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Out With The Old, In With The Fold

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Smartphones have been stuck in the same groove for years, until the recent unveiling of folding screens. Are these devices, starting at a nifty $2,000, and that you would likely fold a 100 times a day, durable?


It’s no secret that the mobile phone industry has been stagnant for some time now. Consumers are overwhelmed with similar hardware being released every couple of months, making purchasing decisions more difficult. But why are these faster, thinner and lighter smartphones not cutting it anymore?

Tech giants Apple and Samsung have both felt the pinch from shrinking sales in 2018. In a letter to investors early 2019, Apple CEO Tim Cook warned of weak earnings as a result of too many new products; a strong US dollar; and economic weakness in emerging markets, which resulted in, “fewer iPhone upgrades than it had anticipated”.

READ MORE | How Mobile Solutions Are Paying It Forward

Samsung also couldn’t match the success of the Galaxy S8 with last year’s almost identical-looking S9 that featured new cameras and processors, and was forced to drop the price on its flagship to increase sales.

Mark Joseph, a director who heads up technology strategy at Deloitte, says the smartphone industry is finding it increasingly difficult to differentiate on the hardware layer as it becomes a commodity.

“It is easy to compare it to the PC industry where the consumer sees very little differentiation at all anymore.”

However, the market is expected to take a different turn as Samsung and Huawei have both come out with folding screen devices in 2019, which is arguably the most exciting thing to have occurred in ages.

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Samsung introduced the Galaxy Fold earlier this year that appears to be ‘tablet-first’ with smartphone support. The 4.6-inch smartphone still looks like a first-generation product and opens into a 7.3-inch tablet, which supports three-app multi-tasking and app continuity between modes.

Days later at MWC Barcelona, Huawei unveiled its own folding screen device called the Mate X. The 8-inch tablet has no notch, and folds into two screens, a 6.6-inch on the front and a 6.38-inch at the back, primarily aimed at people who want more from their smartphones and to be productive on-the-go.

These innovations have generated a great deal of interest, says Joseph.

Folding screen devices are considered a new type of device, like a tablet vs a laptop rather than just a new version of a smartphone.

“The differences over the past few years have been mainly cosmetic, like the number of cameras, changes to screen size with internal changes like processor speeds, and memory increases. Folding screens are an entirely new range of devices.”

But is the market ready for a new category device, and is there a need for folding screens? Joseph thinks its success falls on how durable and scratch-resistant they are.

“If they break easily, they might be discarded rather quickly or limited to a niche category, e.g. office use only.”

Samsung claims the Galaxy Fold is durable for up to 200,000 folds, which translates to 100 folds every day for five years.

If they are durable – and only time will tell – there is huge potential, he says. “In the corporate market, their multi-tasking abilities could lead to industry specific solutions being launched on their form-factor, in addition to being the primary office tool of choice for executives.”

Joseph says there is a growing corporate market using smartphones for daily tasks previously done on tablets or laptops, like reading and responding to e-mails.

“Folding screen devices will enable an increase in activities moving from tablets/laptops, which will then reduce the number of people who use both laptops and tablets.”

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It will also double as a weekend/evening entertainment device of a busy executive who uses it extensively during the work day, he says.

As expected with any brand new technology, it won’t come cheap. The Galaxy Fold has a starting price of $1,980, and the Huawei Mate X will cost $2,600, both of which are expected to go on sale in South Africa, with local pricing to be announced at launch.

So who is expected to purchase these eye-wateringly expensive hybrids?

“Like all the newest devices in each generation, there is status associated with being one of the first owners, so naturally, there will be those who fit into this category,” Joseph says.

“Next, there will be the corporate user who currently uses both a smartphone and tablet.”

There are also those who generally upgrade to the “best” device every two years with their post-paid contract upgrade, he says.

“In addition, there could be a niche in private schools where this is a growing trend where students have smartphones and their schools are now using tablets as part of their curriculum.”

“The area that I’m most excited by is the ability for innovation around industry or corporate specific applications being developed for a purpose using this form-factor,” Joseph says.

“Hopefully, folding screens will make it to a second generation as this will allow for better pricing, better tech and, hopefully, a more robust product.”

Entrepreneurs

Op-Ed: How Nigerians Can Unlock Their Potential In The Digital Age

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By Uzoma Dozie, Chief Sparkler

Nigerians are some of the world’s most creative, energetic, and entrepreneurial people. We are rich with talent, enthusiasm, and passion.

Nigerians are a global force bursting with potential and an enviable track-record of success. But in a more complex and fast-paced world than ever before, many of us struggle to find the time or have the ability to fulfil their potential.

