By Chris Merriman for The Inquirer 

We’re not ones to tattle. But it seems that Apple has a tattling problem and it’s manifesting in an email about tattling.

Let’s put it another way, a leaker within the Apple business has leaked a memo warning people to stop leaking things or they might lose their jobs and gain a reputation as a leaking son-of-a-gun.

In a memo to employees obtained by Bloomberg that had been published on the supposedly internal-only employee blog, the innovating-Windows-hating company warned that it had ‘caught 29 leakers’ in 2017 of which 12 were arrested.

“These people not only lose their jobs, they can face extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere,” it warns.

Amongst the leaks were details about the iPhone X and Apple Watch that were hidden inside software, and the internal announcement about iPhone feature delays that was later plastered all over the tech press.

“We want the chance to tell our customers why the product is great, and not have that done poorly by someone else,” it warns.

Of course, audiences love the rumours, and we love being a part of that process, so we don’t necessarily agree with these sentiments, especially as they come from a leak about a leak, which is just so precious we could melt (with laughter).

The tech companies tell us that rumours reduce sales of the finished product and give intelligence to rivals in a cut-throat market.

From our direct experience over the past 20ish years, rumours about much-anticipated handsets are some of the most popular and engaged with articles we write, and a fair few of them come with record sales in tow, so we’re not convinced that it’s all bad.

In fact, a lot of rumours are started by the companies themselves. We suspect that at least one upcoming handset we can think of has been massively hyped by the company itself dropping tidbits.

And no, we’re not going to tell you which One. Plus we suspect Apple has done it too, on more than one occasion.

By Thandi Skade for Destiny Connect

FNB has announced the launch eWallet eXtra, a mobile offering that enables unbanked South Africans to open a bank account remotely via their cellphones.

The service, which is scheduled for launch in June, will enable consumers to open a bank account without ever having to walk into a branch and without having to submit any paperwork.

The entire process of opening an account is done digitally and the only details you would have to input on your phone is your name, surname and ID number.

“eWallet eXtra will enable users to send or receive deposits from individuals and other banks, store funds for an unlimited period, pay accounts and also buy prepaid products like airtime, data and electricity. Users can also on send to other recipients and withdraw at any FNB ATM or at tills across participating Spar stores, which also allow for over-the-counter purchases. The daily spend limit is R3 000,” says Gugu Zikhali, FNB Head of Transaction Products: Mass Market.

Account holders will also be able to check their bank account balance and transaction history and similar to any bank account, you’ll need to generate a PIN in order to access the account.

The idea was born out of the need to bring the gap between banked and unbanked consumers, while also servicing the needs of irregular income earners like season workers who don’t always necessarily need all the services offered with a traditional bank account.

“This is why we have integrated some eWallet functionality into the eWallet eXtra mobile bank account. After an in-depth assessment of eWallet user patterns, we realised that in excess of one million users have been effectively using it as a bank account despite the fact that the solution was designed as a remittance service,” says Pieter Woodhatch, FNB Easy CEO.

There are no monthly banking fees attached to eWallet eXtra and it doesn’t accept debit orders.

“We believe that eWallet eXtra is the ideal solution to address this important gap and based on the analysis of our customer base and research on financial inclusion, we estimate the size of this market to be in excess of 11 million,” he adds.

You need to be over the age of 16 to use the offering.

Image credit: Memeburn

Netflix subscriber count hits 125-million

Netflix’s first quarterly report for the 2018 financial year shows that after notching its most subscriber additions in Q4 2017 (8.33 million) it barely slowed down.

Over the last three months, it added another 7.4 million subscribers (1.96 million of them in the US), its second-biggest quarter ever and enough to hit 125 million subscribers on the dot. The ongoing flood of new content certainly helps, including stunts like its Super Bowl Sunday release of The Cloverfield Paradox.

Despite the response from critics Netflix still said: “the event showcased how a big branded film can be marketed and delivered to consumers instantaneously across the globe without a wait for the theatrical window.” Meanwhile, the Spanish series Money Heist became its “most-watched non-English series on Netflix ever.”

