October marks the arrival of TECNO Mobile’s ground-breaking CAMON 17P smartphone in South Africa, a sleek, state-of-the-art device perfected for the new generation.
The CAMON 17P is a tool for today’s digital movers and shakers, who require smartphones able to produce sublime photographic and video content that can be shared extensively on their social channels
TECNO’s rise on the continent can be attributed not only to affordability, but offering consumers cutting-edge technology designed to enhance the overall user experience.
The CAMON 17P boasts what TECNO believes to be the clearest selfie camera on the market.
Transsion-owned TECNO topped handset sales in Africa in 2020, confirming its status as the Number 1 smartphone brand on the continent, and it’s not hard to see why.
Retailing at R4999, the CAMON 17P boasts a massive 6.8” FHD+ IPS Hole screen is complemented by a 16MP Clear Selfie Camera and 64MP AI Camera and complemented with a super-efficient G85 Octa-core processor which ensures that animations are smoother, games are more immersive and networking is faster.
“The 8 core CPU with HyperEngine game optimization is our fastest chip yet, giving users exceptional performance. Also, intelligent scheduling and balancing allows for reallocation of resources to ensure maximum power efficiency so that your battery will last longer,” says TECNO Chief Marketing Officer, Danni Xu.
With a 5000mAh 18W Flash charging battery your phone is ready to go when you are and a 6GB memory which allows for seamless multitasking and smooth video playback giving you an uninterrupted and an effortlessly smooth experience.
TECNO has always understood younger smartphone users, which explains why it topped handset sales in Africa in 2020, confirming its status as the Number 1 smartphone brand.
“We understand the younger generations need for superior technology to communicate and bring their ideas to the world. In developing our smartphones, we pay special attention to camera features since selfies have become such an important part of millennial and GenZ users’ online identities,” continues Danni Xu.
To celebrate the launch of the CAMON 17P, TECNO has produced a stunning new documentary, Rise of the Selfie, which celebrates the phenomenon that changed the world.
“Rise of the Selfie” dives into the selfie’s history and why it has become such an essential feature of the current generation.
The film aligns with what TECNO has always championed: a smartphone is not about the brand, but about consumers themselves.
The documentary explores ways of looking at the future in terms of self-expression, both for individuals and groups
Valuable insights are shared by experts like psychology professor Thomas Curran, photography reader Eugenie Shinkle, and renowned tech journalist Lucy Hedges.
These experts introduce the audience to the lesser-known history of the selfie, before taking them on a journey of its evolution and why it has become so important for modern generations.
In the film, fashion model Sara Johansen illustrates how selfies are a game-changer for people who are not celebrities to become influencers themselves.
Sara explains how selfie phones like the CAMON 17P allow users to control their own images by taking photos that showcase the best of themselves.
The CAMON 17P uses next generation TAIVOS (TECNO AI Vision Optimisation Solution) 2.0 to optimise the camera settings based on the user’s scenery changes.
In the past 18 months, selfies have also taken on another important function. The impact of Covid-19 and lockdowns has meant that people have struggled in stay in touch in person, but thanks to selfies they are able to let their family and friends know where they are and what they are doing.
TECNO’s CAMON series simplifies the process of taking photographs, and makes it enjoyable even for those not well-versed in technology.
The FHD screen’s high-quality display provides users incomparable clarity as they chat over video calls, while they can also fully immerse themselves in high-definition videos and games.
Through the Rise of the Selfie, TECNO is contributing to the conversation over technology’s future.
“We will continue to create a safe environment for and support all those who are focused on tackling these digital threats to democracy and making social media and Big Tech platforms more transparent and accountable. We will directly support efforts that enable a broad public debate about the disclosures and evidence Frances Haugen has brought to light.” stated Luminate in a blogpost,
an organisation that is backing the Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen.
Luminate is a global philanthropic organisation with the goal of empowering people and institutions to work together to build just and fair societies.
Luminate was founded by The Omidyar Group, established by philanthropists Pierre and Pam Omidyar. Pierre is the founder of eBay and a well known tech billionaire who supports a number of similar initiatives. According to recent media reports Omidyar’s global philanthropic organization Luminate is handling Haugen’s press and government relations in Europe, and his foundation last year gave $150,000 to Whistleblower Aid, the nonprofit organization that is providing Haugen’s legal representation and advice.
Another prominent tech-world figure in Haugen’s camp is a Harvard constitutional law professor and former Democratic presidential candidate Larry Lessig. According to media reports, he is providing “limited” pro bono legal and communications work.
Omidyar’s own network has also become increasingly involved in agitating against the major tech companies. Last year, his advocacy and investment group Omidyar Network distributed widely read papers laying out the antitrust cases against Facebook and Google. The group also hosted a series on whistleblowing in the tech industry in early February of this year, months before Haugen came forward.
Ukheshe technologies, Telkom and Engen have collaborated to create the QR solution which allows motorists to tip attendants and cashiers for efficient service by simply scanning a QR code using their Engen 1app or any payment app that supports Masterpass QR payments.
When a petrol attendant’s QR code is scanned, and a tip is made it automatically is deposited into a Telkom Pay digital wallet. This digital wallet allows the attendant to either withdraw the money from Pick ‘n Pay, a CashExpress ATM or purchase airtime, data and other VAS services. They can also purchase goods at any merchant that supports QR code payments or any e-commerce store using a virtual card. The app utilises Eclipse, Ukheshe’s ready-to-use enablement platform.
Fuel pump attendants and Quickshop cashiers will be assigned a lanyard with a personal QR code. After registering for a Telkom Pay Wallet through WhatsApp, they can start receiving tips from customers paying on the Engen 1app.
