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LG makes early running at Mobile World

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LG is the surprise front-runner in new technology roll-outs at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Barcelona has come to be associated with great football, great food and, for a few days a year, great technology. When the Mobile World Congress comes round every February, the world watches to see where the technology road map will take their smartphones, apps and digital identities.

For the last few years, the technology has been almost as predictable as the food and football, with no surprises as the usual football teams, restaurants and technology brands – think FC Barcelona, the Moments two-Michelin-star restaurant and Samsung Galaxy devices – has continued to dominate the popular imagination.

It therefore comes as shock when a follower – say Espanyol’s football team or a local tapas bar – takes any honours. Or, say, a technology brand like LG.

That’s exactly what happened when the big guns of mobile technology began rolling out their latest products in a series of spectacular launches across the city.

The first brands out of the gate were LG and Huawei, but it was the former that seemed likely to cross the finish line first as it broke with numerous conventions – its own and those of others – in the design of the new LG G5 smartphone.  It has dispensed with the curved screen that tended to be a curiosity rather than a benefit in the G4, and has reduced screen size from the 5.5” phablet format to a more petite 5.3”display. That means it has a deliciously thin form factor: a mere 7.7mm, and dramatically down from the 9.8mm predecessor.

The battery is only slightly smaller, at 2800 mAh compared to 3000 in the G4, One rear camera boasts the same 16Megapixels and 2160p resolution, but a second 8MP camera on the back opens numerous creative options. RAM goes up from 3GB to 4GB, while a more powerful Snapdragon processor – the 820 instead of the 808 – drives the phone.

The standout element is not one specific feature, though, but the overall design: it is a modular phone that allows components to be removed, replaced and added. While it is a “unibody” full-metal device, it allows the bottom to slide out to access expansion card slot and replace the battery – a feature that seems to have become anathema to Apple and Samsung. An optional camera grip, the LG Cam Plus, with battery and hardware controls, can slide in here to turn the phone into a full digital SLR camera.

An add-on co-designed with Bang & Olufsen, the HiFi Plus DAC (Digital to Audio Converter) module, provides high-resolution audio and puts the device in a sound class of its own.

The clue to the potential of the device lies in the repetition of that Plus brand: aside from the Cam Plus and HiFi Plus, we can expect to see many more plus-one modules not only from LG, but also from other developers.

The phone would have been enough to confirm LG’s ascent to new innovation heights, but it has clearly been hard at work across various technology categories. It also unveiled the surround-view LG 360 Cam and a the LG 360 VR, a pair of lightweight virtual reality goggles that link to the phone. The devices are part of a new family of devices called LG Friends, which includes the remote-controlled Rolling Bot robot. It seems almost frivolous alongside the rest of the technology, but has serious applications in home monitoring.

The latest offerings from Samsung, revealed a few hours later, were almost tame in comparison. The Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge appear to be almost rthe same devices as last year’s S6 and S6 edge, except more powerful and energy efficient.

Samsung has also backtracked in response to user demands, restoring the SD card slot that allows for expanded storage. It was inexplicably removed from the previous editions, despite the fact that the need is greater than ever before as users generate more high-resolutuon content than ever before. Apple remains the only major hold-out in this regard, but the return of SD to Samsung may just force Apple’s hand as well, the way Samsung did with the success of larger displays.

Samsung’s new phones offer one more feature that put them on the same level as LG: an always-on display that allows notifications, time, date and other inmformation to be viewed even while the phone is in sleep mode.  According to LG, this mode uses less than 1% of battery capacity.

The main shift in the design of the Samsung S7 and S7 edge is in restoring the dust-proof and water-proof feature offered in the S5. An IP 68 rating means it compares well with the market leaders in this particular category, Sony’s Xperia devices.

The latter has also led in camera technology in recent years, but was unable to set the market alight with its Xperia Z-series phones. This week, it unveiled the first “X: series devices, with an Xperia X, Xperia X Performance and Xperia XA. Their main differentiator builds on Sony’s strengths, with what it calls a “next-generation camera”. 

A feature called Predictive Hybrid Autofocus lets users choose a subject and then predicts its motion, so theyu can capture action without blurring.

Sony also builds on a less-well known strength, namely superior batter management. It takes this a step further with Adaptive Charging technology, which promises two full days of usage.

Like LG, it launched the phone with a family of products carrying a unified naming convention, with the likes of the Xperia Ear wireless ear-piece powered by voice technology, the Xperia Eye wearable wide-angle lens camera that can be attached to clothing, and the Xperia Projector for projection on any clear surface of an interface that responds to touch, voice and gestures as if it is on the smartphone screen.

Samsung, for its part, also launched a new virtual reality (VR) product, with the Gear 360 spherical camera, which can capture VR content for viewing on the Gear VR headset.

Some will debate whether LG or Samsung is playing catch-up here, but the real story is the continued innovation by all brands across all areas of mobile technology.

* 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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Naspers feeds into Latin America’s tech funding

Movile will get $400m funding from the SA-based technology investment giant for iFood expansion.

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Movile is to receive US$500-million in funding for iFood in the largest tech funding in Latin America to date. Naspers and Innova Capital have committed to invest $400m of new capital into Movile to use for further investment in iFood, the leading online food delivery platform in Latin America, of which Movile is a majority shareholder.  