While confirming that it will spend between $7.5 and $8 billion this year on content, there isn’t much new to announce. Netflix touched on its expanded agreement with Comcast briefly, and while it didn’t reveal bundle prices it said “We believe that the lower churn in these bundles offsets the lower Netflix ASP.”

Source: Engadget 

By Jason Del Rey for Recode

With a stock price that has increased 135% over the last five years, Home Depot remains one of the few giant brick-and-mortar retailers to find success in the age of Amazon.

Now, the $200 billion home improvement retailer is going on the biggest technology hiring spree in its history to try to maintain that edge.

Home Depot plans to add more than 1 000 new hires to its technology teams in 2018, the company will announce on Wednesday, to support an $11 billion multi-year investment plan to extend its lead in brick-and-mortar retail over competitors like Lowe’s and fend off increased competition from Amazon and other online players. The company has approximately 2,800 employees in technology roles today.

The hires will span roles such as software engineering, user experience design, network engineering and product management, and be located predominately in the company’s Atlanta, Austin and Dallas technology offices, the company said.

They mark the onset of an $11.1 billion strategic plan, first announced in December, designed to improve Home Depot’s online shopping experience, expand its warehouse footprint to speed up deliveries, and make improvements to its stores to help customers find items quicker and check out faster. Recode reported in December that Home Depot had weighed an acquisition bid for the $9 billion logistics company XPO to beef up its shipping and delivery capabilities.

Matt Carey, Home Depot’s chief information officer, acknowledged in an interview that the hiring numbers might not compare to those of the leader in U.S. online retail, Amazon. But they mark an increase of more than a third for Home Depot’s technology staff, and Carey said he’s confident the company’s current plan is a differentiated one.

“I don’t run their roadmap; I run my roadmap,” he said of Amazon in an interview with Recode. “The roadmap we have is one our customers are encouraging us to go execute on. I’m not limited by anything other than time right now.”

By Siseko Njobeni for Business Report; by Carin Smith for Fin24

The Congress of South African Trade Unions yesterday urged the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) to reject Eskom’s application to recoup R666,6-billion, saying such a move was unaffordable, unreasonable and unjustifiable.

If the Regulatory Clearing Account (RCA) application – which covers the 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17 financial years – is approved, Eskom would claw back the billions of rand through higher tariffs.

According to various organisations, the R66bn could lead to a 30% increase in tariffs.

South African consumers have reached a price ceiling in terms of electricity tariff hikes, according to the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (Safcei). Kim Kruvshaar, an independent sustainability auditor, represented Safcei at public hearings by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) in Cape Town on Tuesday.
“We don’t believe Eskom is an efficient electricity provider. Its business model is out of sync with global trends,” Kruvshaar told the Nersa panel.

Public hearings

The RCA is a backward-looking mechanism that seeks to reconcile what Nersa awarded Eskom on the basis of what was forecast in the Multi-Year Price Determination (MYPD) and what materialised, as reflected in the utility’s financial statements.

In a presentation at Nersa’s public hearings on the application in Cape Town yesterday, Cosatu said higher tariffs were not the solution to Eskom’s problems. It said higher tariffs affected key sectors such as mining, inflation and economic competitiveness. It said Eskom had failed to come clean on state capture and to take serious action against maladministration and corruption.

The trade union federation said Eskom should institute comprehensive forensic and criminal investigation “with dismissals, arrests, asset seizures and prosecutions”.

Speaking at the hearing, Eskom interim chief executive Phakamani Hadebe said Eskom’s sustainability depended on a sound regulatory environment that was aligned with existing Nersa rules and other legislative requirements.

“We therefore rely on Nersa to review our application in line with the MYPD3 methodology, which is a globally accepted regulatory principle that reconciles variances between the
projected and actual revenue and costs that Eskom incurred for certain elements. “It is also worth noting that we based our application on the decision already taken by Nersa on our first RCA application for 2013/14.

“We have spent the money in the implementation of our mandate of providing electricity to South Africans by raising debt as it was not included in the revenue decision and need to repay those loans accordingly in order to ensure credibility with our lenders.”

Hadebe said Eskom’s application only covered costs that were incurred efficiently and prudently.

