Every major TV manufacturer unveiling new product at CES last week tried to claim 8K leadership – but the real goal is market expansion, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

CES in Las Vegas, the world’s biggest launchpad for new technology, last week saw South Korean giants LG and Samsung go head-to-head in the battle for global share of the lucrative TV market.

Both unveiled new ranges of 8K TVs, each claiming world firsts, while rival brands like TCL and Sony looked for differentiation in niche areas of TV technology. 8K represents the highest resolution displays currently possible, comprising about 8,000 horizontal pixels across a screen, and more than 4,000 vertically. This produces four times the resolution of 4K, which is, in turn, four times that of high-definition displays.

While 8K machines have been on display at CES for several years, their prices have been prohibitive, and little content has been available. However, the latest units all include a process called upscaling, which converts regular content into 8K content. Typically, it takes around three years for the latest cutting edge technology to become mainstream and affordable, which means 4K TVs are now widely available in South Africa, and affordable 8K units will arrive in the next 12 to 24 months.

“We believe that our 2020 QLED 8K TVs will be eagerly received by consumers,” says Nithia Pillay, director of consumer electronics at Samsung South Africa. “The innovations in these new TVs will offer customers an unprecedented viewing experience and unparalleled smart home integration. The fact is, 8K resolution has the potential to transform our industry. We have seen that screens over 75” are the fastest-growing segment in the market, and that segment is where 8K resolution matters the most.”

Pillay told Business Times that the company foresees “promising growth” in this sector as South Africans experience “the power of enhanced artificial intelligence technology as well as better audio, video and smart capabilities”.

“This integration of enhanced viewing possibilities, AI components, as well as personalised experiences are features our South African customers are continually embracing.  Samsung is firmly on track to build on its position as a leader in the TV industry for 14 consecutive years. In South Africa, this is made possible by consumers’ robust appetite for TV technology and innovation that enhances their experience.”

Samsung wowed the CES crowds – more than 175,000 people attend the trade show – with the Q950 range of bezel-free 8K TV, meaning it has almost no frame and virtually the entire front surface of the unit is devoted to display. It comes in 65”, 75” and 85” versions, and is equipped with an AI processor that combines machine learning and deep learning – a technique that analyses multiple layers of content – to enhance the upscaling function.

It also features a new “Adaptive Picture” feature that optimises brightness and contrast, depending on lighting and viewing environment.  The latest TVs from LG Electronics do the same, using a new technology from Dolby called Vision IQ, which optimises the picture based on the content and ambient light conditions.

Sony Electronics unveiled a similar technology, but called it “Ambient Optimisation”. Sony, too, brought a near bezel-free unit to CES, dubbing it “Immersive Edge”, as opposed to Samsung’s “Infinity Design”.

Sony unveiled a new range of 4K and 8K TVs across a range of sizes, featuring technology that was previously only available in the largest premium units. This was one of the clear indications of the speed at which high-end technology is entering the mainstream offerings from major manufacturers.

LG claimed bragging rights for the first TVs in the world to exceed 8K standards defined by the Consumer Technology Association, organisers of CES. 

It unveiled a range it calls Real 8K TVs, but in reality, is applying the term to existing ranges of 8K TVs that already meet the CTA standard. Samsung uses its own 8K certification.

Meanwhile, LG stole the show in a similar way to last year’s unveiling of the first roll-up TV, the 65” Signature Series OLED R 4K TV, which could be rolled down into its base. This year, LG reversed the trick, with a roll-down 65” unit that is fitted to the ceiling, and rolled up out of sight when not in use.

Samsung’s answer to rollable TVs, in what one might call the novelty category, was the  Sero. It is a “versatile lifestyle TV” that can be flipped 90 degrees to allow viewers to watch content created in vertical formats.

If that didn’t stop visitors in their tracks, LG transfixed them with The Fountain, a synchronised performance from 20 Signature R TVs, each rolling up and down separately while imagery flashed across the grouped screens in a choreographed sequence.

And, similarly to an OLED Tunnel that dominated its stand in 2016, LG introduced CES 2020 attendees to an LG OLED Wave, made up of 200 55” convex and concave OLED digital signage screens. Measuring 6 meters high and 25 meters wide, the exhibit immersed visitors in a journey of discovery through the natural world.

“LG South Africa is excited that the products announced at this year’s CES demonstrate our company’s commitment to improve our customer’s lives,” Steven Bosch, brand marketing manager at LG Electronics South Africa, told Business Times. “We are currently looking at the feasibility and possible demand for these innovations.”

LG and Samsung didn’t have the show to themselves. TCL, best-known in South Africa as maker of Alcatel and BlackBerry phones, unveiled a next-generation display technology called Vidrian Mini-LED. It describes it as “the world’s first TV backlight with … tens of thousands of micro-meter class mini-LEDs directly infused in a crystal-clear glass substrate”.

Ernst Wittmann-Potter, regional director of TCL for Southern and East Africa, told Business Times that this and other announcements clearly showed the company’s ambition to grow its global presence in both the mobile and electronics segments.

