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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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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make in impact in gaming.

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AppDate: DStv jumps on music bandwagon

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights DStv’s JOOX, Cisco’s Security Connector, Diski Skills, Namola and Exhibid.

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DStv JOOX

DStv is now offering JOOX, a music streaming service owned by China’s Tencent, to DStv Premium, Compact Plus and Compact customers.

In addition to streaming local and international artists, JOOX allows one to switch to karaoke mode and learn the lyrics as well as create and share playlists. Users can add up to four friends or family to the service free of charge.

DStv Family, Access and EasyView customers can also log in to the free JOOX service directly through JOOX App, but will be unable to add additional friends and won’t be able to listen to add-free music.

Platform: Access the JOOX service directly from the services menu on DStv or download the JOOX app for an iOS or Android phone.

Expect to pay: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Cisco Security Connector

With all the malware, viruses and trojans doing the rounds, it is difficult for users and enterprises to ensure that they don’t become targets. Cisco, in collaboration with Apple, has brought out its Cisco Security Connector to protect users. The app is designed to give enterprises and users overall visibility and control over their network activity on iOS devices. It does this by ensuring compliance of mobile users and their enterprise-owned iOS devices during incident investigations, by identifying what happened, who it affected, and the risk of the exposure. It also protects iPhone and iPad users from accessing malicious sites on the Internet, whether on the corporate network, public Wi-Fi, or cellular networks. In turn, it prevents any viruses from entering a company’s network.

Platform: iPhones and iPads running iOS 11.3 or later

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the Apple App Store for downloading instructions.

 

Diski Skills

The Goethe-Institut, in co-operation with augmented reality specialists Something Else Design Agency, has created a new card game which celebrates South African freestyle football culture, and brings it alive through augmented reality. Diski Skills is quick card game, set in a South African street football scenario, showing popular tricks such as the Shibobo, Tsamaya or Scara Turn. Each trick is rated in categories of attack, defence and swag – one wins the game by challenging an opponent strategically with the trick at hand. Through augmented reality, the cards come alive. Move a smartphone over a card and watch as the trick appears on the screen in a slow motion video. An educational value is added as players can study the tricks and learn more about the idea behind it.

 

The game will be launched on 27 October 2018 at the Goethe-Institut.

For more information visit: www.goethe.de

 

Namola

With  recent news of kidnappings on the rise, a lot more thought is going into keeping children safe. Would your child know what to do in an emergency? Have you actually asked them?

Namola, supported by Dialdirect Insurance, is a free mobile safety app. Namola’s simple interface makes it an ideal way for children to learn how to get help in an emergency. All they need to do is activate the app and push a button to get help that they need, even when their parents are not around.

Parents need to install the app on their child’s phone, hold down the request assistance button, program emergency numbers that will automatically be dialled when the emergency button is pushed, and teach their children how and when to use the app.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Exhibid

Exhibid could be thought of as Tinder, but for for art lovers. The interface looks very similar to the popular mobile dating app, in that users swipe left for a painting that doesn’t appeal to them, or swipe right for something they like. Once an art piece is liked by swiping right, one can start bidding or make an offer on it. The bid is automatically sent to the artist. Should he or she accept the offer, the buyer makes a payment through the app’s secure payment gateway and the two are put in contact to make arrangements for delivery.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

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