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BlackBerry’s corporate battery dies

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If you like rollercoaster rides, you should ask BlackBerry for a job. Not that they’re hiring off the streets right now, but the CEO job is available, for one.

Thorsten Heins was fired on Monday after presiding over the collapse of BlackBerry’s customer base during the past two years. His interim replacement, John Chen, is best known for turning Sybase from a failing business into a leading enterprise systems company by taking a massive bet on mobile at a time when it was dismissed by most.

That sounds like the kind of vision medicine BlackBerry has needed badly for a while now, but of course many will say it’s far too late: the patient is already terminal. Nevertheless, it’s also been given a $1-billion lifeline in the form of a loan put together by its main shareholder, Fairfax Holdings.

That buys it a few more months to execute a new hardware and software strategy that can bring back not only customers, but also market sentiment. However, it’s hard to put together a convincing argument why anyone should buy a BlackBerry device right now. When there is uncertainty around the future structure, strategy and direction of a company, there cannot be certainty about its products either.

There is no guarantee that the plug won’t be pulled on any of the elements that make up what is still a powerful BlackBerry security and communications ecosystem. For that reason, any positive commentary on the company, its products and services must be seen in the context of a story that could still have an unhappy ending.

If you can live with uncertainty, here are a few reasons to go with BlackBerry:

The new Z30 is a great device, with a sharp 5‚” screen, 18 hour battery life. A new industrial design ethos brings it closer to the cool look and feel of its high-end rivals, mainly through its more curvy shape. Puzzlingly, it’s not quite as sharp as the older Z10, though, if you have an eye for such finer detail. And it is one of the heaviest of the current high-end phones.

The update to the new Blackberry 10 operating system, 10.2, is the most efficient and user-friendly OS yet from the company. It introduces Priority Hub, a catch-all inbox which groups all communications together, and gives instant access to the individual messaging apps.

Notifications, alerts and a peek at incoming messages on the lock screen are the most visible of the new features and among the most useful, together with previewing incoming messages while in another app, and replying without leaving that app. BlackBerry itself claims, with some justification, that it offers ‚”best in class‚” security, enterprise mobility management and mobile social network.

BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) works best on BlackBerry devices, which allow voice and video calls from within the instant messaging app. The Android and iPhone versions don’t support these yet.

BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS), the R59 a month unlimited Internet package pioneered in South Africa and still offered on phones running the old Blackberry 7 OS, remains one of the best mobile data deals for the budget-constrained.

If the Thosrten Heins roadmap is not completely ditched, we can expect to see, early next year, a low-end BlackBerry 10 handset with QWERTY keyboard. It will be a year late, of course, but will find a ready audience in South Africa.

Then again, many BlackBerry loyalists don’t believe in ‚”if‚” anymore.

Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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A device to start reinventing yourself – today

A new fitness device, coupled with a new starting date for new year’s resolutions, could be the real route to reinvention, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK as he tries the Fitbit Versa 2.

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Forget about New Year’s Resolutions that began on January 1. By now, that’s probably what you’ve done anyway. By the end of January, eight out of ten people are likely to have failed to maintain their resolutions. That means the gyms are getting less crowded, friends and colleagues are becoming less painful about brief obsessions, and the media has stopped trying to make you feel guilty.

But there is another reason 1 January was an appalling date to start trying to improve yourself. Not only were you likely to be in recovery mode, but you were also firmly in holiday mode, with little incentive to get out of bed on the day. It also meant that, as you and your body emerged from vacation inertia, it remained inordinately difficult for several weeks to get motivated. And that translates into January and February being recipes for failure of resolve.

This is why the new date for kicking off New Year’s resolutions should be 1 March. By then, you are fully back in the swing of adulting, the world has stopped pressurising you to change yourself, and you can set your own pace. This also means that you can tackle your resolutions step by step, rather than going for the big bang approach.

