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Mustang points to auto technology gear shift

The coming year will see the automobile undergo a radical revolution as manufacturers shift gear to meet consumers’ insatiable need for high-tech options.

The shift was symbolised this week by the launch of the first right-hand drive Ford Mustang in South Africa, 50 years after the original American version began its journey to iconic status. While the 2016 edition remains true to Mustang’s heritage of muscle cars, it also carries a heavy overlay of connectivity and “assistive” technology that is usually associated with 21st century innovation.

High-tech features include voice control, Bluetooth connectivity, eight-inch colour touch screen, dual USB ports and SD card slot. In reverse, a video display with parking sensors guides the driver precisely. A Track Apps function includes an accelerometer, acceleration timer and brake performance display.

These are becoming standard types of features in new luxury cars, but are startling in a Mustang.

“We like to say we democratise technology,” says Joel Piaskowski, who was responsible for the design of the new Mustang in his previous role as Director of Exterior Design for the Americas. He has now been appointed head of design for Ford Europe

“We made a conscious decision to progress the car to capture a new customer for the next 50 years. We had to look to the future and say, how can we bring in a new customer, a younger customer, but still see the roots of the car?

In 2016, however, technology will not be merely a selling point

“Technology is there to enable a better driving experience. We have many means of interacting with technology, like Bluetooth and voice recognition. These systems are all aimed at a safer, more enjoyable driving experience.”

Piaskowski, who was in South Africa briefly for the launch of the Mustang, is now tasked with leading the design of all concept and production vehicles in Europe. He believes technology has not yet complicated his job, but that is about to change.
“From the point of view of styling the vehicle, it will become more of a challenge as we get into semi-autonomous and eventually fully autonomous vehicles, which are still a few years out.

“Ford currently employs lane-keeping assistance, radar control, and speed and distance control. But as the technology develops and we get more of it, we’ll be looking at different ways to present displays and communication devices to both drivers and passengers.”

This means the car of the near feature has to cater for more than one audience. In the past, it would have meant duplicating features to ensure everyone gets a piece of the action. Interactive screen technology changes the interior landscape completely.

“One of the trends is to declutter interiors to enable a better and more conducive environment for driver and passenger,” says Piaskowski. “That means relying more on technology to deliver the information, whether critical driving information or, in the case of passengers, crucial social information.”

Piaskowski expects passengers to have a lot more interaction with vehicles. Different technologies for multi-display screens, heads up displays, big screens and reconfigurable displays are all being explored, both by Ford and its competitors.

“We’re at the tip of an iceberg at moment. Technology develops by the month, but development time of an automobile is from three to five years. The challenge to forecast where technology is going and either develop it internally or work with partners to develop it with enough future in it.”

  • 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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BlackBerry 10 signals new round in smartphone war

This is the debut edition of Signposts, Arthur Goldstuck’s new weekly column for the Sunday Times Business Times. It is archived in The Big Change a week after appearing in print.

On 30 January 2013, BlackBerry served notice that it had rejoined the smartphone wars.

The spotlight was on the first phone sporting its new BlackBerry 10 operating system, the Z10. But, between the scripted lines of the launch event, the company formerly known as Research in Motion (RIM) sent out many signals of a newly fortified brand.

On the surface, the Z10 is merely a high-end device playing catch-up with all the high-end devices from rivals like Apple and its iPhone 5, Samsung with the Galaxy S III, and Nokia armed with its Lumia 920. These three phones also happen to run on the three major rival operating systems, respectively Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows 8 Mobile.

The older BlackBerry 7 operating system, which underpins the current ranges of Curve, Bold and Torch phones, could never be mentioned seriously in this company. The founders and former joint CEOs of RIM, Michale Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, would not bring themselves to admit it – one of many reasons they needed to step aside and make way for the current CEO, Thorsten Heins

While his predecessors had paved the way for BlackBerry 10, Heins instantly set about changing the way the organization thinks about its customers and its technology. One of the many outcomes of his new-broom approach was the announcement, on Wednesday night, that the RIM brand would be killed off, and the company would henceforth be known by the same name as its core brand, BlackBerry.