“One reason for the poor tipping rates for pump attendants is that people often simply don’t have cash on hand to do so,” says Clayton Hayward, CEO of Ukheshe Technologies. “This solves that problem – for both the attendant who relies on a tip to supplement their income, and the mortified motorist who is digging around for cash in their car.”
According to wage data from Indeed and PayScale, petrol stations employ around 70,000 people across the country, with many pump attendants earning under R30 per hour. With many South Africans now favouring contactless payment methods due to the pandemic, attendants’ only means of increasing their income – through cash tips – is diminishing.
‘’We’re delighted to continue to build our relationship with Telkom and broaden the reach of the Eclipse API in a meaningful way.” Engen’s 1app offers a safer customer service experience, as there is no touching of devices, cards or cash required. You will also no longer need to carry cash or cards to make your fuel purchases, and loyalty points will automatically be registered with Engen’s respective loyalty partners, Clicks Clubcard and FNB eBucks,” says Seelan Naidoo, Engen’s General Manager: Retail.
In June this year, Telkom also launched Africa’s first Mastercard virtual card for use on WhatsApp, again utilising Ukheshe’s Eclipse API. It enables Telkom Pay customers to make e-commerce payments without a physical card. Engen employees will also have access to this functionality, as well as the full range of Telkom Pay innovations.
Engen’s vision is to extend the ‘Tip an Attendant’ solution outside the Engen environment, enabling its customers to use the Engen 1app to tip anyone that provides great service – whether a car guard or a waiter, says Naidoo.
Telkom Financial Services Managing Executive Sibusiso Ngwenya says the company is thrilled to be on board. “I believe it’s a sentiment we all share as South Africans – that great service deserves to be rewarded. We’ve seen many a story on social media about someone in the service industry going above and beyond. They deserve to have the favour returned, and now, there is an easier means to do so.”
Bank Zero today released its new pricing for 2022. With all fees remaining exactly as they were in 2021 and 2020, it sends a powerful message of Bank Zero’s intent to bring much-needed relief to both consumers and businesses. Zero monthly fees, zero fees for debit orders, EFTs and card transactions – and zero fees when buying prepaid items such as data or electricity.
Michael Jordaan, Bank Zero chair, says: “Advanced App-based banking is now available to 24 million South African smartphone users and their businesses. This brings huge fee relief (potentially in the billions), great features and full access – our youngest customer is 3 whilst our oldest is 80. That’s just incredible.”
One of the key features of Bank Zero is that the zero fees and innovative functionality are the same for consumers and businesses. Until Bank Zero arrived the business sector had little relief from high banking fees on top of cumber-some paper-intensive processes. As one customer tweeted: “This is game changing for the SME market!” Bank Zero sees huge opportunity in this space, with the South African SME market alone estimated at 5.6 million businesses.
The Bank Zero App caters for most South African businesses with turnovers from small to in the billions. (Although it will not onboard listed companies and public sector-linked companies). Yatin Narsai, Bank Zero CEO, is “pleasantly surprised by the higher-than-expected number of businesses registering during the closed roll-out, mostly (PTY) LTDs followed by CCs and then sole proprietors.”
Michael adds: “It’s wonderful to see how customers are voting with their money. We’ve already seen significant deposits flowing into Bank Zero so early in its life cycle.”
Since its public debut, Bank Zero has experienced excellent take-up and growth in card transactions. Most popular is ecommerce – with card subscriptions (i.e. the new debit orders) growing rapidly. A card control feature unique to Bank Zero enables customers to manage those sometimes-nasty subscriptions by turning them on/off as required.
(Those merchants that keep incorrectly debiting your card can now be stopped!)
The special Bank Zero card patent has already proven its value by stopping potentially fraudulent transactions. Bank Zero cards are actively being used locally as well as internationally. Bank Zero’s R0 fee per international card transaction and its low forex mark-up (0% if posted in ZAR, 1% if posted in foreign currency) is clearly a hit.
The purchasing of prepaid items is increasing at a fast pace, exceeding all Bank Zero forecasts.
Another popular feature amongst customers is Bank Zero’s ability to inform customers about a new debit order that has been loaded against their account, and which they can then reject. And customers are informed when a regular debit order is about to run and if they have (in)sufficient funds.
Michael also announced today that, “after an incredibly smooth start, Bank Zero is now fully open for business. Our launch is no longer constrained, and we invite all businesses and consumers to experience powerful banking at zero fees.” Bank Zero was the first bank in the world to be launched by a fully WFH team. Public access was initially limited to waitlisted individuals while monitoring the effectiveness of the digital customer support processes created during the pandemic to match a new WFH world.
The Bank Zero App is as from today freely available in the App Store and in the Google Play Store. Yatin says: “What is new for customers from now onwards is the adding of relationships (like friends, business associates and authorisers) where they can then immediately download the App, register and be part of that specific community – be it a business, sport club, project or a savings club. This brings digital financial connectedness to all.”
The final words belong to Bank Zero’s customers: “Have been using @BankZeroSA for 2 months. The best part is when you look at the bank fees at the end of the month…. ZERO”; and “Really dope offering and they are only just getting started.” Although Bank Zero only needs 100,000 customers to break even, their expectation is that they will end up bringing relief to millions.
One morning in the fall of 1999, the phone rang at the San Francisco office of design firm Eight Inc. On the other end was Andrea Nordemann, longtime assistant to Steve Jobs. Tim Kobe, CEO of the firm, took the call. He and his partners had worked with Apple on the product launch of its colored iMacs a year earlier and, more recently, Kobe had sent Jobs his ideas for creating a signature retail outlet.
“Hey,” Nordemann began, “Steve is interested in that retail stuff. He would like to see your retail credentials.”
By “retail stuff,” Nordemann was referring to what would eventually become the Apple Store, a groundbreaking facility that is now a clear and unmistakable articulation of Apple’s brand. At that time, however, the process of how it would be created was anything but clear—at least from the perspective of Kobe, its lead designer. To hear Kobe’s narrative is to learn, with some surprise, that the Apple Store came about through a process riddled with failure and unpredictable turns.