Movile and Just Eat have already invested $100m in iFood during 2018. iFood’s extraordinary growth and the vast market opportunity in Brazil and more broadly in Latin America has driven the increased investment commitment. 

iFood’s monthly orders in Brazil have fed more than 9 million customers in the past twelve months, 16 times the nearest online competitor, in terms of daily active users. This means its partner restaurants are serving the biggest population of consumers ordering food in Latin America. iFood has 50 000 restaurant partners and uses 120 000 couriers. 

The increased investment commitment from Naspers, Innova and Movile is expected to accelerate growth, speed up product development and innovation, and fuel geographical expansion for iFood across the region. The company’s vision is to gain deeper knowledge of consumers through artificial intelligence technology, to personalise the food delivery experience – and at a reduced price, because of improved logistics. 

“Movile is very fortunate to have long-term investors who have supported us for the past decade to help achieve our goal of transforming the lives of more than one billion people and thus we are able to continually back iFood to ensure it remains the market leader,” said Fabricio Bloisi, Movile CEO. 

“Our entire ecosystem of companies is focused on allocating resources and energy towards our one billion people goal. iFood is leading the way, fueling unprecedented growth through its innovative technology platform, providing consumers, couriers and restaurants with the best experience in food ordering and delivery.”  

Larry Illg, CEO of Naspers Ventures, said: “iFood has established itself as a technology leader in Latin America and its success stacks up with some of the most innovative food companies that are leading regions in North America, Europe and Asia.  We have been impressed by their execution in Brazil and remain committed to backing the company on its path to transform the entire food chain to better serve consumers.” 

Online food delivery is experiencing massive expansion globally. According to latest reported results, Grubhub grew daily average orders 39% year-on-year, reaching over 416 000 orders per day. In Latin America, iFood has reached 390 000 orders per day just in Brazil in the last week of October, compared with 183 000 in October 2017, representing 109% growth.

iFood CEO Carlos Moyses said: “We want our consumers to have an amazing delivery experience from the moment they order their food to the moment it arrives. Our partners – the restaurants and delivery fleet – make that happen by living our purpose of improving people’s lives using our services.

“iFood exists for our customers and, with an increased investment commitment of this size, we will be able to build out our state of the art technology platform, and increase our courier and restaurant partners to even better serve our current and future customers in Latin America.”

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Hide your sheep, Spyro is reigniting

Spyro, the iconic purple dragon that entertained living rooms worldwide in the late ‘90s, is making a return with the release of Spyro Reignited Trilogy.

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Spyro Reignited Trilogy introduces players to a fully remastered game collection with a re-imagined cast of characters, animations, environments, new lighting and recreated cinematics—all inHD.  Now fans can explore more than 100 lush environments filled with new detail, that brings the Dragon Realms and Avalar to life . The trilogy is available for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro and the family of Xbox One devices from Microsoft, including the Xbox One X.

South African distributors Megarom provided the followjng information:

In Spyro Reignited Trilogy, lead developer Toys For Bob is giving fans an all scaled-up version of the original three Spyro games that started it all, Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and Spyro: Year of the Dragon, but with a modern-day feel that makes it fresh and fun for today’s player. Adding to the fun, voice actor Tom Kenny is returning to the franchise as the voice of Spyro in all three remastered games. Longtime fans will be treated to Toys For Bob’s reimagined version of the classic soundtracks, in addition to an all-new title-screen theme from original soundtrack composer Stewart Copeland.

Additionally, the new game brings an in-game audio feature that allows players to switch between the original and the newly remastered soundtracks, for those who want a more classic gameplay experience. Players can simply fly in to the “options menu” at any time during gameplay, unleash their preferred nostalgic or scaled-up groove, and glide right back into the Spyro action without losing saved data.

“It’s been a real pleasure to bring back one of most iconic video game characters of all time through the Spyro Reignited Trilogy,” said Paul Yan, Co-Studio Head at Toys For Bob. “We’ve poured everything we’ve got into making sure every detail was done right to deliver a great Spyro experience for fans. We hope players will have as much fun revisiting the Spyro world and characters as we did remastering them.”

In the road up to the official release of Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Activision Publishing, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, created a first-of-its-kind, life-sized, fire-breathing and talking Spyro Dragon drone. The drone took off from “Stone Hill” castle near New York City, spreading his wings across the U.S. to explore the cities and iconic landscapes that resemble levels and themes from the original Spyro games. As part of the tour, the Spyro drone chased sheep, fired up some BBQ and delivered an early copy of Spyro Reignited Trilogy to fellow O.G. and entertainment icon, Snoop Dogg. Highlights from the Spyro drone’s delivery to Snoop Dogg can be found here.

“Fans have been asking Activision to bring Spyro back for some time now. The response to Spyro Reignited Trilogy has been great thus far, and we’re absolutely thrilled that we’re able to continue to reimagine and reinvigorate some of the most iconic videogames and characters of all time with our remastered experiences,” said Steve Young, Chief Revenue Officer at Activision. “With this year being the 20th anniversary of Spyro, there’s no better time to pay homage to everyone’s favorite purple dragon.”

The Spyro community is invited to geek out and elevate their fandom even further through the elite global partnerships from the Activision Blizzard Consumer Products Group (ABCPG). Collaborations with Funko, Traly Pins, Exquisite Gaming, KidRobot, USAopoly, Trends International, Rubber Road, and Changes have created new avenues for fans to share their love for the return of Spyro, the original roast master. Spyro consumer products across apparel, collectibles, figurines and more are now available at retailers worldwide. Fans can also take advantage of the GameStop exclusive Spyro TOTAKU Collection.

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