Fairphone 3 is a normal smartphone with ethical shine – gpgmail


How long have you been using your current smartphone? The answer for an increasing number of consumers is years, plural. After all, why upgrade every year when next year’s model is almost exactly the same as the device you’re holding in your hand?

Dutch social enterprise Fairphone sees this as an opportunity to sell sustainability. A chance to turn a conversation about ‘stalled smartphone innovation’ on its head by encouraging consumers to think more critically about the costs involved in pumping out the next shiny thing. And sell them on the savings — individual and collective — of holding their staple gadget steady.

Its latest smartphone, the Fairphone 3 — just released this week in Europe — represents the startup’s best chance yet of shrinking the convenience gap between the next hotly anticipated touchscreen gizmo and a fairer proposition that requires an altogether cooler head to appreciate.

On the surface Fairphone 3 looks like a fairly standard, if slightly thick (1cm), Android smartphone. But that’s essentially the point. This 4G phone could be your smartphone, is the intended message.

Specs wise, you’re getting mostly middling, rather than stand out stuff. There’s a 5.7in full HD display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 chipset, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (expandable via microSD), a 12MP rear lens and 8MP front-facing camera. There’s also NFC on board, a fingerprint reader, dual nano-SIM slots and a 3,000mAh battery that can be removed for easy replacement when it wears out.

There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack: The handy port that’s being erased at the premium smartphone tier,  killing off a bunch of wired accessories with it. So ‘slow replacement’ smartphone hardware demonstrably encourages less waste across the gadget ecosystem too.

But the real difference lies under the surface. Fairer here means supply chain innovation to source conflict-free minerals that go into making the devices; social incentive programs that top up the minimum wages of assembly workers who put the phones together; and repairable, modular handset design that’s intended to reduce environmental impact by supporting a longer lifespan. Repair, don’t replace is the mantra.

All the extra effort that goes into making a smartphone less ethically challenging to own is of course invisible to the naked eye. So the Fairphone 3 buyer largely has to take the company’s word on trust.

The only visual evidence is repairability. Flip the phone over and a semi-opaque plastic backing gives a glimpse of modular guts. A tiny screwdriver included in the box allows you take the phone to pieces so you can swap out individual modules (such as the display) in case they break or fail. Fairphone sells replacements via a spare parts section of its website.

Fp3sc

Despite this radically modular and novel design vs today’s hermetically sealed premium mobiles the Fairphone 3 feels extremely solid to hold.

It’s not designed to pop apart easily. Indeed, there’s a full thirteen screws holding the display module in place. Deconstruction takes work (and care not to lose any of the teeny screws). So this is modularity purely as occasional utility, not flashy party trick — as with Google’s doomed Ara Project.

For some that might be disappointing. Exactly because this modular phone feels so, well, boringly normal.

Visually the most stand out feature at a glance is the Fairphone logo picked out in metallic white lettering on the back. Those taking a second look will also spot a moralizing memo printed on the battery so it’s legible through the matte plastic — which reads: “Change is in your hands”. It may be a bit cringeworthy but if you’ve paid for an ethical premium you might as well flaunt it.

It’s fair to say design fans won’t be going wild over the Fairphone 3. But it feels almost intentionally dull. As if — in addition to shrinking manufacturing costs — the point is to impress on buyers that ethical internals are more than enough of a hipster fashion statement.

It’s also true that most smartphones are now much the same, hardware, features and performance wise. So — at this higher mid-tier price-point (€450/~$500) — why not flip the consumer smartphone sales pitch on its head to make it about shrinking rather than maximizing impact, via a dull but worthy standard?

That then pushes people to ask how sustainable is an expensive but valueless — and so, philosophically speaking, pointless — premium? That’s the question Fairphone 3 seems designed to pose.

Or, to put it another way, if normal can be ethical then shouldn’t ethical electronics be the norm?

Normal is what you get elsewhere with Fairphone 3. Purely judged as a smartphone its performance isn’t anything to write home about. It checks all the usual boxes of messaging, photos, apps and Internet browsing. You can say it gets the job done.

Sure, it’s not buttery smooth at every screen and app transition. And it can feel a little slow on the uptake at times. Notably the camera, while fairly responsive, isn’t lightning quick. Photo quality is not terrible — but not amazing either.