Recovery

He said Eskom was on a path of recovery on governance. The Eskom board – appointed in January – was preoccupied with the power utility’s operational and financial stability. “Continued focus and effort will be placed in combating corruption and pursuing justice within the legal framework. We also welcome various investigative interventions that are under way to get to the bottom of recent acts of fraud and corruption, and we are in the process of claiming back money owing to Eskom, including money that was fraudulently paid to McKinsey and Trillian,” said Hadebe.

Agri Western Cape said electricity costs had risen significantly since 2008. The federation of farming organisations said Eskom’s RCA should be vetted by auditors.

According to an article published in the Sunday Times at the weekend, former Exclusive Books CEO Benjamin Trisk is willing to re-engineer Edcon’s flailing CNA brand.

This follows his recent departure from the book retailer after a breakdown with the company’s shareholders. Hired in 2013, he spent the past five years in charge of a turn-around strategy after the store had experienced a series of failures.

Trisk told Business Times this week that he would only consider joining CNA if approached. “I would probably look at it very seriously. However, I must make it clear that I have not been approached.”
“But I’m not leaping into anything. I’ve had one approach from overseas which I can’t talk about at the moment. Locally I’ve also had approaches, but I think it’s quite early in the cycle,” he said.

CNA: Edcon’s white elephant

CNA has long been in the doldrums. In 1997, Wooltru bought CNA out of CNA-Gallo for R447-million.
A turnaround plan was implemented but failed dismally and in 2001, the company was sold to Gordon Kay & Associates for R192-million. By the following year, CNA was in liquidation.
Edcon, under the leadership of US retailer Steve Ross, snapped up CNA for R141-million, but 16 years later the retail brand continues to make losses.
CNA is part of Edcon’s speciality division, that once housed Legit, Edgars Shoe Gallery and the group’s non-profitable brands.

According to The Sunday Times, Chris Gilmour, an investment analyst, said: “They tried hard, but couldn’t win. They [Edcon] are thinking about getting out anyway, they can’t keep on putting more money into it. [CNA] is a pile of unadulterated rubbish that should have died 20 years ago.”
Gilmour said South Africa didn’t have a high-street retail culture anymore, making it difficult for brands such as CNA to have a market “and as a result the model is completely shot”.
Meanwhile, Alec Abraham, a senior equity analyst at Sasfin Wealth, told The Sunday Times: “I don’t know what they [CNA] are and I don’t know if they know what they are.”
He said there was a likelihood that CNA would end up in a similar situation to that of Musica, where “they can’t find a buyer because no one wants to buy this unfit business and they are running with the idea as long as they are not losing money on it. And if they are going to be the last man standing, then so be it.”

An Edcon spokesperson has confirmed that CNA is not for sale.

According to Edcon’s latest financial results, for the 13 weeks to December 23 last year, CNA has 196 stores, including 11 Samsung stores, positioning its offering in electronics, stationery, gaming and the limited book retail offering.

Original article by Palesa Vuyolwethu Tshandu for The Sunday Times

By Allison Jeftha for Fin24 

Fin24 went shopping at South Africa’s leading retailers to see who has the lowest prices on products exempt from the increase in value-added tax (VAT).

The VAT hike from 14% to 15% came into effect on April 1, after an announcement by former finance minister Malusi Gigaba in the 2018 Budget.

There has been a widespread backlash to the impact it will have on South African consumers’ pockets, especially those of the poor.

Only 19 items have been excluded from the VAT hike.

The current list of VAT-exempt items comprises the following items:

• Brown bread
• Maize meal
• Samp
• Mealie rice
• Dried mealies
• Dried beans
• Lentils
• Pilchards/sardines in tins
• Milk powder
• Dairy powder blend
• Rice
• Vegetables
• Fruit
• Vegetable oil
• Milk
• Cultured milk
• Brown wheat meal
• Eggs
• Edible legumes and pulses of leguminous plants

When Fin24 conducted a snap poll among users to share their views on the VAT increase and to tell us which items they would like to be added to the current VAT-free list, we were inundated with responses.

The message was clear: the current list of items is not enough.

