A wishlist for 2019

What I would like to see happen, technology-wise, in the year ahead of us.

Read time 5min 10sec
Guest columnist James Francis.
Guest columnist James Francis.

Predicting the future is a tricky business, so I am not going to try. Instead, I'll duck with some dignity and rather suggest what I would like to see happen, technology-wise, in the year ahead of us. Some are idealised situations, not weighed by their likelihood. But I do think there is a chance of several occurring, based on events in 2018.

On the other hand, if I was a good gambler I might not be writing for a living - a mea culpa to protect my backside. Now, with that taken care of, how about the smartphone notch?

Android One starts to shine

No, nothing about the smartphone notch. It's such a storm in a teacup (and if you have to ask, just don't).

The stealth smartphone story of 2018 is how Android One is making a comeback. Conceived a number of years ago, it was meant to help standardise Android hardware a little bit so that it's easier to do things like patching. 'One' died a cruel death because nobody other than a few small manufacturers was interested.

That though was before Chinese smartphones became de rigueur and smaller brands there started using One. These are high-performance, low-cost devices - for example, three grand for performance almost three times that price.

Nokia has joined in as well so Android One might be going somewhere.

The 4th Industrial Revolution stops being a buzzword

Even our ministers are talking about the '4th Industrial Revolution', so you know the phrase has peaked.

It will be around for a few years more, but hopefully, in 2019 we'll see 4IR fatigue (though I must admit I like the acronym.)

At least people already use 'digital transformation' more sparingly...

Go, SITA, go!

SITA, the agency that stands over our government's technological capability, has been in a sad state for a long time. The embedded corruption is being rooted out, but those elements are fighting back with death threats and subterfuge.

SITA also needs to modernise, creating platforms that take it away from being a procurement rubber stamp and towards a provisioner of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS (cloud services) to the State.

This is the vision of its CEO, Setumo Mohapi, who receives many of those threats. He has been driving a fierce clean-up and modernisation strategy at SITA, which deserves a lot more media and public attention.

In 2019 we should see the SITA cloud platforms start going live, one of several signs that the tide is turning at State IT agency. But only if we protect the work there under Mohapi.

People stop talking about robot overlords

Do you for one welcome our robot overlords? This phrase will likely haunt us for years to come, but I can at least hope. Not only is it trite, but it's inaccurate. I don't worry about robot overlords. I worry about people like Vladimir Putin with a robot army. And, no, I am definitely not welcoming him for anything, except maybe a trial.

Data prices slump

More wishful thinking: we see a serious drop in mobile data prices.

There was such an opportunity a few years ago when Cell C and Telkom respectively tried to get price wars going. But consumers didn't bite - even though we love to complain, we rarely vote with our wallet in this issue.

Since then there have been new types of bundles and very affordable high-capacity deals. Yet data bought at the low end of the spectrum - a gigabyte or less - on prepaid remains ridiculously expensive.

Maybe I'm being conspiratorial, but prepaid happnes to be the largest portion of consumers and least represented class of citizens. Coincidence? Surely. But that's where data prices need to fall and I hope they will in 2019.

The spectrum issue gets settled

I support the State's WOAN concept, which would make spectrum more attainable to smaller telcos and new market entrants. It's a flawed model, but the alternative is business-as-usual with the large mobile operators - the same companies who wage wars against industry reforms, not prices.

But the State lacks the clout and respect from the public to realise the WOAN and its opponents know that. I expect that in order to speed things up, the State is going to opt for a spectrum auction, though one with terms that would try to help reform the market.

If industry in-fighting and bluffs don't hold things up, maybe we'll have clarity in 2019. But that rumble you just heard was MTN's and Vodacom's lawyers making retainer calculations.

Enough about Facebook

Here's a simple truth: Facebook makes money from our data through ads. It never said it wasn't doing that and since it has practically one major revenue stream, it's not hard to work out either. All that changed is consumers are less ignorant about what personal data represents, but we still avoid our own responsibilities here.

Also, it has 2 billion active users. Two Billion. You can't police that. There is no precedent and anyone who says 'use AI' usually doesn't know what they are talking about.

The Cambridge Analytica saga was overblown and misdirected (not to mention not as bad as, say, the Liberty hack - what could 40 terabytes of e-mails possibly contain?). And no, Donald Trump isn't POTUS because of Russian ads, but because he found a weak spot in a complacent system. That's not Facebook's fault.

Facebook isn't any better or worse than any of the tech heavyweights. This is complete wishful thinking, but maybe in 2019, we'll stop treating Facebook like a wrestling villain.

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