The current economic climate is undoubtedly a very challenging one – not only for new managers, but for experienced and veteran managers in almost every industry. As a result of ‘the Great Lockdown,’ a Covid-19 recession began in February 2020 and has been touted as the worst global financial crises since the Great Depression. This was characterised by the contraction of the global economy by 3.5% and resulted in high inflations, high unemployment rates, depreciation of major as well as minor currencies, low GDPs and per capita incomes all over the world. The downturn impact of this, evidently brought trying moments for virtually all industries around the world particularly with the onset of the stock market crash.
The exigencies of the time implied that the strongest of managerial skills was required for organizations to maintain economic activity and navigate the doldrums of the pandemic. The finest of business acumen is a necessity although daunting for managers. Despite the challenges in almost every industry of all economies, there are several opportunities that managers can capitalise on to overcome these challenges and significantly improve their managerial competencies.
Demonstrating leadership through effective use of power and influence, is necessary during the recession. The scale of the pandemic and unpredictability remains challenging as managers deal with disrupted business models and managing the psychological impact of the pandemic on employees. The first fundamental principle for a manager to be successful is for him or her to assume that leadership position rather than just see himself or herself as a manager. As author John Maxwell states, the main difference between the two is that leadership is about influencing people to follow, while management focuses on maintaining systems and processes. Managers must therefore rely on their influence to re-organise the work processes and policies for a positive work environment. One of such qualities is ‘compassion leadership’, which encourages staff to regard a manager as reliable and keeps them focused on productivity rather than speculation and anxiety which are detrimental to productivity under challenging circumstances.
Managers have also been saddled with the burden of making tough decision such as protecting employee health and safety, re-structuring policies or work processes, re-delegating tasks and even for worst hit industries, laying off employees or reducing salaries to keep businesses afloat and maintain productivity. The absence from work by highly skilled staff due to infections and identifying temporary replacements were inevitable. This was more aggravated in situations where managers were also prone to infections which meant that their roles may have also required interim support. Instead of making data-driven decisions, managers had to make unplanned – but reasonable – decisions. This required strategy and innovation; most of which challenged the status quo to sustain businesses. Apple for instance, was among the first large retailers to close most of its stores globally in response to the pandemic. Such a decision was critical to controlling the spread of the virus although not part of the company’s initial strategies for the business. Most organisations were compelled to adopt a more digital approach to their business processes, thus such decisions saw them cut their future digitalisation plans from taking years to weeks.
As the current economic environment is not favourable for businesses, another challenge for new mangers is addressing the skills gap by upskilling themselves and subordinates to develop skills and competencies necessary to keep them effective, re-organise their business models and improve on performance. Even before the current crisis, changing technologies and new ways of working were disrupting jobs and the skills employees needed to do them. As most businesses switched to online, this implied an investment in people, technologies and systems to enable employees develop the required skill for managing e-commerce businesses. According to a report by McKinsey & Co., the focus of CFOs has shifted toward crisis management and away from longer-term responsibilities such as strategic leadership, organizational change, and finance capabilities. High display of competence was therefore required in performance, to keep up with the keen competition in the market. As Linda A Hill stated in her book: Becoming a Manager: How New Managers Master the Challenges of Leadership “new managers find it challenging to develop the myriad of technical, human and conceptual competences necessary to be effective managers. But the vast majority are more surprised and unnerved by the unexpected necessity of developing new attitudes, mind-set, and values consistent with their new positions.”
The urgency of lockdowns compelled managers to implement short-term ideas under challenging circumstances. Despite all these challenges and more in an economic trying moment like we have, there are many opportunities out there for new managers in all industries. The paradigm shift from the traditional ways of doing things, to a new, more innovative, and highly advanced way of working presents new managers with great opportunities in their industries of operation. The global economy is poised for a post-recession recovery, and it is appropriate to re-structure business models for the medium to long term. For managers, the necessity for reinforcement of concrete business continuity plans cannot be over-emphasised. The practical experience learned from the impact of the pandemic, should be a learning curve toward implementing feasible strategies to mitigate the impact of uncontrollable threats such as a pandemic to a businesses’ operations.