Ultimately, this comes down to the lack of effective solutions in the market to support the lifestyle and finances of Nigerians and our businesses. For too long, we have been underserved by the traditional physical retail environment, which is limited by bricks and mortar infrastructure and legacy technology – the weaknesses of which have been laid bare by the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Unlocking Nigeria’s digital economy

While Nigerians are being underserved by current circumstances, there is also an exciting opportunity to start filling a gap in the market.

Nigeria’s digital economy is thriving, but it remains informal. Nigeria has a population of 198 million people – 172 million have a mobile phone and 112 million have internet access.

Many of us access social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram through our phones and use them as valuable sales tools, especially female entrepreneurs. Data and digital applications have the potential to revolutionize the daily lives of millions of Nigerians.

Therefore, new digital-only solutions are required. These should not just focus on finances though – they have to be intrinsically linked with everyday lifestyles, rather than thinking about linear processes and transactional outcomes.

Let us take one example. Chatbots powered by artificial intelligence have long been used to provide financial advice. But these chatbots could do so much more and evolve to provide support for more sophisticated usage, such as a personal adviser or lifestyle concierge.

Furthermore, these solutions should not just support Nigerians at home, but the ever-growing diaspora across the world.

Introducing Sparkle

The opportunity to play an integral role in transforming Nigeria’s digital economy and lead the charge in growing the digital economy across Africa inspired the creation of Sparkle.

Sparkle was founded with five core values – freedom, trust, simplicity, inclusivity, and personalization. We are adopting these values and embedding them in everything we do.

We will be leveraging technology and data to create and apply new digital-only solutions which bring more Nigerians into the formal economy thereby benefitting Government, businesses, and individuals.

Starting with the launch of a current account, we will co-create with our customers and collaborate with our partners to improve our services and increase our user base. We embrace collaboration and we are

working with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Google, Microsoft, Visa, and PwC Nigeria, to achieve our vision.

In addition, we want to create a more inclusive economy and break down barriers by accelerating the role and influence of female entrepreneurs, many of whom already operate in the informal economy with the help of Instagram and other social media apps.

At present, we are facing a global crisis in the shape of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has shown us that we need a strong digital infrastructure to ensure the economy continues to function. It will likely completely change the way we operate and conduct business in the future.

COVID-19 has only reinforced our belief that new digital solutions like Sparkle are required now more than ever before to serve Nigerians, boost the formal economy, and unlock potential in the digital age.

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How This Billionaire-Backed Crypto Startup Gets Paid To Not Mine Bitcoin

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It’s everyone’s dream to get paid to do nothing. Bitcoin miner Layer1 is turning that dream into reality — having figured out how to make money even when its machines are turned off. 

Layer1 is a cryptocurrency startup backed by the likes of billionaire Peter Thiel. In recent months, out in the hardscrabble land of west Texas, the company has been busy erecting steel boxes (think shipping containers) stuffed chockablock with high-end processors submerged inside cooling baths of mineral oil. Why west Texas? Beause thanks to a glut of natural gas and a forest of wind turbines, power there is among the cheapest in the world — which is what you need for crypto. 

“Mining Bitcoin is about converting electricity into money,” says Alex Liegl, CEO and co-founder. By this fall Layer1 will have dozens of these boxes churning around the clock to transform 100 megawatts into a stream of Bitcoin. Liegl says their average cost of production is about $1,000 per coin — equating to a 90% profit margin at current BTC price of $9,100. 

So it’s odd how excited Liegl is about the prospect of having to shut down his Bitcoin miners this summer. 

Already this year west Texas has seen a string of 100-degree days. But the real heat and humidity don’t hit until August, which is when the Texas power grid strains under the load of every air conditioning unit in the state going full blast. During an intense week in 2019, wholesale electricity prices in the grid region managed by the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) soared from about $120 per megawatthour to peak out at $9,000 per mwh. It was only the third time in history that Texas power hit that level. And although the peak pricing only lasted an hour or so, that’s enough to generate big profits. Analyst Hugh Wynne at research outfit SSR figures that Texas power generators make about 15% of annual revenues during the peak 1% of hours (whereas in more temperate California grid generators only get 3% of revs from the top 1%).

Turns out that running a phalanx of Bitcoin miners is a great way to arbitrage those peaks. Layer1 has entered into so-called “demand response” contracts whereby at a minute’s notice they will shut down all their machines and instead allow their 100 mw load to flow onto the grid. “We act as an insurance underwriter for the energy grid,” says Liegl, 27. “If there is an insufficiency of supply we can shut down.” The best part, they get paid whether a grid emergeny occurs or not. Just for their willingness to shut in Bitcoin production, Layer1 collects an annual premium equating to $19 per megawatthour of their expected power demand — or about $17 million. Given Layer1’s roughly $25 per mwh long-term contracted costs, this gets their all-in power price down 75% to less than 1 cent per kwh (just 10% of what residential customers pay). 

