Every year throws up a long list of news stories, product launches and events. This year was better than most. Here are six 2019 stories that resonated with me. It’s a personal, unordered list and it’s written from a New Zealand perspective. You may have other highlights. Feel free to share them in the comments below.
Apple AirPods Pro
Apple used a busy, noisy Auckland cafe to show off the AirPods Pro. By the time they hit New Zealand there was already an excited buzz about the noise cancelling ear buds. I expected a positive experience.
Even so, the sound quality was surprising. It wasn’t only the active noise cancelling, although that’s impressive enough. The AirPods sound is accurate. It doesn’t seem possible that something so small could sound so good.
My review says Airpods Pro offer affordable noise cancelling. I recommend you read this.
Samsung Galaxy Fold
Until 2019 it had been a long time since I left a product demonstration with a smile on my face. Then it happened twice in a short period. First with the Apple AirPods Pro, then a second time with the Samsung Galaxy Fold.
The price tag is be north of three grand (NZ$3400). Samsung’s first generation folding phone is a touch more fragile than I’d like. Yet here is the first major breakthrough in handset design since Apple’s first iPhone. Samsung has broken the mould and come up with real innovation.
Samsung’s Galaxy Fold is less a phone, more a small tablet that you can fold and carry in a pocket. You might even see it as a pocket computer. Either way, it is beyond impressive.
When folded it is a long slim phone, a little thicker and heavier than we’ve come to expect. Unfolded it is about the size of an iPad Mini and does much the same job.
Huawei showed its folding phone earlier at Mobile World Congress. A brief look confirmed it was a contender. So far, only one of the two models on show in Barcelona has made it to market in New Zealand.
No doubt there will soon be more, better folding phone designs. I’d love to see what Apple can do with this format: how about an iPhone that morphs into an iPad?
But for now, this is Samsung’s triumph.
Spark Sport, Sky Sport Now
Spark Sport’s Rugby World Cup service came in for flak and some cruel media attention. That’s what you get for interfering with New Zealand’s favourite sporting code.
In my experience the streaming service worked fine during the RWC. I’ve racked up well over a hundred hours with the app. A lot of that was watching Premier League football1.
There have been hiccups, yet it is better experience than the BeIN service it replaced. My only gripe was I enjoyed the preview shows and the run-up coverage before big games on BeIN. Spark offers less of that. Also, half time is not so much fun without pundits.
Spark’s entry into streaming sport services has seen Sky lift its game. The new Sky Sport Now app has 12 channels of sport around the clock.
Sky Sport Now has excellent cricket coverage. It fills the European and international football gaps left by Spark. Most of the time there are enough channels to cover every game. Although there was one Champion’s League round where my team, Chelsea, only showed up as a replay later in the day.
I’m not complaining. The service is excellent. It’s good to see Spark and Sky compete by offering the best customer experience. It would be great if we had more of this kind of competitive tension.
The two streaming sport options are great value. Buying Sky Now and Spark Sport works out less each month than an old-style subscription to Sky’s satellite service. By my reckoning, there’s a broader selection of content to watch. That’s a win.
Deebot Ozmo 900
Robot vacuums aren’t new. The Deebot Ozmo 900 updates the idea. It offers mopping as well as vacuuming. I had low expectations before I saw it in action. It impressed me once we used it. This is the only way to go.
The best part about the Ozmo 900 is that it’s low-slung body can get under beds, cupboards and tables. These are places where manual vacuuming gets hard. Another great aspect is, because it does all the work, you can vacuum more often keeping the house cleaner.
Ozmo 900 is a long way from the Androids science fiction writers promised for 2019. The good news is we don’t need to hire bladerunners to take them out when we’re done with them.
UFB: end of part 1
In the end builders finished the national UFB fibre network on time and under budget. That’s rare for a major infrastructure project and unusual given the project length. Read how the project started in The Download.
For me one of the clearest signs the original UFB project succeeded is that government found more money to connect another 169 areas. The so-called UFB2 takes coverage to around 85 percent of the country.
Another clear sign of success was Spark’s decision to stream Rugby World Cup coverage.
Next year, Chorus and central North Island fibre company UFF will offer 2Gbps and 4Gbps fibre. We’ve come a long way from ten years ago. Then a 30mbps fibre service looked like the last word in modern data communications.
The Vodafone giant awakes
In recent years it seemed as if Vodafone’s New Zealand operation wasn’t going anywhere. In part this was because the parent company felt it had better things to invest in than the second telco in a small, remote country.
That changed in May. Infratil and Brookfield Asset Management took control in a $3.4 billion deal. Chief executive Jason Paris wasted no time getting the new owners to free up capital. This let Vodafone steal a march on Spark and get a sizeable 5G network running. Vodafone switched 5G on earlier this month.
There has also been an investment in customer support. That’s something that was an embarrassment in the past.
These initiatives are important, yet there’s more to the change. It’s as if Vodafone has had a vitamin injection. Now there is an energy to the business that wasn’t there before. It helps that Paris recruited fresh talent to senior positions, but it goes beyond that. It is as if the company has awoken from a slumber.
What it means in practice is that Spark faces greater competitive pressure than it did 18 months ago. Likewise the next tier of telcos; 2degrees, Vocus and so on, are also feeling the heat. Ten years after government restructured the industry we are seeing the competition those moves aimed to unleash.
Six of the biggest tech moments of 2019 are positives. The seventh is also a positive, but it’s a positive that came about because of an horrific negative.
In May Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke at the Christchurch Call summit in Paris. It was a response to the Christchurch mosque shootings. The terrorist shooter filmed his crimes, streaming them online in real time.
The summit attempts to force social media companies to take more responsibity for material they publish. During the year, 48 countries signed an agreement to stop social media publishing terror messages. The US didn’t sign.
It isn’t clear if the initiative will work. Yet it is a first step towards wrestling control of online media away from the murderers and criminals who use it as a weapon. I suspect there is more to do, but the longest of journeys starts with a single step.
- It could be more than 200 hours, I’m not counting ↩︎