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The end of the small screen

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The new Samsung Note 8 launched in New York last week heralds the end of the small screen, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It’s hard to believe that, just six years ago, Apple was mocking smartphone makers who produced handsets with 4-inch displays or larger. At a press conference at the time, Steve Jobs ripped into manufacturers who built phones “you can’t get your hand around”, adding “no one’s going to buy that”.

By 2012, Apple was mocking smartphone makers who produced handsets with 5-inch displays. It’s really easy to make a bigger phone, said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, adding: “The challenge is to make it better and smaller.”

In 2013, new CEO Tim Cook defended the size of the iPhone 5, saying that its 4-inch display “provides a larger screen size for iPhone customers without sacrificing the one-handed ease-of-use that our customers love. So, we put a lot of thinking into screen size and believe we’ve picked the right one.”

Finally, a year later – just three years ago next month – Apple succumbed.  The iPhone 6 emerged with a 4.7-inch display, and its big brother, the 6 Plus, with a “massive” 5.5-inch display.

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It was a given at the time that Apple was responding to the rise of large-screen Android smartphones. But there was one device in particular that had woken it from its slumber: the Samsung Note.

The first version, released in October 2011, really was massive for its time: all of 5.3-inches. It was roundly mocked by Apple as well as other rivals. But it sold a million units in the first 30 days, and 10-million over the next 10 months. The large screen was here for good.

However, it has taken six models, gradually expanding from the initial 5.3-inches to 6.3-inches with the latest iteration, for the small screen to be banished for good.

Last week’s unveiling of the Samsung Note 8 was astonishing for two reasons.

Firstly, coming a year after the disastrous Note 7, which began exploding or catching fire around the world, it represented a complete turnaround from marketing disaster to public relations triumph. Critics and commentators were almost unanimous that this was the best smartphone produced so far in 2017.

Secondly, and more significantly for potential sales, it represented a massive increase in display size without an equivalent increase in phone size. The body is about the same size as that of the iPhone 7 Plus which, like the 6 Plus, carries a 5.5-inch screen. However, the Note 8 fits a 6.3-inch display into that body, thanks to more efficient use of the front of the phone, and what is now an iconic curved screen on high-end Samsung handsets.

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Equally remarkably, the phone feels as comfortable in the hand as any 5.5-inch device, if not more so.

“We’ve succeeded in creating a large-screen phone with a comfortable grip,” says Craige Fleischer, head of mobile at Samsung in Southern Africa. “The curved edge has a sharper drop-off than the previous screens so there is more flat surface.”

The so-called “infinity display” of edge-to-edge screen is expected to become a standard feature in both high-end and mid-range phones. However, the innovative design is geared towards a greater purpose than size for its own sake.

Most obviously, it speaks to the rapid growth of streaming video on the smartphone.  But there is a second factor, as the smartphone becomes the default computer for the average user.

“Millions of people have recognised that the Note was much more than a new smartphone, but a platform for productivity,” said DJ Koh, president of Mobile Communications of Samsung Electronics, at the launch of the Note 8 in New York last week.

The Note has long defined productivity on a smartphone, thanks to the S Pen, an interactive stylus that slides into the phone when not in use. The stylus evolves in tandem with the Note, and can now be used independently from the handset, on other compatible devices.

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The sub-brand has also also pioneered multi-tasking on smartphones, not only opening two apps on the same screen, but now also, with one click, simultaneously opening two apps that are regularly used together. The bigger the screen, the more useful such functions become.

And, of course, the more useful the functions become, the more dependent users will become on large screens.

Already, 2013 in smartphone years looks like the previous century. Another three years from now, it will seem normal that people prefer their smartphones to computers or TV sets for their entertainment and work lives.

  • 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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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

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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:

Mobile Standard
Price per monthR49 / N1450 / KSh 375R99 / N2900 / KSh 750
Watch on smartphone or tabletYesYes
Watch on smart TV and computerNoYes
HD streamingNoYes
TV series, movies, kids’ showsYesYes
SportYesYes
Concurrent streams12
Cancel anytimeYesYes
14-day free trialYesYes
Chromecast and AirPlayNoYes
Number of devicesOne registered device5 devices can be registered, with 2 able to stream at the same time

For a 14-day free trial, visit www.showmax.com

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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.

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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.

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