The year is almost closed and that gives us time to reflect on the big wins but also the big failures of the year.
This year was not without its controversies, problems and questionable decisions. In fact there were a few to many to dive into depth with. For instance, we aren’t going to be touching on the breach of a NordVPN server, or the confusing situation Facebook’s Libra is in.
What follows are some of what we consider to be the biggest blunders of 2019.
Throw a dart at this year and you’ll land on a controversy involving Eskom. What are we on about? How about the rampant batch of loadshedding back in March that forced minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan to step in. The minister outlined a plan to turn the utility around and promised that there would be no loadshedding over Winter. This held true surprisingly but everyday Eskom reminded us that the system was close to collapse.
In December Eskom’s promise of no loadshedding over Summer came crashing down.
South Africans now await the splitting of Eskom into separate subsidiaries consisting of generation and distribution. This should – according to government – help fix some of the deeper problems within Eskom but calls for privatisation continue in earnest.
The utility is also drowning in debt and with SAA currently in business rescue, the question on the lips of South Africans is whether Eskom will meet the same fate.
As we write this Eskom has suspended loadshedding and President Cyril Ramaphosa said that Eskom should suspend loadshedding from 17th December to 13th January.
We take no joy in declaring Eskom a failure in 2019 especially as we rely on the firm to supply power but the truth is, Eskom has to do better than it has been in the next decade.
Where do we even start with WeWork. The beginning, or close to it is as good a place as any we suppose.
Back in August WeWork filed paperwork relating to its Initial Public Offering (IPO) and it was met with raised eyebrows.
The profitability of the We Company as it is now known was questionable at best, the IPO read like it was penned by a tech startup’s CEO and the CEO and co-founder Adam Neumann would soon become the focus of many think pieces. That’s not even counting the $900 million in debt the company was in.
Among the bizarre antics of Neumann were trademarking the word We and then selling the trademark to WeWork for use as the rebranded The We Company.
Neumann also reportedly sold $750 million in stock ahead of the IPO. Keep in mind he was the CEO throughout all of this.
The questionable CEO left the firm in September and following his exit Softbank was set to take control of the firm in October by way of an investment.
That investment has unfortunately not played out well for Softbank thanks to a $4.6 billion hit the firm took following its investment in WeWork.
The last six months at WeWork have been turbulent to say the least and we do wonder if the firm will be around in 2020. For the businesses that make use of its office space, we sure hope they are.
US and Huawei
The day the US announced that firms from the country would no longer be able to do business with China was incredibly memorable.
This was because the first firm to announce it was restricting trade with China was Google.
While the Great Firewall of China is well versed, this move would mean that Android would no longer feature on smartphones made in China which is a problem for the largest phone manufacturer in the world – Huawei.
What followed was several months of pure confusion.
Huawei was granted a 90 day grace period to find another solution for its operating system needs but could still make use of Google and its associated Android applications.
Then another 90 day reprieve was granted and that’s where we sit at present.
The damage done to Huawei however was fierce. The tariff wars has already claimed a victim in the Mate 30.
That handset has yet to arrive in South Africa and we doubt it ever will. We also doubt any future smartphone releases from Huawei will be headed this way unless the situation in the US changes.
For now, older Huawei smartphones released before the trade ban was implemented can be used. That includes the Huawei P30 range but anything released thereafter sadly does not support the Google Play Store and other Android services.
This fail is on the head of US President Donald Trump who’s nearsightedness has put a damper on affordable smartphones around the world because he’s upset about China being the technology manufacturing hub of the world.
Of course Huawei was not the only company that suffered. The trade restrictions meant firms like Apple and Intel had to look elsewhere for foundry solutions, components and more.
Our final “blunder” is less of a blunder and more of a lesson in turning a fail into a win.
The Galaxy Fold was announced back in Feburary with a targeted release of March/April depending on the territory.
Unfortunately, that release would be delayed as soon as reviewers started getting hands-on time with the Fold.
It was here that everything fell apart of Samsung.
While the white-glove approach works in a controlled setting like a media launch, folks in the real world come close to abusing their handsets.
This sort of rough-handed treatment would likely not sit well with the Fold, if it ever got to that point.
Reviewers noted the hinge of the folding smartphone was big enough for debris to fall in. A screen protector turned out to be a part of the display and it all just looked very fragile.
The release was delayed and Samsung went back to working on the handset.
The Galaxy Fold was released in September and while still fragile it appears to be surviving in the wild. Indeed Samsung said in December it had sold one million Galaxy Fold devices which is excellent news.
The future of folding smartphones looks grand but this year was very much firms tipping its toes in the water. Whether we see more folding phones in 2020 remains to be seen but our hope is that we do.