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BlackBerry refuses to go away

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When Facebook announced earlier this year that it would end support for WhatsApp on BlackBerry phones, it looked like a death warrant. Now, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, BlackBerry plans to fight for its users.

It looked like the writing on the wall for BlackBerry. Never mind slow sales of new devices. An apparent death warrant was signed by Facebook, when it announced earlier this year that it would end WhatsApp support for phones using the BlackBerry Operating System (BBOS) on older devices like the Curve, as well as on newer ones running on the BlackBerry 10 OS.

BlackBerry still has a massive user base in South Africa, with more than three million devices in use. But WhatsApp is used by well over 14-million South Africans, becoming the standard instant messaging app for the nation. It has completely eclipsed BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), which was the app that initiated the demise of the home grown messaging app Mxit.

In the same way that BBM heralded the death of Mxit, the WhatsApp announcement seemed to do the same for BlackBerry phones.

Coincidentally, shortly before the announcement, BlackBerry had launched its first Android phone, the PRIV. It was positioned as the ultimate phone for security and privacy, aside from sporting a classic BlackBerry slide-out physical keyboard. While this was a compelling message for some corporate and government users, it didn’t seem to reach consumers.

BlackBerry continued bleeding money from its handset division.

And it appeared to have joined WhatsApp in abandoning its own operating systems.

Suddenly, however, it is fighting back. In response to our enquiry this week, BlackBerry chief operating officer Marty Beard was unequivocal:

“While the app landscape continues to evolve, our commitment to BlackBerry10 and our developers is unwavering. We are actively exploring alternatives for BlackBerry users once support of WhatsApp Messenger for BBOS and BlackBerry 10 ends in late 2016. Users of BlackBerry PRIV, which runs on Android, will not be impacted.”

This suggests that BlackBerry is not attempting to convince Facebook to change its mind, but rathet that it is seeking a workaround. This could come in the form of a dedicated platform that “pretends” to be Android but loads WhatsApp and other apps onto the BBOS or BB 10.

Beard didn’t comment on the specific mechanism, but made it clear that BB 10 in particular would not be abandoned.

“BlackBerry is committed to our BlackBerry 10 operating system, and we work closely with developers to create and deploy solutions to bring apps to our consumer and enterprise fans. We continue to invest in the BlackBerry 10 platform and will introduce several key security updates this year.”

The open secret of BlackBerry is that it produces not only the most secure mainstream phones in the world, but also boasts the most heavyweight security software on a phone. Its core business nowadays revolves around mobile security, and it provides the most reliable mobile device management systems for businesses to manage how employees connect their own devices to a company network.

BlackBerry also presides over QNX, regarded as the most secure automotive operating system available. The latest version of Ford’s market-leading infotainment system, SYNC 3, runs on QNX. Now BlackBerry wants to remind the world that it can do the same for phones.

Says Beard: “For the most secure messaging platform, consumers can use BBM on BlackBerry OS or BlackBerry 10 and securely communicate and share images and videos with others around the world – even with users on iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile devices.”

Last week Beard revealed some of the company’s plans for the coming year, insisting that it would “keep advancing our smartphone portfolio”.

“You’ll see that with the next 10.3.3 update coming within the next month, which will be focused on enhancing our already-stellar privacy and security features. Future BB10 software updates for 2017 are already in the works.”

He pointed out that customers still ask for a choice in both a virtual and physical keyboard.

“This means we’ll continue to make our iconic BlackBerry keyboard. We have four physical keyboard options: Passport, Passport Silver Edition, Classic and PRIV. There is solid demand for physical keyboards – and as long as that’s the case, we’ll continue to make them.”

BlackBerry’s device strategy, he said, was differentiated because it went beyond just smartphones. Espeically as the rapidly growing mobile environment is pulled into the connected devices world of the Internet of Things, both strong security and strong connectivity will be essential.
“The foundation for this started with the BB10 software platform, which was built by engineers with decades of experience in security. But we knew there was a need to bridge the connectivity gap – leveraging Android was the solution. But, we didn’t just want to create another prosaic Android device.

“We wanted to merge the best of BlackBerry with Android – the notion of a new merged BlackBerry platform meant we would provide the security and connectivity BlackBerry is known for with the content available in the Android ecosystem – all in one environment.”

That strategy is likely to guide the resurrection of WhatsApp on BlackBerry. But it also holds the promise of more handsets combining Android with BlackBerry security.

“BlackBerry is the only one with this unique flavor of smartphone in the market today,” Beard claimed. “PRIV was the first iteration… and soon there will be others.”

  •  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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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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