Testing the camera I found images prone to high acutance and over saturated colors. The software also struggles to handle mixed light and shade — meaning you may get a darker and less balanced shot that you hoped for. Low light performance isn’t great either.

That said, in good light the Fairphone 3 can take a perfectly acceptable selfie. Which is what most people will expect to be able to use the phone for.

Fairphone has said it’s done a lot of work to improve the camera vs the predecessor model. And it has succeeded in bringing photo performance up to workable standard — which is a great achievement at what’s also a slightly reduced handset price-point. Though, naturally, there’s still a big gap in photo quality vs the premium end of the smartphone market.

On the OS front, the phone runs a vanilla implementation of Android 9 out of the box — preloaded with the usual bundle of Google services and no added clutter so Android fans should feel right at home. (For those who want a Google-free alternative Fairphone says a future update will allow users to do a wipe and clean install of Android Open Source Project.)

Fp3f

In short, purely as a smartphone, the Fairphone 3 offers very little to shout about — so no screaming lack either. Again, if the point is to shrink the size of the compromise Fairphone is asking consumers to make in order to buy an ethically superior brand of electronics they are slowly succeeding in closing the gap.

It’s a project that’s clearly benefiting from the maturity of the smartphone market. While, on the cellular front, the transformative claims being made for 5G are clearly many years out — so there’s no issue with asking buyers to stick with a 4G phone for years to come.

Given where the market has now marched to, a ‘fairer’ smartphone that offers benchmark basics at a perfectly acceptable median but with the promise of reduced costs over the longer term — individual, societal and environmental — does seem like a proposition that could expand from what has so far been an exceptional niche into something rather larger and more mainstream.

Zooming out for a second, the Fairphone certainly makes an interesting contrast with some of the expensive chimeras struggling to be unfolded at the top end of the smartphone market right now.

Foldables like the Samsung Galaxy Fold — which clocks in at around 4x the price of a Fairphone and offers ~2x the screen real estate (when unfolded), plus a power bump. Whether the Fold’s lux package translates into mobile utility squared is a whole other question, though.

And where foldables will need to demonstrate a compelling use-case that goes above and beyond the Swiss Army utility of a normal smartphone to justify such a whopping price bump, Fairphone need only prick the consumer conscience — as it asks you pay a bit more and settle for a little less.

Neither of these sales pitches is challenge free, of course. And, for now, both foldables and fairer electronics remain curious niches.

But with the Fairphone 3 demonstrating that ethical can feel so normal it doesn’t seem beyond the pale to imagine demand for electronics that are average in performance yet pack an ethical punch scaling up to challenge the mainstream parade of copycat gadgets.


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Xiaomi has shipped 100 million smartphones in India – gpgmail


Xiaomi said on Friday it has shipped over 100 million smartphones in India, its most important market, since beginning operations in the nation five years ago. The company cited figures from research firm IDC in its claim.

The Chinese giant, which has held the top smartphone vendor position in India for eight straight quarters now, said its budget smartphone series Redmi and Redmi Note were its top selling lineups in India.

“It’s a testament to the love we have received from millions of Mi Fans since our inception. There have been brands who entered the market before us, yet are nowhere close to the astounding feat we have achieved,” said Manu Jain, VP of Xiaomi and MD of the company’s India business, in a statement.

As competition in its home market intensified, India has emerged as the most important market for Xiaomi in recent years. When the Chinese firm entered the nation, for the first two years, it relied mostly on selling handsets online to cut overhead. But in the years since, it has established presence in brick-and-mortar market, which continues to drive much of the general sales in the nation.

xiaomi india

Last month, Xiaomi said the company is on track to building presence in 10,000 physical stores in the country by the end of the year. It expects offline market to drive half of its sales by that time frame.

More to follow…


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Sources say China used iPhone hacks to target Uyghur Muslims – gpgmail


A number of malicious websites used to hack into iPhones over a two-year period were targeting Uyghur Muslims, gpgmail has learned.

Sources familiar with the matter said the websites were part of a state-backed attack — likely China — designed to target the Uyghur community in the country’s Xinjiang state.

It’s part of the latest effort by the Chinese government to crack down on the minority Muslim community in recent history. In the past year, Beijing has detained more than a million Uyghurs in internment camps, according to a United Nations human rights committee.

Google security researchers found and recently disclosed the malicious websites this week, but until now it wasn’t known who they were targeting.