Embracing e-commerce and e-purchasing are also great opportunities available to new managers in most industries. Through trade liberalization and globalization, managers can take their businesses outside of the geographical boundaries. E-commerce and the recently added M-commerce are important opportunities available to managers to facilitate trades of such nature. Instead of the traditional hustle of carrying products around the world to advertise, new managers can now reach bigger target groups while stationed in one geographical area.
The economic climate might not be the very best now. But what new managers must realise is that the confrontation of challenges in any industry is inevitable. However, these challenges if addressed comprehensively, can become opportunities to derive competitive edge over other managers and help their businesses to thrive in industry.
Twitter reports a 37% increase in revenue
Despite Apple’s new policies enforcing privacy-related changes to iOS 14, Twitter has reported a 37% increase in revenue. The social media company reported their solid third-quarter earnings on Tuesday where the revenue, as well as user growth, matched the analyst’s expectations.
According to Twitter, their revenue was $1.28 billion which is 37% more than the previous year. The user growth grew from five million to 211 million in the same time period as well. Moreover, most of their growth was because of advertisement sales which rose by 41% from the previous year. Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey stated that “I am proud of our third-quarter results. We’re improving personalization; facilitating conversation, delivering relevant news, and finding new ways to help people get paid on Twitter.” Twitter CFO, Ned Segal, released a statement in which he said “our focus is paying off, and we are pleased with our performance in the third quarter, with revenue up 37% year over-year, reflecting strength across all major products and geographies,” adding “we continued to drive increased value for our advertiser’s thanks to revenue product innovation, including progress on our brand and direct response offerings, strong sales execution, and a broad increase in advertiser demand. These factors contributed to 41% year-over-year growth in ad revenue in Q3.”
This is a shock to Twitter’s social-media rivals who had a negative impact due to Apple’s security changes. Facebook Inc. and Snap Inc. reported a slow growth rate due to the rules making it harder for advertisers to target their advertisements.
According to CNBC, the growth according to the Twitter report and Wall Street’s estimates are:
∙ Earnings: 18 cents per share, adjusted vs. 15 cents as expected by analysts polled by Refinitiv.
∙ Revenue: $1.284 billion vs. $1.285 billion as expected by analysts polled by Refinitiv.
∙ Monetizable daily active users (mDAUs): 211 million vs. 211.9 million as expected by analysts polled by StreetAccount.
However, due to legal settlements, the net loss of Twitter this year was $537 million. They had to pay $809.5 million to settle a lawsuit for misleading investors about how much their user base was increasing as well as the amount of user interaction of their platform. It is interesting to note how Twitter found a way through the obstacles that they faced and managed to not be significantly impacted by Apple’s policies.
Is the reign of cash over?
The world is dynamic, and innovation is evolving by the minute. We are constantly hit with new trends and changes in society. One change that has not been that sudden, however, is physical cash being replaced by ‘e-cash’. Fewer people are using physical money for payments for daily activities like shopping and transportation. Physical forms of currency include banknotes and coins, whereas e-cash is a form of digital money that provides a way to pay for products and services without resorting to the use of any physical cash.
According to the World Bank, financial inclusion means having access to financial products and services such as transactions, payments, or savings to fulfill an individual or a business’ needs.
The genius David Chaum was the mathematician who brought the concept of e-cash to life in 1982. This was through an anonymous cryptographic electronic system for his corporation Digicash which was first used in 1993 in his US bank. Even though the idea was conceived earlier in the past, this system opened a gateway for the evolution of e-cash which has now evolved into different platforms like Cards, Mobile Money, and Cryptocurrency that has become the bed for the creation of the dream of a cashless society.
A survey conducted in the US found that almost 60% of consumers prefer using cards. This does not just include debit cards, as Americans have 3.84 credit cards on average. Cash represents 19% of all transactions in the US and 80% of cash transactions are for payments under $25. The survey also found that people are willing to spend up to 100% more when using a credit card and in a typical month, Americans make 23 debit card payments.
Meanwhile, mobile money is a technology that allows people to receive, store and spend money using a mobile phone. It’s sometimes referred to as a ‘mobile wallet’ with popular services such as mPesa, EcoCash, GCash, Tigo Pesa, MTN MoMo, and many more. There are more than 270 different mobile money services around the world, although they are most popular in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Mobile money is a popular alternative to both cash and banks because it is easy to use, secure, and can be used as long as there is a mobile phone signal.
