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Now for the attitude divide

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The digital divide between developed and developing countries is no longer only about access to technology. A gulf also exists in attitudes to technology, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It’s pretty obvious that developed countries almost seem to be a on a different planet from those with emerging economies when one considers use of high-tech devices and their visibility in the human environment.

But now an invisible divide between the haves and have-nots has also emerged, and that is the gulf between the attitudes of those living in such divergent economies.

A global study released by Microsoft last week shows that, while most Internet users believe personal technology has improved their lives, far more users in developing countries believe it has improved social bonds.

The report, entitled “Views from Around the Globe: 2nd Annual Poll on How Personal Technology Is Changing Our Lives,” is based on interviews with more than12 000 Internet users from 12 countries.

The most fascinating aspect of the study is how greater pervasiveness of technology seems to result in reduced enthusiasm for specific benefits, like fitness and the sharing economy. Instead, those with greater access tend to express greater concern about issues like privacy. Naturally, such issues are less important in environments where the implications of pervasive connectedness have not yet become apparent.

The key overall findings, according to Microsoft, include:

  • • Most respondents across all 12 countries think personal technology has had a positive impact on their ability to find more affordable products, start new businesses and be more productive;
  • • Most respondents say it has benefited social activism;
  • • More respondents than in the previous year said technology had had a positive impact on transportation and literacy;
  • • Fewer than in the previous year said it has benefited social bonds, personal freedom and political expression.
  • • Concern about technology’s impact on privacy jumped significantly. Most users across 11 of the 12 countries surveyed said technology’s effect on privacy was mostly negative.
  • • Majorities in all countries except India and Indonesia said current legal protections for users of personal technology were insufficient;

However, marked differences began to emerge when responses from developing countries were grouped, says Zoaib Hoosen, managing director of Microsoft South Africa.

“In developing countries, 60 per cent of respondents said technology had a positive impact on social bonds, versus only 36 per cent in developing countries. That’s a very significant difference.

“The sharing economy, with its online services like Uber, are seen as having a positive impact in in developing countries, while in developed countries they still preferred traditional services.

“The issue there is that they often didn’t have a viable alternative in developing countries, whereas such services in developed countries merely add additional options. It’s about leapfrogging traditional services that don’t exist versus disruption of existing services. The former has a bigger impact.”

Nevertheless, says Mark Penn, Microsoft executive vice president and chief strategy officer, “Internet users overwhelmingly say that personal technology is making the world better and more vital.”

The area that saw the greatest divergence was the effect of technology on trust in the media, says Penn.

“By a 2:1 margin, respondents in developing countries think personal technology has had a mostly positive effect on trust in the media. But in developed countries, the impression is the opposite: respondents believe by a 2:1 margin that the effect on trust in the media has been mostly negative.”

The key factor behind this attitude divide appears to be the media habits of respondents, and dependence on social media.

“These opposing views are borne out in the two kinds of countries’ media habits,” says Penn. “In developing countries, 70 per cent of respondents get most of their news from social media, compared to only 31 per cent in developed countries.”

With social media access accelerating in developing countries, thanks to rapidly growing access on phones, that divide is unlikely to be bridged very soon.

* The poll, conducted in the last two weeks of December 2014, included Internet users in Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the U.S.

* 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

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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Hot new phones offer choice at the top

Three powerful new name-brand phones mean anyone in the market for a mid-to-high-end smartphone is spoiled for choice, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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A few months ago, only two phone brands were on the lips of consumers in the market for a new high-end smartphone. It seemed a straight choice between Apple and its iPhone X or 8 Plus, and Samsung with its Note 8 and Galaxy S9+.

But the rivals refuse to be written off. Just in the past month, three powerful new contenders have arrived in South Africa. The Huawei P20 Pro, Sony Xperia XZ2 and Nokia 7 plus have all thrown their frames into the ring of high-end features, although not always at high-end prices.

This means that customers for features are spoiled for choice, and it comes down to comparison of features, along with issues like brand preference and design appeal.

Rather than look at each phone separately, let’s look at them feature by feature.

Connectivity

The Sony XZ2 uses LTE-A, the ultimate 4G standard, and claims a 1.2 Gigabit per second maximum speed. However, this is purely theoretical, as no mobile network in South Africa allows for anywhere close to that. The Nokia 7 plus is also an LTE-A phone, but claims “only” 300 Mbps, which is theoretically possible on a network like RAIN. The Huawei P20 Pro is the slow-coach of the three, with basic LTE, offering a “mere” 150 Mbps, the theoretical maximum offered by Telkom Mobile. Any of these speeds are, in reality, still blazing fast and will stream high-definition video without buffering.

Display

The Huawei P20 pro has the largest display and screen-to-body ratio at 6.1 inches and 82% respectively. The Nokia 7 plus is close, with a 6.0 inch display and 77.2% screen-to-body ratio. In comparison, the Sony XZ2 is positively small, with a 5.7 inch display and 76.1% screen-to-body ratio, due to large bezels around the screen, despite similar body dimensions. Because the phone is heavier despite a smaller display, this gives the impression of it being a lower-end phone than it really is.

In terms of display quality, the Huawei P20 Pro takes the lead with an infinite contrast ratio (usually the higher the ratio, the better) due to its AMOLED display. AMOLED currently produces the best colour replication available on the phone market. Both Nokia 7 plus and the Sony XZ2 use IPS LCD 16-million colour, and have roughly the same display quality.

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