app model) took the market and retailers’ interest away from Web-based online commerce and feature phones.
  • The app model, in which content is verified and controlled centrally, brought respectability and trust to content distribution, driving downloads.
  • Lastly, the capabilities of the new hardware took higher-value content mainstream.

How to get in front

What’s becoming apparent now is the need and opportunity for new apps and new user interface design tweaks.

­New design considerations

Selling on mobile (hardware other than desktops and notebooks) brings with it a number of caveats – especially in the African context.

Firstly, mobile data is more expensive than fixed data, and secondly, screens are frequently smaller. For this reason, design bloat must be avoided as far as possible, and uncluttered, simple interface designs will always trump busy, bitty pages.

A mobile screen, manipulated by touch and not mouse clicks, is further subject to a number of new restrictions, such as size of active elements and the use of drag-and-drop.

A new design direction called adaptive design is becoming a requirement for small-screen tablets and smartphones, where the angle at which the device is held determines display orientation and, accordingly, the dynamic arrangement of page items.

New apps

Another area of consideration is the whole new vista of apps becoming possible as tablet and phone owners take their devices everywhere with them.

Offline retail companion apps are of particular interest. Shoppers browsing a retail store are free to either buy online on the same store’s website, or do comparative browsing online and shop elsewhere. In this scenario, mobile loyalty schemes are becoming a must. Coalition loyalty schemes like Shopkick offer rewards (‘kicks’) for merely walking into stores, with ‘kicks’ redeemable on any partner merchandise.

With Apple’s iOS 6 out later this year, Apple Passport will allow storage of electronic loyalty cards on the phone, taking this idea one step further. Near-field communications (NFC) in upcoming devices will add the final piece of the puzzle to close the identification-authentication-payment-loyalty loop.

Let’s roll

While the mobile world brings many challenges to retailers, the opportunities inherent in the accompanying new content model far outweigh the hassle.

The return on investment of innovations such as NFC may be under scrutiny for a while in Africa, but not all apps require a high-LSM client base or anything fancier than a feature phone. Already there’s talk of bringing something similar to Shopkick into South Africa.

It’s time to roll with a whole new crowd.

Published in Mobile
Friday, 27 July 2012 11:31

HansaWorld delivers ERP on a tablet

HansaWorld delivers ERP on a tablet

Continuing its reputation for being first across a variety of platforms, enterprise resource planning vendor HansaWorld has announced that its software is fully iPad compatible. The development goes beyond putting ERP on to a tablet, as through this move, it is also affirming the growing popularity of tablet computers as a replacement for notebooks.

The company’s strategy is in line with global sales figures for tablets: Some 500 million of these devices are in the market today. That’s a significant number and the impetus behind HansaWorld having a fully-iPad compliant platform in development for over a year now.

The steady introduction of tablet computers is a component of the wider ‘Bring Your Own Device’ trend, itself an extension of the powerful handsets that most office workers bring with them to work. Technology companies cannot ignore this trend any less than CIOs can. Working with it instead allows for improvements in productivity as well as employee satisfaction.

HansaWorld has invested substantially in doing just that. The full Enterprise solution, the company’s flagship product, can be accessed and operated from an iPad. It’s a full client/server interface, with the iPad connecting to the system just as a PC or notebook would.

Designing an ERP solution to operate with a tablet is no small accomplishment. It required practically a full redesign of the user interface to operate with touch input rather than keyboard and mouse; it required resizing of nearly everything, too, to prevent overlapping of buttons and other features.

The investment that HansaWorld has made into creating a fully-iPad accessible ERP is reflective of its confidence in the enduring popularity of tablet devices. There are some roles where the tablet is a clear winner, for example, in stock-taking, customer-facing field work, viewing forms and reports. Our testing has shown that they are suitable for many, if not most, ERP functions.

There is distinct demand for such solutions, too. Most of our customers have tablet computing in their strategic plans, if they aren’t already implementing these devices into their environments one way or another. It does require a mindset shift, just as moving from printed books to reading on a tablet does – but once clients see how well it works, they can see the potential.

In addition to its iPad compatible ERP, HansaWorld has developed modules for Android tablets and is working on a version suitable for the soon-to-be-released Windows 8 platform.

Published in Mobile
UC projects fail when they don’t heed cultural impact on organisations

Unified communications (UC) is changing the way organisations operate, as their employees tend to be more available, productive and effective when invested with UC tools.

But report published in July from analyst firm Canalys points out that many UC deployments fail or don’t meet their goals because their cultural (people) impact and the related contexts of IT consumerisation ‘BYOD’ (bring your own device) and workforce mobility are ignored.

