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LG unveils ‘remarkable’ new devices

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The “other” Korean electronics giant, LG, came out with guns blazing last week, unveiling a family of fiercely competitive new smartphones for the South African market, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Barely days after Samsung presided over a global launch of two new “phablets” aimed at solidifying its hold on large-format smartphones, the “other” South Korean electronics giant, LG, reminded South Africans of its own credentials across formats large and small.

The star of the show at a Johannesburg media event was the new LG G4 Beat smartphone. This is a scaled-down version of the G4, launched earlier this year to unanimous acclaim for its cutting edge camera. The G4, a 5.5-inch curved phablet, features automatic as well as manual shooting, and provides smartphone photographers with the most control yet seen in a phone camera.

Now the same technology is available in the 5.2-inch G4 Beat. As with the G4, the entire phone is curved, according to LG, to match the natural curve of the palm. The big sister may just have been too big to feel comfortable in the hand, but the Beat really is a natural.

“We have a natural arc in the palm of our hands,” says Deon Prinsloo, GM Mobile for LG Electronics SA. “So we retained the arc in the design of the G4 Beat which allows you have the same distance from the eye to all parts of the phone, and it fits better in human hand. It is narrower and slightly smaller than the G4, without sacrificing display size.”

The smaller screen means it competes for attention with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and HTC One M9 rather than with the larger phablets. The display may suffer by comparison – it has nothing like the same resolution – but in many other respects, it is remarkably competitive.

Remarkably, because the Beat comes to the shelves at what seems like an absurdly low price: less than R300 a month on contract, and R4 900 for a cash purchase. The Galaxy S6 costs around R12 000.

Aside from the Beat’s 1.5GHz processor – comparable to high-end phones – it offers Full HD 1080p video recording and playback. The 8MP laser auto-focus camera’s Manual Mode gives fine control over shutter speed, ISO, exposure and white balance – previously not possible on phone cameras.

The phone is likely to find enormous appeal in the youth market, which has in the past proved essential to the cool credentials of technology brands. BlackBerry once owned that market, but was unable to maintain the cool factor.

Can LG claim a foothold here? If not, it won’t be for want of trying.

A second phone in the G4 family is about to make waves in that market.  It’s called the G4 Stylus, and it is even more remarkable than the Beat. It is a 5.7-inch phone, meaning it is going up against the phablets, like the new 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 5, the 5.5-inch Apple 6 Plus and Huawei G7, and the giant 6-inch Huawei Ascend Mate 7.

But here’s the reason one can once again invoke the word “remarkable”: like the Galaxy Note, it sports a large 3000 mAh battery for extended use and a stylus geared to making notes and drawings on the screen. Unlike the Note 5 and iPhone 6 Plus, it is intended to be an affordable phone for the student market. At under R4000, it even knocks the cost socks of the Ascend Mate 7’s already generous R6000 pricetag.

Prinsloo is not shy about making comparisons with competing devices. In particular, the Galaxy Note: “For many, it is impossible to access the Note. A lot of consumers would like a big display with note-taking capability, but most can’t afford the R600-700 per month contract price. Hence we developed the G4 Stylus, which will cost less than a third of that.”

The core target markets are scholars, teenagers aged 14-plus, students and young professionals. It is likely that, between them, the G4 Beat and Stylus will find no shortage of takers in many other niches, too.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

Sidebar:

  • Specifications of LG G4 Beat:
  • Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 Processor
  • Display: 5.2-inch Full HD IPS LCD (1920 x 1080, 423ppi)
  • Memory: 8GB ROM / 1.5GB RAM
  • Camera: Rear 8MP / Front 5MP
  • Battery: 2,300mAh (removable)
  • Operating System: Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
  • Size: 142.7 x 72.6 x 9.85mm
  • Weight: 139g
  • Network: 4G LTE / HSPA+ 42.2Mbps (3G)
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 b, g, n / Bluetooth 4.1 / NFC / A-GPS / Glonass / USB 2.0
  • Colors: Metallic Silver / Ceramic White / Shiny Gold
  • Other: In-Cell Touch / Color Spectrum Sensor / Gesture Interval Shot / Full HD 1080p Video

Key Specifications of LG G4 Stylus:

  • Display: 5.7” HD IPS LCD (257 ppi)
  • Processor: Quad Core 1.2GHz
  • Camera: 8MP / 5MP
  • Memory:
  • 1GB/ 8GB
  • Battery: 3,000mAh
  • Size:154.35×79.2×9.38 mm
  • Stylus Pen

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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