The GSM State of the Industry Report 2021 indicates that the global daily transactions for Mobile Money have exceeded $2 billion for the first time and are expected to pass $3 billion a day by the end of 2022. Not only are customers using their mobile money accounts more frequently, but are using them for advanced cases such as insurance, savings, investments, and more. This suggests that more people are moving away from traditional financial systems and increasing their digital lives, according to the report.
In 2017, cryptocurrencies took the world by storm as the currency of the future. There were over 4,000 different cryptocurrencies in circulation worldwide, including the market giants like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Dogecoin, with Bitcoin as the most popular and worth a total market cap of nearly $120 billion. Much of the interest in these unregulated currencies is to trade for profit, with investors and speculators, at times, driving prices skyward.
Per Economic Times India, “Cryptocurrencies work using blockchain technology, a decentralized technology spread across many computers that manage and record transactions. Part of the appeal of this technology is its security. Transactions cannot be altered or deleted and are hard for hackers to tamper with. In addition, transactions require a two-factor authentication process. The investor can add more and more digital transactions and the blockchain gets updated automatically.”
Even though the crypto platforms are highly secured, scammers always find different ways to cheat the system and to steal from innocent people by promising them high returns on investment within a short period. Since Cryptocurrency platforms operate under anonymous aliases, payments made on those platforms can never be recovered; the safest way is to avoid such investments. There are also scams about guaranteed juicy job openings or offers that encourage applicants to pay a fee via cryptocurrency, blackmail, money laundering, trafficking, and more, where scammers always demand payments to be done via cryptocurrency. All these are red flags to watch out for when dealing on cryptocurrency flatforms and payments.
Alphabet Soup of ESG Frameworks: Is a universal framework overdue?
Companies are expected to honour moral and ethical standards of ESG but have access to multiple disclosure frameworks for measuring and reporting ESG issues
Investment decisions are driven by financial performance. Nowadays however, sustainable investing is not merely an option, but the way forward for businesses to remain competitive based on expectations by regulators, investors, consumers and employees. Sustainable investing – also known as Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) investing – refers to investments in companies which are socially responsible and whose goals and values are aligned with those of the investor. Effective risk management is key to sound financial performance and sustainable investment has been an effective risk management tool. Companies who are cognizant of safeguarding our future and our world ultimately are expected to effectively manage non-financial risk factors and eventually outperform financially.
According to a report by the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance, ESG investment saw a 34% increase in two years with assets at $30.7 trillion in 2018 across five major markets – Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, and Australia and New Zealand. It’s clear to see therefore how important it is for stakeholders to receive standardised disclosures about ESG factors and their link to financial performance. But a study in 2020 found that dissatisfaction with ESG reporting had increased since 2018 and with 91% of investors relying on non-financial performance factors for their investment decisions, the implications are significant.
Companies are expected to honour moral and ethical standards of ESG but have access to multiple disclosure frameworks for measuring and reporting ESG issues. As a consequence, stakeholders and those in compliance end up being confused about the differences in terminologies and the inconsistencies in measuring and reporting those issues. For example, terms such ‘sustainable’ investing, ‘social responsible’ investing, ‘impact investment’ and ‘ESG’ are often used interchangeably but don’t necessarily mean the same thing. Furthermore, the costs to not having a universal or standardised disclosure framework probably outweigh the costs of creating a universal framework. A survey by the WEF also found that 86% of executives consider reporting on a set of universal ESG disclosures important and useful for financial markets and the economy. So the need for universal or standardised frameworks is clearly urgent.
Among the various ESG frameworks, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is used by 73% of the world’s 250 largest companies. Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) is developed by the Financial Stability Board and provides disclosures for climate related risks, both sector specific and general. Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) has been publishing industry-specific sustainability standards on a broad range of topics since 2011 in areas considered material. A material risk is defined differently across different standards. Some consider risk to be material due to its financial impact on the company (SASB and TCFD) while others consider it material because of the impact it has on the Environment, Social and Governance (GRI). Instead of losing focus it’s argued that it’s more important to the stakeholders that companies focus on material risks only.