In Tellumat, we are in agreement that many UC failures can be avoided by approaching projects as a business transformation process in which the user experience is central.

Three key trends

Consumerisation is the increasing use by employees of technologies like smart phones, iPads, video and social networking tools in the enterprise.

As Canalys points out, organisations that fail to assimilate and take advantage of consumerisation (for instance, with a BYOD strategy) will find themselves increasingly at a disadvantage against competitors.

For example, organisations that aren’t visible on in social media will become remote from customers who want to communicate via an increasing number of channels. (Conversely, UC solution providers that do not recognise the touch points of the technology with consumerisation and BYOD will at the very least miss the opportunity to leverage existing consumer platforms.)

Vendors and partners must also advise customers on the impact of workforce mobility, on processes and information accessed by employees.

Workforce mobility is not a new concept, but due to the consumerisation of IT and BYOD, it is a rapidly accelerating trend, making it an IT priority.

The proliferation of mobile devices provides employees with greater access to tools like video collaboration. Increasingly, employees want to access business applications and social media while on the move. If mobility is not considered as an integral part of future UC strategies, then the investment will be wasted.

Expert guidance

To accommodate these trends in employees’ everyday workflow, organisations will need guidance from experienced UC partners. Issues that have to be thrashed out include:

  • The decision about which platforms to support (iOS, Android or BlackBerry),
  • The changing security ecosystem, and
  • Networking (the number of devices without Ethernet ports is on the increase).

But it goes deeper than processes and architecture, touching the very core of an organisation’s objectives. Technologies like UC, BYOD and mobility have impact far beyond the scope of just an IT department purchasing decision. They affect management, HR, marketing, sales, R&D and back-office integration, in countless new ways.

To prepare for the impact of the new technologies and accommodate them, organisations must ask themselves what they want the technologies to achieve, and within what parameters. The following considerations are common:

  • Organisations must work through changing access modes and trust accords very closely and apply corporate policies as well as IT security measures accordingly.
  • Education of employees is a crucial aspect of a holistic UC deployment: employees must understand their responsibilities and obligations in a world where they are able to freely move sensitive data from device to device and location to location.
  • Equally, the corporate culture of the organisation must embrace trust and openness in a mobile, UC-driven, BYOD environment, so that employees are able to take more rapid but well-informed decisions.
  • UC deployments that incorporate collaborative tools and social media work most effectively when the deployment is aligned with business goals such as improving customer satisfaction or streamlining decision-making processes.
  • Collaboration must enable individuals to identify other individuals in order to be able to freely form communities that can quickly come together to tackle specific company issues.

All these and more must be keen focus areas in the purchasing decision, to ensure that the organisation is prepared for the big changes that UC can bring, and that benefits will be realised.

Published in Mobile
Monday, 16 July 2012 11:30

Businesses and technologists that aren’t looking at mobile will soon stare at defeat

