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Special edition S7 does justice to Batman

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In the week that Samsung unveils the next generation of its market-leading Note phablet, another of its smart devices is turning heads. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK gets up close and personal with the ultimate limited edition phone, the Galaxy S7 edge Injustice Edition.

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The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge was always going to be 2016’s last word in smartphone style. A year before, the S6 edge had been the most dramatic departure from standard smartphone formats in years.

The S7 maintained the curved edges, while adding to the screen size, RAM and battery size. Going from a 5.1” to 5.5” display was almost less significant than going from 3GB to 4GB RAM and from a 2600 mAh to 3600 mAh battery. But it mattered in a world in which looks can kill market share. The S7 lorded it over the main competitor, the iPhone 6s Plus, with the latter’s 5.5” display in a flat and – dare we say it of Apple – “traditional” screen format.

As Apple prepares to rejoin the battle with an iPhone 7, set for release next month, Samsung has just raised the stakes. The release in South Africa last week of the Galaxy S7 edge Injustice Edition is not only a dramatic style statement, but also evidence that a smartphone truly can be a thing of beauty.

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The unboxing experience is a rare example of a device’s industrial design being aligned with package design and the thematic concept behind the device. The square black box unravels like a mystery unfolding (see http://www.samsung.com/global/galaxy/events/injustice to see what emerges), revealing the main attraction: a deep black version of the S7 edge with gold inlays, a gold Batman logo carved into the back of the phone, and an adapted version of the phone’s interface with icons in deep gold on black backgrounds, a Batman-themed wallpaper set with several iconic images for different interfaces, and a cool Batman-inspired dialling interface.

The box includes a black Injustice edition of the Gear VR headset, along with Injustice game credits and Oculus VR content vouchers. This delightful package ostensibly celebrates the third anniversary of the Injustice: Gods Among Us mobile game, but is really a tribute to the Batman legend. In this sense, it is the Batman fan’s dream phone, but it is also arguably the most beautiful phone ever to go into general production.

“A lot of work has gone into this product and it has been carefully crafted and designed in terms of its size, colour and texture,” says Craige Fleischer, Director of Integrated Mobility at Samsung Electronics South Africa. “Ultimately, we hope more people will come to appreciate the Samsung and Galaxy brand through our fresh approach to a well-known product and via this special edition’s emotional appeal.”

One of the most striking aspects of the phone, its rich black body, turns out to have been carefully thought through not only as a design element, but also as a metaphor.

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“Samsung aimed to find a unique black hue for the Injustice Edition,” according to an explanation provided by the manufacturer. “Black encompasses the whole body, including the metal frame, unlike the standard Black Onyx version of the S7 edge. This matt-finish black represents Batman’s suit. Gold, on the other hand, was applied on the logo, edge of the home button and rear camera to make these stand out. A number of image samples were examined for the Batman logo on the back, with consideration given to size and dimension.”

Even the special edition’s Gear VR and phone case that comes in the box were part of this metaphor:

“The phone case is a reinterpretation of Batman’s suit and an effort was made to visualise this in a metaphorical sense, rather than make it too obvious. We chose a material that is both comfortable to grip and durable, but that also maximises the matt texture. The case needed to combine great aesthetics and optimum protection.”

While the overall package and design makes a powerful impact, it is the finer touches that count. For example, the Apps icon, behind which users can find their non-Samsung apps, is a stylised version of the Batman mask, in gold against a grey background.

The one jarring experience comes when non-Samsung apps are brought onto the main screens: their colours clash violently with the gold, grey and black colour scheme that helps give the phone such style. There is a solution, however: when apps are grouped together into folders on the home screens, the folders themselves adopt the gold-and-black look, and don’t look out of place.

Normally, the practical and pragmatic approach would be to ditch the style imperative, and simply stick WhatsApp, Gmail and the like on the home screen in all their colour-clashing glory.

This is one phone, however, where most owners will sacrifice one-click convenience, and relegate their key apps to a folder or a secondary screen. Eventually, the aesthetic impact will diminish, but it is unlikely this handset will ever be treated like just another phone.

* Only 100 sets of the Galaxy S7 edge Injustice Edition package have been brought into South Africa, at a recommended retail price of R22 999 per unit.

  •  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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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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