There are various accounting and business bodies which are coming forward with their respective requirements for ESG reporting. In 2019, the US Chamber of Commerce announced ESG reporting best practices. 60 of 107 stock exchanges studied around the world now offer ESG reporting guidance for companies listed. Stock exchanges also guide issuers on how to report ESG issues. 90% of the S&P 500 Market Index shared some form of an external report on sustainable investment for 2019.
The Corporate Reporting Dialogue (CRD) has been convened by the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) to promote greater consistency, coherence and comparability between various reporting frameworks and standards. CRD has been working on finding the extent to which various ESG frameworks overlap. Another major development towards a universal framework was by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the big four firms. How far these various frameworks can eventually lead to a consensus based universal framework for all still remains a question.
If we compare the extent of ESG monitoring through the frameworks in the UK, the European Union, the US or China, there is inconsistency across the different regions. The Non-Financial Reporting Directive was issued in 2017 for EU countries for implementation by listed companies with more than 500 employees. In Europe the double materiality rule requires companies to report anything which affects the outside world or what affects the company’s performance. Taxonomy regulation 2020 was issued to create uniformity in language. A New Corporate Sustainability Disclosure Directive has been proposed to expand The Non-Financial Reporting Directive.
On the contrary, the United States currently has no mandatory ESG disclosure requirements. If US companies want to remain competitive, they have to voluntarily work on their disclosure standards amid competition from their European counterparts. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) does, however require companies to discuss climate change risk and is updating it further. The SEC has recently made a task force within the Enforcement Division which hints that there are reporting gaps due to a lack of clear and uniform disclosures and standards. The SEC must come forward and take a lead towards a unified disclosure which is adaptable, innovative and flexible. Standardising the environmental and social components from the perspective of all stakeholders has its own challenges. However, The Biden Administration has at least, shown a clear commitment to the environmental component.
Of the two major financial reporting standards setting bodies the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation (IFRS) is already planning to establish an International Sustainability Standards Board which will work on issuing standardised reporting requirements for companies. The Financial Accounting Standards Board also needs to quickly redefine its scope to include ESG. With awareness of and demand rising for more ESG information from investors, it’s probably about time to end the confusion and costs accrued from the myriad of frameworks and to standardise the taxonomy, disclosure and reporting for the benefit of everyone involved.
Why McDonald’s ice Cream machines are always broken – and why they were hacked
Magnus D from London, United Kingdom, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Have you ever fancied grabbing a McFlurry from your nearby McDonald’s, only to get there and find that the ice cream machine is broken? It turns out that the reason these machines seem to be ‘broken’ depends on their cleaning cycles. They have two long cleaning cycles, with one being a labour-intensive, 11-step process that involves removing and thoroughly cleaning several parts of the machine. If no one is available, the machine will be inoperable, hence be called ‘broken’.
The deep cleaning system is four hours long, which means the process is done every night. However, for a branch that is open 24 hours, it means that the machine will be unusable for 4 hours or more.
These infamous machines are made by a company called Taylor, and the model is C602, which came out in 2003.
Sometimes, the cleaning heat cycle on these machines fails, which means that the cycle has to be run again, meaning the machine will be inoperable for another 4 hours, without any clear reason for the heat cycle failure.
It turns out that Taylor C602 machines can only be fixed and maintained by one company, and if the restaurant tries to get someone else to fix them, this voids the warranty. Furthermore, it gives an absurd error code that can only be read by repair personnel from a specific company. Wondering what company that is? You guessed it – Taylor.
You may be wondering why McDonald’s employees are not told what the codes mean and instead must call the Taylor repairmen to get the problem fixed.
Filmmaker Johnny Harris found that there is a special reason for this. Taylor gets 25% of the revenue for these repairs, which means that it is up to the franchise owners to fix this old-fashioned machine, costing them thousands.
To summarise, franchisees have been sold an extremely complicated old-fashioned machine. They are prevented from figuring out why it constantly breaks, and a significant cut of the distributor’s profit is taken from the repairs.
