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Goldstuck on Gadgets

The ultimate killer app



What makes a gadget the most sought after on the market? Conventional wisdom says you have to present potential customers with a ‚killer app‚ ‚ an application that will be in such demand, it will kill off any alternative from the competition. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK pinpoints the ultimate killer app.

In the cellphone market, the very idea of apps, or mini applications, is driving the market forward. Phones that handle apps well, such as the iPhone, gain not only the lion’s share of media attention, but also the hearts and minds of the salivating public.

For a brief moment, the phone that had it all was the Samsung Galaxy S phone. It had the most dazzling screen yet seen in public when it was launched last year. It used a technology called OLED, for organic light-emitting diode, which makes the LCD screens currently amazing TV buyers look so, like, 2009.

Next in line for flavour of the moment is likely to be the new Thunderbolt from HTC, due to be released here later this year. It will offer built-in ‚video Skype mobile‚ and will break the Internet air speed record.

These are among the great aspirational phones across the world. However, aspirations don’t necessarily translate into purchases.

Research released last week by World Wide Worx (SA cellphone users suddenly smart: ) showed that none of these apps or attributes would translate directly into huge sales. The Mobility 2011 project looked at current cellphone ownership, and intended cellphone purchases in the coming 12 to 24 months.

Nokia remains the market leader, as it has since cellphones were first introduced in South Africa in 1994, with 51% of the market. Way behind in second place is Samsung, at 28%, and even further behind the likes of LG (5%), BlackBerry and Motorola (4% each).

But the real shocker came when we looked at what consumers intend to purchase next. Here is where aspiration hits the road: BlackBerry was cited by no less than 24%: one quarter of the adult cellphone user base. The iPhone, currently at 1% market share, will rise to above 3%. The biggest losers? Samsung, falling by 16%, and LG, Motorola and Nokia, each dropping by 3%.

The obvious question: why BlackBerry? The iPhone is streets ahead in the range of apps and ease of use of these apps. Many point to BBM, short for BlackBerry Messenger, an instant messaging service that costs nothing to use, and can replace SMS entirely if everyone you know uses it. BBM has taken the teenage and student market by storm, while the iPhone remains available in limited quantities.

But the truth is that the Blackberry’s killer app is not on the phone itself. It lies in the way BlackBerry is sold in South Africa. Along with a few other countries, like Australia and New Zealand, the business model here is to offer customers unlimited Internet access on the phone for a modest monthly fee. The same service is offered in the United Kingdom at about ten times the price ‚ a neat reversal of the absurd cost of broadband in South Africans compared to the UK.

The data bundles offered with app-heavy phones may look similar to this deal, but most apps also happen to be data-heavy. Just as you start getting the most out of your phone, the bundle is used up.

Consumers are not idiots. They may love good apps, but even more than apps, they aspire to a killer deal.

* This column also appears in print, in The Citizen every Saturday. You can follow Arthur on Twitter on @art2gee

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Old school is history

As South Africa goes into lockdown, the quest begins for new ways of teaching and learning, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK



It happened so suddenly. One week schools and universities were considering their options if a “worst case scenario” forced them to shut down campuses. The next they were scrambling to adapt to an utterly changed world.

Many universities had for some time used online lectures to augment teaching, but primarily in the form of recorded lectures that could then be viewed at any time. The concept of “Moocs”, for “massive open online courses”, brought free online university courses to the world, and is now dominated by commercial offerings like Udemy and Coursera. Many traditional universities launched online offshoots as they embraced Mooc thinking.

Some schools referred their students to the likes of Khan Academy to revise or learn ideas they couldn’t grasp in class. Many embraced Google Classroom for assignments or Apple Teacher for extending lessons.

But it is hard to find any physical university or school that was fully prepared for the scale and scope of the shutdown that occurred in a wave across the world over the past month. Most scrambled to adapt their courses to a combination of live and recorded lectures and teaching sessions, but were still left floundering when practical and physical participation was required.

In South Africa, the government provided a convenient escape clause, declaring an early school holiday. It meant that those schools with the means could start devising online teaching programmes that would, with luck and a great deal of expertise, be ready when the new term was due to start.

Sadly, the vast majority of South African schools do not have that luxury: the schools themselves are not equipped for digital teaching, both due to lack of training and lack of resources, and the students simply do not have the means to learn remotely. A decade-and-a-half of dithering over wireless spectrum allocation has made sure that data costs remain too high, coverage to spotty, and technology too inaccessible, to allow for a universal digital education culture.

