Summer is around the corner, and much of the goings-on in the tech space gives us that warm and comforting feeling. There’s innovation, there’s growth, there are moves in the right direction which are responding to societal needs. It’s very exciting! Here’s the roundup of the main stories.
The UK tech industry has grown tenfold in the past decade. In fact, London leads in Europe and is picking up the pace on Silicon Valley. British unicorns grew from eight in 2010 to 81 in 2020 – incredible! CityAM has all the stats from the government’s Digital Economy Council and Dealroom on the strength of the British tech industry.
Meanwhile, Google and Instagram have been making moves to improve diversity. Google added a feature to its Google Docs which suggests alternatives to gendered words in a move to help improve inclusivity. The idea is to use non-gendered language to not inadvertently offend colleagues or friends. The Daily Telegraph covers the news. Instagram’s move is slightly different, not removing gender from words, but adding the right gender terminology to profiles. The social network plans to offer users an easier way to specify their gender identity. The pre-approve list of common pronouns includes she, he, they, ze and others. This Guardian article has the details.
In the other corner of social media land you have Twitter, which launched a paid subscription service with some interesting new features. Twitter Blue – the name of the new service – will allow users to undo tweets and better curate tweets through a feature called ‘Collections’. The Independent reports that this service will cost $2.99 per month. Any takers?
Now, this next innovation I am definitely a taker. US researchers have found a way to turn thoughts into text. Just think, you’re on a refreshing lunchtime walk and you have a great idea, you just have to write it out in your head and a ‘brain-computer’ captures the mental handwriting. It involves having a brain implant, the size of an aspirin pill, according to the Daily Mail.
And finally, global vaccinations are going well but there is more to be done, especially to fight misinformation. YouTube, in collaboration with the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, has launched a vaccination ad campaign, primarily targeted at younger people. The campaign is paid for by YouTube and comes after it was criticised for being slow at halting untrue content about Covid-19. BBC News has the full story.
All this positivity really gives us a real spring in our step ahead of summer. This May rain won’t dampen our spirit!
As temperatures soared across Europe, we look back at the hottest stories from August – so if you were too busy dodging the heat to soak up the news, here’s our take on what happened this month.
One of the biggest – and still-evolving – stories has been the TikTok saga. Earlier in August, POTUS essentially banned TikTok from America unless it’s sold to an American company by September. This would put a significant dent in TikTok’s audience numbers, and Microsoft emerged as one of the potential buyers, although in Firefly’s opinion, it’s tough to see how it’d fit into Nadella’s laserfocus on ‘productivity’ – quite the opposite in fact. Twitter is also in the running, although this has only just materialised– and as for the ethics of forcing a company to sell itself to continue to do business in a country; well, we’ll leave that to you to think about.
It’s good and bad news for Google Pixel fans – a new Pixel is coming! The 4a will be available to pre-order from September 10th at a mere £359 – although remember that the ‘a’ is the budget side of the Pixel range. Supplies may also be limited due to Covid, but if Google’s track record is anything to go by, the 4a will be worth looking into.
Amidst being nice to the environment comes poor treatment of workers, as authorities in California investigate potential mistreatment of workers by Amazon – and despite the company claiming it would shut down if drivers were classed as employees, they have now been designated as such. For more on this story, take a look at the Guardian. Finally, Revolut has seen a massive $80m in funding, accelerating its rollout and development across Europe – for more details, see City AM.
It would be wrong to start a news round-up with anything other than the tragic and unnecessary death of George Floyd in May, highlighting the systemic racism that is still present across the world. Tech brands have been called to action and held to account, with publications from The Verge, CNET and TechCrunch examining their responses.
Unsurprisingly, TikTok has also risen to the fore, becoming a forum for young people to express their views and discontent with the inequalities in society today. The Telegraph reports further.
Facebook and Twitter have also had a tough month with Trump, with Twitter accusing POTUS of making ‘false claims’, while Zuckerberg has so far refused to take a similar step – The Guardian has more on this.
Similarly, the pandemic has continued to occupy the news, as Facebook informed us that 1% of British users had reported Covid-19 symptoms on the social platform. However, the social giant also continued to drive innovation in response to Coronavirus, by developing ‘Venue’, an app that will act as a second screen to allow users to chat and show updates on live events, in the style of Twitch. Google maps has also added a feature to inform users about travel restrictions – read more on Reuters.
At the same time, more of us than ever are signing up for video streaming services – six million of us during lockdown, according to the BBC. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, with the organisers of CES announcing that the next event – pencilled in for January 2021 – will take place .
