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Can Priv save BlackBerry?

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Can BlackBerry handsets make a comeback? The new Priv smartphone could do the trick, if it gets the marketing right, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

BlackBerry was left for dead a couple of years ago.  Its share price had collapsed, its smartphone business was reeling from failed relaunches, and it looked ripe for the plucking by any of numerous tech giants.

Even when new CEO John Chen stripped the company to a lean, mean and focused core as a mobile security systems business, the future was never certain. The smartphone business was still contracting, and the BlackBerry 10 operating system became largely irrelevant.

Chen declared six months ago that BlackBerry would increasingly focus on its security solutions, and produce only one or two handsets a year. He put the company’s money where his mouth was by making a series of strategic acquisitions of software businesses.

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So it has come as something of a shock to discover that BlackBerry has produced a smartphone that is possibly one of the best in the world today. It is even more of a shock to discover that it is an Android phone.

That alone is a clue to the new thinking at BlackBerry: corporate ego had kept it from embracing the touchscreen revolution after Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in 2007. It kept it from producing Android devices after it unveiled the first BlackBerry 10 phones in 2013 to a lukewarm reception. The decline of handset sales continued apace.

Marketing missteps, like failing to launch much-anticipated phones in key markets at the time the hype machine was exploding, and poor pricing strategy in developing countries, hurried the process along.

Which is another way of saying that, as good as the new Priv may be, it will live or die by marketing strategy.

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And yes, it is very good.

The first thing that strikes one about the Priv, due in South Africa in the coming week from all networks, is the curved screen. It is the first mainstream handset in the world to follow Samsung’s example of curved edges: its S6 Edge and Edge+ allow for a side notification screen.

The purpose of the curve on the Priv is similar, but it is designed in such a way that, unlike the S6, the notification screen can’t be invoked accidentally while merely holding the phone. The user must swipe a finger across from the edge to bring up the notifications menu. The curve is also used in an aesthetically pleasing way to show charging status while the phone is in sleep mode.

“Along with Samsung, BlackBerry is the only vendor to have dual-curve edge technology in the marketplace,” said Gareth Hurn, BlackBerry’s director of global smartphone and software product management, during a visit to South Africa this week. “We’ve been conscious of designing the product where the emphasis is clearly on the design as opposed to only utility.”

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The 5.4” Gorilla Glass 4 screen offers a sharp OLED display, with 2560 x 1440 Quad HD resolution. That would normally add up to swift battery drainage, but an intensive focus on power management – along with a healthy 3410mAh battery – promises 22,5 hours of mixed use.

The device can capture images in the new 4K format used by high-end TV sets, but will not display in the same format.

“We made the decision not to go with 4K display because the human eye would struggle to see the benefits on such a small screen, and it would result in a massive drain on the battery,” said Hurn.

There are a few other surprises. This phone marks BlackBerry’s long-overdue admission that the camera is a critical element of a smartphone in the second decade of the 21st century. It has fitted the device with an 18 megapixel rear-facing camera, described by Hunt as “the best camera BlackBerry has ever done, on a par with the latest from Samsung”.

It includes a dual flash and a range of professional features, like optical image stabilisation and live filters. A slightly raised stainless steel surround on the lens means it won’t be scratched while lying flat. A front-facing 2MP camera includes a panoramic selfie mode, which allows a series of photos to be blended together.

The manner in which it has enhanced Android with some of the standout features of BB 10 is also a pleasant surprise. Referring to it as “Android amplified”, BlackBerry has built in the unified inbox concept called BlackBerry Hub, as well as a “Pop-up Widget” feature which allows for more widgets to be displayed more compactly. Aside from these elements, the Android experience has been kept relatively free of bloatware.

The old fan-favourite, the BlackBerry red “splat” notification, is back, both in the Hub and on the home screen, but can be toned down for the notification-weary.

The biggest surprise of all – at least if no one warned you – is that, while it has the form factor of a typical phablet, the Priv has a slideout keyboard. It comes as a shock primarily because the 9.4mm thickness of the device does not hint at an additional component waiting to slide out. On the other hand, it contributes significantly to the 192g weight of the device.

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Anyone who ever fell in love with the old BlackBerry Torch will feel compelled to try it out. Anyone who misses the physical QWERTY keyboard that once defined BlackBerry phones will be delighted with its responsiveness. Although the number keys share space with letters, the keyboard as a whole acts as a trackpad, with scrolling and cursor control across the keyboard. It also includes the standout feature of the original BlackBerry 10 phones, namely the ability to flick words up from a devilishly accurate predictive text layer above each of the four rows of keys.

