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Samsung goes large – again

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In the wake of declining market share, Samsung faced a big challenge for its latest product launch. It had a big answer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When Samsung launched its Galaxy S6 edge phone in February, it dazzled the market with a curved glass edge that seemed to rewrite the rules of phone design. However, it did not manage to dazzle the market equally with sales figures for the device. Ironically, demand was high, but supply was constrained by the complexity of manufacturing the curved screen.

Its more basic sibling, the S6, was too similar to the previous S5 and even S4 to capture customers’ imagination.  It was no surprise, then, that Samsung focused on the devices that made a difference when it staged its latest Galaxy Unpacked event in New York last week.

It unveiled a larger version of the edge, the S6 edge+, pushing it into the “phablet” space with a 5.7-inch screen – up from 5.1-inch on the smaller edition. At the same time, it announced the Note 5, the latest in a series that has redefined the market for larger smartphones.

The original Note, released in 2011, carried a mere 5,3-inch display, but was mocked as being absurdly big. Samsung had the last laugh, selling 10-million units in less than a year, and heralding the dawn of both the “phablet” and demand for larger screens. In a rare misstep, Apple initially dismissed the trend, but eventually succumbed with its iPhone 6 Plus last year.

The next two versions of the Galaxy Note each had a bigger screen, until it maxed out at 5.7-inches, where the new Note 5 has also settled. That appears to be the sweet spot for phablets, and the battle is now one for differentiation rather than format.

At the launch, Samsung Electronics President and CEO JK Shin made a point of reminding the audience of the legacy of the device: “The Note created a category.  Some said we were crazy, but we saw a problem we could solve.”

This time round, the problem was Samsung’s own: “What does it take to stay ahead of the curve?” The answer, he said, was to “start with the rules and bend them”.

The result is two phablets aimed at two entirely different markets. The Note series captured an audience of professional users looking for more productivity from a handset, in particular through the introduction of the S-Pen that allows for handwriting recognition and drawing on a phone.

“The Pen is to the Note what the mouse is to the PC,” Shin explained. The Note 5 plays hard to this strength, with a “more solid, more precise and sensitive” S-Pen, which Shin says feels “like writing with a ballpoint pen”.

The S6 edge+, on the other hand, is aimed firmly at the consumer multimedia market, with an emphasis on content, sharing and consumption.  It improves dramatically on the functionality of the original S6 edge, which only allowed for inclusion of contacts on the secondary side screen. The edge+ allows any apps to be added to the side screen, bringing the notion of a phone edge into its own. This functionality should eventually be rolled out to the original edge phones as well.

The most significant innovation on the edge+ is not entirely on the handset itself. It’s called Live Broadcast, and allows users to share moments directly from the phone, as video.

“Sure there are other video apps that can do that,” said Shin, “but your friends and family have to be signed up with the same platform. With Live Broadcast, you can broadcast directly from the phone to YouTube, and people can watch live or catch up on the feed later.”

Wireless charging based on industry standards means the devices can now be charged in any location where standard wireless pads are provided, such as some Starbucks outlets in the United States. These are expected to become widespread in the near future.

According to Craige Fleisher, Samsung’s Director for Mobile Communications in South Africa, the enhancements to the devices represented a more significant change than the market realised, as they “bring our design innovation to the large screen format”.

Dealing with the power demands of large displays has also represented a major challenge, he said.

“Understanding that power in terms of battery consumption and recharge is a key consideration in terms of consumer purchases, I see Samsung bringing innovation to this environment as we have historically to camera and screen technology.”

Fleisher says the S6 edge+ will arrive in South Africa in the first week of September, while the Note 5 will be released in November.

* 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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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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