Symbolically, the new branding buried RIM’s recent past and its one-time culture of attempting to dictate to customers what it thought best for the market.

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Lies, damned lies … and percentage growth

One of the many banes of a technology journalist’s life is a tech company gushing about its percentage growth – while refusing to divulge actual numbers.

This is almost always cause for alarm. Invariably, it means the base figure is so low, it would be an embarrassment to the company to reveal its true performance. But anyone can claim 678 percent customer or user growth if they only had 2 customers to start, and anyone can truthfully declare 200 percent revenue growth if revenue started at a few hundred or even thousand dollars.

Let’s be straight about this: it is an insult to present journalists with these kinds of numbers. That many of these claims make it into the media is not a reflection of credibility, but of poor journalism and inability of journalists to think through the claims they report.

This is only marginally more offensive than the use of old data to back up current arguments. Especially in the mobile arena, and especially in Africa, growth is so fast, that old data is all but irrelevant – and yet many companies still base both business decisions and claims on a long gone status quo.

A rule of mobile Internet resrarch has even been coined in South Africa to warn against this form of sloppy data use: Gray’s Rule, named for veteran Internet marketer Scott Gray:

“Research around mobile typically has a relevant life of around three months. Decrease the relevance by about a third for every six months on top of that.”

The rule has been bandied about among South African tech journalists frustrated with the relevance given to old data by large corporations. It’s been modified somewhat by refinements and corrolaries, to allow for the difficulty in accessing fruit-tree-fresh data.

For example, there has been consensus that, if such data is accompanied by solid forecasts based on proven methodologies, it may be used to extrapolate data by a further 12–18 months. However, this does not apply to data more than 18 months old.

The underlying assumption is that the research is based on sampling that is broad enough to be generally representative of a population in question.

In April, during a Virtual Indaba to thrash out further rules around acceptance of statistical claims, Brainstorm editor Samantha Perry pointed to a third broad category of data abuse: the use of undated statistics in press releases or marketing material, in an attempt to avoid having to vouch for their veracity. The refusal to accept such data was accepted as Perry’s Corrolary to Gray’s Rule.

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Online Retail growth in SA: The Tweenote presentation

Tweenote presentation (10 Tweets on a topic in 10 minutes) of MasterCard Online Shopping Survey with South African industry context (using hashtag #MCSurvey):

1. #MCSurvey MasterCard Online Shopping Survey part of global study. Local industry context from World Wide Worx research.

2. #MCSurvey sampled 500 SA consumers, 18-64, banked, online at least once a week. Representative of highly active users.

3. #MCSurvey found 58% of active Internet users shopping online in 2011. World Wide Worx puts that at 1,65-million people.

4. #MCSurvey found high growth in % of online shoppers: up from 44% in 2009, 53% in 2010; and % of growing base each year.

5. #MCSurvey showed concern over security falling rapidly: 2009: 59% worried; 2010: 47%; 2011: 38%. Function of experience.

6. #MCSurvey finds key factors in growth are price/value, convenience and secure sites. Backed by World Wide Worx research.

7. #MCSurvey shows product and site reviews increase confidence. Social media (Facebook, Twitter) will be vital in process.

8. #MCSurvey finds virtual products, eg coupons, air tickets, gaming and apps, most likely to be bought online vs offline.

9. #MCSurvey finds grocery shopping in decline, down from 27% to 9%. Mirrors World Wide Worx finding segment stagnating.

10. #MCSurvey finds Kalahari, Amazon and Bidorbuy the biggest online retail drawcards for SA. Groupon biggest contendor.

Thank you for following the #MCSurvey tweenote. Full details of the findings are up on @GadgetZA at http://bit.ly/HHp70c

 

 

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Why Facebook bought Instagram

Why did Facebook pay a  billion dollars for Instagram? The answer is simple: Facebook wants to own photo-sharing.

Here you have an early-stage photo-sharing player that is on a rapidly climbing trajectory, but can still be had cheaply. The question is not why Facebook bought it, but rather, why WOULDN’T Facebook buy it? Fear and greed often go hand in hand, but in this case the simpler answer is that it consolidates Facebook’s position in this arena.