This cycle, no pun ended, has been going on for many years. Two years ago, Jeremy O’Sullivan and Melissa Nelson designed and started selling a small gadget which they call Kytch. This gadget, which is the size of a small book, connects to the Wi-Fi and hacks the Taylor C602, offering access to its forbidden secrets. It displays the machine’s hidden data and suggests troubleshooting options, which means money can be saved by overriding the need to call Taylor to fix the machines.
As news of Kytch’s magic spread through McDonald’s franchisees, Kytch sales increased exponentially. By Autumn 2021, more than 500 of these gadgets had been in use to fix Taylor C602.
Once McDonald’s and Taylor got air of Kytch’s success, it has been a war with ups and downs and many interesting incidents. Two days after the launch of the product, an executive at Taylor placed an order for Kytch. As the founders asked them about their intentions with the gadget, they were given no response, and as a result, the sale was cancelled.
Another strange order was placed a few months later. Interestingly and not as a shock to anyone, this was from someone at Taylor’s outside law firm, Brinks Gilson. This sale was also cancelled.
Kytch creators believed that Taylor hired private investigators to obtain these devices at one point, to reverse engineer them to understand how they work.
At one point, A Kytch salesperson forwarded an email that was sent from McDonald’s to every franchisee, warning them of breach of confidential information by Kytch, as well as going as far as to say that these devices could result in serious injury to users. The very next day, they let franchisees know that a new machine called Taylor Shake Sundae Connectivity was being launched, which would duplicate many of Kytch’s features.
With this news, McDonalds’s restaurant owners cancelled hundreds of subscriptions. Although Taylor says that they have not imitated Kytch, Kytch founders suspect that Taylor had gotten their hands on the device to at least test, if not copy it. As a result, they filed a lawsuit against some McDonald’s franchisees on May 10, 2021, arguing that “Taylor and the Taylor distributor TFG stole its trade secrets and that Tyler Gamble violated a contract by giving those companies access to the Kytch device”, which is a violation of their agreement with Kytch.
Taylor countered that it does not, and never had access to the Kytch device.
Regardless of the result of this legal battle, Kytch’s old technical adviser and investigator suggested that the lengths Taylor and McDonald’s have gone through to crush this small start-up is, in itself, a huge form of validation. It shows that there was clearly a demand for this device, as well as the ability to disrupt things against people who would rather the machine remained broken.
Why is Apple being Investigated?
Smartphones have become an integral part of our lives. People have begun to question the wisdom of allowing just two companies to control access to billions of devices globally.
From the moment Steve Jobs unveiled the original iPhone, forever changing the way we interact with people and information, smartphones have become an integral part of our lives. We use them in every aspect of our lives, from communication and entertainment to health and fitness. It is of little wonder then, that people have begun to question the wisdom of allowing just two companies to control access to billions of devices globally, with the European Commission (EC) today announcing charges against Apple over concerns of its App store rules, just a week after a hearing before Congress on similar concerns.
While Apple’s iOS only has a 27% share of the global mobile devices market, compared to the dominant 72% that Google’s Android commands, the media, app developers, competitors and even governments tend to focus on the Apple App Store when it comes to Anti-Trust, sometimes also mentioning Google’s Play Store. You might think this is because Google allows Android users to download apps from other stores or even directly, known as side-loading, but actually there is a bigger reason – money. In 2020, iOS App Store revenue was almost double that of the Google Play Store, making it much more lucrative. So, lawsuits and Anti-Trust investigations have all the more reason to go after Apple.
For those of you wondering about Epic’s battle with Apple over the ban of Fortnite, that particular case is a bit more clear cut, as Epic deliberately broke App Store rules by adding its own in-app payment system, specifically to prompt Apple and Google to ban the game, thereby enabling them to go to court. Epic doesn’t want to pay Apple the 30% commission and perhaps also wants more access to customer data. Interestingly, Epic happily pays Sony and Microsoft the same 30% commission for the same games on Playstation and Xbox consoles, but argues that the relationship is different.
A better example is Spotify who are mostly pushing for an equal footing with Apple Music. They filed a complaint with the European Commission in 2019, arguing that Apple “purposely limit choice and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience”. But more on them later.