The websites were part of a campaign to target the religious group by infecting an iPhone with malicious code simply by visiting a booby-trapped web page. In gaining unfettered access to the iPhone’s software, an attacker could read a victim’s messages, passwords, and track their location in near-real time.

Apple fixed the vulnerabilities in February in iOS 12.1.4, days after Google privately disclosed the flaws. News of the hacking campaign was first disclosed by this week.

These websites had “thousands of visitors” per week for at least two years, Google said.

Victims were tricked into opening a link, which when opened would load one of the malicious websites used to infect the victim. It’s a common tactic to target phone owners with spyware.

One of the sources told gpgmail the websites inadvertently infected iPhone users not intended to be targeted, prompting the FBI to alert Google to ask for the site to be removed from its index to prevent infections, they added.

A Google spokesperson would not comment beyond the published research. A FBI spokesperson said they could neither confirm nor deny any investigation, and did not comment further.

Google faced some criticism following its bombshell report for not releasing the websites used in the attacks. The researchers said the attacks were “indiscriminate watering hole attacks” with “no target discrimination,” noting that anyone visiting the site would have their iPhone hacked.

But the company would not say who was behind the attacks.

Apple did not comment. An email requesting comment to the Chinese consulate in New York was unreturned.


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Kaszek Ventures raises $600 million in two funds as Latin America’s startup market booms – gpgmail


Kaszek Ventures, the investment firm that has been one of the primary architects of the recent boom in startup financing and growth in Latin America, has just raised $600 million across two new funds.

The new commitments (raised in roughly two months) put Kaszek’s total capital under management at roughly $1 billion, making the firm the first local early stage investor to hit that milestone.

In the eight years since Hernan Kazah and Nicolas Szekasy launched Kaszek Ventures in 2011 the startup ecosystem in Latin America has experienced a renaissance, with investments in the region surging to nearly $2 billion in 2018.

Much of that growth has come on the back of Kaszek portfolio companies like Gympass, the provider of corporate-sponsored gym memberships and perks; Konfio, the Mexican small business lending platform; Nubank, the Brazilian consumer credit company now worth roughly $10 billion; and Loggi, the Latin American logistics company with the billion-dollar valuation.

For Kazah and Szekasy, the growth of their nearly eponymous venture fund marks a successful reinvention of two of the most prominent executives of Latin America’s most highly valued tech startup, MercadoLibre.

The former chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the region’s leading e-commerce marketplace, initially launched their firm to see if they could replicate their success as entrepreneurs from the other side of the table and bring the expertise and wisdom they’d amassed from their time running what is now a $29.2 billion dollar company (by market capitalization).

“We thought we could identify many more MercadoLibres and identify teams that were outstanding and would have a very ambitious vision in a very large market,” says Szekasy. “I thought I could have more impact if I moved and started working on the investing side.”

The first fund was a relatively modest $95 million investment vehicle, but one of its first investments would go on to show the potential for outsized returns that existed in the Latin American market. That company would be Nubank, and Kaszek was among the first money into the company (alongside Sequoia Capital) when it was little more than a pitch deck and an entrepreneur — David Velez.

“They had very relevant experience in scaling a tech company to multiple countries in the region,” says Velez of the decision to take cash from Kaszek. In the early days, the firms partners were involved in all stages of the company’s growth, helping recruit talent like country managers in different regions, to localizing the pitch for different countries. “They were very active also and continue to be very active around marketing and product. They helped us develop our first website and craft our pitch to consumers and eventually develop a lot of the digital marketing muscle,” Velez says. 

The local knowledge that Kaszek provided was a great compliment to the global perspective that Sequoia brought to the table, says Velez.

For Matias Muchnick, a co-founder and chief executive of NotCo, the experience of Kaszek’s founders and the breadth of their network provided incalculable help as the company expanded beyond Chile to Latin America more broadly — and as it was fundraising.

From a Kaszek-sponsored retreat at Stanford University, Muchnick was introduced to a professor who became an advisor to the company. The professor then put Muchnick in touch with Bezos Expeditions through a connection and the firm wound up investing.

Nubank may have been the firm’s first success story to come from its portfolio, but Kaszek would notch multiple other wins from its later funds.