Finally, there has been a slew of weird and wacky brand movement over the last month, with one smart couple creating a map of pubs serving takeaway pints across London. And one savvy fitness instructor in the Midlands has invented the perfect lockdown mix – prosecco pilates. Bottoms up!
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In these times of uncertainty, where the situation is changing so quickly and we’re constantly receiving new snippets of information, the media has never been more important in keeping everyone informed. There’s no question that the media landscape has changed significantly since the start of the coronavirus outbreak – outlets are providing daily online live feeds, newspapers have stopped physically printing and reporters from all over the world are covering the stories and situations from every angle possible.
Firefly attended a (virtual) media briefing, hosted by 4media, with The Sun’s consumer editor, Dan Jones, to talk about how the newspaper been operating, how coverage has changed and what PRs can do since coronavirus became the centre of attention in the UK. Here’s four things we learnt:
Half and half
At the moment, about half of the coverage in The Sun’s print edition is devoted to coronavirus-related stories whilst the other half dedicated to general news and features. As the biggest story in the world right now, and with it affecting so many people, this comes as no surprise. It’s expected that it will remain the biggest story for a number of weeks due to the vast amount of changes and information that we’re receiving hour by hour. This means that PRs must be strategic about what and how they’re pitching to journalists, for example, only mentioning coronavirus if it’s really relevant and being sure to pitch journalists at the right time – Dan mentioned that PRs should pitch non-coronavirus stories to him as early as possible in the day.
Journalists are stretched…
With journalists under pressures with coronavirus reporting, having to constantly keep up with the ongoing information, it’s more important than ever to have a story that’s ready-to-go. PRs should think about what’s the most interesting part of the story or announcement and make that the first thing the journalist sees or hears depending on how you’re pitching. And that goes for both coronavirus and non-coronavirus related stories.
…but they are people too
People are scared of this news. It’s been described as one of the ‘the greatest and unprecedented challenges of our time’, and the coronavirus hasn’t just affected people’s health, it’s affected every aspect of daily life, with jobs being lost and social places closing down for the foreseeable future. So, it’s natural for people to feel worried, including journalists! When pitching, don’t hesitate to be honest about your story, acknowledging whether it does or doesn’t have a coronavirus angle, and even a small ‘hope you’re doing okay’ at the end of your pitch (even though we know the phrase is normally taboo in PR!) shows that you’re being sincere about the situation. We’re all human at the end of the day!
Positive stories are key
People are quick to read all the negative news about the coronavirus and there are only so many stories you can do around supermarkets being empty and the number of daily cases. Whilst Dan expects the next week to still be busy with coronavirus-related stories, The Sun is choosing to focus on the more positive side of the story and running articles on best practices for things like working from home and exercising. Anything that helps with the NHS, vulnerable and elderly people is also what’s appealing at the moment and we’ve already seen brands like Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tesco offering special opening hours for these groups. Stories that are humorous and a bit quirky are also more likely to be picked up at the moment, according to Dan.
Despite the dominance of coronavirus in the media at the moment, it’s worth remembering what our role as PRs is and the relationship we have with journalists. We’re currently living through history and as communicators, our role is vital. As every day brings in new information that we need to digest, let’s remember to keep on doing what we do best whilst being mindful about the circumstances.
The beginning of the new decade welcomed the positive news from the National Grid that, for the first time ever, more of the UK’s electricity came from clean sources than fossil fuels, making 2019 the cleanest year on record. For the full story, check out The Independent. Following this, Microsoft announced that they aim to become ‘carbon negative’ by 2030 while aiming to use entirely renewable energy by 2025. More on this in The Daily Mail.
With the BBC claiming driverless cars have become a staple of CES, Russian firm Yandex presented its reworked autonomous Toyota Prius and allowed a few journalists to give it a test ride. Check out the BBC News review of the technology. Earlier this month, Sony joined the race to develop its own vision sensors for self-driving cars. Head to the Financial Times for the details.
A new contender entered the already tense streaming wars this month. New Netflix rival, Quibi, has raised $1 million in funding and aims to change how we stream, limiting all shows to a maximum of 10 minutes. The Telegraph has the full overview. This month also saw Netflix trialling a mobile-only subscription set at less than half the current price. For the full story, head to the Metro.
It seems 2020 is going to be the year of streaming services with British music fans spending more than £1 billion on streaming services, double the amount that was spent on downloads or physical products. More on this in The Telegraph. Additionally, Spotify released its playlists that are tailored for pets. Songs are chosen to match both the characteristics of the animals and the tastes of their owners. Head to the Independent for the details.
