Motorola, the name that kicked off the mobile revolution, arrives back in South Africa this week – with more than just a smartphone, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
South Africans associate two brands with the dawn of the mobile revolution: Motorola, which started it all, and Nokia, which practically owned the phone world for a decade. It’s one of the serial ironies of the mobile industry that Nokia killed off Motorola in this market, only to be killed off in turn by BlackBerry, which was then all but destroyed by Apple and Samsung.
Meanwhile, Motorola stayed alive through various incarnations, including a resuscitation attempt by Google. Now, under the stewardship of Lenovo, it is taking another shot at redemption.
And what a shot it is. This week, it will announce the arrival in South Africa of the Moto Z smartphone, a handset that redefines what smartphones can do. At a time when it is conventional wisdom that we can only expect incremental advances in smartphone technology, this may seem absurd.
However, it is an absurdity four months in the making. The Moto Z was unveiled in San Francisco in June, along with four add-on devices called Mods. Short for modifications, they take the functionality of smartphones to a new level.
To start with, the Moto Z itself is a revelation. The 5.5-inch Quad HD AMOLED display puts it on a par with anything on the market: a resolution of 2560×1440 and a pixel density of 535 ppi makes for dazzling images and video. Despite these heavy specs, it lies a mere 5.19mm deep, earning the title of the thinnest flagship smartphone in the world. It harks back to the second generation Razr, which itself seemed impossibly thin, at 7.1mm, so many years ago back in 2011.
Some argue that mere mortals wouldn’t notice whether a handset is 5mm or 7mm thick. They’ll notice with this one. The real difference emerges when one attaches an additional device to the back of the handset, and it still fits into a pocket.
The rear of the phone is distinctive for two features: a protruding camera lens, and an array of metal connectors. Both combine to allow easy and instant clipping on of the Mods. A round hole in each of the add-ons aligns instantly with the protruding lens, and the connectors latch onto the magnetic rear of the Mods.
These, in turn, extend the phone’s functionality, in various directions.
Along with the Z’s slightly bulkier sibling, the Moto Z Play, Lenovo has released four Mods. The most exciting is called the Moto Insta-Share, a somewhat retro name for a device that points the way to the future. It is a mini-projector, which projects the phone interface onto any surface. It’s 11mm thick and weighs 125g, about the same as a light smartphone, and attaching the Moto Z seems like adding only a thin layer.
It projects a sharp image at up to 70 inches, which translates into a large TV display. In other words, one can use it to view ShowMax, Netflix or any other videos streamed or stored via the phone. With an adjustable fold-out kickstand, it also makes for a great presentation device. The one drawback is that it requires a fairly dark environment for optimal viewing, meaning it can’t replace TV sets in all conditions. Yet.
While it can use the phone’s power supply, the Insta-Share also houses an 1100 mAh battery, which allows for around an hour of additional viewing. The Moto Z’s own 2600 mAh battery provides the phone with up to 30 hours of mixed use.
The Insta-Share points to a future where a phone’s interface will be displayed or used on any surface, and will make the specs of the handset irrelevant, as the user will only interact with the display. The phone and its projector may as well be housed in a necklace or ring. But that is still a few generations away.
A Mod that generated similar levels of enthusiasm at the launch, the Hasselblad True Zoom, turns the phone into something closer to a DSLR camera.
The camera on the Moto Z itself is not too slack: at 13MP with f/1.8 aperture and dual LED flash, it compares well with the market-leading Samsung S7 edge. It captures video in full HD as well as 4K.
So far so great. Now add the Hasselblad. Photographers will appreciate the specs: a 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS sensor, focal length of 4.5-45 mm, equivalent to 25-250mm on a 35mm camera, 10x optical and 4x digital zoom, with macro zoom of 5cm @1x to 1.5m @10x. A wheel next to the shutter button controls the zoom function, with the lens protruding or retracting accordingly.
The strategy is to adapt the phone for any number of special interests. The JBL Soundboost mod turns it into a boombox, while the Incipio Offgrid power pack is a 2200 mAh add-on battery, for another 22 hours of usage.
Lenovo has issued a challenge – with $1-million in funding – for the best prototypes of third party mods. If the challenge turns into a viable and sustainable build-out of a new ecosystem around the Moto Z, the Motorola brand will be propelled far beyond its nostalgia value.
Showmax launches half-price mobile streaming service
A new streaming product designed specifically for Africa, featuring TV series as well as African content and live sport, is aimed at filling the gap in subscription video on demand services
The subscription video on demand (SVoD) model, which originated in the USA, spread rapidly in countries where uncapped broadband is affordable and widely available. However, because the model also relies on consumers being comfortable with transacting online and having ready access to credit cards, it has barely scratched the surface across Africa.