It may seem like grid operators are paying Layer1 a lot for something that might not even happen, especially with coronavirus reducing electricity demand, but it makes total sense, says Ed Hirs, a lecturer in energy economics at the University of Houston and research fellow at consultancy BDO: “It’s a lot cheaper option than building a whole new power plant or battery system just to keep it on standby.” 

And although this may be a new concept for cryptocurrency miners, it’s been done before. Two decades ago industrialist Charles Hurwitz bought up power-hogging aluminum smelters in the Pacific Northwest and made more money reselling electricity than making metal. “It used to be called load management,” says Dan Delurey, a consultant with Wedgemere Group. “In old commercial buildings you might still find telephone wires connected to air conditioning systems so that grid operators could send a signal to shut off.” More recently we’ve seen companies install radio-based devices to control hot water heaters and lighting systems. Indeed, grid management is a hot enough area that in 2017 Italy’s power giant Enel bought Boston-based Enernoc for $250 million and Itron ITRI bought Comverge for $100 million. What’s emerged are entities, like Layer1, that Delurey calls the “prosumer” — producing consumer. 

As for Layer1, Liegl says his next step is to vertically integrate into financial products, including Bitcoin derivatives and more. “We are building an in-house energy trading division to leverage this into being a virtual power plant.” 

His message to any pikers still trying to mine cryptocurrencies from their bedroom PC or even via cloud services: “I can’t think of something more irrational at this point. It’s like if I wanted to dig a hole in my backyard and try to get oil out of the ground.” 

Christopher Helman, Forbes Staff, Energy

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Google Diversity Report Shows Little Progress For Women And People Of Color

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Google released its seventh consecutive diversity report on Thursday, revealing modest gains in representation for women and people of color, and a disproportionately white, Asian and male workforce.

The percentage of black hires in the U.S. grew from 4.8% in 2018 to 5.5% in 2019, a .7% increase. The percentage of black hires in technical roles also grew by .7%, the largest increase in the share of black technical hires since Google first started publishing diversity data. Latinx employees, on the other hand, saw a dip in hiring, dropping from 6.8% in 2018 to 6.6% in 2019. The percentage of Latinx employees in technical roles increased by a mere .2%.

Female employees didn’t fare much better, dropping from 33.2% of global hires in 2018 to 32.5% in 2019. Over that same time period, the percentage of women hired for technical positions remained at about 25.6%—a far cry from gender parity. But hiring only shows one side of the coin, which is why Google began to include attrition rates in 2018.

As in previous years, women continued to have a lower than average attrition rate in 2019, while Latinx attrition in the U.S. dipped below the Google average. Attrition was highest for Native Americans and increased significantly for black women.

Overall, Google’s workforce representation—defined as hiring minus attrition—saw a slight uptick for most underrepresented groups. Black and Latinx employees represented 9.6% of the U.S. workforce in 2019, up from 9% in 2018, and women represented 32% of Google’s global workforce, up from 31.6%.

The representation of women and Latinx employees in leadership roles also grew, increasing by .6% and .4% respectively. The percentage of black employees in leadership positions didn’t change year-over-year and dropped by .2% for Native American employees.

Although the needle has barely budged for women and people of color in tech over the last year, Google has made it a point to invest in diversity programs. Through its philanthropic arm, Google.org, the company committed $10 million to support low-income students and students of color in Bay Area STEM classrooms in 2019.

Internally, the company has launched smaller initiatives, such as running all job postings through a bias removal tool, which it says has led to an 11% increase in applications from women. And in an effort to retain diverse talent, Google expanded its retention case management program for underrepresented employees who are considering leaving the company.

Looking at its most recent diversity figures, however, Google concedes that there is considerable room for improvement. “The Native American population is one of those areas where we remain flat and so we will continue to invest more focus in 2020 to make sure that we’re targeting this population as well,” says Melonie Parker, Google’s chief diversity officer.

While she wouldn’t specify what that investment would entail, Parker says that the company is moving forward on its 2020 diversity goals and will continue to focus on representation and creating an inclusive culture companywide. She also notes that even the smallest percentage gains represent thousands of jobs for underrepresented groups. 

One area where Google has seen significant progress is in its internship program: Globally, 40% of interns in technical roles were women in 2019 and 24% of U.S. interns were black and Latinx.

Ruth Umoh, Forbes Staff, Diversity & Inclusion

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