“Okay, that would be great,” Kobe told Nordemann. “We can show him our credentials.”
“Well,” she said, “he’s in the car, and he’ll be there in 15 minutes.” The unexpected turns of the process were already under way.
Kobe recalls the importance of his firm’s relationship with Jobs even before that call.
“The creation of the Apple Store really began with our relationship in 1998, getting to a point where Steve trusted us, our opinion. When Steve saw the colored iMacs, he realized he had something that was no longer an appliance, but a consumer product that was a colorful and beautiful thing. We just put them all on a big light table at the MacWorld trade show, illuminated them, and let the stunning qualities of the product come through.”
Apple changed the game with the colored iMac. “It was unheard of in that industry prior to that. Beige, beige, and gray. Nothing else.” Kobe and his team leveraged the moment of Apple’s revolutionary turn to color, and their work pleased Jobs to no end. “He recognized we weren’t about making shapes for the trade shows. It was, instead, about making the product the hero. He thought we really got it.”
During that period in the late 1990s, however, Kobe actually had his eye on a much bigger idea: a retail facility for Apple.
“We were doing three or four events a year. The first [color iMac] launch was at MacWorld in San Francisco–and then New York, Paris, and Tokyo. But even before we were doing those shows, I wrote a white paper for Steve explaining why Apple should create its own retail program. We had just finished working with Nike and North Face, both manufacturers whose products were being sold by third-party retailers. Nike, for example, was being sold at Foot Locker, but in that context the brand couldn’t stand out. Nike couldn’t sufficiently communicate what they were about, their values. And so they started the NikeTown program to sell their entire product line, but they had to do it strategically, without sacrificing the sales volume of their dealers, like Foot Locker. It made perfect sense to me that Apple needed to do something similar with flagship stores.”
Kobe’s instincts were spot on, because it turned out that Jobs was keenly interested in finding a way to increase control of Apple’s message and brand. The moment was ripe for a flagship idea. The reality of Apple products sitting on shelves next to various Microsoft and PC offerings, together with salespeople who lacked deep knowledge of Apple products, was for Jobs a serious concern. Eight Inc. had also worked with Apple on designing a “shop-in-shop” idea that they had tested in multiple locations in Japan. According to Kobe’s partner, Wilhelm Oehl, the shop-in-shop experiment was the prelude to the Apple Store, a live prototype that opened up possibilities. The Japan pilot continued in the United States (primarily through CompUSA in both San Francisco and New York), producing increased sales but not fully solving the problems of third-party retail and the central objectives of a brand that wanted greater control of its message and identity.
Enter Tim Kobe and his white paper, “Flagship Retail Feasibility Report,” originally drafted in 1996. He defined the opportunity in the executive summary, and planted the seed for an ambitious retail project.
“The image of Apple Computer in a consistent, controlled distribution of the Apple message is critical to successful renewal strategy. Apple product information and image at the retail level has been confusing at best. The industry, as well as the general media, have seemed to define the company more than the company itself. Confusion during the transition at Apple is natural but there is distinct lack of ‘information tools’ available for Apple. With the industry growing more competitive, trade show formats are not enough. Serious consideration must be given to additional formats if Apple is to successfully implement its strategic renewal.”
Fifteen minutes after Nordemann’s call, Jobs arrived at Eight Inc. and asked to meet in the conference room. But the firm, at the time, didn’t have one.
“We had a table, and that was it. My partner Wilhelm Oehl and I sat down with him and began. In those days, you still presented your work on transparencies. We had four-by-five transparencies of photographs of things we had done. We showed him the work we did for Nike. We showed him the work with North Face. And some other stuff too. He takes it all in, looks at us, and says, “What would you say if I told you I didn’t like any of this work, and that none of it looks like Apple?” Wilhelm’s jaw fell on the table.
Kobe steeled himself, looked Jobs in the eye, and spoke candidly, “‘we designed this work for Nike and this work for North Face.’
‘Fine,’ Steve says, ‘but why should I hire you if none of this looks like Apple?’
And I said, ‘The reason you should hire us is because none of this looks like Apple—and we will do for Apple what is right for Apple.’ He paused for a long time, knowing I had done the old reversal on him. I knew Steve had employed that tactic to give us a hard push. He wanted to see if we would stand up or fall.
Anyway, he got up and walked over to the door, shook our hands, and said, ‘I don’t know if you guys have enough retail yet.’ And then he walked out. Wilhelm and I looked at each other—does that mean we are hired or not? Two days later, he called and said ‘Come on down, let’s start working.’ We started on the whiteboard.”
They started on the whiteboard? How could that be? The deeply imaginative Steve Jobs would certainly have had a vision for this revolutionary retail outlet. He must have known what he wanted. After all, most of us recognize him, deservedly, as the genius and architect of Apple and its innovative products. Surely that beautiful store, existing today in thousands of locations and always crowded, was a product of the vision of its celebrated leader. The wide-open spaces, the community display tables, the Genius Bar, the invitation to engage with products by virtue of their presentation alone, the choice materials and fixtures strategically deployed, the glass and the wood, the precise use of color, the intuitive layout of the whole—all of it, one would think, must have sprung, like Zeus birthing Athena, from the head of Jobs. But is that how it came about? We know the Apple Store transformed the retail landscape at the turn of the 21st century in the United States and abroad. What was the actual process that led to this remarkable outcome?
As Kobe explains during our interview, there was, in fact, absolutely no driving vision for the design of the store. Not even close. He believes that Steve Jobs was a man who made decisions through an iterative process and, in the end, through a reliance on intuition. “Steve was very quick at running through a logic tree and saying, ‘If this, then this—and here’s a bust in your logic, go back and work on it.’ But if you made it through the logic tree, then he would flip over the other side, which is very intuitive, and let you know if it didn’t feel right.”