Facebook is already acknowledged as the biggest repository of photos on the Internet, and probably in all of history. The coming of Instagram has represented a seismic shift not only in the way people regard their photos, but also in what makes an application cool. At the heart of early enthusiasm was the fact that it was another way iPhone users could pretend their device was cooler than any other, but that was never going to last. What it did do was build a critical mass of early adopters who would create a buzz about the product.
The cross-over to Android was inevitable, and the objections of the iPhone community were more comical than a real issue for its adoption. But the cross-over did indicate that Instagram would maintain an upward trajectory that would eventually challenge the dominance of Facebook in this space, in a way that Flickr and Picasa never could.
Facebook will probably allow Instagram to continue as both a stand-alone app and as an integrated tool within Facebook. The ability to apply Instagram effects to your entire repository of photos on Facebook will be very compelling to some, as terrifying as it may seem to the purist.
The backlash is symbolic of a deep-seated psychology of superiority among certain categories of technology users. In particular, the iPhone users who mourned its cross-over to Android don’t realise that, given it’s massive user base, there was nothing exclusive about Instagram to start with. Wanting to hold onto it as a single platform application is not only absurd, it is also childish and arrogant. If it worked for you as an iPhone user, it will still work for you once Facebook owns it. If you refuse to use it because it’s on Android and Facebook, it means you weren’t using it for its utility, but for the status it gave you. It is an idiotic approach to technology use, and there can be little sympathy.

Is it indicative of a bubble?

The Instagram purchase is more a factor of its stratospheric growth at a time when Facebook is prpeparing for a listing, than of a bubble as such. It is a case of Facebook defending its position as the world’s leading photo-sharing environment, and of making an obvious acquisition of the fastest growing player in this arena, rather than of Instagram in its own right suddenly having this high value. Time is tight for Facebook, prior to its IPO, and they obviously made an offer that couldn’t be refused, taking advantage of the current high value of Facebook shares.

Well then, is Groupon a bubble?

Groupon’s biggest mistake may well have been not accepting a similar offer-that-couldn’t-be-refused from Google and believing its own hype about how much it was worth. Although it has a market cap of above $8bn, versus that $6bn offer, it is unlikely they will be able to extract that value from the business. The market has already punished Groupon, and its share price is down to a low of near $13  from a high of $31 (Nasdaq data, 11 April 2012). That looks like fairly sane market response to a business that had previously been over-hyped. If we were in the midst of a bubble for group buying sites, that share price would be closer to its highs.

Of course, both the acquisition of Instagram by Facebook and Posterous by Twitter, not to mention Zynga buying the creators of Draw Something, will spark renewed fervour to come up with the next big app or platform that can be sold to one of the big guys. Every developer is looking for a big payday, and this just fuels the dreams, although in most cases not the reality.

 

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Internet Access in SA 2010: the Tweenote presentation

??????????? ??????????World Wide Worx released its Internet Access in South Africa 2010 study on 17 March 2010. The presentation from the press conference has been distilled into a Tweenote Presentation: 10 tweets, each within the 140-character limit of Twitter, that capture the essence of the findings. By Arthur Goldstuck (art2gee on Twitter)

What follows is a tweenote presentation titled “Internet Access in SA 2010 – Tweeted”. For background: http://www.worldwideworx.com

#tweenote 1. By the end of 2011, African undersea cable capacity will increase 150-fold over the 2008 maximum

#tweenote 2. Blanket grant of licenses in SA, along with undersea cables, spark 18% growth in number of access providers

#tweenote 3. ADSL lines grew by 21% last year – versus 88% growth in mobile broadband accounts. The competition factor!

#tweenote 4. Of 1.5m wireless broadband subscriptions, only 930 00 use it as a primary form of broadband. ADSL is better

#tweenote 5. That means wireless broadband is 50% bigger than ADSL as primary form of broadband, from being level in 2008

#tweenote 6. Dial-up is down to 500 000 users. 200 000 migrated to broadband last year, the rest will follow.