The contentious 30% commission was welcomed by many developers and the industry in general back in 2008 when the App Store was launched, given that it better reflected the cost of providing the digital service rather than the 55%+ taken by brick-and-mortar stores at the time. But since then, the model and dynamic of apps has changed significantly, with users less accepting of apps that charge an upfront price to purchase. In-App purchases are now the norm, as developers, particularly game publishers, have cottoned onto the fact that consumers, while reluctant to pay for an app, will happily keep paying for benefits and perks within it, once they are hooked.
When Apple introduced its own In-App Purchase system in 2009 and subscriptions in 2011, it brought that same 30% commission for them, although the latter goes down to 15% after the first year now. This poses several complicated problems. The first problem is that commission for services that are themselves commission-based, effectively compound the percentage the actual content-creator is paying. One example is the super-chats feature on YouTube, which itself takes a 30% cut, meaning the actual YouTuber is paying a total commission of 49%, so they only see half the money the user paid. But for apps that aren’t owned by large corporations, 30% off the top of the net sale price can be a genuine blocker, especially for businesses that are themselves a middleman. If your margins are less than 30% in the first place, the App Store simply isn’t an option and therefore, you effectively cannot address one of the most important consumer markets on the planet.
There are many terms and conditions every App developer must adhere to, but one of the most questionable ones prohibit them from even acknowledging the ability to pay or subscribe somewhere else, such as their own website. It is for this reason that the Netflix app only has an option for sign-in and no registration or clue as to how a user can gain access to the service. When Apple states time and time again that its own In-App purchase system is the best and most convenient way for customers to pay, it seems indefensible and to many, anti-competitive, that apps cannot so much as direct users to their own websites. This is one area that is difficult for Apple to argue on, but it continues to try, as allowing this would see many of the larger, more lucrative companies to do just that.
Which brings us to an important point. Most of the revenue from the App Store comes from In-App purchases and subscriptions from a relatively small number of large companies. A quick look at the highest grossing apps shows apps like YouTube, Disney+, Call of Duty and other such apps from big corporations consistently featuring in the top 20 and this is why Apple was able to introduce a lower 15% rate last year for App Store developers that make less than $1 million per year from app sales.
Why Not Just Open Up the Platform?
For those unfamiliar with how the internet and digital goods are actually delivered, it might seem like Apple, with its hundreds of billions of dollars from expensive phones and computers, could just provide the App Store as an open platform. After all, the App Store accounts for less than a fifth of Apple’s revenue. However, the reality is that, while it certainly doesn’t cost anywhere near as much as it makes from the App Store to run it, there are still significant expenses. Apple runs its own data centres, which are incredibly costly to build and run and even if it didn’t, it would likely pay even more to someone like Amazon to use theirs. Then there are the people, from the submission teams delivering a 2-day turnaround on what Apple says are over 100,000 submissions a week, to the developers that build and maintain the Apps and tools such as Xcode, Apple Store Connect and of course, the App Store apps themselves, as well as the curators, security teams, etc. Opening up the platform or even allowing apps to be side-loaded would open up a maelstrom of malware. Hence, Providing this platform is not a small task.
Clearly, these platforms do provide an invaluable service that could not realistically be replicated by smaller (but still big) companies with the same level of convenience. The same can be said of features Apple includes in its products that have been called out as anti-competitive. Tile for example, has been arguing that Apple’s new AirTags, announced last week, have an unfair advantage with the use of the Ultra Wide-Band (UWB) chip that enables tracking with incredible accuracy, as well as tight integration with the built-in FindMy app. Apple says it cannot completely open up the UWB chip due to privacy concerns, which sounds plausible, given the accuracy with which it can track devices.
The iPhone maker does have a program for third-parties to use the UWB chip with FindMy integration, but of course, with conditions attached, to certify that products meet privacy and other standards. It’s worth noting that AirTags were actually ready over a year ago, but Apple waited until the partner program and functionality was ready before releasing them. Tile hasn’t signed up to the program, as it has built its own ecosystem around its products and its own app. But the fact is, the UWB features wouldn’t exist if Apple hadn’t developed them around a product, as not only would they have no reason to spend the substantial amount of money required for R&D, it wouldn’t be as good without AirTags to focus development of the technology.