“It sounds like he was, in certain ways, a guy who needed to engage creatively to know what he wanted,” I suggest. “Stories abound that Steve Jobs had to dive into things, construct them, feel them, until he knew what the result should be.”
“Absolutely,” Kobe confirms. “We started with bubble diagrams for the store, just saying ‘let’s try this or look at that.’ We then went from sketches and drawings to small physical models. We were making a physical model each week of different things. And then we went to full-size models in a mock-up room. We produced some component of the store every week in foam core mock-ups. Steve would walk around the models and look at them, fully realized in space. It all evolved until we found what felt like Apple. Along the way, we found a lot that didn’t work, that was too self-conscious, too technical, etc. When it didn’t work, we would just tear the models down, or move them around, rebuild them, adjust things.
“Steve didn’t even have an idea actually about how big a store he wanted,” he continues. “At one point, he said he wanted it to be big, and we said, ‘okay, but you just scaled everything down to four products, you know, the PowerMac, iMac, iBook, and PowerBook. If you want a big store we have to put stuff in it.’ That’s how basic it was. In the end, we were guided by the need to express what Apple’s core values were about. That’s where all the different design elements of the retail space eventually developed.”
There was certainly a business idea behind the store, but it was an idea that had already been in play with a number of companies and brands at the time (North Face, Nike, Sony, Disney, Levi’s, and several others). What ultimately made the design of the Apple stores distinctive (and distinguished) was the way in which the design team, as Kobe explains above, led with key values; the driving principles of Apple mobilized them. Those principles together served as the entry point into a project filled with uncertainty, igniting a making process that carried forward into the design. “When you think about what made Apple special,” Kobe reflects, “it was about [making] technology accessible to people other than engineers. That’s what the mouse did—it wasn’t keystrokes and backstrokes and writing code. It was about making technology human—that was Apple’s core differentiation, their core value proposition. Steve fought hard for the Macintosh (and was beat up about it) because he knew that was the right thing for technology if you ever wanted it to find mass adoption.”
Today, with hindsight, we can see the multiple ways in which Eight Inc. manifested these Apple values in their design. As Kobe tells it:
“You had to have a store that was easy to use. It meant making everything comfortable and inviting. In contrast to, say, traditional apparel retail, which is very dense, the Apple Store is very open, intuitive—like the products themselves—and we were trying to present those qualities through a variety of touchpoints. That meant detailed attention to the physical things, the environment, and the people attending to the consumer. Steve wanted people working at the store who knew just enough about technology but were not so absorbed that the human element was missing. He wanted a balance of the engaging, warm individual who also had technological knowhow.”
The collaborating team grew to involve key participants including Millard (Mickey) Drexler, then CEO of Gap, who Jobs recruited to Apple’s board of directors in 1999. Drexler was a celebrated retail expert at the time and contributed significantly to the conversation. Kobe explains: “He was of the school of a very dense retail product, heavy ‘stack it high, watch it fly,’ the old retail. Steve discovered that he didn’t like that. He wanted it to be the opposite of that experience.”
But the open, airy feel of the final design might not have evolved in the same way without Drexler’s provocations. According to Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs, and similarly noted in a case study produced by the business school Insead, Drexler was the one who suggested that the design team develop “a full-scale prototype in a warehouse near the firm’s headquarters in Cupertino . . . down to the smallest details.” This idea was apparently kept secret from the public, and Kobe tells me at length about how the space was used to explore ideas and test concepts. In this context, according to Kobe, Jobs’s appreciation of the iterative process of making became glaringly evident.
Jobs himself has also been quoted as celebrating this full-scale arena of test and discovery: “One of the best pieces of advice Mickey gave us was to rent a warehouse and build a prototype store.”
Kobe recognized the importance of collaboration in improvising the design. A group would converge weekly at these Tuesday meetings. “We probably had 15 people in that meeting every week, engaged in the evolution and the making process. A lot changed along the way.”
I ask Kobe to cite specifics. For example, how did they find their way to the design feature of those tables to display product? “We were experimenting with different fixtures. We were doing one a week, and it got to the point where the design started to be too self-conscious.” And so they went back to basics. “We needed something that supported the idea that the product was the hero. And if the product was the hero, then the design display needed to take a second position to that. We also realized that we couldn’t change the store every time the product changed. Steve was clearly going to be developing new products. So we created this natural landscape—large wood tables. They were like these big Parsons tables.”
He continues, “and we would meet every week, build models, build full-size prototypes, and we ultimately got to where we were arguing over eighth-inch increments of the thickness of the table. But the whole process, the making, was a search for what felt right and what matched Apple’s values. The tables needed to be generous, spacious.”
“Did you know,” I ask, “the effect it would have in creating a sense of community energy around the table, something that I think is a brilliant stroke of that retail environment?”
“It all goes back to the making process,” he says. “You have to experience it, feel it, to know. That’s what we did. Happy accidents, I suppose.”
Another discovery on the design journey had to do with the lighting in the store and how it influenced the look of the products. Working with a lighting designer based in Florida, the team discovered a thorny problem that they needed to solve—a problem identified through the reality of elements in relationship in physical space.
“Apple does amazing product photography,” Kobe says. “When you look at that product photography you see beautiful highlights—everything comes from the soft box lighting effect and it’s what makes the product look good. What we discovered was when we placed a poster over the tables, the product didn’t look as good as the photograph above it. We were unintentionally sending a bad message; we were, in effect, telling people they shouldn’t trust Apple—that we say one thing and do another. The product has to be just as spectacular when you see it live.”
