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10 things we learnt at #GoogleAfrica10

It seems like Google has been around forever, but the company actually marked its tenth anniversary of opening an African office last week.

The firm held the #GoogleAfrica10 event in Johannesburg to celebrate, while we also used the opportunity to interview country manager Luke Mckend. Here are a few details we managed to glean from it all.

We have 170 new places on Street View in SA

The company used #GoogleAfrica10 to announce that it’s added 170 new places to Street View in South Africa.

As for these places, you’re looking at a host of national parks, UNESCO sites, hiking trails and more.

You can sign up to use the Street View backpack

It might not be news to some of you, but did you know that you can sign up to use the Street View backpack? Yep, Discover Group’s Andre van Kets told #GoogleAfrica10 that he simply signed up and received the requisite hardware a few weeks later.

Got a bad back? Well, you might have second thoughts then, as the backpack weighs 22kgs.

Digital skills programme bearing fruit

Earlier this year, Google revealed that the firm’s digital skills programme had hit its target to train one million Africans. And it used the tenth anniversary event to shed light on a few stats.

The firm’s Bunmi Banjo noted that 10% of job-seekers who graduated through the programme found a job within three months and 16% started a new business.

SA search traffic growth from 2010 to 2017

Search is Google’s bread and butter, with South Africa seeing 300% growth from 2010 until 2017, the firm noted on stage. By comparison, global search traffic saw 150% growth between the same time frame.

As for search trends in ten years?

“Ten years ago, if you ran a search for anything, you probably just found ten blue links. These days… it’s a really rich experience. You’ve got video potentially, imagery, text results and even potentially… the knowledge panel on the right hand side,” Mckend tells Memeburn in an interview.

“Think about the future, that search experience is really changing with the advent of voice interactions… Nevermind ten blue links, a video link or an image link is not gonna work…” the executive says, adding that voice input will evolve search in unanticipated ways.

“The other thing that we’re going to see is that many more people using search as part of a daily experience that’s more about assisting them in their daily lives,” the country manager continues. “And I’ll give you a good example. So, tightly integrating search into managing your diary.”

Mckend gives the example of asking Google how long it’ll take to get to the airport, with the Assistant retorting that you’ll need to leave now due to traffic.

Any particularly challenging times in ten years?

What’s been some of the more challenging moments or low-lights for Google since landing in South Africa? Mckend points to spectrum as an obstacle.

“We did a fantastic project some time ago around experimenting with TV white space. And we established that it’s entirely possible to use this part of the spectrum in a meaningful way to distribute the internet. And I think one of the frustrations that we might’ve had is, that just from a regulatory perspective, we haven’t been able to move as quickly as we’d like,” Mckend says.

“It’s not to say there’s been no progress,” the executive cautions. “But having proved the technology literally years ago, one has a sense that perhaps we’re missing a trick in how we can move forward with making sure that more people have access to the internet in South Africa.”

What about YouTube Go and Search Lite?

youtube go

YouTube Go is very lightweight and seems like a no-brainer for the South African market. Can we expect a release soon?

“Not at this stage… I don’t have a timeline as yet unfortunately…” Mckend told us, saying they were adding features to the main YouTube app to make it more accessible to the continent (such as offline caching).

What about Search Lite? The app has seen a limited release in emerging market, combining Google’s core services in a light, data-efficient package.

“I think there are places where we’ll be deploying some of these products, probably a little bit more quickly than others. If I think about the need in a place like Nigeria versus South Africa… the need in Nigeria is greater. So if I were looking at where we’re going to implement these products first, I’d probably look further north…”

Don’t expect much in the way of hardware here

We’ve already covered this on Gearburn, but the Google representative poured cold water on the prospect of getting Google hardware soon.

“Having Google Home is contingent on a couple of different things, not least of which is approval by regulatory authorities,” Mckend said of Google Home coming to SA. “But it also relies on some of our products being localised than they currently are. So for instance, we need Google Assistant to be officially launched in South African English.”

What about the Pixel 2? Mckend acknowledges that the smartphone has “dependencies” on Google Assistant’s availability. “We’re working on one first and we’ll tackle that problem first. Then we’ll tackle the next.”

Expect merchant support this week

Google Play Store,google,screenshot,#googleafrica10

The expected arrival of merchant support has been covered on Memeburn a few days ago. Google sent out invites to a media event on Monday that has since been cancelled (Huawei is holding the Mate 10 launch event at the same time).

“Google will be making an announcement relevant to South African developers that develop for the Play Store on Monday,” read an excerpt of the invite. 

“Watch this space,” Mckend told Memeburn at #GoogleAfrica10 when asked about merchant support.

“Will it be launching on Monday?” we pressed.

“Watch this space,” the executive reiterated.

Google AI/cloud and SA

The representative also shed some light on the impact of Google’s AI and cloud efforts in South Africa.

“Via TensorFlow, it’s possible for any developer in South Africa to come up with a project which requires, on the one hand, huge computing power, on the other hand, an algorithm to crunch the data. In which case, they can use our APIs in order to do just that,” Mckend mentions.

“We’re running a big (cloud) training event on 16 November in Johannesburg. We ran one in Cape Town recently which happened to be the biggest cloud training event we’ve ever run globally, more than 600 people…”

Hadlee Simons was a guest of Google’s at #GoogleAfrica10 in Johannesburg.

Featured image: Hadlee Simons/Memeburn

Author | Hadlee Simons

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings over seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More

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