This revelation came to me as I began exploring the functionality of what is arguably the best fitness monitoring device on the market. The Fitbit Versa 2 looks good, works well as a smartwatch, and has tremendous functionality onboard. But use it in tandem with the Fitbit app, and it becomes the wellness assistant that your doctor could never be.

First, those looks.  Aesthetically, the Versa 2 has a far better design than the original Versa 1, opting for a more square design and a better AMOLED display instead of a regular LCD display. This makes it far easier to read the screen in brighter daylight conditions, and helps the smartwatch save battery life by not illuminating every pixel. It offers customisable watch faces, from a community-based library. Want your watch to display Van Gogh’s Starry Night? It’s yours, with a few clicks.

The body is made of aluminium, which gives a nod in the right direction to those who prefer a smarter looking smartwatch. This places it in the league of the most expensive smartwatches, while still retailing at less than half the cost –  under R4,000 compared to the Apple Watch starting at R9,000.

Visit the next page to read more about the functionality of the Versa 2.

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Mobile World Congress canning sends shockwaves

The cancellation of Mobile World Congress forces industry to rethink strategies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The technology industry has just witnessed unthinkable: the cancellation of one of the world’s biggest trade shows, barely 10 days before it was due to kick off.

Just hours after show organisers GSMA insisted the show would go on, the CEO of GSMA, John Hoffman, issued a statement announcing its canning.

“With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” he said. “The GSMA and the Host City Parties will continue to be working in unison and supporting each other for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions. Our sympathies at this time are with those affected in China, and all around the world.”

The cancellation comes as numerous heavyweight exhibitors pulled out due to fears of COVID-19, the coronavirus. These included Ericsson, Intel, Amazon, Nvidia, Sony, ZTE, Cisco, Amdocs, and Facebook. Others, like TCL, Xiaomi, Huawei, and Samsung all announced they had scaled down their activities.

GSMA initially insisted that, with 2,800 exhibitors, it had enough safeguards in place to ensure the event would go on. However, it appears to have pre-empted a bandwagon of further withdrawals.

The cancellation will force numerous major industry players to rethink their launch strategies. Few seemed to have contingency plans in place, with Ericsson and Sony notable exceptions.

Ericsson, the first major exhibitor to withdraw, included in its announcement last Friday, 7 February, that it would showcase the company’s portfolio and innovations in local events.

“Ericsson will take the demos and content created for MWC Barcelona to customers in their home markets with local events called ‘Ericsson Unboxed’,” it announced.

Sony said its press conference would still take place at the scheduled time of 8:30am Central European Time on February 24, but “as a video via our official Xperia YouTube channel”.

Other exhibitors may well turn to similar strategies, but smaller businesses that had hoped MWC would put them on the map will have to pursue traditional marketing strategies. Those that had hoped to showcase breakthrough technologies or demonstrate the possibilities of 5G, for example, will have to look to alternative events.

ShowStoppers, a major preview event and media attraction at MWC every year, had announced on Tuesday it would still go ahead, but had no option in announcing its cancellation a day later. However, it runs the event at most major tech expos, and will have the opportunity to pull exhibitors into other regional shows.

“We will continue to collaborate with GSMA,” said ShowStoppers partner Steve Leon. “We look forward to connecting journalists with our partner companies as they launch new products and technologies at ShowStoppers events planned for MWC Los Angeles 2020, IFA 2020 in Berlin, CES 2021 in Las Vegas, and, of course, MWC Barcelona 2021.”

IFA, held in Berlin every year at the end of August, is the world’s biggest tech expo by attendees, although not by floorspace. However, it is likely to be given a massive boost this year as it attracts many of the launches that would have been confined to MWC. The Los Angeles MWC event, due in October, is tiny by comparison, drawing just over 20,000 attendees, and is unlikely to take up the slack. 

Visit the next page to read about the knock-on impact of the cancellation and to see who is the big winner of MWC being cancelled.

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