Fin24 previously reported that Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene said government will continue to hold talks with stakeholders in a bid to soften the blow of the VAT hike on the poor, and is prepared to look at expanding the list of zero-rated goods.

Fin24 filled some trolleys at Pick n Pay [JSE:PIK], Woolworths [JSE:WHL], Spar [JSE:SPP], Checkers and Shoprite [JSE:SHP] to get an idea of what the basket of goods would cost.

Here’s what we found:

  • Pick n Pay – Total Price: R363.64
  • Woolworths – Total price: R592.19
  • Spar – Total price: R400.55 spar
  • Shoprite – Total price: R331.08
  • Checkers – Total price: R403.17

The winner is Shoprite, with Pick n Pay not far behind. To be fair, Fin24 compared house brands, and where there weren’t, we chose the cheapest comparable items.

Where the quantities of comparable items in-store differed, we checked for the prices of the like-for-like items of the respective retailers online. The only two retailers that had different size packaging were Pick n Pay and Woolworths. The comparable sized items were found on their websites.

By Joseph Berger for The New York Times 

About six years ago, Jacob Gutman, an owner of Court Street Office Supplies, noticed that the lawyers and the judges in the nearby courthouses were no longer buying large leather-bound appointment books to anchor their desks.

January was usually the busiest month, a time for restocking stationery, but bookkeepers and accountants in the nearby municipal offices were no longer ordering as many ledger books and the charts containing the latest tax rates. He saw that younger people — students and teachers at the neighborhood’s five colleges and graduate schools, workers and residents of Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill — were no longer buying refills for their pocket calendars.

Plainly, the ubiquity of computers, smartphones and other electronic gadgets were the culprits. So Mr. Gutman reinvigorated personal service, stocked a wide range of digitized products, even beefed up a line of toys to lure nearby residents. He was able to keep his store afloat. He even weathered the arrival of big-box stores like Staples and Office Depot.

But only for so long. The greater ease of shopping online and its increasing adoption by Americans has meant that once-likely customers are no longer buying anything from him, even if they come in to browse.

“I sell this for $4.89,” said Mr. Gutman, snatching a decorative electric candle from a shelf as an example. “Someone comes in and with his cellphone takes a picture. It takes him less than three seconds and he can get it online for $4.29.”

The wounds have been so bone-deep that the store found it difficult to cover its overhead and turn much of a profit. And so on Feb. 16, just before the eve of the Sabbath, Mr. Gutman, a Hasidic Jew with a long white beard and a gentle voice and manner, closed the store.

It had been a fixture of Brooklyn’s clamorous heart for 35 years, selling pens, paper, rubber bands and manila files, as well as such specialized items as Blumberg legal forms for divorce petitions, apartment leases and all manners of litigation.

The store sold pens, paper, rubber bands and manila files, as well as specialized items like Blumberg legal forms for divorce petitions, apartment leases and all manners of litigation. Credit Mark Abramson for The New York Times
He spent the last day manning a cash register for a line of bargain hunters as well as sad-eyed regulars who were picking up the remaining shards of merchandise strewn on the higgledy-piggledy shelves at 50% off.

Mr. Gutman, it turns out, is transforming Court Street Office Supplies into an online retailer as well, delivering and mailing stationery out of his 7,000-square-foot warehouse two miles away in a scruffy industrial slice of Gowanus, but dropping some of the services he once offered, like photocopying, faxing and that mainstay of many a stationery store, a notary. Those were services essential to poorer litigants who maneuvered the courts on their own.

It’s not news that what is happening to mom-and-pop stationery stores is also happening to small stores that sell books, clothing, toys, gifts, hardware. The trend partly explains the changeover into chain-store thoroughfares of once idiosyncratic shopping streets like Broadway on the Upper West Side.

Ted Potrikus, president of the Retail Council of New York State, which represents 2 000 merchants, identifies the problem as “the store in the palm of our hand — your cellphone”.

“People don’t want to spend their time downtown looking for a place to park — they’d rather do it online,” he said. He added that rising rents in popular downtowns have also been a factor in the shuttering of small and even big stores. With stationery, online shopping and digitization are such powerful trends that Staples closed almost 300 of its roughly 2,150 stores in North America between 2014 and 2016.

