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Apple is great, but no ecosystem

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One of the most common myths of pairing smartphone and computer choices is the idea of needing to buy into an ecosystem. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK explains the fallacy.

You hear it most commonly from iPhone users: “All my gadgets are from Apple, because they are all compatible and work together so seamlessly.”

Usually, they are referring to the combination of iPhone, iPad and MacBook. Usually, they are delighted with their choice of ecosystem, as there are few brands that produce as consistently excellent products as Apple across all categories. And, because of this delight, they usually also fall completely for the marketing hype about the ecosystem.

The reality is that there is almost no difference in the ecosystem experience of an iPhone user or Android phone user who also uses a MacBook, whether an Air, Pro or plain vanilla version of the iconic notebook.

Full disclosure: I’ve been an enthusiastic MacBook Air user for at least the past six years. It is the ultimate machine for long trips, ultra-portability and instant access: it is so thin and light, has amazing battery life on the other, and goes instantly from sleep to work mode merely by opening the lid.

The significance of the battery life is that I have never been on an international flight where I have run out of power. Even on the longest single-leg flights from South Africa, which would be up to about 16 hours, I would be sleeping or have the device packed away during meal times more than half the time, meaning that I can work on the machine for the entire rest of the flight.

This is a massive benefit in countering the loss of productivity that results from international travel.

Even taking aircraft out of the equation, one often finds that local events like conferences are not planned with notebook computers in mind, and one can often go a full day without access to a power point.  The MacBook Air is the only device that has allowed me to remain connected and fully productive throughout such events.

But the magic of the device does not extend to the ecosystem within which it functions. Its operating system, the Mac OS, is so ancient, it is still resting on the laurels of the 2001 launch of Mac OS X. What was described back then as a “radical departure” is now an old revolutionary pulling the wool over the eyes of acolytes with its fading activist credentials

The acolytes are caught up in a reality distortion field similar to the trance into which Steve Jobs was able to place anyone trying to argue with him about Apple products – or almost any other issue. Reality, for them, is less important than their perception of reality.

That perception is fuelled by the fact that the iPhone and iPad are indeed deeply integrated, completely symbiotic and compatible to the extent that the very same app version can sometimes be used on both. Working on one device allows seamless transition, in the same app, to the other. The experience of the iOS operating system is almost identical on the two.

Like that seamless transition, perception also makes a seamless transition across to the MacBook, which is believed by many to integrate equally tightly with the iPhone. The reality is that it’s an entirely different operating system, one that is a decade overdue for an overhaul, and one that requires work-arounds for true compatibility. Just as it does with Android devices.

Yes, Apple’s iCloud for backup and syncing is seamlessly accessible on all three categories of product. But then so is Microsoft’s OneDrive and Google Drive. Apple’s horrible Mail client can sync across all three, but then so does Google’s more evolved Gmail.

Here’s the real dirty secret of device ecosystems: the mortal enemies, Microsoft and Google, have better software ecosystems than Apple and, aside from their operating systems, are almost totally device independent.

This means that the Microsoft Office suite as well as its OneDrive cloud service, can be experienced with almost full functionality on any Apple, Android or Windows machine. Apple’s productivity suite can only be used on Apple devices – or via a Web browser, meaning it is a limited experience.

The last shot from Apple fans is usually the fact that the FaceTime and Messages video, voice and chat apps are also compatible across all three categories of device. This is one area where Android and Windows cannot compete, as the apps are not available on other platforms.

But that is equally a negative: it means that users of those apps are locked out of the rest of the device universe. Users of WhatsApp, Skype and other non-denominational chat apps, on the other hand, can find kindred souls on any mobile device.

It’s not that it’s a mistake to stick to the Apple family of products. Mostly, the experience will only be good. But the bottom line is that you don’t have to be locked into Apple to have a satisfying device family life.

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

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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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