On any platform, the holder will always have an advantage, but it is the extent of that advantage that is the real issue. The biggest issue Apple faces is the perception of many users that any performance or usability issues are down to the device maker or platform holder, some even think Apple makes all the apps in the App Store. Apple not offering default apps for things like web browsing, email, music and maps simply isn’t a viable option, as it would cause confusion for a large proportion of its billion active users. Providing a selection for each category during setup would not only make the already long setup process significantly longer, it will also beg the question of which apps would be included in the selection and who would decide?
Apple has been slowly adding support for changing default apps, enabling app developers to include themselves as an option for the default in a given category once the user has downloaded it. Which brings us back to Spotify, who have long argued that Apple’s default Music app puts them at a huge disadvantage. But simply having the choice to make Spotify the default music app on a user’s device doesn’t take away that home advantage. The Music app is still the default app when you buy the device. Perhaps Spotify’s biggest issue though, is how the Apple Music streaming service, a direct competitor to Spotify, is pushed heavily in the default Music app, with the app now more focussed on the streaming service than a user’s own library. Spotify has also alleged that Apple tried to get Spotify to shut down their free, ad-supported tier. Having a default Music app makes sense, but does using it to push Apple Music so heavily abuse its home advantage? The European Commission believes it does.
The EC has just announced it is issuing ‘charges against Apple over concerns that the rules it sets for developers on its App store break EU law’. Last week, Apple and Google, along with competitors Spotify, Tile and Match.com owners IAC, testified at an anti-trust hearing before a US Congress committee. In addition to the issues we’ve already touched on, there was also discussion around ‘exclusionary conduct’, with Apple particularly accused of refusing to negotiate with Tile, as well as the platform holders’ tendency to incorporate features from other companies into its own products or ‘Copy and Kill’ as one US Senator put it.
Google’s representative said they value relationships with all their App Store ‘partners’ including the ‘small, but vocal set of primarily large companies’, referring to those testifying at the hearing and others like them. This is actually an interesting point, as the effect on consumers may well be negative depending on the actions these government bodies eventually take. Apple’s do-it-all ecosystem is one of the primary reasons many users buy Apple products and making any part of that disjointed could have severe implications for the platform, potentially making it even more difficult for actual small and independent app developers to reach users. There are so many issues and questions we just don’t have an answer to and Governments must decide how far they are willing to go. Should companies be judged differently once they reach a certain size? What is that size and how should it be measured?
Not Black and White
Even less clear cut is the issue of user data and access to it, as clearly it is a huge issue for many businesses which are unable to identify key attributes they need, but conversely many users would prefer to keep that data in as few places as possible. A middle-ground might be to give users more specific controls around which apps can see which data, but this starts to get very messy and the majority of users wouldn’t have a clear understanding of what they are allowing.
Capitalism is a game that is rarely won, but when it is, governments grapple with conflicting principles, a free-market economy or the appearance of open competition and a “level playing field”. Apple and Google’s App Stores can only exist in their present, convenient form because of the whole package, a synergy resulting from different areas of their respective businesses working together. But that convenience comes at a price and the holder of any given platform will always have some sort of advantage. The question for governments and society as a whole, is what is more important – accessibility of features and services to all, or the freedom of large companies to compete on an even keel?
But in the lawsuits, investigations and hearings, the consumer is forgotten in all but name. The real question is, would addressing some or all of these problems with the App Stores that Apple and Google provide, result in a better or worse experience for users? Having a single storefront for all apps available for a device is undoubtedly more convenient and few would argue that should change. But conditions such as those preventing app developers from enabling users to pay or subscribe on their own websites need to be looked at by governments, as only they can mandate change in this area and the financial incentives mean that companies won’t do it on their own. Governments must focus on the consumer perspective and not fall into the trap of seeing large corporations with hundreds of millions of users as their primary responsibility. This is only the beginning of a process that will literally shape the everyday lives of billions. Make no mistake, this is one of the biggest issues of our time.
Banksy Covid inspired ‘Painting for Saints’ raises millions in a virtual auction for NHS and other UK healthcare charities
Last spring, England-based street artist Banksy revealed his pandemic inspired artwork, ‘Painting for Saints’ popularly known as ‘Game Changer.