Still, for those who work and live around Court Street, the shift is causing heartache.

“It’s a tragedy, a sad day because there are lots of items you don’t find in places like Staples — rubber stamps and ribbons for adding machines,” said one shopper, John McGill, 70, who operates Two for the Pot, a whole-bean coffee and imported teas shop on Clinton Street. “Besides, I like these guys. I will miss them. They’re knowledgeable. They’re friendly and some of them are pretty funny when we banter over the counter.”

George Jacobs, 71, a computer programmer who came over from Bushwick, said Court Street stocked hard-to-get 11-by-17-inch engineering paper that he uses to make flow charts and drawings on his HP Plotter, a type of machine that has essentially been replaced by large-format inkjet printers.

Court Street Office Supplies will become an online retailer, delivering and mailing stationery out of a 7,000-square-foot warehouse two miles away in Gowanus. Credit Mark Abramson for The New York Times
Megan Schoenberg, 26, who works in her family’s real estate business, was in the store on its last day buying a small footstool and a transparent plastic file box.

“It’s sad because this is a monument in the neighborhood,” she said.

She recalled a similar feeling she had with the closing of a Brooklyn Heights pharmacy and a video store. Others mentioned the loss of BookCourt, a literary landmark that had been in Cobble Hill since 1981 and offered periodic talks by such writers as Don DeLillo and Junot Díaz. Some customers predicted they would have to round up a car to get to Brooklyn malls where they can find a Staples-type store. Ronald Goldbrenner, a longtime attorney in Downtown Brooklyn, compared the loss of the Court Street stationery store to losing a “foundational” business like a Zabar’s.

“These are classic institutions,” he said, “and what makes the difference is the excellence. What ordinary merchants do they do better and more, and this place is an example of better and more.”

Rhea Lieber, a senior at the nearby Packer School, wrote a letter, in both Hebrew and English, lamenting the loss. “The Packer community is devastated to say goodbye to such a neighborhood staple (no pun intended),” she wrote.

In some ways, Court Street was a throwback to an earlier time. It had a glass counter that was stocked with numerous brands of fountain pens, including a $500 Pelikan, and it sold ink for those pens. It carried carbon paper.

“There are still some lawyers who use it,” Mr. Gutman said

And who uses fountain pens anymore?

“Real traditional lawyers or judges from the old school, and they usually use it to make an impression when they’re with people,” he said.

“It’s a tragedy, a sad day because there are lots of items you don’t find in places like Staples — rubber stamps and ribbons for adding machines,” said one shopper. “Besides, I like these guys. I will miss them.”

But many younger customers don’t even bother with ballpoints. “Some don’t have a pen in their in their pocket,” said Mr. Gutman. “The ones that do, their image is the iPhone that they have in their hands. It’s almost embarrassing for them to have a pen.”

Mr. Gutman got into the stationery business in 1982 when his own trade — cutting and selling diamonds — suffered in an industrywide slump. A grocer friend, Lazar Abramowitz, persuaded him to team up and buy an available stationery store on Court Street called Card Cabin.

“At that time, there was no Staples,” Mr. Gutman said. “There were real people and real merchandise.”

When Mr. Abramowitz died three years ago, his widow, Miriam, became Mr. Gutman’s partner.

His motivation for finally closing was not because of a rent increase, he said. His lease had more than two years left, and his landlord had offered to lower the rent — which, given neighborhood prices can be estimated at roughly $30,000 a month, though Mr. Gutman did not want to reveal the number. And his 12 employees were not asking for raises.

A visit in the last days of March to the Court Street warehouse, its eight aisles piled to the 24-foot tall ceilings with cartons of Bic pens, Sharpie markers, Post-it Notes and Brother ink cartridges, suggested that many customers have found other options. Some of the larger accounts call in orders, but not many individuals are trooping from Downtown Brooklyn for a pen or roll of Scotch tape.

