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.”
Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon
On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.
Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.
“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.
Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion. In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.
A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.
David Noton advises:
- Download the right apps to be in-the-know
The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky. Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.
- Invest in a lens with optimal zoom
On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.
- Use a tripod to capture the intimate details
As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.
- Integrate the moon into your landscape
Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.
- Master the shutter speed for your subject
The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability. By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.
On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!
How Africa can embrace AI
Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.
To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.
These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.
Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed
AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.
According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.
It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.
Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.
It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.
Combining STEM with the arts
Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.
As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.
For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.
“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.
Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.
Revisiting laws and regulation
For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.
Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.
Preparing for the future
With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.
To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.
It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.