We cannot underestimate the challenge, now or for the future: the crisis has revealed how utterly unprepared the schooling system has been all along for the future world of work. It has also revealed how utterly essential it is to prepare for that future.

However, we do not have to blunder blindly into fumbled new models and uncertain new techniques. Numerous case studies have evolved over the years, and a vast body of best practice is available.

Read more on the next page about how difficult online education is to implement in many parts of the work, and how curricula must change.

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MTN announces ‘lifeline data’

As part of its agreement with the Competition Commission, MTN will give all customers 20MB free data every day, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.



Correction: The article initially stated 20GB of free data per day, instead of 20MB. Apologies for any confusion caused.

MTN South Africa has announced the outcomes of engagements with the Competition Commission (CompCon), including 20MB of free “lifeline data” daily.

The timing of the announcement could not have been better, as the COVID-19 crisis forces millions of South Africans to stay at home. World Wide Worx has long argued that a basic allocation of free data was essential to expand Internet access in South Africa. 

With much of the country going into lockdown, access has now become a basic need, along with housing, water and electricity, as the entire school and university population is forced to turn to remote education.

MTN made the decision in response to an announcement in December 2019 by the CompCom of a Data Service Market Inquiry, which required that mobile network operators provide “lifeline data”, as well as bringing down the cost of prepaid data.

The outcome of MTN’ss engagements with the CompCom is a set of voluntary undertakings “in the form of a social compact to further address the affordability of data services for its customers”. MTN says it remains in discussion with the CompCom on the options to formalise these elective solutions.

MTN has focused on three areas of reducing the cost to communicate: the affordability of monthly prepaid bundles, lifeline data and the zero-rating of data for public benefit service websites.

Vodacom made a similar announcement on 10 March, but rather than offer lifeline data, it expanded its range of zero-rated sites.

MTN SA said it will, from April 2020, reduce the price of its monthly bundles of 1GB and below by between 25% and 50%. The 1GB monthly bundle, formerly costing R149, will decrease by 33% to R99. This is the same reduction announced by Vodacom last week.

MTN will also expand the range of zero-rated websites, which already includes schools, to include health, public universities, vocational colleges, educational resources and employment sites. As Vodacom did in announcing a catch-all zero-rated portal called Connect U, MTN announced OpenTime, which will enable free access to public benefit services.

MTN’s approach is to offer a monthly 500MB free data access to public benefit services websites every month, making allowance for up to 500 sites. While this may prove insufficient to address all the needs of remote learning, MTN went a step further by agreeing to provide lifeline data.

It will provide each of its customers with 20MB of free data daily – the equivalent of 600MB per month. The data will be accessible via its instant messaging platform, Ayoba, which currently has 500 000 customers. It is likely that the free data allowance will see an explosion of use of the service.

While this does not address the issue of smartphone users being unable to update or use apps due to not being able to afford data, it does allow them to access the world of instant messaging at no cost.

The Ayoba app is available in isiZulu, isiXhosa, English and Afrikaans and can be used on Android devices.  On 1 July, Ayoba Browsing of general websites will be made available.  The service will allow MTN customers to browse the internet on websites of their choice between midnight and 5am.

Ayoba messages sent to a feature phone, or another user without the Ayoba app, arrive at these customers as a standard SMS. The response back from an MTN customer to the smart phone arrives as an Ayoba message and the MTN customer’s text reply is also free.

MTN hastened to assure investors that this would all be good for business. It said in a statement: “While there will be pressure on MTN SA’s short-term financial performance from these initiatives, MTN believes that the reduction in pricing will be compensated over time by elasticity and customer growth, and growth in prepaid data service revenue will return in a couple of quarters.”

It also called for the swift allocation of spectrum to make free and affordable services more viable: “Radio spectrum is the digital highway upon which we depend to carry increasing mobile data at more cost-effective prices. This is acutely felt in South Africa, which has among the lowest spectrum allocation in all our MTN markets. The release of new spectrum in South Africa is urgently needed and will greatly assist our ability to service increased customer demand in a more cost-effective manner.”

MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa said: “MTN believes that everyone deserves the benefit of a modern connected life and that starts with connectivity.”

Click here to read about additional measures MTN is taking to address the coronavirus crisis.

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