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Show Me the way to say Xiaomi

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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.

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

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ConceptD: Creatives get a tech brand of their own

The unveiling of a new brand by Acer recognises the massive computing power needed in creative professions, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It’s a crisp Spring morning in Brooklyn. The regular water taxi from Manhattan pulls up at Duggal Greenhouse on the edge of the East River. It’s a building that symbolises the rejuvenation of Brooklyn as a hub of artistic and creative expression.

Inside the vast structure, global computer brand Acer is about to unveil its own tribute to creativity. Company CEO Jason Chen takes to the stage in faded blue jeans and brown t-shirt, underlining the connection of the event to the informality of the area.

“Brooklyn is become more and more diverse,” he tells a gathering of press from around the world, attending the Next@Acer media event. “It’s an area that is up and coming. It represents new lifestyles. And our theme today is turning a new chapter for creativity.”

Every year, Next@Acer is a parade of the cutting edge in gaming and educational laptops and computers. New devices from sub-brands like Predator, Helios and Nitro have gamers salivating. This year is no different, but there is a surprise in store, hinted in Chen’s introduction.

As a grand finale, he calls on stage Angelica Davila, whose day job is senior marketing manager for Acer Latin America. But she also happens to have a Masters degree in computer and electric engineering. A stint at Intel, where she joined a sales and marketing programme for engineers, set her on a new path.

Angelica Davila, marketing manager for Acer Latin America

For the last few months, she has been helping write Acer’s next chapter. She has shepherded into being nothing less than a new brand: ConceptD.

Click here to read more about ConceptD.

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Which voice assistant wins battle of translators?

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Take the most famous phrase from the Godfather – “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” – or “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” from the inaugural address of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and see just how the virtual assistants do in translating them using their newly introduced Neural Machine Translation (NMT) capabilities. One Hour Translation (OHT), the world’s largest online translation service, conducted a study to find out just how accurate these new services are.

OHT used 60 sentences from movies and famous people ranging from the Godfather and Wizard of Oz to Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, US presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Fitzgerald Kennedy and historical figures like Leonardo da Vinci and Aesop. The sentences were translated by Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri from English to French, Spanish, Chinese and German and then given to five professional translators for their assessment on a scale of 1-6. 

Google Assistant scored highest in three of the four languages surveyed – English to French, English to German and English to Spanish and second in English to Chinese.  Amazon’s Alexa, whose translation engine is powered by Microsoft Translator, was tops in the English to Chinese category. Apple’s Siri was second place in English to French and English to Spanish and third place in English to German and English to Chinese.  (See chart). All three virtual assistants are compatible with mobile phones.

“The automated assistants’ translation quality was relatively high, which means that assistants are useful for handling simple translations automatically,” says Yaron Kaufman, chief marketing officer and co-founder of OHT. He predicts that “there is no doubt that the use of assistants is growing rapidly, is becoming a part of our lives and will make a huge contribution to the business world.” 

A lot will depend on further improvements in NMT technology, which has revolutionized the field of translation over the past two years.  All the companies active in the field are investing large sums as part of this effort. “OHT is working with several of the leading NMT providers to improve their engines through the use of its hybrid online translation service that combines NMT and human post-editing,” notes Kaufman. He adds that this will no doubt have a huge impact on the use of assistants for translation purposes.

OHT has made a name for itself in assessing the level of translations by NMT engines.  Its ONEs Evaluation Score is a unique human-based assessment of the leading NMT engines conducted on a quarterly basis and used as an industry standard. 

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