On top of that, smartphones are often the only only form of Internet access across Africa, and none of the popular SVoD services have been designed for the format.
Showmax says it plans to change this with the launch of a new mobile plan that costs 50% of the standard Showmax package but still features 100% of the same video content. Showmax is set apart by a combination of four pillars: hit African content, exclusive international series, topkids’ shows, and live sport, including weekly matches from the English Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, and Spain’s La Liga.
Showmax says the new plan is aimed at consumers who only use smartphones and tablets to watch video content. Video resolution peaks at standard definition to help reduce data consumption. As it is a product aimed at individuals, only one concurrent stream is included in the plan. As with the regular service, it is also available for a 14-day free trial.
“This is all about an African service developing a solution that meets the needs of African consumers,” saus Niclas Ekdahl, CEO of the Connected Video division of MultiChoice. “Customer feedback consistently points to local content and sport as some of the things that people value most from Showmax. That’s of course on top of the international series, movies, and kids’ shows that are our bread and butter. With all of that content now available in a product designed specifically for mobile usage, we’re doing something no other service can offer.
“On top of that, with groundbreaking deals like our new offer with Vodacom in South Africa, we solve the credit card issue through add-to-bill payment and the data issue by including data directly in the package. We’re looking to launch similar offers in Kenya and Nigeria soon.”
Both the standard and mobile plans include live sport, sport magazine shows and sport documentaries. The 2019 Rugby World Cup Final was streamed live on Showmax earlier this month, and the following is a selection of some of the football due to be live-streamed in November:
22 November: Levante vs Mallorca (La Liga)
23 November: Arsenal vs Southampton (Premier League)
24 November: Bologna vs Parma (Serie A)
25 November: Aston Villa vs Newcastle United (Premier League)
29 November: Celta Vigo vs Valladolid (La Liga)
30 November: Fiorentina vs Lecce (Serie A)
30 November: Chelsea vs West Ham United (Premier League)
Showmax’s mobile plan is currently available in Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.
Comparison of Showmax plans:
|Price per month||R49 / N1450 / KSh 375||R99 / N2900 / KSh 750|
|Watch on smartphone or tablet||Yes||Yes|
|Watch on smart TV and computer||No||Yes|
|TV series, movies, kids’ shows||Yes||Yes|
|14-day free trial||Yes||Yes|
|Chromecast and AirPlay||No||Yes|
|Number of devices||One registered device||5 devices can be registered, with 2 able to stream at the same time|
For a 14-day free trial, visit www.showmax.com.
Online series wins SA’s Journalist of the Year award
A series of stories on gang warfare in Hanover Park earned Tammy Petersen of News24 the ultimate prize in South African journalism. Here are all the winners of the Vodacom Journalist of the Year awards.
At the 18th edition of the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards held at Vodacom World earlier tonight, News24’s Tammy Petersen took top honours and the R100,000 grand prize as national winner for her body of work on a gang war series entitled When you live in Hanover Park, you know death. Petersen’s submission was one of over 1,000 entries received from around the country across 12 categories – Investigative, Opinion, Lifestyle, Photography, Sport, Economics, Politics, CSI, Live reporting/ breaking news, Data Journalism, Multi-platform and the Young Journalist of the Year Award. This year’s theme – Connect the Dots – pays tribute to the best-of-the-best of those entries.
Takalani Netshitenzhe, Chief Officer for Corporate Affairs at Vodacom Group says: “This year has seen extraordinary entries to the 18th Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards. Not all the stories that are national winners were about huge events but also showed the importance of telling the stories of ordinary people. In line with our theme, the dots were indeed connected, and we congratulate all the winners.”
Convenor of the judging panel Ryland Fisher says: “The quality of entries has convinced the judges once again that our industry is in good hands, as far as journalism is concerned, despite the many problems that have beset the industry in recent times. Judging from the entries, South African journalists are determined to fly the flag high for a free, independent, and vigorous media, which augurs well for our democracy. As judges, we can only salute all the entrants for the great work that they submitted. In the end, our industry is probably the biggest winner.”
Judges for this year’s awards are: Ryland Fisher (convenor), Jermaine Craig, Arthur Goldstuck, Albe Grobbelaar, Franz Kruger, Patricia McCracken, Mapi Mhlangu, Collin Nxumalo, Mary Papayya, and Obed Zilwa.
Visit the next page for the full list of winners and their citations.