Standouts from the firm’s $200 million third investment vehicle include the The Not Co, a new food company working on a range of products from vegetarian ice cream and mayonnaise to replacement meat patties. That company managed to attract the attention of Jeff Bezos and his Bezos Expeditions investment fund. Two other standouts in Mexico are Kavak, a car marketplace and Credijusto, an online lending company which raised $42 million from Goldman Sachs and other investors earlier today. 

Now the firm has added to its firepower with the close of a $375 million main fund and its first “Opportunity Fund” a $225 million investment vehicle that will enable the company to maintain its stakes in later stage companies as they raise increasingly large rounds.

Kazah expects that the firm will invest a bit larger amounts in roughly the same number of companies, with the fund making between 25 and 30 new investments, he said.

And increasingly large rounds are becoming the norm in Latin America just as they’ve done in other rapidly maturing technology ecosystems.

Screen Shot 2019 08 29 at 7.02.31 AM

Chart courtesy of Crunchbase News

That rapid growth has been parlayed into returns that represent an 8x multiple on invested capital for the first Kaszek Ventures fund, a 5x multiple on the second fund, and a 2x return for the firm’s third fund — already, according to a person familiar with the firm. 

“We have been investors in Kaszek Ventures since 2011 and are thrilled to continue this partnership” said Du Chai, Managing Director at Horsley Bridge Partners, in a statement. “Kaszek has been a top performer while building a great platform with talented individuals.”

In part, Kaszek’s success is an extension of broader macroeconomic trends that were bound to transform the region, according to Szekasy.

“We were looking at Silicon Valley and looking at what was happening in China and saw that Latin America was a very large region with a large population and GDP and the right demographics and a fast pace of adoption of new technologies,” says Szekasy.

One of those new technologies that helped speed up the adoption of new technology services across Latin America was the rollout of 4G, says Kazah.

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The mobile internet was always going to be the way that Latin Americans went online, thanks to the penetration of mobile phones across the continent. But high speed internet transformed the types of companies and services that could be on offer, Kazah says.

“In 2011 we had 10% 4G penetration… now more than 90% of the cell phones purchased have been cellphones with 4G access,” according to Kazah. “That really changed the entire ecosystem… companies can aspire to have more sophisticated products… in the last couple of years they started to accelerate their growth.. We finally got to a point where there’s critical mass.”

Not only has the technology improved, but increasing political stability and the rise of a middle class market in countries like Colombia and Mexico mean that there’s more opportunities for new businesses in countries across the continent.

Brazil has always been an economic powerhouse, but now Mexico, Colombia and even countries like Argentina and Chile are showing signs of increasingly vibrant startup ecosystems.

Attention from international investors is also helping to drive the region to new heights. Earlier this year Softbank announced that it would create a new Latin America fund with $5 billion to invest in startup companies. DST and Tiger Global are also active investors in the region.

“One of the reasons Latin America was lagging was that the region was not at a critical mass inflection point technologically, but it was also the lack of capital,” says Kazah. “Softbank on the one hand provides capital but  on the other hand it has opened the eyes of others as well.”

 


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Apple reportedly launching new iPhone Pro and iPads with better cameras, 16-inch MacBook Pro and new AirPods – gpgmail


Apple is getting ready for its usual fall iPhone launch event, which is rumored to be happening September 10, though the event hasn’t been officially confirmed this year. A new report from Bloomberg offers a preview of the lineup of hardware products it’s looking to debut this year. There are new iPhones, of course, including a new iPhone Pro model that replaces the XS line and adds a third, wider angle rear camera (which has been rumored previously), and a refreshed iPhone XR at the entry level that will also get a second, optical zoom camera.

These new iPhone Pros would pack a lot of other updates besides, though they’ll look visually similar beyond the changed camera module. They’ll offer wireless charging for AirPods with the Qi-enabled wireless charging case, for instance, for a quick top-up when you’re the road, and they’ll also get new matte finishes on some models vs. the glossy look common to all iPhone models today. Updated Face ID will offer unlocking at more angles, and they’ll pack “dramatically” better water resistance, as well as improved shatter resistance to shrive drops.

Also new this year, though not necessarily debuting at the same event, will be a new MacBook Pro with a display size somewhere over 16-inches, which Bloomberg reports will still manage to be similar overall in physical footprint to the current 15-inch MacBook Pros, thanks to a new bezel. There are also plans to roll out new AirPods, with a higher price tag but also added water resistance and noise cancelling features that the current AirPods lack.