Last spring, England-based street artist Banksy revealed his pandemic inspired artwork, ‘Painting for Saints’ popularly known as ‘Game Changer.’ The painting showcases a young boy playing with his nurse ‘superhero’ action figure – a piece Banksy made as a gesture to thank medical staff for their work throughout the pandemic.
A year on, the painting has become a global symbol acknowledging the sacrifices, work, and dedication shown by nurses in this fight against the virus. Many people joined the virtual auction held at Christie’s headquarters in London, allowing them to bid on the original artwork.
During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, many became more aware of the importance of frontline workers and their pivotal contributions towards keeping society functioning. Twitter, in particular, encouraged everyone to take part in the weekly Thursday #clapforheroes trend as a token of appreciation, for everything the NHS was doing during such unprecedented and challenging times.
Healthcare workers have since received this gesture with great enthusiasm and value the support shown by social media users and activists. Some expressed their heartfelt thanks by claiming that the painting helped empower and boost their morale.
Since being presented with the Banksy painting last summer, workers at Southampton Hospital say it’s a reminder which “offers an image of hope” and “personal tribute to those who continue to turn the tide of the pandemic”.
Frequent debates urging authorities to introduce pay rises for healthcare workers, given the current financial climate, have been an ongoing.. Amidst this, the auction was like a fresh breath of air when Banksy stated he would donate all the money his painting made towards funding the NHS and other UK based charities. Christie also confirms that the original artwork at Southampton Hospital will now be replaced by a replica unique to the hospital.
Earlier, experts predicted the painting would sell for an estimated £2.5m to 3.5m. The evening ended with a record-breaking purchase of £16.8m for the pandemic inspired masterpiece. This dwarfs a previous multi million pound sale by the anonymous owner of the Banksy piece ‘Devolved Parliament’ – depicting the House of Commons overrun by chimpanzees – in 2019, which fetched almost £9.9m. This caused the artist to react on the sale on his Instagram page – “shame I didn’t still own it”. Banksy’s Covid-inspired paintings have not only made rounds in the world of street and graffiti art – but are also amongst his most-liked Instagram images. ‘Game Changer’ has so far bagged over 2.8m likes, whilst his painting of an old woman sneezing without a face covering captioned ‘Aachoo’ has received more than 2.5m likes.
Banksy’s other notable artworks over the pandemic period include a magnified image of a girl wearing a face mask, a drawing on the London Underground showing rats flaunting face coverings and a final piece on working from home.
Whilst artists like Banksy offer tribute to frontline workers depicting them as real-life heroes in his art, what are some of the things that our country’s leaders plan to do for them? Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this month proposed a 1% pay raise for nurses across the UK. Mr Johnson, in his announcement, explained, “We’ve tried to give the NHS as much as we possibly can, and that means, in addition to the £140bn of annual money, we’ve got another £62bn we’ve found to help support the NHS throughout the crisis.” However, NHS workers and nurses mainly found the proposed 1% pay raise to be “insulting” as it entirely demoralises the sacrifices made by them ever since the global pandemic started.
Even though social media trends that support frontline workers are important, it is also vital to remember why people are pushing for a wage increase across all healthcare sectors. Since the pandemic hit the UK last year, resulting in multiple national lockdowns, nurses and other workers have either been redeployed to support acute services or have been continuously working multiple shifts outside their normal shift patterns on their normal wages. Many of these extra hours have meant dealing with vulnerable Covid patients, putting their lives at risk, knowing there is no extra financial support or incentive to do so.
However, pointing out the 12% increase implemented for starting salaries across UK healthcare sectors, Mr Johnson reminds everyone that authorities do acknowledge the pivotal contributions of the NHS during this crisis. In this regard, he adds, “What we have done is try to give them as much as we can at the present time.” Users of Twitter and Facebook were quick to trend the PM’s remarks taking this opportunity to express their displeasure and fury towards it. Nevertheless, despite the intense backlash, Mr Johnson has as yet not made any further comments on this matter.
Indeed, it is impossible to negate the selflessness that people witnessed during the pandemic’s early days. Healthcare workers have continued working longer and much more challenging shifts and put their health on the line many a time. We need to continue to acknowledge and remember these efforts and bring to our leaders’ attention that a functioning and powerful nation is one that honours the contributions of its citizens. It would seem they have a lot to learn from the likes of Banksy.
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