The keys can be assigned shortcuts, so that holding down the “I”, for example, will open Instagram. Yes, thanks to Android, the Priv addresses this key gap in previous BlackBerry handsets.

Oh yes, the regular touchscreen also features a superb virtual keyboard that takes up the lower third of the screen when in use. In other words, you can have your cake or slide it.

There is more, such as the market-leading privacy and security features that give the phone is name, and a soft “tensile knit” coating on the back that gives the phone a comfortable, non-slip feel. An easy snooze function for reminders to respond to calls, messages or emails – customizable based on time, location or form of connectivity – is an example of a thoughtful approach to communications

The combined package makes it one of the best Android phones on the market – if it can reach the right market at the right time.

Will it bring old-time users back? Only if BlackBerry can get it into their hands at every possible moment when they are considering a new phone.

* 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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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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New kind of business school

At a recent meeting, ALLON RAIZ, founder and CEO of Raizcorp, realised that in order for today’s youth to become entrepreneurs, teachers, the curriculum and the parents need continually expose them to entrepreneurial thinking from a young age.

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Several years ago, I found myself in a meeting with my business partner and two of my staff members. In front of us was a client who was sharing some of the frustrations in his business. At the end of the meeting, my partner and I were extremely excited about the prospect of two massive opportunities we had both independently identified while listening to the client. My two staff members, on the other hand, completely missed them. This led me to wonder what it was in my own and my partner’s backgrounds that allowed us to so easily spot opportunities while my two staff members remained oblivious … I realised that the difference was that my partner and I both had an early exposure to entrepreneurship while they didn’t.

Not long afterwards, I was delivering a lecture about how Raizcorp grows and develops small businesses at Oxford University’s Said Business School in my role as their Entrepreneur-in-Residence. I mentioned the above incident and spoke about my intention of going into children’s education with a view to providing an entrepreneurial perspective.

One of the professors in attendance asked me if I’d ever heard of a piece of research by Henrich R Greve called Who wants to be an entrepreneur? The deviant roots of entrepreneurship. It’s a pretty unfortunate title but a fascinating piece of research nonetheless. It highlights how certain contexts in childhood result in a much a higher probability of becoming an entrepreneur. For example, kids who participate in solo sports such as tennis or athletics are more likely to become entrepreneurs than children who play team sports like soccer and cricket. Conversely, your mother’s participation in the parent-teacher association has a negative correlation to you becoming an entrepreneur. I spent the rest of the afternoon in the professor’s office discussing other research papers that unequivocally proved that context during your childhood has a massive influence on whether or not you will follow the entrepreneurial route.

Another member of the lecture audience was a double-PhD from the USA who was completing her MBA at Oxford. After the lecture, she approached me and volunteered to help build a framework to incorporate entrepreneurship in the school curriculum without interfering with the formal requirements of the CAPS curriculum.

She spent nine months in South Africa working with me to build out a practical framework. The next phase of the plan was to find the right school at which to embark upon this journey. In December 2015, Raizcorp purchased Radley Private School and we began our entrepreneurial education adventure in earnest in 2016.

At the centre of the Radley philosophy is that the school (the physical building), the teachers, the curriculum and the parents are the “marinade” in which the kids need to soak in order to be continuously exposed to entrepreneurial thinking from a young age. The aim was that if, in future, the kids found themselves sitting in a boardroom with me and my partner, they too would be able to identify the opportunities that we did.

A big shift this year has been the launch of our Entrepreneurial Educator Guide (EEG) programme where we have been training our Radley teachers (whom we call guides) to understand entrepreneurship, business language, business concepts, financial documents and the like. (The EEG training makes use of Raizcorp’s internationally accredited entrepreneurial learning and guiding methodologies.) We have also employed a full-time staff member to ensure that these concepts are imbedded into all lesson plans and classroom activities.

Through my network at Raizcorp, I have been pleasantly surprised by the massive support we’re receiving from prominent entrepreneurs and businesses who want to participate in our Radley Exposure programme, where we take our kids of all ages on visits to different types of businesses so they can understand the difference between retail, wholesale, manufacturing, logistics and so on. Prominent businesspeople have put up their hands to come to the school and tell their stories of hard work, resilience and perseverance. This ties in beautifully with the 17 entrepreneurial concepts that we are instilling into our Radley learners (such as opposite eyes, lateral thinking and opposable mind), while never compromising on our quality academic offering.

As parents, we’ve all heard the terrible statistics about the probability of our kids finding jobs in the future. At Radley, we’re working hard to ensure that our kids have a legitimate and lucrative alternative to finding traditional employment and that is to become an entrepreneur. Radley is all about producing job creators and not job seekers!

To enrol your child or find out more about the school, please visit www.radley.co.za.

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