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Nokia is back in town

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If ever there was an unforgettable name in technology it was Nokia, Now the phone brand is back, and hoping the good memories will restore a proud name. By ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It is rare for a standard Android phone to make headlines. But then, it’s even more rare for a near-abandoned brand to return to worldwide adulation.

When the brand name is Nokia, however, it should be no surprise that its comeback is given the reception of a mythical hero returned from the battlefield. It’s hard to believe that it is only 14 months since Microsoft released the last of the Nokia Lumia phones running the Windows operating system.

The Lumia 650, launched in February 2016, turned out to be the epitaph for Nokia’s Windows era. Just three months later, Microsoft announced it was selling the Nokia feature phone business and the rights to the Nokia brand to Chinese device manufacturer Foxconn and a new Finnish company called HMD Global.

The selling price of $350-million made a mockery of the $7.6-billion Microsoft had paid to acquire Nokia in 2014. However, the Finnish credentials of the brand’s new stewards, and the fact that it was run by Nokia veterans, gave loyal fans hope.

It may not be a Star Wars sage, but the new episode in Nokia’s history could well be termed A New Hope. The series officially opened in South Africa last week, presided over by HMD Global’s CEO, Arto Nummela, and its president, Florian Seiche.

It was an emotional event for former Nokia country manager Shaun Durandt, now HMD general manager for Southern Africa, and former marketing head Patrick Henchie, now HMD product head for Sub-Sahara Africa. The latter spoke passionately about how “Nokia has always been about democratising technology”.

“You trusted that Nokia, that durability,” he said. “It didn’t matter what price you paid for the device, you were proud to walk around with that Nokia.”

HMD announced that the Nokia 5 would be available in South Africa by mid-July, and the Nokia 6 a fortnight later. The entry-level smartphone, the Nokia 3, arrived in the first week of June, while the “reimagined” 3310 feature phone has been available in limited numbers for the past month.

The smartphones all have one massive differentiator over almost any other phone widely available in South Africa: it runs the pure form of Google’s Android operating system (OS), as opposed to most other brands imposing their own “skins” on the OS. These skins usually come with a wide range of apps, widgets and adaptations that combine into what is known as bloatware: arbitrary software that unnecessarily uses up storage space on the phone and slows it down.

“What is common throughout all our devices? They’re made for everyday life,” said Nummela in an interview after the launch. “The phone market has moved on, and you can’t do today what you did then. We are keeping everything as simple as possible.

“When you have such a massive software build on top of what Google has built, it erodes the longer you use it. Then you have severe ageing issues and performance is completely different from day one to nine months later. We are trying to fix that issue with Google and (processor manufacturer) Qualcomm, so that your performance will stay constant.”

Nummela made a startling commitment: that the phone OS would be upgraded every time Android was upgraded, for at least the first two years of any of the new phones’ lives. Until recently, only Apple guaranteed that new OS releases would be compatible with old iPhones. It has now limited that backward compatibility, even as brands like Samsung introduce OS upgrades to current phones.

“We are committing to a promise that every time Google does an update between OS releases, we will provide those to consumers. Google releases security updates whenever there are anti-virus updates – we will do those monthly.

Then there are feature updates, being the OS updates, which occur annually.

“We will also do new releases with any new functionality that is available for the phone. Regardless of the price point, all consumers will get those updates.”

The one limitation is that, when OS updates require hardware changes for some features to work, those features will not be available for previous models. But Nokia guarantees nothing will be left out of current hardware releases.

“When you buy the device, the starting point is the very latest OS. It’s a service promise that your phone will always be fresh.”

He was adamant that this did not make Nokia devices mere Google phones. The Nokia heritage, he said, was a key aspect of the phone.

“We are focusing on those things that make a phone better: battery life, and reliability.”

The point was reiterated by Florian Seiche, who cut his teeth in the industry as co-founder of HTC’s smartphone business: “What consumers are looking for all ties in to the original Nokia brand promise of ease of use and reliability. In the past this meant something, so we try to listen to what Nokia represented to consumers.”

But is customer loyalty enough? There’s more, Seiche pointed out.

“The market has changed a lot and it is a very mature smartphone market, and many brands have had bold plans, investing and then disappearing, because the market is dynamic and changing. The advantage of Nokia over those is that we’ve been in this business for so long, building up relationships with channel partners, that they associate that trust with us. We also don’t have to invest so much in awareness, so we can focus on conversion and highlighting what is new.”

Will we see a sequel in which the likes of the Apple and Samsung empires strike back? As far as die-hard Nokia fans are concerned, it won’t matter. They have already fast-forwarded to the return of the phone world’s Jedi.

Nokia 3310 (2017 edition) Technical Specifications 

•       System: Dual band 900/1800 MHz

•       Available in dual SIM variants (microSIM)

•       Software platform: Nokia Series 30+

•       Dimensions: 115.6 x 51.0 x 12.8mm

•       Weight: 79.6 g (including battery)

•       Display: 2.4’’ curved window colour QVGA (240*320)

•       Connectivity: micro USB, 3.5mm AV connector, Bluetooth 3.0 with SLAM

•       Camera: 2Mpxl camera with LED flash

•       MicroSD card support up to 32GB

•       LED torchlight

•       Standby time: up to 31 days

•       Talk time: up to 22.1 hours

•       MP3 playback up to 51 hours

•       FM radio playback up to 39 hours

•      R699-R749

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Nokia 3 Technical Specifications

•       Available in single SIM variant

•       OS: Android Nougat

•       CPU: MTK 6737, Quad-core 1.3Ghz

•       RAM: 2 GB LPPDDR 3

•       Storage: 16 GB internal user memory[iii] with MicroSD card slot (support up to 128 GB support)

•       Form factor: Touch monoblock with capacitive system keys

•       Display: 5.0” IPS LCD HD (1280 x 720, 16:9), sculpted Corning® Gorilla® Glass, Polariser, 450 nits

•       Camera: Primary camera: 8MP AF, 1.12um, f/2, flash, Front facing camera: 8MP AF, 1.12um, f/2, FOV 84˚ display flash

•       Connectivity & Sensors: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, BT 4.2, GPS/AGPS, FM/RDS, NFC, Ambient light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer (G-sensor), E-compass, Gyroscope, Micro USB (USB 2.0), OTG, 3.5mm ADJ

•       Battery: Integrated 2630 mAh battery[iv]

•       Audio: Single speaker

•       Dimensions: 143.4 x 71.4 x 8.48 mm (camera bump: 8.68mm)

•       EMEA Networks: GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 WCDMA: Band 1, 2, 5, 8 LTE: Band 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38, 40

•       Network speed: LTE Cat. 4, 150Mbps DL/50Mbps UL

•       Price: R2,199

nokia3

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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 an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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