The challenge, in Kobe’s words, was for him and his collaborators to find a way to “look at the product on the wall and the product on the table—and see it as equally beautiful. There is integrity to it all.” Again, they experimented with all kinds of ideas. “We spent a long time at it and eventually started working with a product called Nomad. It was a vinyl heat-formed material. We kept doing mock-ups and more mock-ups, trying to get to where we had just the right amount of soft-box light as well as some color highlights and other accidents. We got there and the product looked as beautiful as the image.”
Designing the store had everything to do with understanding the experience of the consumer. That driving sense of empathy, however, was not a quality Jobs could simply manifest from a preconceived vision. Together with the team, he had to experiment, explore possibilities, accept some ideas, reject others, iterate, sketch, build models, and test material. In short, the store wasn’t so much a product of his vision as it was something made, constructed, and fashioned in the course of a creative journey. Kobe insists that the making process itself was the way to know that central experience of the customer and the design that would honor it. “Steve put himself in the position of the user. If ideas we presented didn’t have the qualities that attracted him, we wouldn’t do it. But he wouldn’t have known without the process itself.”
Kobe offers a final example of the process in a brief anecdote about the design of the Chicago store and its use of stone.
“It was Indiana limestone. We had just done a project for Gucci, so I knew exactly what stone was required for Michigan Avenue. We got hold of some Indiana limestone very quickly and then wrestled with how we might treat it. Should it be smooth? Should it be textured? It needed to work in cold weather and snow and ice. I remember we went for two or three months looking at stone samples at different size and scale. Steve was looking at all of this one day and suddenly says, ‘you know, we are so stupid. We are doing this all wrong. It rains in Chicago. We are looking at the stone out here in dry, sunny, happy California.’ He asked us to go get water and suddenly everybody scrambled to go get buckets of water. And we start throwing the water on the mock-up. We must’ve spent five hours looking at wet rock and looking at different ways of treating the stone. That informed the rest of the process, and we made sure that the store would look beautiful wet or dry.”
Kobe’s account of the design of the Apple Store gives evidence of a tremendously successful project that evolved through a creative course of iteration, experimentation, and improvisation. In what is nothing short of a tribute to the powers of progressive ideation, his tale upends any myths about the visionary genius that brought the facility to life. Indeed, Kobe and his collaborators, together with Jobs, leveraged the fundamentals of an applied making that brought them to knowing the design—sketching, prototyping, modeling, problem-solving, testing, research, and generating questions that beget questions, happy accidents, and multiple dialogues among designers and fellow collaborators.
The story of how the Apple Store was created contains many elements of an experience I call “make to know”: a concept that receives surprisingly little acknowledgement in the wider literature on creativity. It is a process of moving from uncertainty to invention through the very act of making. My ultimate purpose here is to lay bare, through the stories of a diverse and talented group of artists and designers, the revelatory nature of the creative journey itself.
Lorne M. Buchman is president of ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, and an international leader in art and design education. He is also a theater director, dramatic literature professor, the author of a book on filmic adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays and host of Change Lab: Conversations on Transformation and Creativity, a podcast in which he conducts interviews with leading artists, designers, and cultural innovators.
EdTech company d6 Group, announced that the cloud-based management platform for schools has received a capital injection from Knife Capital, Hlayisani Capital and NuState Ventures. d6 is currently the most widely used cloud-based school communication and management platform in South Africa and the investment will be used primarily for international expansion and to further product enhancements.
According to Willem Kitshoff, d6 already provides South African developed innovative technology solutions, consisting of a comprehensive communication and payment facilitation solution between a school, parents and learners, as well as a fully integrated cloud-based school administration, curriculum and finance system to more than 2 800 schools at home and abroad.
“The d6 mobile application enables around one million parents to stay up to date with school related matters. Gone are the days of a one-size-fits-all approach,” adds Kitshoff. “The chat apps typically used within friendship groups don’t provide for the sophistication and security required for a school environment.”
The investment will see the Kitshoff family retaining a meaningful stake in d6, while Knife, Hlayisani, and NuState combined will be the majority shareholders.
“Alignment of shareholder interest behind a motivated entrepreneurial team is a critical strategic building block for creating value and Knife Capital is delighted to partner with these credible investors. We liked that d6 wasn’t dependent on the investment from a cash flow runway perspective, but the funds will enable them to scale more rapidly. This is a high-growth business with an amazing product, recurring revenue and a huge addressable market,” says Keet van Zyl, the co-founder of Knife Capital.
Brett Commaille, a partner at Hlayisani Capital says: “In South Africa, our expenditure per capita on education is far higher than that of similar countries, yet we have some of the worst education outcomes. We need funding to be directed wisely. Part of the solution is to invest in platforms and technology that meaningfully improves the educational ecosystem to produce quality education for our learners.”
“The d6 team’s in-depth understanding of what schools need and the challenges they face, combined with an exceptional track record in delivering solutions to education organisations, make this a formidable company. We believe d6, through thought leading insights and providing market relevant solutions, will propel schools, and the EdTech market, forward,” Commaille says.
Finally there’s a mobile device in South Africa that takes away the economic hurdle from accessing great technology. The newly launched Techno Spark 7 Pro offers advanced technology at an affordable price.
Just to give you a sense of how great the tech is on this mobile device. In the R2000 price range you get to experience the power of Artificial intelligence in action. The Tecno Spark 7 Pro allows you to unlock your device with your face in a second.
This Tecno device has features that are tailored to the needs of the local market and at the same time it’s providing the latest technologies for the youth-generation consumers who are “young at heart”
Another great example of how Tecno has done this is through the storage space and superior camera quality, with a long-lasting battery life and powerful performance. On heavy use the battery has lasted for days without requiring to be charged. This innovation is perfectly suitable for South Africa’s power challenges.
