Technology companies have long been claiming to listen to customers. Now one of them is taking the conversation further, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
It’s become almost a cliché that technology companies, gadget makers and high-tech service providers have been learning to listen to their customers. Examples abound, from Apple succumbing to the demand for large-screen smartphones despite a near-religious adherence to smaller formats, to Facebook putting more privacy controls in the hands of its users.
But now one company is taking the conversation further: listening to both the customer and the community. Seiko Epson, known for both its pioneering watches and its printing and robotics solutions, believes that it is no longer enough merely to give customers what they want.
“We have to listen to both our customers and to our society,” said Minoru Usui, president and CEO of Seiko Epson, speaking at the CeBIT technology fair in Hannover, Germany, last week. “We want to help make the world a better place and we are determined to make Epson a company that is indispensable in that process. But we can only do this by listening to society.”
The result is that the company has become fiercely focused on reducing the waste resulting from one of the business world’s most wasteful activities: printing.
Three years ago, Usui declared that his company would “make printers that are faster, more beautiful and more efficient than ever before”. Now, he believes, the company has achieved its goal.
CeBIT saw the launch of the new Epson PaperLab, a recycling machine that can fit in any large office. Designed to allow printed paper to be reused, it shreds and pulps the used pages, and spits out clean paper.
However, rather than it being the sole focus of Epson’s CeBIT presence, it was just one element of the organisation’s wide-ranging strategy to transform the office.
“We are exploring the world of tomorrow through the eyes and minds of the workforce of today,” Usui said during a keynote address at the event.
Later, in an interview, he elaborated.
“One thing is clear: there are going to be a lot of advances in Internet and cloud technology, and we have to look at what we can do with our technology and see how we can adapt our products to make a contribution. For example, as technology evolves, there is a need for ever-higher productivity, and to make things lot easier to use than they are now, while having less impact on the environment.
“If we look at what society wants and what we can deliver, there are environmental areas where we can contribute, there is a need for greater precision, or the same precision in a more compact format. We will focus on areas where our technology is suited to fill the gaps.”
The company is specifically focused on four areas of innovation, namely inkjet printer technology, visual communications, wearables and robotics.
Although laser printing exceeds inkjet technology almost fourfold in the global office market, Usui believes the latter has far greater potential in the workplace.
“In laser printing, there have been no technical advances in recent years and users seem quite dissatisfied with its high running costs. We hear from many customers they want to print in colour, but don’t because of the high cost. Inkjet technology has helped release people from restrictions they have felt about office printing today.”
Advances in inkjet printing technologies also mean fewer moving parts in Epson machines, and therefore less energy consumption. This has helped some large corporations make dramatic reductions in their own carbon footprints.
Usui points that many photocopier companies have been trying to reinvent themselves by putting an effort into managed print services. However, he says, this does not address fundamental issues like printer speed and cost of operating. As a result, he believes, 2017 will see a tipping point in the rate at which companies move over the inkjet printing.
While Epson has long served the consumer and small business market with inkjet printers, it also used CeBIT to unveil an enterprise offering. The WorkForce Enterprise WF-C20590 is not as sexy a name as the PaperLab, but it is possibly more important strategically. An A3 multifunction printer, it is Epson’s first corporate high-speed inkjet line head printer, and prints 100 pages per minute – which the company calls “breakthrough speed”.
The machine’s junior sibling, the WorkForce Pro WF-C869R, aimed at slightly smaller offices, uses a highly economical ink solution called the Epson Replaceable Ink Pack System, which allows the company to claim the lowest-cost colour printing in its class.
“Products like the high speed printers address cost issues, and innovations like the PaperLab address environmental issues,” said Usui. “We are taking an overall look at the business of printing, and removing concerns and restrictions one by one.”
Naturally, there are likely to be conflicting demands when society is pulling in numerous directions. But Usui believes this should be built into business strategy.
“Yes, there are lots of needs in society. However, it’s important for us to look at megatrends, understand the things that definitely will happen, and look at ourselves and see to which ones we are able to contribute.”
Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets
Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.
Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.
Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps.
Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.
Vodafone Smart Kicka 4
At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.
The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018.
Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games.
Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.
Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer.
The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past.
Huawei Y3 (2018)
The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are.
Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.
Comparing the 3
All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker.
Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.
SA gets digital archive
As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive.
The southafrica.co.za site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.
Designed as a nation building, educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.
The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.
At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.
Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.
“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.
Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island. The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.