#tweenote 7. ADSL in SMEs the big story: aside from the subscribers, they connected an additional 756 000 people in 2009.

#tweenote 8. Cellphone as primary form of access: 450 000 (3m use it in addition to other forms). Corporates connect 2m.

#tweenote 9. Total SA Internet user base end 2009: 5.3m. To grow to 9.9m by 2014. Academic and cellphone the big drivers.

#tweenote 10. The Experience Curve (our model) shows that usage of online services will explode from 2012. Prepare now.

That was a #tweenote presentation; a full research presentation in 10 tweets, from World Wide Worx. Thanks for following.


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EASSy cable eases in – but no World Cup benefit

The second of nine new undersea telecommunications cables to connect Sub-Saharan Africa to the rest of the world by 2011 will make landfall in South Africa tomorrow: 13 February 2010

Telkom announced today that the East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) would land at Mtunzini – the landing site of SEACOM, the first new cable – on the northern KwaZulu-Natal coastline.

However, it also admitted that the cable would only be ready for operations in August 2010 – too late to make a contribution to World Cup 2010 broadcast needs. Once it is in operation, however, its capacity will exceed that of the SEACOM cable.

Telkom is the South African landing partner for EASSy. In all, there are nine EASSy landing stations in Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Comoros, Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa, with shore-end landings already having occurred in Mozambique and Sudan.

“EASSy is one of the elements of Telkom’s cable investment strategy and is a key step towards the process of establishing a Telkom fibre ring capability around Africa,” said Alphonzo Samuels, Telkom’s Managing Executive for Wholesale Services.

He added: “EASSy further increases the robustness of Telkom’s international bandwidth offerings and portfolio. Together with other undersea cables and/or land based fibre routes, EASSy creates redundant fibre access prospects into East Africa.”

World Wide Worx research has shown that the real significance of the EASSy cable is that:

  • it reduces reliance on the existing Telkom-managed SAT3/SAFE cable, which has had several recent outages on the West Coast of Africa;
  • it provides the first opportunity for clients of the SEACOM cable to achieve redundancy along the East Coast of Africa;
  • it may over time drive SEACOM access prices further down, which will in turn bring down the costs on the other cables;
  • it provides real competition for Internet access services for all countries on the East Coast of Africa;
  • increasing connectivity between various cable systems means lower latency – the time it takes for data to pass through a network and for information to return;
  • increasing connectivity means greater opportunities for online collaboration between companies operating across Africa.

An unintended consequence is that it may spur a new wave of demand for Telkom to bring down the access cost of Internet usage in South Africa. While it has reduced the cost of data capacity – or at least provided substantially more data for the same price – it has not brought down the cost of subscribing to an Internet-capable line for more than two years. It is this access cost, rather than the data charge, that represents one of the greatest obstacles to Internet growth in South Africa.

EASSy is a 10 000 km undersea cable system currently being constructed along the east African coastline. Its 1.4 Tbps system design capacity, coupled with its two fibre-pair configuration, equips EASSy with the highest capacity of all undersea cable systems along the east coast of Africa. The SEACOM cable has a capacity of 1.2Tbps.

Interconnection with various other undersea international cable systems will enable traffic on EASSy to seamlessly connect to Europe, North and South America, the Middle East and Asia, thereby enhancing the east coast of Africa’s connectivity into the global telecommunications network.

“EASSy is routed from South Africa to Sudan, linking the coastal countries of East Africa. An extensive backhaul system linking landlocked countries to the coastal countries has been developed and is at various stages of completion,” stated Samuels, adding that EASSy is scheduled to be ready for commercial service from August this year.

Samuels explained that submarine cables held many benefits such as superior transmission quality, considerably lesser delays compared to satellite, high transmission capacity, access to the global optical fibre network, lower unit costs (compared to satellite), no electromagnetic interference and higher resistance against adverse weather conditions.

“However, activities such as fishing and anchoring, ocean drilling, fish bites and earthquakes constituted some of the commonly known submarine cable hazards,” cautioned Samuels.