On the iPad side, Apple will refresh its iPad Pro this year, with updated versions of the 11-inch and 12.9-inch models that will get spec bumps, plus better cameras, but otherwise remain the same in terms of form factor. The entry-level iPad will also get an update, with a screen size increase from 9.7-inches to 10.2-inches, which could mean that it also slims down its bezel and does away with the dedicated Home button, though the Bloomberg doesn’t make mention of how it will actually change to accommodate the larger display size.

Apple Watch will also be updated, with the same case design introduced last year, but with at least new case finishes, which have leaked via the watchOS 6 update as coming in titanium and ceramic.

Other planned updates in the report include details about the iPhone to follow in 2020, which it says will a rear-facing 3D camera, as well as 5G network support. The HomePod will also apparently get a sequel next year – a smaller version that will likely be a lot more affordable vs. the current $300 speaker.


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Tech companies get a reprieve thanks to a reversal from the President on tariffs – gpgmail


President Donald Trump and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative have issued technology companies some temporary tariff relief.

Citing an unwillingness to hit consumers with higher prices on things like computers, mobile phones, laptops, video game consoles, computer monitors, clothes and shoes before the holidays, the President and his trade reps are holding off on slapping additional tariffs on those products coming from China.

The President could also have been motivated by growing concerns that the ongoing trade war could trigger a global recession and hurt his chances for re-election in 2020.

Whatever the reason, the news sparked a stock market rally on Tuesday with investors ignoring the rising prices that 10% tariffs on imports that don’t include consumer goods would cause.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 indices were both up 1.4% on the day, while the Nasdaq rose 1.9% — thanks in large part to a surge of Apple stock. The company’s stock rose $8.49 or over 4.2% to close at $208.97.

At the beginning of the month, President Trump said he would slap a 10% tariff on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, which sent markets tumbling. An ensuing slight devaluation of the Chinese currency further pushed markets into a tailspin before they began to recover.

The news on Tuesday all but erased those earlier losses.

These market whipsaws between fear and trembling and irrational exuberance won’t end until the U.S. and China come to some sort of agreement in the trade war.

Earlier in the day, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer spoke with their Chinese counterparts Vice Premier Liu He and Commerce Minister Zhong Shan about the ongoing trade battle. The two Chinese officials issued a protest against the duties that were set to take effect in September. The two trade representatives have a called scheduled for another two weeks.


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Zindi rallies Africa’s data scientists to crowd-solve local problems – gpgmail


Zindi is convening Africa’s data scientists to create AI solutions for complex problems.

Founded in 2018, the Cape Town-based startup allows companies, NGOs or government institutions to host online competitions around data-oriented challenges.

Zindi’s platform also coordinates a group of more than 4,000 data scientists based in Africa who can enroll to join a competition, submit their solution sets, move up a leader board and win the challenge — for a cash prize payout.

The highest purse so far has been $12,000, split across the top three data scientists in a competition, according to Zindi co-founder Celina Lee. Competition hosts receive the results, which they can use to create new products or integrate into their existing systems and platforms.

Zindi’s model has gained the attention of some big corporate names in and outside of Africa. Digital infrastructure company Liquid Telecom has hosted competitions.

This week, the startup announced a partnership with Microsoft to use cloud-based computing service Azure to power Zindi’s platform.

Microsoft will also host (and sport the prize money) for two competitions to find solutions in African agtech. In a challenge put forward by Ugandan IoT accelerator Wazihub, an open call is out for Zindi’s data scientist network to build a machine learning model to predict humidity.

In a $10,000 challenge for Cape Town-based startup FarmPin, Zindi’s leader board is tracking the best solutions for classifying fields by crop type in South Africa using satellite imagery and mobile phones.

 

There’s demand in Africa to rally data scientists to solve problems across the continent’s public and private sectors, according to Zindi CEO Celina Lee.

“African companies, startups, organizations and governments are in this phase right now of digitization and tech where they are generating huge amounts of data. There’s interest in leveraging things like machine learning and AI to capitalize on the asset of that data,” she told gpgmail.

She also noted that “80% of Zindi’s competitions have some sort of social impact angle.”

Lee recognizes a skills gap and skills building component to Zindi as a platform. “Data science skills are relatively scarce still… and companies are looking for ways to access data science and AI solutions and talent,” she said.

“Then there’s this pool of young Africans coming out of universities working in data…looking for opportunities to build their professional profiles, hone their skills and connect to opportunities.”

