Samsung rose from unknown phone brand to market leader in barely a dozen years. With Huawei following in its footsteps, yet another unknown brand, Xiaomi, is also threatening to repeat history, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
Once upon a time, about a dozen or so years ago, there was a little up-and-coming smartphone brand called Samsung. It was well-known for its appliances. So, when it announced a new “lifestyle” range of cellphones, many joked that they would be the size of fridges. Instead, Samsung electrified the world with clamshell phones that looked like fashion accessories. Before long, it rolled out messaging phones that were the cutting edge of cool, but went unnoticed by a media that was obsessing over a new smartphone from a company called Apple. Then, suddenly, Samsung was the number one smartphone maker in the world.
Meanwhile, just a few years ago in a galaxy not so far away from there, a little up and coming smartphone brand called Huawei announced it had launched the thinnest smartphone in the world, at half the price of equivalent devices from Samsung and Apple. There was much laughter in the kingdoms of the giants, and from the hip court jesters of tech media. But suddenly, Huawei was the third biggest smartphone maker in the world, and prepared to take its place among the giants.
If it seems like an eternal story that keeps being retold, that’s because it is. In the same way, names that once ruled have been vanquished by newcomers who looked to the future instead of resting in the past. BlackBerry and Nokia had their Kodak moments of glory, and then their Kodak moments of ignominy. None of the wizards or wise men of the courts can tell us which will go next, only that others will follow. And others will rise to greatness.
Now, it is time to tell a new story. Of a name that few outside its homeland can even say correctly. Xiaomi is pronounced “Show me” with the “o” stretched out in a Texan drawl. That may be amusing for critics of a brand that is little known outside its Chinese homeland, but the joke will be on them if they don’t pay attention.
Launched in 2011, it took a mere three years to hit 60-million smartphone sales in a year, mainly through selling high-spec, low-cost phones online in China and India. Briefly, it became the third biggest smartphone maker in the world, before giving up that spot to Huawei. It had a secret weapon up its sleeve, though: the new Redmi brand, launched in 2013. Within three years, it had sold 110-million units. That is more than one phone sold every second. And that is not counting the Mi brand, a wildly popular budget range that takes its name from Mobile Internet and Mission Impossible.
Around a year ago, Xiaomi finally came to Africa, via Johannesburg-based distributor Mobile in Africa (MIA). A few months ago, it brought the Redmi Note 3 into South Africa, positioning it as a viable alternative to the Samsung Note range – at well below half the price of any recent models.
While the self-destruction of Samsung’s Note 7 has left a massive gap in the market for the large-screen Apple iPhone 7 Plus, it has also opened the path to lower cost alternatives. And this is where the Redmi comes into its own. With a 5.5-inch high-definition display, its price point of R3 799 is quite startling, It even beats out its lookalike competitor, the HiSense Infinity Elegance, also a 5.5-inch phone from a Chinese manufacturer. The latter sells for R3 999.
Both have a gold metal design, but the Redmi packs a powerful 4000mAh battery, compared to 3000 mAh on the Elegance. The Redmi also wins in camera quality, with a 16Megapixel rear camera compared to 13MP on the Elegance. This puts its price advantage in full perspective, positioning it as one of the best value-for-money phones on the market.
This didn’t save Xiaomi from seeing its sales plummet globally in the first half of 2016, as nimble new competitors emerged with a mission to out- Xiaomi the previous nimble new competitor.
Last week, however, it came out with guns blazing, with the follow-up to the Redmi Note 3. The Redmi Note 4A was the top-selling smartphone in China on November 11, China’s biggest shopping day, known as “Singles Day” after the two number ones in the date. It claims to have sold no less than one-million of the phones in 24 hours.
Meanwhile, the brand has also opened physical stores across China, making a dramatic departure from its traditional positioning as an online-only brand.
In South Africa, it is sold largely through the mobile networks themselves, while the rest of Africa largely follows the Chinese online model. We can expect to hear a lot more from the brand in the coming year, and consumers may even learn how to say its name.
Where is the pickup truck emoji?
With billions of emoji sent daily and nearly every mode of transportation including cars, scooters, boats, spaceships and ski lifts among the 3,000 approved icons available to emoji users, truck fans noticed a glaring omission: There is no pickup truck. Ford decided it was time to do something about this and is celebrating World Emoji Day with the debut of the pickup truck emoji.
“When customers started demanding a truck emoji, our drive for continuous innovation meant we knew we had to help make it happen,” said Todd Eckert, Ford truck group marketing manager. “Given F-Series’ status as America’s best-selling truck for 42 consecutive years, there’s no one better than Ford to help bring an all-new pickup truck emoji to hard-working texters around the globe.”
