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Big comeback day for Samsung

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On the day Samsung launched its new flagship product in South Africa, it also announced a return to its profitable ways, echoing news from its greatest rival, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It was a coincidence that Samsung Electronics announced an expected surge in profits the day it launched a new flagship device in South Africa. Nevertheless, it will have done wonders for confidence in the company as it brings to market a device that is notable for its incremental improvements rather than startling innovation.

The Samsung Galaxy Note5, now in stores, will go head-to-head with the Apple iPhone 6Ss Plus, which arrives in the country a week later. Again, both the similarity in model numbers and in release dates locally are coincidental.

However, it is no coincidence that neither company is wasting time alerting the market to the fact that it is riding high. A week earlier, Apple had announced it had sold more than 13 million new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus models, which it described as “a new record, just three days after launch”.

“Sales for iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus have been phenomenal, blowing past any previous first weekend sales results in Apple’s history,” said CEO Tim Cook.

Samsung meanwhile forecast its first increase in quarterly profits in two years, saying it estimated its profit for the July-September quarter would leap 80 per cent to $6.3-billion.

Not that it was selling more phones, however. According to Reuters, “favourable currency rates and robust component sales appeared have to offset weakness in smartphones”. In fact, Samsung had lost market share to Apple at the high end and to Chinese rival Xiaomi at the low end of the smartphone market.

Analyst Lee Seung-woo told Reuters: “There were worries that overall earnings will continue falling as mobile profits declined, but now the numbers make the case that Samsung has the capacity to withstand weakness from the mobile business.”

The number of phone sold will be revealed when quarterly results are released later this month, and may put a damper on investor sentiment. However, that will mask the extent to which Samsung benefits from the surge in sales by smaller rivals: it supplies the computer chips that many manufacturers use in other smartphones, and even the display screens used by the likes of Huawei.

Of course, it would still like to sell more of its own handsets, and the Note5 is likely to build on the dominant position Samsung holds in the market for “phablets” – handsets with 5.5-inch and larger displays.

As reported in this column when the device was unveiled in New York in August, the default phablet size has steadily crept upward. The original Note, released in 2011, carried a mere 5,3-inch display. That is small by today’s standards, yet at the time was laughed off by many because of its “absurd” size. When Samsung went on to sell 10-million units in less than twelve months, a new industry category was born.

Apple’s 6s Plus is in a sense a descendant of that Note, in terms of Apple being forced to join the phablet revolution. In the same way that many of Apple’s rivals were forced to eat their words after initially dismissing the iPhone’s touchscreen as irrelevant, Apple has had to eat humble pie following its loud and derisive dismissal of anything bigger than a 4-inch screen.

The Galaxy Note eventually grew to 5.7-inches, and the new Note5 takes full advantage of the added real estate. As stated in August, however, the battle is now one for differentiation rather than format.

The Note aims at professional users who have probably already discovered the productivity benefits of a larger handset and the S-Pen stylus. Again, this is an area where Samsung led the way, after Steve Jobs’ infamous comment in 2010: “If you need a stylus, you’ve already failed.”

In 2015, Apple announced the Apple Pencil, a stylus for the new iPad Pro. The American technology media have bent over backwards to explain why the Pencil is not really a stylus, and why Steve Jobs meant something else altogether, proving that the great man’s so-called “reality distortion field” survives long after his passing.

However, change a few brand names, and he would probably not have disagreed with the comments made by Samsung president and CEO JK Shin at the Note5 launch: “The Pen is to the Note what the mouse is to the PC.”

The improved split-screen functionality of the Note5 takes it to a higher multitasking level, enhancing another user need that Apple has yet to acknowledge – but there is little doubt it will eventually have to follow in Samsung’s wake here, too.

So, while Samsung may not be able to match Apple’s sales figures for single devices, it is abundantly clear that it is also not skulking in the American company’s shadows.

* 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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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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