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Mi-fone, Nokia, Sony, knock at Samsung door

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By targeting specific market segments, rival phone makers are taking on the seemingly unstoppable Samsung and Apple, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

A flood of new smartphones is arriving on the market in the coming weeks, and all have one thing in common: each appeals to a very specific target market, carefully tailoring its features, attractions and differentiators to the wallet of the target audience.

The flagship phones from the big brands will capture most media attention, while the low-cost phones will truly transform the market.

Exhibit A: The Mi-fone range of smartphones. Billed as the first African mobile device brand, most of its models sell at well under R1000, and target the mass market in African and the Middle East. At the top of the range, a series of smartphones run on the Android operating system.

The entry-level Android model, the Mi-A100, includes two killer features that are rare on high-end smartphones: FM radio, and dual-SIM capacity, which allows users to have SIM cards from rival networks in the same phone. FM is one of the most common requirements among buyers of low-end phones: dual-SIM meets a demand that has largely been ignored by manufacturers over the years, for fear of offending mobile operators who take a dim view of sharing space with competitors.

The Mi-A100 does not have the most responsive touchscreen around, and including Angry Birds is probably a waste, given the game’s demands on responsiveness. However, the Android 2.2 or Froyo operating system and built-in WiFi offers the mass market entr√©e into the world of apps, web-based e-mail and social networks. Shop around, and you can find this one at well under R1000.

Exhibit B: The Nokia Lumia 710, the baby brother of the Lumia 900 launched in South Africa earlier this year. Not as elegant or sleek as the high-end phone, this is a mid-market device that comes in at under R3000, but packs in a range of content offerings, like Nokia Drive, with Turn-by-turn navigation: Nokia Music, giving access to the Nokia Music Store through the cool Windows Phone interface: and the Xbox Live gaming interface. It runs on Windows Phone 7.5, offering a taste of the upcoming Windows 8 operating system that will run on phones, tablets and computers.

Exhibit C: Somewhat further along the cost spectrum ‚ expected to hit the shelves at around the R4000-R5000 mark ‚ is the new Sony Experia S, due in South Africa in the coming month. It is the first Sony phone to drop the partner Ericsson brand, and it is a thing of beauty. Running on Android 2.3 or Gingerbread, it is the design of the phone and Sony’s customized user interface, rather than the features, that will sell it.

Resting on its side, it resembles nothing less than a miniature flat-screen TV set. The impression is emphasized by a sharp LCD HD Reality display on a 4.3‚ screen that rivals anything produced by Apple or Samsung. The screen, along with a 12MP camera, allows for 1080p HD video recording and playback – i.e. as sharp as anything you can see on a high-definition TV screen. A 1.3MP front facing camera enables 720p HD video chat. Add 16x digital zoom, autofocus and 3D Sweep Panorama to the main camera, and it begins to sound like something you would buy in an audio-visual store rather than from a phone outlet.

A transparent strip at the bottom of the phone lights up to show off the three main control buttons ‚ similar to those on any other Android phone, but never before housed in such a dazzling setting. In design appeal, the Experia S knocks the spots off the iPhone.

Exhibit D: The Samsung Galaxy S3 will be launched in London on May 3, and is already creating an iPhone-type buzz ‚ a first for a non-Apple phone. Rumour sites have been set up to track market predictions. Key among these, and almost obviously: it will be a 4G phone with a 4.6‚ screen, run on Android 4.0, better known as Ice Cream Sandwich, and sell at more than R8000. Such is the hype, every expectation is that it will be the high-end phone of the year, even at a high-end price to match.

* Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chief of Gadget and heads up World Wide Worx. 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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