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Not tech, but social and business revolution under way

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Former Microsoft number 3 and ex-head of VMWare, Paul Maritz shared his journey and insights with South Africans at the recent MyWorld of Tomorrow conference

Veteran industry executive Paul Maritz opened the recent My World Of Tomorrow  technology expo and conference with a technology vision of businesses that is not about the technology itself.

In his keynote address at the Sandton Convention Centre, he said that we were experiencing not a technology revolution, but a social and business revolution.

Maritz currently heads Pivotal, a landmark company created through the combined forces of GE, EMC and VMWare. It was born for a new purpose: to create the next generation of operating systems that will power our future. Those platforms are vital, as Martiz set about to explain.

He first illuminated his own journey: as a fresh-faced varsity graduate from South Africa, Maritz left for the US to engage with the new world of PCs. It was the start of the Eighties and mainframe computers were being replaced by new maverick innovations from companies such as Intel. Maritz wanted in, kick starting a career that took him through giants such as Intel and Microsoft – where he was number three behind Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. He would later move to EMC, soon heading up VMWare, then Pivotal.

This gave Maritz a good sense of history and a clear vision of where we are going. He looked at how the Eighties and Nineties were spent creating digital equivalents for paper-based processes, leading to the development of applications such as Microsoft Office. But now it is time for the next step:

“Those applications are not going away – they are going to stay with us for a long time to come. But they are no longer where differential value is coming from. Those are not where the new business models are being driven out of. We’re moving into an era where we are now starting to tackle things that you cannot imagine in a paper-based world. There is no paper-based equivalent to Google and Facebook. We’ve had to evolve structures and architectures to allow us to tackle those kind of use cases.”

To illustrate his point, Maritz looked back at mainframes. The cost to generate enough computing power to track a computer mouse was huge. Then the desktop-style PCs we are familiar with arrived, bringing that kind of power spend to virtually zero and thus ushering in the era of graphic user interfaces.

Yet the client/server PC world has its own limitations: the power available is still dictated by the capacity of an individual machine. So if something required ten machines to do its job, it would be an expensive and rare practice: Maritz called it avant-garde development.

The world needed a new way to evolve technology – especially if it expected to match the consumer-driven revolution pegged by smart devices and connectivity.

“Google is actually the pioneer here. In 1998, when they set out to index the entire world’s information, they already knew that the index would be petabytes in size. If you had gone to your favourite database vendor in 1998 and buy a petabyte of capacity – even if they could have supplied it to you at the then-going prices of $1 million per terabyte – it would have cost you $10 billion. For Google that was just a non-starter, so they had to go a different route. They had to tackle their problem by ganging together lots and lots of very cheap machines.”

Google’s thriftiness sparked the new technology platforms that are increasingly driving our world today, creating new use cases and opportunities for business. By combining many machines, the power of technology has become a commodity. Like the leap to graphic interfaces, now we can tackle big data, contextual behaviour and more. One example is General Electric, a century-old company that has become the standard bearer for transforming to the new digital epoch. GE’s aircraft engines famously generate terabytes of data over one single transatlantic flight, prompting the company to wonder what value lies in all of that data. This in turn brought new opportunities, which is why GE invested in Pivotal: it wants the next generation of technology to fuel its newfound ambitions.

Ultimately all that brought Maritz’s main point to book: what we are experiencing is not a technology revolution. It is a social and business revolution, exemplified by among other things how companies reach audiences.

“A lot of businesses used to operate on the principle of spending huge amounts of money on broad, horizontal media-based advertising to drive the masses to them. Now instead innovative companies spend their money on building compelling, useful ways of engaging with their customers in realtime. They rather spend their time and money into building useful apps that gives information and service in context to the user.”

The maverick automobile maker Tesla counts as one – it uses applications and in-car software to extend the experience well beyond simply owning a vehicle. Uber, the favourite example of this revolution, also uses apps and analytics to improve customer engagement. If you ever pondered why a food retailer wants you to swipe its shopper card, that’s towards gathering trends for improved service. All of that is being run on what Maritz called the third platform: the world of cheap, powerful parallel computer systems.

But to access this new world requires companies to shift their mindsets. Technology is becoming inseparable from business, at least if that business hopes to keep engaging the new consumer.

“One of the big changes many companies have a lot of problems with is to realise this is not an IT problem. This is a business problem. Google has an IT department, but they make sure every machine has an IP address and that’s about it. Everyone else in Google doesn’t think of themselves as IT people. They think of themselves as part of the product department. They build products. The business and technology people sit as equals around the table.”

Maritz rounded his point with a call to action for companies: “Find partners who want to do this with you as opposed to doing it for you. It will not help you if they do it all for you. At the end of the day this capability is going to be your differentiator for finding value. You can’t outsource that. If a partner says ‘No problem, just write me a cheque’, that’s a big red flag. Don’t go there.”

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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