Lee (who’s originally from San Francisco) co-founded Zindi with South African Megan Yates and Ghanaian Ekow Dukerand, who lead a team of six in the company’s Cape Town office. The startup hopes to get 10,000 data scientists across Africa on its platform by this year and 20,000 by next year, according to Lee.

Zindi Team in Cape Town 1

“The idea is to just keep growing and growing our presence in every country in Africa,” Lee said. Zindi could add some physical presence in additional African countries by the end of this year, Lee added, noting Zindi currently hosts data scientists and competitions online and on the cloud from any country in Africa.

Zindi received its first funds from an undisclosed strategic investor and is in the process of raising a round. The startup, which does not disclose revenues, generates income by taking a fee from hosting competitions.

Zindi is also looking to add a recruitment service to connect data scientists to broader opportunities as a future source of revenue, according to Lee.

As a startup, Zindi’s emerging model could see it enter several existing domains in African business and tech. When Zindi adds recruitment, it could offer a service similar to talent accelerator Andela of connecting skilled African techies to jobs at established firms.

CEO Lee acknowledges such, but makes a distinction between data scientists and Andela’s developer focus. “We’re honing more in on statistical modeling, AI, machine learning and predictive analytics,” she said. “I also think the developer market in Africa is much more mature and lot of developers want to move into data science.”

In addition to competing on tech recruitment, Zindi could also become a cheaper and faster alternative for African companies and governments to contracting big consulting firms, such as Accenture, IBM or Bain.

Zindi’s co-founder Lee confirmed the startup has received inbound partnership interest from some established consulting firms — which indicates they’ve taken note of the startup.

“I think we are a bit disruptive because we’re offering companies in Africa the best data scientists in the continent at their fingertips,” she said.

Lee highlighted a couple distinctions between Zindi and data-driven consulting firms: affordability and potential scale.

The startup could also provide data science solutions to many African organizations that don’t have the resources to pay big consulting firms — meaning Zindi could be on to a much larger addressable market.


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Startups BRCK and Swvl partner on free WiFi for Kenyan ride-hail buses – gpgmail


Nairobi based internet hardware and service startup BRCK and Egyptian ride-hail venture Swvl are partnering to bring WiFI and online entertainment to on-demand bus service in Kenya.

BRCK will install its routers on Swvl vehicles in Kenya and run its Moja service, which offers free public WiFi—internet, music, and entertainment—subsidized by commercial partners.

Founded in Cairo in 2017, Swvl is a mass transit service that has positioned itself as an Uber for shared buses. “Think ride hailing, but with a bus…and instead of the vehicle coming to you…you go to the bus, and the bus picks you up at a certain point and time,” Swvl’s general manager for Kenya, Shivachi Muleji, told gpgmail via email.

The company raised a $42 million Series B round in June, with intent to expand in Africa, Swvl CEO Mostafa Kandil said in an interview.

In Kenya, BRCK has installed 15 of its units in Swvl buses and looks to offer its Moja WiFi service in 700 by 2020, BRCK’s chief operating officer Nivi Sharma told gpgmail.  Swvl pays a monthly fee for the routers and for maintenance of the routers, Swvl confirmed.

Both BRCK and Swvl see a solid fit in pairing up their product offerings. “SWVL’s objectives to provide an alternative in the transportation industry line up nicely with BRCK’s objectives of providing connectivity to commuters,” said BRCK COO Nivi Sharma.

Backed by $10 million from investors including Steve Case’s Revolution VC fund, BRCK built its platform around providing internet solutions in East Africa. Founder Erik Hersman has described Africa’s internet challenges—mainly the lowest penetration rates in the world—as shifting toward more of an affordability than availability problem.

“The demand on internet in Africa is largely driven by the 10 to 15 percent who can afford it. The real massive opportunity is trying to connect the 70 to 80 percent of the people who can’t,” Hersman told gpgmail in 2017.

SupaPossibleLead1To that end, BRCK paired up its Africa specific WiFi routers to its Moja service to offer free internet and content supported by commercial partners. Users can access Moja on their mobile phones, tablets, or laptops on public transportation or in public areas. They earn points from their browsing to apply to faster connectivity or premium content.

In 2018, BRCK began offering SupaBRCK devices to drivers of Nairobi’s highly-used Matatu buses for Kenyan commuters to access Moja. In February, the startup acquired Nairobi based internet provide Surf and its network of hotspots.