Google Wallet

At last count, there were about 8 million so-called "smart devices" in South Africa – of which the overwhelming majoring are smart phones. This reflects an amount that has more than doubled between 2010 and 2011 alone, and it will continue to grow. Most of my clients are independent software developers and I can attest to the fact that the modern applications that are being developed are taking a mobile first approach. Businesses are scrambling for their share in a marketplace that is incredibly new and surprisingly lucrative.
Today, even though only 8% of mobile apps are paid for, they generate more revenue than mainframes and the expenditure on devices are growing more than 4 times as fast as that of PCs. But more important than the devices and applications themselves are their impact on business.
Think of retailers today. They are now not only able to detect all potential customers in a mall that come within 100 meters of their stores, they are also able to zone in on that person's preferences for certain items, for example – power tools. As soon as that person comes within the "marketing zone", the company can fire off a SMS letting them know about the in-store power tool promotion they are running. That customer can go into the store to purchase the item immediately – or better yet, pay for it using their mobile phone with Google Wallet – and then tweet about the experience or invite his Facebook friends to join in on the offer. (Which the retailer in question will, needless to say, track with some form of sentiment analysis software.)
In the United States, applications like OpenTable are enabling restaurant-goers to book tables via their mobile phones, invite their friends via Facebook and then tweet about the experience. Well known Fashion Retailer Zara conquered what many people thought was a closed community – the fashion industry. They identified that a fashion trend only lasted about 6 weeks and started sending their staff to runway shows with Ipads and Iphones, allowing them to start designing their new clothing lines before the model even walked off the ramp.
Then there is the "follow me" state of devices. Playstation owners can play a video game at home, pick up their PSP and then continue playing from where they've left off on the bus on their way to work. Again, mobility is key to meeting that need.
The days where mobile marketing was limited to irritating text messages or competitions are long gone. Mobility has come to mean connection, location-aware selling and tailor-made offerings. We tend to think of popular social media platforms as being well-established, but in reality they are still in their infancy. Facebook, for example, makes most of its revenue through advertising...which cannot be displayed on mobile devices, one of the primary means of accessing the site. One has to wonder where they will be in 2 or 3 years' time if they do not iron out those limitations?
Companies are already using geo-tagging to curb ATM fraud – if a person is further than 10 metres away from an ATM, they are unable to complete the withdrawal. Similarly, individuals are conducting transactions, using their cell phones as identification as opposed to credit cards.
The implications for technologists are equally staggering. The next generation of cloud is going to be extremely disruptive to technologists, as cloud and mobile increasingly intersects with on-premise and barriers to entry are lowered. New companies are renting the infrastructure and capacity needed to compete. Start-ups could very well usurp brand name companies within the next few years. The point is that everyone has to be on board with the new trends if they hope to survive.
There is a race to push out applications as a competitive tool to improve relationships, but there is a plethora of devices that need to be supported and a flurry of integration headaches and challenges. Apps will be fragmented, supporting more devices than ever. In fact, Android devices alone symbolise 400-500 different permeations, different manufacturers, operating platforms...yet they are the key to reaching customers.
In terms of technology, I believe that this mobility will drive the need for an ecosystem, a collaborative effort between software developers and platforms. The way we build apps will change fundamentally. It will be composed, rather than created. Mash-ups will drive the future because developers will not be able to build applications on their own. Gartner has already predicted that time-constrained ISVs will primarily chose their paths based on the popularity of the platform with users – and the ones who will succeed will the ones driven by the entire ecosystem. We can't be selfish with our ideas, our technologies.
Mobile devices are becoming computers in their own right and with that, we've unlocked the ability to use location, motion and context to speak and sell to customers. Let's just say that the game is changing. And we need to change the way we play it if we hope to emerge victorious.

Published in Mobile
Thursday, 12 July 2012 13:25

The African (iPad) Renaissance


At the last count, there were over 2 million iPads in South Africa – and the number is still rising.  In the two years since its release, the iPad and other Android tablets have had a considerable impact on the African market.
The assumption has been that these devices were only used for simple tasks, such as email or Web browsing – yet research shows that this isn’t always the case.

IDG’s iPad for Business Survey revealed that 47% of African professionals own a corporate-issued iPad, compared to a global average of 24%. Of those professionals, 83% have said that they “always use their iPad at work”, compared to 51% for the rest of the world.  The survey has also shown that a number of professionals are beginning to replace their laptops and other gadgets with the iPad.

I believe that there are several reasons for this. For one thing, the continent is far more reliant on mobile connectivity than the rest of the world. Secondly, it offers ease of use and admission to information in a part of the world where libraries and wireless connectivity at home are not as easily accessible. IDG found that 97% of professionals use the iPad for reading, 72% of iPad owners carry their laptop less, and 66% say their iPad has partially or completely replaced their laptop, painting a picture of a generation that prefers to “learn on the move”.

This offers a new opportunity for several industries and businesses in South Africa. If one takes the recent Eastern Cape textbook debacle into account, the iPad as teaching medium makes as much sense for textbook publishers as for education departments and families, with apps and content repositories making it an ideal single portal to content and learning. Distribution and the revision of textbook content would not pose the same problem.

Entertainment is another no-brainer.  Embedded multimedia (such as video) in magazine means that the media becomes ultra-immersive, engaging and interactive. Further enriched by a rich application ecosystem, media convergence and personalisation, tablets are great for watching video, gaming, playing music and more. Likewise, industries that depend heavily on content can all benefit from this: from travel and leisure companies to consulting firms and e-commerce store fronts – the list is virtually endless.

It is not just a replacement for entry-level laptops and netbooks, and doesn’t only appeal to some industries: The iPad is becoming a corporate workhorse, particularly on the African continent.

As Kathryn Cave of IDG put it: “It has heralded seismic shifts in the way its users access and digest information. And it has shown that the African continent has its own unique business landscape.”

The further decrease in the Price of the iPad 2 and the increasing pressure on hardware manufacturers to make tablets accessible to the general market, will continue to reinforce this trend in years to come. Content-rich industries (and who isn’t, with the advent of so much digital and social and mobile media today?) stand to benefit the most from app-lifying their content.

It’s clear that businesses hoping to compete for a share of the African market have to set their sights on gaining a digital presence – and soon.

Published in Hardware
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