- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2011


ONGATA RONGAI, Kenya — This booming suburb of Nairobi, about 45 minutes from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, is growing so rapidly that land prices have multiplied exponentially in the past eight years. In the past six years, population here has doubled to 1 million people.

But that’s not the only change a visitor to Kenya will notice, particularly, as in the case of your columnist, when it’s been 12 years since his last visit.

The differences start at the airport: In the international arrivals section, the huge advertising signs no longer shout “Microsoft,” but rather “Safaricom,” one of the dominant local cell carriers. Mobile phones and data are the big thing here. (Though Microsoft needn’t worry — its products seem to have a very comfortable foothold here.)

That said, there was a fair amount of Apple Inc. products to be seen. At the conference where I was privileged to share some thoughts on news writing, about one-third of the participants were using Macs; several iPads were in view. Even more iPads could be seen in international travel. I counted about a dozen on the flight from Washington to Brussels, and a good number from there to Nairobi.

And high-speed Internet is crucial. At the conference center, we had excellent access via Ethernet and a local Internet service provider, except when the fiber-optic cable to this booming area was cut on a Tuesday morning. It took a few hours, but by nightfall service was back to normal.

You might think having such access in a place such as Kenya is a luxury. And while it is, there was also a practical need. I had hoped to use Apple Inc.’s Keynote software for presentations; in fact, I had to have it for some of my work. But the copy on my computer was somehow corrupted, and a replacement was needed. No disc was handy, so to Apple’s online App Store I went. Some $20 and a couple of download tries later, I was up and running, and able to complete my tasks. The software ran perfectly, and the fact that I was about 10,000 miles from Apple’s headquarters made no difference when purchasing the needed product.

That just wouldn’t have been possible here a dozen years ago, when dial-up was all the rage and an Internet cafe at Nairobi’s famed Carnivore restaurant (now denuded of its more exotic dishes, I’m told) was a sign of massive progress. Now, it’s fiber-optics and Ethernet. Wow.

If Internet access is power, so, too, is electrical power, especially for handheld phones and the like. The PowerSkin case for the iPhone 4, from XPAL Corp., which can be had for $59.99 at online seller Amazon.com, is a lifesaver. With it, my phone never loses power (or so it seems), and the case adds some extra protection for the iPhone itself. A pass-through cable charges the battery and the phone from a USB port and allows you to sync the phone with your computer. All told, a great deal.

Another good deal, and also priced at $59.99 is the iFrogz iPad 2 Summit case (https://bit.ly/ljJ4jv). This leatherlike flap includes the “Smart Technology” that brings an iPad 2’s screen to life when opened, and the flap folds back to provide a viewing stand for the iPad screen. The plastic part is solid and offers access to all of the iPad’s ports. It’s excellent protection and a great value, in this reviewer’s opinion.

I didn’t have the courage to add a Weekly World News-themed “skin” to my MacBook Pro before I left, but the removable plastic skin, developed by MusicSkins.com with a special vinyl from 3M Corp., offers scratch protection and more than a little personality.

Price is $30, and, hey, for a little fun, it’s worth it.

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