BRCK currently has 445,000 unique monthly active users on its Matatu based Moja mobile network in Kenya and Rwanda and 150,000 unique monthly active users on its fixed network—including users connecting at cafes, barbershops, and marketplaces, according to company data.

Swvl Bus with moja 2BRCK and Swvl wouldn’t confirm plans on expanding their mobile internet partnership to additional countries outside of Kenya.

Ride-hail markets in Africa have become an active sector for VC investment and global and local startups. The big players such as Uber  and Bolt are competing in Kampala and Nairobi—where in addition to car-service—they offer rickshaw taxis.

On-demand motorcycle startups are multiplying and piloting EVs with funds from international partners. And many ride-hail companies in Africa are adapting unique product solutions to local transit needs. The collective startup activity is making the continent home to a number of fresh mobility use-cases, including the BRCK and Svl WiFi partnership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Google’s Pixel 4 smartphone will have motion control and face unlock – gpgmail


Google’s Pixel 4 is coming out later this year, and it’s getting the long reveal treatment thanks to a decision this year from Google to go ahead and spill some of the beans early, rather than saving everything for one big final unveiling closer to availability. A new video posted by Google today about the forthcoming Pixel 4 (which likely won’t actually be available until fall) shows off some features new to this generation: Motion control and face unlock.

The new “Motion Sense” feature in the Pixel 4 will detect waves of your hand and translate them into software control, including skipping songs, snoozing alarms and quieting incoming phone call alerts, with more planned features to come, according to Google. It’s based on Soli, a radar-based fine motion detection technology that Google first revealed at its I/O annual developer conference in 2016. Soli can detect very fine movements, including fingers pinched together to mimic a watch-winding motion, and it got approval from the FCC in January, hinting it would finally be arriving in production devices this year.

Pixel 4 is the first shipping device to include Soli, and Google says it’ll be available in “select Pixel countries” at launch (probably due to similar approvals requirements wherever it rolls out to consumers).

Google also teased “Face unlock,” something it has supported in Android previously – but Google is doing it very differently than it has been handled on Android in the past with the Pixel 4. Once again, Soli is part of its implementation, turning on the face unlock sensors in the device as it detects your hand reaching to pick up the device. Google says this should mean that the phone will be unlocked by the time you’re ready to use it, since it does this all on the fly, and works from pretty much any authentication.

Face unlock will be supported for authorizing payments and logging into Android apps, as well, and all of the facial recognition processing done for face unlock will occur on the device – a privacy-oriented feature that’s similar to how Apple handles its own Face ID. In fact, Google will also be storing all the facial recognition data securely in its own dedicated on-device Titan M security chip, another move similar to Apple’s own approach.

Google made the Pixel 4 official and tweeted photos (or maybe photorealistic renders) of the new smartphone back in June, bucking the trend of keeping things unconfirmed until an official reveal closer to release. Based on this update, it seems likely we can expect to learn more about the new smartphone ahead of its availability, which is probably going to happen sometime around October based on past behavior.


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Google says it doubled Pixel sales year-over-year – gpgmail


It looks like the mid-range Pixel 3a is the hit Google surely hoped it would be.

Alphabet reported some pretty good earnings today, but the company’s report tends to be pretty generic, given that it doesn’t provide details for its different business units inside of Google and its other segments. That’s not to say there isn’t good news there for Google. On today’s call, Google CEO Sundar Pichai shared some new stats for the company’s phone line.

“With the launch of Pixel 3a in May, overall Pixel unit sales in Q2 grew more than 2x year-over-year,” Pichai announced. Part of this growth, he noted, is due to Google greatly expanded its distribution network beyond its own store and Verizon to also include T Mobile, Sprint, US Cellular, Spectrum Mobile and others. He also stressed that the Pixel 3a received Google’s highest Net Promotor Score rating yet.

We don’t, of course, know, what the baseline for Pichai’s claim here is, since Google never shared any actual sales numbers, but it surely helps that the Pixel 3a is relatively affordable and compares well to flagship phones without any major trade-offs. When it launched, reviews were generally very positive, too, which surely helped as well. Unlike previous Pixel launches, the first batch of Pixel 3a phones also didn’t face any major hardware problems, something that regularly plagued Google’s earlier efforts.



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