Swedish meet halls
Oct 21, 2016 (WiC 343)

“Hej!” is the traditional greeting for visitors to IKEA stores, but in Shanghai one group of longstanding customers has found themselves rather less welcome.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, older singletons have congregated in the bistro at the Xuhui store to gossip, make friends and sometimes even find love.
In keeping with IKEA’s policy in China, which welcomes its “patrons” to feel at home in their stores, this golden-years group has never been required to buy anything from the bistro. Many brought their own food and drink during their day of leisure, and others hold IKEA membership cards, which entitled them to free coffee from the bistro.
According to the Shanghaiist website, the penny-scrimping practices have been driving the café’s revenues down 20% on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
On October 5 the situation changed as signs were put up demanding that people “Buy food first, and then find a seat”. The new signage shocked the regulars, but according to it hasn’t resolved the problem of table-hogging. The savvier pensioners now simply spend Rmb10 ($1.48) on the cheapest item on the menu and still stay the whole day, with the food often lying untouched in front of them.
One customer explained to the reporter, “These buns are just tokens! All we do is put them here so that the workers can see them.”
For some of the store’s younger patrons, the new policy is a welcome step. “This group’s behaviour has already disrupted the normal order of the store,” one whippersnapper told
Elsewhere in China the Swedish improvement chain still welcomes visitors to relax in its stores and cafes free of charge, so perhaps this isolated restriction in Shanghai may yet be rescinded by more senior management.

Miracle, or mirage?
Oct 7, 2016 (WiC 342)

The best guess on how long it took to build each of the Egyptian pyramids is about 20 years. The country’s modern-day pharaohs want a much faster job for their new capital east of Cairo. So enter the Chinese, or more specifically China Fortune Land Development, which has just signed a $20 billion deal for the construction of homes and offices in the unnamed city.

China State Construction Engineering Corporation is said to have agreed another $15 billion contract to build the government quarters, a trade fair zone and Africa’s largest conference centre.

Opponents of the mega project ask how Egypt can afford it. But the Egyptian authorities say that Cairo is too chaotic and too congested, and that the experience of Turkey, India and Brazil shows that capitals can be successfully relocated.

WiC wonders whether the realities of the plan will live up to its rhetoric, however. The prospectus is said to talk about an airport larger than London’s Heathrow, buildings taller than the Eiffel Tower, and an amusement park that’s bigger than Disney World.

Perhaps we are too pessimistic on the project’s prospects. Historians still marvel at the architectural achievements of the ancient Egyptians, after all…

An even smarter smartphone
Sep 30, 2016 (WiC 341)

In 1859 Sir William James Herschel discovered that fingerprints remain stable over time and each is unique. As a chief magistrate in the Raj he became the first to institute their widespread use for identification and authentication purposes in British-controlled India in 1877. What started in India has now gone even more high-tech in neighbouring China, with the announcement this week that smartphone maker Xiaomi’s new Mi 5s phone will incorporate ultrasonic fingerprint identification for greater security. The company says its technology is more accurate than that used by rival handset firms, since it uses 10,000 micro sensors. Xiaomi founder and boss Lei Jun claims his firm had spent two years perfecting mass production of the technology, saying it showcased “our innovation capabilities”. The move likely presages a push by the Chinese firm to take on Apple Pay in the payments sphere; though some consumers may be more excited to know the new $299 Xiaomi handset also comes with a 13 million pixel dual camera made by Sony.

Rivalry in China’s smartphone arena is hotting up: Apple launched its new iPhone 7 earlier this month and it too came with a beefed-up camera. Meanwhile Huawei’s P9 smartphone has incorporated a camera made by leading international brand Leica.

All of that competition led to less welcome news this week for Lenovo. In order to restructure its lossmaking smartphone division it has confirmed reports it will cut 1,000 jobs at the Motorola unit it purchased in 2014 for $2.8 billion.