Toby’s top tech in 2015


Every year at Stuff Towers we vociferously argue about the best gadgets we’ve seen all year – resulting in our annual Stuff Gadget Awards.

These are an combined choice for the market at large. Some of us have different needs and uses, and therefore different personal priorities.

The gadget I’ve loved using the most this year had been Apple’s new MacBook. It’s a tour de force. The new keyboard might not be everyone’s favourite feature, but for someone who types as much as I do, it’s a godsend. Hopefully these new keys will appear in the rest of the Mac range. It’s absurdly light, powerful, has an amazing screen and is the best laptop Apple has ever made.

Close behind are my new Jabra Sports Bluetooth headphones which I use for both hands-free calling but also for listening to podcast and audio books when in shopping malls or driving. The latest version of the top-end Sport are simply great. I

I never get on a plane, even to Cape Town, without my Sennheiser MM50 noise-cancelling headphones. They cancel out the painful white noise in planes and airports. This has the pleasing effect of reducing your stress while travelling.

My personal taste in phones has plateaued as much as smartphone tech itself has. As much as I see how great the new Android phones are, I prefer iOS. I’m a big fan of Apple’s phablet, the iPhone 6S+. The 2015 bump in processor speed, the pleasingly faster fingerprint recognition software, and the only decent battery life on an iPhone make it my phone of the year.

This was the year of the phablet, I predicted in January. That has come true as these larger-screen phones are the most sought-after. The 5.5in/cm iPhone 6+ helped propel Apple to the biggest quarter every recorded by a listed company, with a whopping $18bn in revenues.

Expectations are starting to cool that the Apple Watch, released in April, would replicate the stellar success of the iPhone and iPad. But analysts are saying sales are a lot lower than expected. I’ve been wearing an Apple watch for about a month now. It’s a beautifully crafted gadget worthy of the Apple design ethos. But hard to say what it’s really god for. it’s killer app is still missing,

My personal gadget of the year (and my perennial favourite) was my Kindle Voyage, on which I read religiously every day. It’s the best screen on a Kindle yet. Made from electronic ink (e-ink), the screen only displays black and white, which is ideal for text, has an adjustable light and the highest resolution yet. It also returns the handy page-turning buttons on the side. This was the feature I convinced myself was the real reason I was buying yet another new Kindle for the umpteenth year in a row, but the one I’ve used the least. These buttons were a standard feature in previous Kindles, but fell away when the touchscreen Paperwhite appeared.

Why do I love my Kindle so much? I read ravenously and there is nothing better than the Kindle, with its non-LED screen. You see, blue light is what tells our brains its daylight. It’s same frequency emitted by our smartphones and tablets, which we are staring at just before we go to bed. Having suffered a five-year bout of insomnia, I’ve become pedantic about not aggravating that exasperating condition. The Kindle Voyage is great for reading. I stopped subscribing to my favourite magazines on my iPad because I somehow never got to reading them. But I resubscribed on my Kindle and haven’t looked back.

My book of the year has been the fascinating biography of the next Steve Jobs, Pretoria-born Elon Musk, titled Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. It’s a good read about this great man, with a tinge of South African patriotism because he’s one of ours. (His uncle is my doctor.)

A close second was “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry“. The long title says it all. BlackBerry could’ve been the next Apple but for a few tragic events, the crippling in-fighting and lack of decision-making and a corporate arrogance that was only superseded by Nokia before its fall.

Noticeably, the word of the year wasn’t even a word – but the emoji for tears of joy. Read whatever you want into what that says about the global consciousness this year. That was before #Presidunce Jacob Zuma created yet another Twitter meme: #NeneFired.

My app of the year is ShowMax. The home-grown streaming service built by MultiChoice-owning Naspers to see off competition from Netflix is world-class. You’ll be seeing a lot more of the emerging market media giant’s play for streaming video.

But the thing that has blown me away this year is that utterly remarkable education package that is BRCK Education. Launched in Kenya in September, the Kio Kit contains 40 toughened, water-resistant Kio 7in/17cm colour tablets and a BRCK at its heart to provide connectivity. The tablets, all housed in a ruggedised plastic case, charge wirelessly when dropped into their slots (a revolutionary development in and of itself) and connect to a local web server powered by a Raspberry Pi. The Kio Kit provides everything a kid could need to learn, as if the tablet was connected to the internet at large.

Not just another BRCK in the wall, it will revolutionise education in Africa.

* Read Toby’s year-in-review column for the Financial Mail.


About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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