The Ford Ranger is one of the top three best-selling vehicles in South Africa having sold 12 784 units in the country in the first half of 2019.
In 2018, Ford submitted a proposal to the Unicode Consortium – the organization that reviews and approves proposals for new emoji – to add a truck to emoji keyboards everywhere. Now, the pickup truck emoji has been short-listed as a candidate for inclusion in a future version of Unicode.
The concept emoji’s capable styling has been tuned to meet current trends. “Our team spent a lot of time digging through message boards, texting influencers and watching social media feeds to really understand our customers’ needs,” said Eric Grenier, Ford social media manager. “People want a truck emoji that’s fresh, stylish, carries their ideas, and ‘tows’ the line on what a truck means. The end result is a modern icon that should give all truck fans a smiley face emoji.”
If the pickup truck emoji is approved in early 2020, the design will be customized for all mobile platforms to meet the needs of customers – from skilled tradespeople to active families and emoji lovers alike.
How Africa tech meets Africa demands
By MVELASE PEPPETTA, freelance writer
From Facebook to Google, the world’s largest tech companies are increasingly looking to Africa and other developing economies as key markets where to ensure the continued growth of their businesses. Policy makers in African governments are also making sure their economies are preparing for a tech-focused future.
For instance, in South Africa the government has indicated its goal of ensuring its economy is geared to answering the needs of the “fourth industrial revolution” and Malawi’s Reserve Bank announced a policy to have all local businesses offer at least one method of digital payment. But while much can still be untapped from the African tech ecosystem it is a very active scene. According to the 2018 venture investment report by WeeTracker, African startups raised a record US$725.6 million across 458 deals in 2018.
Imagining what is on the way is on the way is certainly exciting, it is also just as important that we keep an eye out for what already is out there in terms of African tech developed to provide solutions for uniquely African demands.
A South African service, Abalobi Marketplace is a particularly unique service in that it is designed to ensure that small-scale fishers are supported within the fishing industry. The app which currently services 140 restaurants allows chefs to source fish directly from small-scale fisher who load what they have caught onto the app. Chefs can also place requests on the app for a particular catch. Launched in 2017 by Abalobi, a non-profit working to empower small-scale fishers, the app services restaurants primarily in the Cape Town region but has already started working with restaurants in Johannesburg. For chefs, it provides them with the ability to source far fresher fish than can traditionally be provided. But for the 200 odd fishing families who use the app, tackling decades of entrenched inequality in the South African fishing supply-chain, the app allows them to receive fair price for their catch.
Similar to Abalobi, while its most commonly referred to as a “Uber for domestic cleaners” SweepSouth is another service that also touts itself as looking to tackle decades of inequality in South Africa. At its most basic, SweepSouth is a service that allows people looking for domestic workers, whether for home or office, to book them using a mobile app. However, according to SweepSouth’s founder Aisha Pandor the service is also committed to the women finding work opportunities through the app. In that regard, SweepSouth not only provides them with benefits like accidental death and disability cover at no cost to the domestic worker but at a far more basic level, also pays domestic workers who find work through the app at a far higher rate than South Africa’s legislated minimum wage. While currently operating in South Africa only, SweepSouth has mentioned plans to scale their services into the rest of the continent.
Using the internet and cell phone technology to answer the needs of immigrants working in South Africa, Mama Money looks to undercut traditional financial services by allowing its users to send money across borders at far lower rates. Described as Africa’s first completely cashless money transfer system, when answering why they launched the business, Mama Money’s founders Raphael Grojnowski and Mathieu Coquillon have said, “We wanted to get into business to help others and we knew that there were millions of migrant workers in South Africa who send money home to their families, but battle with the transfer fees. We thought this presented a perfect opportunity to disrupt and help people get more money home.”
Established in 2011, Quicket has transformed how event organisers and ticket buyers engage with a range of events – from concerts and sports to yoga and fashion shows. Unlike traditional ticketing companies, Quicket allows organisers to create an event and start selling tickets without needing a website and imposing onerous contracts, or big fees. The company’s offerings have resulted in seven years’ of exponential growth with James Tagg, Quicket co-founder explaining that today the platform has widespread adoption from some of the continent’s largest festivals through to micro gatherings, and everything in between, including fundraising drives and school related events and funds collections.. What sets Quicket apart from its competitors is that it gives event organisers complete control, whether they are planning to host 10 or 10 000 people.