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Firefly’s Tim Williams has last month wrote about the gathering pace of deepfakes. The term deepfake refers to artificial intelligence (AI)-powered technology that synthesises imagery and voices to present something that didn’t occur, usually in video form. Highlighting this deepfake danger is a video clip of Bill Hader who’s face morphs into Tom Cruises and Seth Rogan as he does his impressions of them. More on this story in The Guardian.
The UK government is considering giving powers to Ofcom to impose fines on video-sharing apps and website. The UK regulator will be able to fine platforms who fail to prevent youngsters from viewings harmful content such as pornography and violence. If plans go ahead, this would start from September 2020, more on the BBC.
Twitter is testing a new arrangement of timelines so users can better follow topics they’re interested in. It’s currently a manual process for Twitter but soon the company will look at machine learning to intelligently populate topics. Head to TechCrunch for a full overview.
KPMG’s UK Tech Monitor indicates that growth the British tech has begun to slow. Respondents to KPMG study blamed the subdued UK economic conditions on the drop of business activity. CityAM covers the report.
After facing scrutiny for a growing monopolisation of online advertising, Facebook is reportedly in talks with US news publishers and rumoured to launch a ‘news tab’ in the autumn. The Guardian goes into more detail.
iFall – Apple is no longer in the world’s to three smartphone makers. iPhone shipments keep falling, whilst Samsung and Huawei take the lead. You can read more in this article in the Daily Telegraph.
Want more tech news? Each morning, the Firefly team creates a wrap-up of the most important news from across the technology and comms space. Sign up to Firewire by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
CereProc, the Edinburgh-based text-to-speech company that creates digital voices with character, has engaged Firefly Communications UK as its PR agency.
Founded in 2005, CereProc has forty-five digital voices for any platform, with accents ranging from Austrian to Brazilian and Russian to Japanese. It has ‘cloned’ the voices of people suffering from issues that result in voice loss or degradation, such as thyroid cancer and motor neurone disease, helping them retain the power of speech. The team has also cloned the voices of celebrities including George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“The applications of CereProc’s technology are vast,” said Christian Sharp, Senior Account Director at Firefly Communications. “Not only is it giving speech and song back to the speechless, but the applications of its technology in the fields of virtual assistants, gaming, academia – to name but a few – are staggering. We can’t wait to get to grips with CereProc’s digital voicebox and spread the word.”
The PR campaign will focus on UK media relations, social campaigns and an awards programme for the brand, gaining recognition for its cutting-edge technology. Unlike other digital voices, CereProc’s technology has a more ‘human’ flow, and was used by film critic Roger Ebert to deliver part of his TED talk after he lost his lower jaw to cancer. CereProc’s voices can also speak in regional accents, rather than the synthetic ‘android’ voices that tools such as Siri and Alexa use.
“CereProc’s ethos is focused on continuous innovation,” said Paul Welham, Chief Executive at CereProc. “We’re continually developing new voices, smarter technology and different applications for these voices, so it’s great to have Firefly on-board to help spread the word about our work.”
“It’s not often that you come across an organisation that has made Donald Trump sing, created a Glaswegian voice for an escape room and restored the power of speech to an eminent Motor Neurone Disease sufferer,” continued Sharp. “We’re delighted to be working with CereProc and showcasing its innovative and worthy technology to the world at large.”
As a former pupil at a single sex school, I remember all too well the buzz around International Women’s Day. We would all be sitting in the assembly hall and representatives from the school would be telling us how this day was ‘for us’ and how amazing we are as individuals. We would be told the stories about the great women of the world – Mother Theresa, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, and how we too could achieve great things like these figures. This assembly would follow the same format, year after year on or around the 8th March and I remember sitting there as a 13-year-old, admiring these women and truly believing that I could be like them when I grew up.
Fast forward to now, and we still hear the stories of Marie Curie, Rosa Parks and Mother Theresa, amongst others, on International Women’s Day, which is great, of course. Except, why do we feel the need to shine the light on these women on every March 8th – shouldn’t we be celebrating and telling stories about women every day?
According to the history books, the first observance of a ‘Women’s Day’ was in New York in the early 1900s, set up by the Socialist Party of America and then by 1914 on Sunday 8th March, the first International Women’s Day took place in Germany in 1914. At that time, the day was largely used to promote social movements such as women’s right to vote. And there’s no doubt that over the years International Women’s Day has been and will continue to be successful in promoting inequality issues and helping women have a voice.
But the problem we see with the modern International Women’s Day is that it feels like it’s the only day of the year where we see or hear about women doing amazing things, whereas in reality, women are doing incredible things every day. Last year, for example, when the English men’s football team reached the semi-finals during the World Cup, we saw headlines saying that it was the first time England had reached the semi-final in 28 years, when in fact, England had come third place in 2015. The difference? It was the women’s football team who achieved third place in 2015, yet the newspapers decided not to mention that.