One of the most impressive elements about this device is that it’s a very nice phone that has nothing missing from smartphones in the category, even the best sellers. The 6.6 inch display comes with medium sized bezels, having a bit bigger “chin”. Using this device gives you a sense that Tecno is working toward becoming one of the preferred mobile devices for Gen 7 who are big on selfies.
The smartphone is separated in parts there is a vertical part with almost glossy design (in green color) that takes some space on the left side. The rest is matte (in green color as well) and looks like sand-blast texture. In the center and almost in the top one can see the fingerprint reader. On the left there’s a huge but elegantly designed camera area. The big vertical setup is divided into the top part, where one can see 3 camera sensors and into the lower part where one can see the SPARK logo, an AI logo and a 48 MP triple camera logo. The almost matte part divides the camera island.
The main part is mirrorish with the thinner right side providing an almost clear reflection. On the thin right side, inside the camera area one can see an LED. Top down on the panel you can see the TECNO brand logo in a not so mat reflection finish. The division between matte and sand-blast texture and the very beautiful camera area makes a very elegant device. TECNO is focusing on the artistic / presentation of this device and have surely succeeded in it.
What is more important however is that this device has taken into local issues in it’s design and value. Providing people with great technology at an affordable price key to closing the digital divide. Tecno Spark 7 Pro shows that Tecno is serious about providing a technology tool that is ideal for local situations. It should be interesting to more products from brand as they seem to understand the needs of the continent.
Jack Poulson has developed an encyclopedic knowledge of how tech companies are evolving into military contractors. Tracking such intricate connections has become a full-time—though unpaid—job for the former Google research scientist as head of Tech Inquiry, a small nonprofit tackling the giant task of exposing ties between Silicon Valley and the U.S. military.
“Google, and tech companies in general, transitioning into weapons development is something that should be paid close attention to,” says Poulson. “And certainly employees of the company should have a voice in whether that work is performed.”
By delving through government contracting information and lobbying disclosures, and filing FOIA requests, Tech Inquiry has produced a set of custom databases for activists, journalists, and other researchers to probe tech-government connections. Its research covers the U.S. government as well as close intelligence allies, such as the U.K. and Canada. The group has also put out three dense reports that have been the foundation for many news articles. And it’s collaborating with advocacy groups to research the complex dealings and structures of tech firms.
Tech Inquiry’s latest report reveals (among many other things) Microsoft’s substantial role in a military drone AI program called Project Maven. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because the same program caused a huge rift at Google in 2018 when thousands of employees objected to the “Don’t be evil” company contributing AI tech to a killer drone program. Google ultimately left Maven, but its peers in tech continued on, with little public notice.
FROM TEAM PLAYER TO DISSIDENT
It was another Google controversy that gave Poulson international status. In 2018, when he was an AI researcher at the company, he encountered source code for Project Dragonfly, a version of Google’s namesake search engine being developed for mainland China. It contained a blacklist of forbidden queries, including the term “human rights.” Google’s facilitation of Chinese government censorship was well known within the company, but Poulson made news by taking a stand against it in a public resignation.
Poulson’s resignation letter quickly made him a spokesperson for tech worker opposition, with appeal to both the left and the right. “It was a reasonably bipartisan issue—actually, if anything, Republicans cared more about it than Democrats,” he says. “I wasn’t criticizing the United States. From my perspective, I was criticizing Google. But I’m sure from a lot of people’s perspectives, they were onboard because it included a critique of China.”
Poulson’s advocacy extended beyond censorship to also opposing Google’s work on military contracts, such as Maven. And he found himself invited to confidential meetings between tech CEOs and senior officials from the Department of Defense and intelligence agencies, who looked to him as the voice of techies opposed to working on weapons systems. “I’m not quite so sure I had any significant impact on what their opinions were,” he says. “But I certainly learned a lot about what sorts of relationships existed and who attended those sorts of meetings.”
Tech Inquiry’s Procurement and Lobbying Explorer allows anyone to probe the connections between companies and several national and state governments–with more to come.
Exposing those relationships became the goal of Tech Inquiry, which Poulson formed in summer 2019 along with four other tech experts. They include fellow Google dissidents Irene Knapp and Laura Nolan, anti-surveillance advocate Liz O’Sullivan, and tech consultant Shauna Gordon-McKeon. “Both Liz and Laura have played very significant roles in the campaign to stop killer robots,” says Poulson. Knapp is also a privacy advocate. And Gordon-McKeon develops open-source software to help groups govern themselves online.
Unsurprisingly given its founders’ backgrounds, the organization employs a fair amount of technology. Working at Google, Poulson specialized in natural language processing and recommendation systems. While we mostly encounter recommendation engines in features, such as Netflix suggestions and TikTok feeds, the tech goes much further. Tech Inquiry sets it loose on data, such as federal procurement records, to understand connections between companies and the government. It also analyzes language on company websites to find similarities between them.
The result is a recommendation system that guides research by Tech Inquiry or anyone who uses its tools. “Maybe they know about [data analysis firm] Palantir, but they don’t know about, say, a Black Cape or a Fivecast or one of those companies,” says Poulson. “Having a recommendation system helps fill in some of those similarities.”
But there’s still plenty of manual labor. Tech Inquiry’s previous report, Death and Taxes, documented how technology and defense companies benefited from the Trump corporate tax cuts and how much they have been able to avoid in federal taxes. The report, which covered 57 publicly traded companies, required reading through and collating over 1,000 financial filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
UNTANGLING THE CONNECTIONS
Tech Inquiry’s latest report, Easy as PAI, reveals complex defense and law-enforcement programs that use publicly available information (PAI), such as social media postings, satellite imagery, and location data. Some of these deals are revealed for the first time. Others, such as Project Maven, are fleshed out in greater detail.