Indeed, Mr. Gutman and his partner Ms. Abramowitz say that with stationery becoming a diminishing need in the age of computers, they are gradually concentrating on becoming an office furniture purveyor. They have hired a designer, Brian Glickman, who arranged Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue offices and are hoping to design and furnish work stations for small businesses.

“Kids today don’t want to work behind desks,” Mr. Glickman said. “They want time to decompress and want things like pool tables.”

Mr. Gutman is not yet supplying pool tables, but as habits continue to change, who knows?

Image credit: New York Times

By Jonathan Easton for PCR

Back in January, it was announced that Fujifilm is set to acquire Xerox to create an $18 billion printing monolith but cracks are starting to show.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, a new lawsuit is claiming that Xerox CEO Jeff Jacobson pursued a deal, even though the company’s board advised him against it.

That board ‘advice’ actually came all the way back in November 2017 because the CEO’s position was under review. The paper appears to have learned this information from an amended suit filed in a New York state court on Sunday by Darwin Deason, a Xerox holder who opposes the deal. Deason claims that the deal ‘undervalues the copier and printer company’.

On Sunday, the company denied the claim, with Xerox Chairman Robert Keegan making a statement that: “Xerox CEO Jeff Jacobson was fully authorized to engage in discussions with Fujifilm and Fuji Xerox on the proposed combination.”

He added that the lawsuit “distorts many of the facts regarding the proposed combination with Fuji Xerox.”

Deason, combined with activist shareholder Carl Icahn, holds a not insignificant 15 per cent of Xerox shares. They are arguing that, from their perspective as shareholders, the deal “disproportionately” favours Fuji.

The lawsuit could also be read as something of a power play from the outspoken Deason who wants to shake up the board.

As Reuters points out: “Deason wants to nominate directors to the Xerox board, despite missing a deadline, arguing in his suit that the current board had made a series of significant decisions and disclosures to stockholders after the nomination deadline.”

The news may come as a shock, with all parties previously appearing delighted at the deal.

Steve Hoover, senior VP and CTO at Xerox, wrote for PCR:

“What is it about the combination that will help our customers? Is it because Xerox and Fuji Xerox perfectly complement each other with our technology? Customers will have access to a broader combined product portfolio and feel confident that they are getting the best product available for them, regardless of where in the world they are—whether it is Boise or Burma, Japan or Jakarta. Additionally, the new Fuji Xerox will have a fully unified supply chain, which will bring the products to our customers seamlessly across the globe faster than ever before.

“The new Fuji Xerox will combine two leaders with world-class technological capabilities and cultures of innovation. Together, we invest nearly one billion dollars in research and product development and will lead the evolution of our industry. We will go beyond print as we know it today and drive change in important areas like inkjet, printed electronics, and printing on three-dimensional objects. In addition, our customers can expect advancements in artificial intelligence and analysis of text, image and video, device security and intelligent workplace assistants.”

By Alex Hern for The Guardian 

Facebook has started the process of notifying the approximately 87 million users whose data was harvested by the election consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

The social network eventually hopes to inform every user who was affected with a warning at the top of their Facebook news feed. For now, however, individuals can check by going to a new help page on the site or searching for “How can I tell if my info was shared with Cambridge Analytica?” in Facebook’s help centre.

Most users will see a message saying that “neither you nor your friends logged into ‘This Is Your Digital Life’”, the personality quiz that Cambridge Analytica used to gather its data.

Around 87 million individuals, including more than 1 million people in the UK, will receive a different response saying “a friend of yours did log in”.

That means that their public profile, page likes, birthday and current city were likely shared with the company, as well as potentially the contents of their news feed at the time.

Around 300,000 people – including 53 people in Australia, 10 people in New Zealand, and an unknown number of users in the UK – will receive a message informing them that they installed the This Is Your Digital Life app.

This means they almost certainly handed over the personal information of all their Facebook friends at the time, as well as formed part of the core group for the psychometric profiling that Cambridge Analytica carried out during the US election campaign.

Facebook has promised widespread changes to its platform to prevent further “abuse” of the sort it attributes to Cambridge Analytica. “These actions would prevent any app like [This Is Your Digital Life] from being able to access so much data today,” the company said in March.

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