Then there’s the marketing side. Companies and brands will choose to promote products and services that are aimed at women on International Women’s Day. And whilst we all love a freebie or discount, it totally defeats the purpose of the day that the women in Germany worked so hard to set out back in 1914.
Whilst I’m grateful for my school for embracing International Women’s Day and for teaching me the stories about great women, it’s important that we remember why the day was created in the first place. Let’s not make the modern International Women’s Day a marketing campaign or a reason to rejoice in all the wonderful women. We should stop treating International Women’s Day as a ‘special day’ for women and learn to celebrate women on all the other 364 days of the year too.
MWC, the world’s largest tradeshow for the mobile industry, has wrapped up for another year and, like every year, mobile technology manufacturers have come together to launch a plethora of intelligent and innovative mobile products.
This year’s show was titled ‘MWC19 Barcelona: Intelligent Connectivity’ and it showcased some of the most advanced technologies the mobile industry has seen. Foldable phones, 5G, AI and IoT enabled devices, as well as all of the other usual suspects made an appearance. But who were some of the stand out players this year and what does their technology mean for the mobile industry going forward?
Huawei Mate X – the future of phones
Although Huawei has faced a wealth of criticism over the past few months, the launch of their foldable phone was a key highlight at MWC. The Mate X features an enormous 8-inch wrap-around AMOLED screen as well as 5G capabilities and being only 11mm thick.
The fold-out screen is particularly impressive as it has an 8:7.1 aspect ratio and resolution of 2480×2200. Moreover, this phone has two batteries inside that deliver 4,500mAh capacity and new 55W charging technology which claims to deliver 80 percent power to the phone in 30 minutes. Fast charging and long battery life ahoy!
However, this futuristic phone does not come cheap. With a £1,977 price tag, it’s likely that we won’t see many of these being used on the daily commute any time soon.
Sony Xperia 1 – a binge-watchers delight
With its super-tall 21:9 display, Sony’s Xperia 1 is a phone for watching videos and playing games. The device has a 6.5inch 4K OLED screen which makes this phone perfect for binge-watching movies or TV shows on the move. Plus, as Netflix now supports this format, perhaps the Sony Xperia 1 will be the phone of choice for those who travel and use their phone for entertainment.
Not only is the bigger screen a great feature but the Sony Xperia 1 has a triple rear lens camera which contributes to improved zoom and the ability to shoot with a wide-angle camera.
Of course, the phone comes with a host of new features that you would expect with any smartphone in 2019 but as with any new technology, there is a hefty cost – £849 to be exact. So, will this extra tall phone become the mainstream for binge-watchers and gamers alike? We’ll have to wait and see.
Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 – the 5G era
Ok, so Xiaomi is not the first smartphone manufacturer to launch a 5G phone. Samsung unveiled its 5G phone during its Unpacked event in San Francisco ahead of MWC and as we’ve mentioned, Huawei launched its Mate X phone with 5G capability.
This year at MWC, 5G was the primary topic from most vendors, but Xiaomi has managed to launch a 5G phone at a (slightly) more reasonable price. The phone will cost around £513 and contains Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 processor and its X50 5G modem.
5G promises to speed up the connection and responsiveness of wireless networks, running between 10 and 100 times faster than connections today. And with the Mi Mix 3 price point being significantly lower than competitor 5G phones, maybe we’ll see Xiaomi break out of the Chinese market and make its way to the UK.
Nokia 9 PureView – inspiration from an insect
One of the more usual phones we’ve seen launched at MWC19 is the Nokia 9 Pureview. This smartphone features a whopping five, yes five, cameras on the back. The phone is able to capture unprecedented levels of detail with up to 240-megapixel resolution.
Due to the five cameras on the back of the phone, the design looks more housefly than smartphone, but for any photographers than prefer shots on a phone rather than a camera, perhaps this is the phone for you. And in terms of smartphones on the market, the Nokia 9 PureView is a mid-range phone priced at £540.
It’s clear than MWC19 was the year for 5G technology and the race among vendors to produce the best 5G phone is well underway. However, with no 5G networks in existence today, there need to be some big steps from network providers, if we’re to see the full functionality of these phones being used! However, we’re excited to see how this technology develops and whether 5G phones will be commonplace by the time MWC 2020 rolls around.
So, there you have it. A quick roundup of our favourite products from MWC19. We’re excited to watch how these products and technologies impact the mobile industry over the next year and are looking forward to seeing what new innovation MWC 2020 will bring.
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