One trend is how consumer technologies have migrated into military applications. For example, a company called SmileML made an iOS game in which people win points by mimicking the look of emojis. That produced data to train an AI in recognizing facial expressions—tech that smileML supplies to companies to assess the performance of their salespeople. SmileML also sold the tech for $235,000 to the Special Operations Command, which oversees special ops by four branches of the U.S. military, for projects involving “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance,” per government documents.
Another case is X-Mode Social, which harvested location data from consumer mobile apps, such as a prayer app called Muslim Pro. The company later won a $200,000 contract to provide location data to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the military intel wing of the Pentagon. (According to a report in Motherboard, it’s unclear what the military did with this data.)
Neither of these deals was publicized, nor was there a direct link between the Pentagon and the companies. Instead, SmileML was a subcontractor to a British defense firm called BAE Systems. And X-Mode Social, which later changed its name to Outlogic, contracted through a company called Systems & Technology Research.
I must confess that my eyes glazed over at times as I struggled through the obtuse structures and relationships detailed in Poulson’s report. The tech-military connections are dense, often involving little-known companies or subsidiaries, running through obscure middlemen, and linking to unfamiliar government agencies in order to fulfill vaguely described, acronym-laden objectives.
But Poulson enjoys the challenge of decrypting these corporate dealings. “If you’re interested in a company, of course you’re interested in who owns them and what’s under them,” he says. “Because if you don’t know those things, then you’re not actually knowing what that company is doing.”
Unraveling the Project Maven ball of yarn was one of the biggest components of Tech Inquiry’s new report. The issue gained prominence because of the Google connection, coming at a time when employee activism, on a number of issues at the company, was spiking. And when Google pulled out of Maven in 2019, the program faded from public view. But it continued under the radar, involving dozens of tech companies. “Press attention given to different companies is kind of wildly off the mark as to what their roles have been in military contracting,” says Poulson.
As usual, these ties were filtered through contractors: Booz Allen Hamilton (Edward Snowden’s former employer) and a tech provider called ECS Federal. The latter managed three contracts that involved 33 tech companies. Microsoft tops the list, receiving $31.6 million last year to supply AI for analyzing video and motion. Other name brands on the list include Amazon Web Services, IBM, and Peter Thiel’s Palantir. But the second-biggest contractor (receiving $25.2 million) was Clarifai, a boutique AI company that’s providing facial recognition tech to the Pentagon. (Unlike some companies, Clarifai has been very up front about its work with the military.)
CHALLENGING THE MEDIA
The press has been key to Poulson’s personal rise as a tech critic, as well as publicizing Tech Inquiry’s research. The New York Times, for instance, has covered Poulson’s Google advocacy, run an opinion piece he wrote, and quoted him in several articles, such as one about Intel and Nvidia’s ties to Chinese government oppression.
But the Times now finds itself under Tech Inquiry’s microscope. Easy as PAI points out the paper’s collaboration with the nonprofit think tank Center for Advanced Defense Studies on an article about North Korean oil deliveries. That organization uses technology from controversial firm Palantir and has also contracted with the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency to provide what the records call “bulk datasets.” The think tank has also collaborated with Buzzfeed News, including on a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of detention centers in China’s Xinjiang region.
Tech Inquiry also publicizes the links between military contractors and media organizations ProPublica, MIT Technology Review, and The Washington Post. The three are partners in an association called The Center for New Data. The Center also includes two location-tracking data brokers: Outlogic, which harvested data from the Muslim prayer app; and Veraset, a company with ties to Saudi intelligence.
In some cases, news outlets that expose the activities of data harvesting technologies are utilizing the same or similar technologies. “Why is it that journalists are off limits for pointing out their usage of surveillance technology?” says Poulson.
Critical as he may be, Poulson recognizes the media as a key constituency for Tech Inquiry’s research tool. “I definitely know there are journalists that use it,” he says.
The group also aims to serve advocacy organizations. Recently, it helped the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE) with a project called Big Tech Sells War. Opposed to the military and surveillance projects of the 20-year “War on Terror,” ACRE built a website to document the tech industry’s role in that war. It draws heavily on data collected by Tech Inquiry.
Poulson’s group is currently working on a project to map the global footprint of cloud-computing companies. That’s a paid gig for worker union UNI Global, funded by the German government’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation, and it will bring some much-needed income. Tech Inquiry is very picky about where it gets funding, and doesn’t solicit or accept money from corporations or from foundations linked to tech billionaires, such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative or the Gates Foundation. Its most common funding is from individuals sending in $50 per month.
As a result, the organization has been an all-volunteer effort till now. Poulson says that it now has enough money to fund a part-time position, likely his. “That’s exciting to not just be burning cash,” he says, with a laugh. Not that he’s likely to limit his hours to those he’s paid for. “[This is] the only thing I’ve done for the past year,” he says.
And he intends to do a lot more. Tech Inquiry started out providing insight into companies’ dealings with national governments. Now it’s digging into state governments, with information on Florida and New York State procurement and California lobbying filings, for instance. Each state has its own system for making information available, which requires a lot of tweaking to automate data collection.
The group is also going international. It already has data on the so-called “Five Eyes” intel alliance of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Now it’s setting sights on the European Union and China. It’s developing a machine-translation system to render these countries’ complex documents into English, which likely requires training their own AI models to handle the task.
As Tech Inquiry has evolved, it’s had to evaluate the identity it projects. On a personal level, its members favor restrictions on military technologies and on the role of Silicon Valley in developing them. But it wants to be seen as an objective source of data, available to anyone.
“We started out [with] advocacy. And so I don’t think you can ever really fully shake that as an organization,” says Poulson. But he’s trying to strike a neutral tone in his reporting, letting the information speak for itself without commentary. “I find more and more that if you find something that’s actually interesting, you don’t have to really infer anything from it,” he says. “You can just state the facts, and that’s enough.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sean Captain is a business, technology, and science journalist based in North Carolina.
Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen spoke to a Senate subcommittee this week, alleging that her ex-employer has amplified extremism and contributed to self-loathing among users, especially teen girls.
Undoubtedly, some people will see this latest burst of horrifying news about the social networking giant and consider deleting their accounts. Facebook does allow you to do so, and says your data will be permanently deleted. But truly extricating yourself from Facebook isn’t as easy as it sounds. And even if you do manage to opt out of the company’s services, including Instagram and Whatsapp, it’s likely Facebook will still have and continue to receive data about you.
Social life still happens on Facebook
First of all, you may not easily be able to extricate your social and professional life from Facebook and its other properties—like Instagram and WhatsApp—without a lot of planning. During Monday’s Facebook outage, businesses that use Facebook and Instagram to advertise and communicate with customers found themselves suddenly cut off. Everyday users fretted they might lose their only copies of family photos or conversations (old activity, at least, can be exported from Facebook before you delete). In places where WhatsApp is the dominant texting service, people didn’t have a way to communicate with friends, family, and business associates.
So, if your business’s customers, the PTA at your kids’ school, or your elderly relatives use Facebook, it might not be simple to delete your account without having to rely on other people to relay messages for you.
If that’s not your situation, you still may want to reach out to anyone whose up-to-date contact information you don’t have outside of Facebook and let them know you’re leaving the platform. Of course, you’ll likely have to use Facebook to do so. If you have used Facebook to set up a Page for your business, band, or book club and want that to remain accessible, you’ll also need to turn it over to somebody else, or it will disappear along with your account.
Most sites use Facebook Login
Then, you’ll also still have to think about whether you use Facebook to log in to other sites, apps and even smart devices, and whether you’ll be able to access those accounts after you get rid of Facebook.
“You won’t be able to use Facebook Login for other apps you may have signed up for with your Facebook account, like Spotify or Pinterest,” Facebook warns. “You may need to contact the apps and websites to recover those accounts.”
If you have a virtual reality device from Facebook’s Oculus line, you should also be aware that you could lose apps and even money on the device when you delete your account.
“If you use your Facebook account to log in to Oculus, deleting your Facebook account will also delete your Oculus information,” according to the company. “This includes your app purchases and your achievements. You will no longer be able to return any apps and will lose any existing store credits.”
Even so, Facebook still will have data on you
But assuming you’re willing to take some time to make sure your social and professional life will withstand your departure and reconfigure any apps tied to your account, deleting your account will mean Facebook will no longer have any information about you, right? Not exactly.
For one, an enormous number of websites and apps embed what’s called the Facebook Pixel. The name refers to when websites would literally embed single-pixel images fetched from third-party tracking services as a way to record information about visitors to their sites. Today, the Facebook Pixel is a custom bit of code that tracks what you do on third-party sites and sends that information to Facebook.
It’s mostly designed to target you with Facebook ads based on your activities on third-party sites and apps, but even if you don’t have a Facebook account, the Facebook Pixel will still load and send identifying data to Facebook. That includes your IP address and the Pixel-enabled websites you’ve visited.
Even if you lock down your browser with anti-tracking plugins and enable the latest anti-tracking software on your phone to stop the Facebook Pixel from following you around, your data could still end up with Facebook. For one, the company allows businesses like brick-and-mortar stores to upload customer information like names, phone numbers, and email addresses to Facebook as a way to track how effectively the company’s ads are motivating offline purchases. Since there’s no way for them to know if you’re a Facebook user, they’ll be sending this data to Facebook even if you’ve shuttered your account.
Facebook also allows users to upload their cellphone contacts to Facebook and other apps like WhatsApp (which, to its credit, it says it doesn’t permanently store the numbers or share them with its corporate parent). This means your contact information could still be uploaded by anyone who stores it in their phones.
The Facebook outage Monday gave everyone a sense for a few hours what life would be like without Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp. For some, it was the butt of a joke, and for others it was a personal or professional communications nightmare. But even if you enjoyed the time away from Mark Zuckerberg’s empire, extricating yourself in real life likely won’t be quite so simple.
About the author
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist living in New Orleans.
Google today announced a plan to invest $1billion over 5 years to support Africa’s digital transformation. The investment focuses on enabling fast, affordable internet access for more Africans; building helpful products; supporting entrepreneurship and small business; and helping nonprofits to improve lives across Africa. The announcement was made at Google’s first-ever Google for Africa event, held virtually and livestreamed.
The planned $1billion investment announced today by Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, will include:enabling affordable internet access and building helpful products, investments in entrepreneurship and technology,empowering businesses as they continue or embark on their digital transformation, renewed funding for nonprofits
As part of this process Google is building global infrastructure to help bring faster internet to more people and lower connectivity costs. The subsea cable Equiano will run through South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and St Helena and connect the continent with Europe.
Over and above this Google will invest in Black-led startups in Africa by providing cash awards and hands-on support. This is in addition to Google’s existing support through the Google for Startups Accelerator Africa, which has helped more than 80 African startups with equity-free finance, working space and access to expert advisors over the last three years. Google also announced the launch of an Africa Investment Fund. Through this fund, the company will invest $50M in startups and provide them with access to Google’s employees, network, and technologies to help them build meaningful products for their communities.
The announcement expands Google’s ongoing support for Africa’s digital transformation and entrepreneurship. In 2017, Google launched its Grow with Google initiative with a commitment to train 10 million young Africans and small businesses in digital skills. To date, Google has trained over 6 million people across 25 African countries, with over 60% of participants experiencing growth in their career and/or business as a result. Google has also supported more than 50 nonprofits across Africa with over $16million of investment, and enabled hundreds of millions of Africans to access internet services for the first time through Android.