Various initiatives were nevertheless undertaken to protect submarine cables. These included conducting ocean bed surveys to select the safest undersea routes; burying cable in sand where possible, especially at the shallow end; avoiding heavy shipping lanes when approaching landing points; selecting safe beaches, bearing in mind that later beach erosion could expose cables; designing the shortest land cable route for maximum security; and, manufacturing cables to exceed the 25 year design life of the cable system.

“Redundancy, protection and – where necessary – restoration are also key considerations,” said Samuels.

He explained: “Redundancy means that we have duplicated equipment at the cable stations, duplicated power converters, generators, etc. Therefore, if a single piece of equipment should fail, we have another piece of equipment standing by to take its place.”

Protection ensures that a fully duplicated amount of capacity is available to re-route traffic on the same cable in the event of an internal failure impacting only one path or fibre. Protection therefore implies that for everything that is duplicated, automated switching takes place.

Samuels added that restoration required traffic to be routed onto other cable systems via completely different traffic paths and even different routes. “This usually happens when a complete failure of a cable system occurs, usually via an external influence such as a ship’s anchor breaking a cable, to the extent that ‘in-system’ protection on the same system is not possible.”

He also explained that customers have a choice between the regular international private lease circuits that includes restoration for their bandwidth or a product that excludes restoration, which would be termed non-restorable bandwidth or traffic.

“It must be emphasised, though, that in the event of submarine cable service interruptions, every attempt is always made to expedite customer services,” emphasised Samuels.

Although EASSy will not be commercially active by the time this year’s 2010 FIFA World Cup™ kicks off in June, Samuels stated that “Telkom’s undersea capacity has been significantly upgraded”. “For example, by end-October last year, SAT-3 and SAFE were upgraded to at least three times their former capacity.”

He added that SAT3 provided the shortest route to Europe while SAFE was the shortest link to Asia. From an undersea capacity perspective, therefore, it’s all systems go for the World Cup,” emphasised Samuels.

As its investment in EASSy highlighted, Samuels said that Telkom had a robust strategy with regard to undersea cable investments. The Company’s cable investments included COLUMBUS3, SEA-ME-WE3 (South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe), SAT3/WASC/SAFE (South Atlantic Telecommunications / West Africa Submarine Cable /South Africa Far East), EASSy, EIG (Europe India Gateway) and WACS (West Africa Cable System).

“Our investments are geared by the participation of other operators and we firmly believe that investment sharing translates to better unit costs and improved customer prices,” he added.

“Ultimately, we believe that EASSy will also go a long way towards increasing Africa’s bandwidth capacity, affordability and create increased diversity and fibre redundancy between SA and Europe as well as within East Africa” said Samuels.


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For alerts of new items on The Big Change, follow Arthur Goldstuck on Twitter, on @art2gee

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Ready to serve: Lessons from the muck

The third in a series of presentations delivered by Arthur Goldstuck via Twitter. The presentations consists of 10 Twitter messages, or 10 tweets, each of 140 characters or less. The format will be refined over time, but this is how the “tweenote” presentation entitled “Ready to serve: Lessons from the muck” appeared on Twitter on 11 August 2009:

1. Who is the most important person you have ever met? Richard Branson? Mick Jagger?  Nelson Mandela? Sepp Blatter?

2. The most important person I’ve ever met is Aaron Mabase. I only had the privilege of meeting him once.

3. He boomed out: “Welcome to my office!” The walls and floors of his office gleamed white. He watched to see if I approved.



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Tweenote: Mind the Gap

The second in a series of presentations delivered by Arthur Goldstuck via Twitter. The presentations consists of 10 Twitter messages, or 10 tweets, each of 140 characters or less. The format will be refined over time, but this is how the “tweenote” presentation entitled “SA’s Mobile Subscribers: Mind the Gap” appeared on Twitter on 13 July 2009:

1. SA’s cellular industry was launched in 1994 with 2 networks and a projected subscriber ceiling of only 2-million.

2. In 96, Vodacom launched a pre-paid service, adopting a system first used by Portugal’s TMN in Sep 95. MTN followed fast.

3. At launch the industry expected to reach the 1-million mark in 6-10 years. It reached the million mark in 3 years.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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