“Over the last couple of years, we as the TCL family have been working hard to deliver affordable and innovative technology devices across the globe and more especially for the African region,” he said. “In 2020 we will continue these efforts and we will also be extending our portfolio offering to our customers across Africa”.  

Choo Jong-seok, vice president of Samsung Electronics’ video display business division, summed up the strategy: “We will expand the market by delivering it.” 

Ready for a foldable but not ready for the price? LG may not have the device you’re looking for, but the one you need. BRYAN TURNER reviews the G8X ThinQ Dual Screen.

With many in the market ready to get their hands on an affordable foldable, LG’s G8X ThinQ Dual Screen provides an excellent convertible compromise between a great Android phone and foldable device.

While the device folds open and closed like the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X, it does not feature a folding screen. Instead, the G8X clips into the Dual Screen case to create a neat dual screen phone that can run two apps simultaneously in full-screen mode.

The device opens like a book and features a small front screen when closed, to check the time and to read notifications. It extends the 6.4” display with another 6.4” display to give users a second screen on which to operate.

It was extremely useful for multi-tasking. We ran Instagram with Twitter, Gmail with Google Calendar, and Facebook Messenger with WhatsApp, all thanks to the dual screen.

The dual screen becomes especially useful with the built-in apps from LG, which have had a lot of thought put into them. For example, when one opens the camera with the dual screen attached, it makes the second a full-screen preview of the most recent photo taken.

It also becomes a gaming device with the LG Game Pad. It features a fully kitted out virtual gamepad on one screen, while the other displays games like Asphalt 9 and Fortnite. This enables players to get into the game without having to touch the display where the game is being shown.

While remaining in camera mode, the case also folds back on itself to enable selfie mode, which can be seen from both screens. This allows users on both sides of the phone to decide how photos look and how they should be taken, during the moment.

While the Dual Screen case is great, it’s an option of the device and thankfully so. The case makes the device quite thick, putting it in the same league as those who buy ultra-thick phone cases. It makes the phone resemble a Nintendo DS, and its form factor is likely to turn heads. While the Dual Screen case features the word “case” in the name, we don’t think it will be drop-proof.

That said, the LG G8X ThinQ is an excellent device on its own. It features water resistance, space for an SD card, wireless charging, excellent battery life, and – wait for it – a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Out of the box, it features the device, a power brick, a USB Type-C cable and earphones. A nice addition was the soft-shell case, which comes at no extra cost.

The camera itself is really great to work with. It features a 12MP standard lens with a 13MP ultra-wide angle lens. These pair up to create some of the best-looking photography on the market, especially when looking at the sharpness of the photos taken.

Video recording is also impressive. They record at a maximum of 2160p, with 24-bit 192kHz audio. LG has put a very impressive microphone set-up in the G8X to enable not only high-quality recording, but also to pick up the softest of soft sounds while recording. This is why they have an ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) mode, which enables users to create ASMR content that can be played back later. ASMR content is audio that’s supposed to produce a tingling sensation that usually begins on the nape and moves down one’s back.

In terms of performance, it uses the Qualcomm 855, which is a 7nm chip, and an Adreno 640. It plays graphically intensive games with virtually no frame drops, and runs multiple apps on its dual screens without a problem.

One of the best points about this flagship is the price. The device with the dual-screen case is pretty affordable for devices in its class, and costs between R15000 and R16000, depending on where you buy it. This makes it, by far, one of the most affordable devices of its form factor on the market.

By DOMINIQUE COLLETT, a senior investment executive at Rand Merchant Investment Holdings and the head of AlphaCode

Fintech is rapidly transforming the very essence of global financial services. Here at AlphaCode, we spend a lot of time researching and thinking about how technology, social media and a transforming consumer base is enabling new business models and changing the financial services landscape. AlphaCode is the Rand Merchant Investment Holdings (RMI) incubation, acceleration, and investment initiative that identifies, partners, and grows early-stage financial service ventures.

Here are our predictions for the financial services market for 2020 based on what we’ve observed globally and locally with our members.

Even though international investors are somewhat wary of putting money into South Africa currently, there are enough dynamic local players to fund projects – with deals certainly starting to flow through. This is a tremendously exciting sector to watch.

While 2019 saw the introduction of consumer digital banks such as TymeBank and Discovery Bank; in 2020 the focus will turn towards the SME market.

Following its R3.56 billion takeover of Mercantile Bank earlier this year, Capitec Bank has shown that it views the SME and entrepreneurial sectors as providing significant growth opportunities. We expect them to do for SME banking in 2020 what they did for consumer banking over the last decade.

Bank Zero will also be launching, and it will be interesting to watch how this digital bank will put more pressure on the incumbents to innovate.

FNB has already responded to the influx of digital SME banks with the launch of its First Business Zero account. Designed for digital-savvy sole proprietors, this account provides zero-rated account fees to entrepreneurs and includes unlimited free card swipes.

Mobile point of sale (mPOS) players like Yoco and iKhokha are also making further inroads in the SME market – with more than 100 000 small businesses already part of their payment network.

Stokvels have become an integral part of South African society. A community of people serving as a vital savings scheme, stokvels illustrate the importance of how we relate to one another when it comes to money. Insurers like Sanlam are working with the National Stokvel Association of South Africa (NSASA) to offer financial services products to their base.

In line with this concept, mutual services will see strong growth next year. Iemas Financial Services is a group-buying community that leverages the power of its hundreds of thousands of members for collective bargaining. Arguably, it functions as a co-op that negotiates good deals on behalf of its members. This can include anything from discounts at a retail store to more affordable insurance products.

There is also PPS which has been around for some time. It provides financial services to professionals such as doctors, accountants, lawyers, and engineers. By segmenting its product offering and focusing on a niche, it puts professionals together in a risk pool. This enables the members to benefit from more affordable premiums. This shared finance trend can create an opportunity to grow.

Then, the Kin app is designed to track shared expenses and get paid. Whether people are living in digs together or a few friends are planning a trip abroad; Kin lets members track shared savings goals and expenses – like a WhatsApp for money. This secure service manages all the key elements of the payment process, and is likely to prompt quite a few discussions around the communal side of money in 2020.

Bitcoin will be making a welcome return to prominence this year. We have always said that the best use case for Bitcoin is in an emerging market. Typically, such a country would have political instability, a volatile market, high exchange controls, and expensive money transfers – all areas where cryptocurrencies can deliver significant disruption.

With this in mind, 2020 will put the focus back on the decentralised money discussions that were rife when Bitcoin first appeared. Today, the major difference is that the spotlight is firmly on Africa.

We are watching Centbee – which recently launched its Minute Money remittance solution. This uses Bitcoin SV to make cross-border payments to support family easily and more affordably. 

Luno has continued to cement its position as a dominant emerging market crypto-currency platform with its relaunch in Malaysia and continued expansion into other African countries.

Another key trend will be around smarter insurance. Discovery and OUTsurance are using data to reward good driving behaviour with better priced premiums. This strategy is targeted at drivers under 25 who have had to deal with loaded pricing. Now, if these members drive well, the telemetry data will be used to improve and more fairly calculate their premiums.

Lumkani seeks to address the challenge of fires in informal settlements and townships with a sensor network of early warning systems. This has resulted in a partnership with Hollard to introduce affordable shack insurance for fire cover.

Taking this a step further, Sensor Networks is working with Sanlam, Nedbank, and Standard Bank to deliver smart insurance to customers. This uses smart sensors in people’s homes to provide an early fault-and-fraud detection system that allows for automated logging of faults and the easy coordination of assessment and technical repair teams. Everything from geysers to security cameras and fire detectors are linked to the network.

Without doubt, 2020 will also see a focus on expanding financial inclusion in Africa. Companies like Selpal, Flash and Nomanini are making it easier for informal traders to sell their products. These innovators bring alternative distribution channels to informal communities that easily connect merchants to suppliers and customers.

Zande provides trade and merchant finance to spaza shops to enable stock purchases. It offers brands in bulk at a lower cost with goods delivered to spaza shops within 24 hours of being ordered.

Spoon Money is a group-based micro-working capital finance platform for female informal traders. This platform enables them to access credit to support their businesses and create more sustainable and predictable income.

Another one to watch is uKheshe. This micro-transaction platform generates a QR code for street vendors and even car guards to use. People simply use Zapper or SnapScan to pay them instead of having to worry about carrying change. It has proven to be the ideal way to digitise these micro-payments.

These solutions are having a real impact on the lower-end of the market in a commercially sustainable way. Importantly, they are African solutions to solve Africa’s specific challenges.

A big area to watch in 2020 will be the proptech sector. For example, Jamii is creating a reward system for tenants where landlords can better incentivise their behaviour.

HouseMe provides a tech-enabled platform for better rental management. It does for rentals what Leadhome has been doing for the property sales market. However, Leadhome has pivoted and launched a rental service.

Innovators are quickly waking up to the fact that the local real estate market is highly fragmented and is one that can be improved and empowered with technology. When house prices are low and in a buyers’ market, people cannot afford to pay high commissions to agents. This is where proptechs will start dominating.

Coming to the market soon is IsiDuli. This is the AirBnB of the township market. It gives township dwellers the opportunity to create income from their land by providing financing to build a backyard room that can be rented out.

We have seen Root and Investec launching a programmable bank account for software developers. Essentially, this lets developers control their money programmatically, build their own features, and securely integrate with other services.

Lulalend and Vodacom have partnered to develop VodaLend. Designed to provide SMEs with finance through a digital portal in three steps; small businesses can apply for funding of up to R1.5 million over 12 months.

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Retailers will also start coming back into the financial services space. Shoprite is looking at a number of financial services initiatives while Pick n Pay has partnered with TymeBank. Arguably, many retailers recognise that they cannot provide these kinds of services themselves and are identifying fintech specialists that they can work with.

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