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MEA market sees steepest decline yet in PC sales

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The Middle East and Africa (MEA) PC market suffered a 28.7% year-on-year slump in shipments in the final quarter of 2015, according to the latest insights from global technology research and consulting firm International Data Corporation (IDC).

Shipments fell for the third consecutive quarter in Q4 2015, with the decline representing the steepest ever recorded in the region for a single quarter.

In a shift from earlier quarters in the year when the decline in desktop shipments was notably less pronounced than the decline in notebooks, this time round both product categories declined at a similar pace. Indeed, IDC’s Quarterly PC Tracker shows that desktop shipments declined 29.4% year on year in Q4 2015 to total 1.3 million units, with notebook shipments falling 28.2% over the same period to total 1.9 million units.

“Similar to the previous quarter, Turkey, the ‘Rest of the Middle East’ grouping (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Palestine), Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan experienced the sharpest declines within MEA,” says Fouad Charakla, senior research manager for personal computing, systems, and infrastructure solutions at IDC Middle East, Africa, and Turkey. “The reasons for these declines varied from country to country, but included high levels political and economic instability and uncertainty, low oil prices, increasing security concerns, and volatile currency fluctuations, especially with the U.S. dollar becoming more expensive.”

Once again, the top three vendors remained unchanged in Q4 2015. The continued focus of these vendors on the commercial segment has contributed significantly to their ability to remain at the top of the rankings, since they combined to serve almost 70% of the region’s commercial PC demand during the quarter.

Overall, HP maintained the top spot in terms of market share, despite experiencing a fall of 27.4% year on year, while second-placed Lenovo suffered a decline of 29.9% on shipments. Dell, on the other hand, escaped with a mild decline of 8.7% year on year as the vendor had experienced a relatively slow quarter during the same period last year. Declining slightly slower than the overall market at 23.2% year on year, Asus overtook Acer to claim fourth position, while Acer experienced the fastest decline among the top vendors at 42.9% year on year. Similar to previous quarters, the local assembly of desktops continues to slow as a growing portion of end users opt for refurbished PCs, upgrades, or to prolong their refreshment cycle altogether as they increasingly shift their usage towards mobile phones and tablets.

“As market sentiment remains low, IDC expects to see a delay in the recovery of PC demand,” says Charakla. “Overall, 2016 will experience a further decline on 2015, as growth is only expected to occur in the second half of the year. A slightly stronger recovery is expected during 2017, after which the region will continue to experience a period of slow growth over the longer term. As the growing popularity of smartphones and tablets will continue to inhibit demand for PCs, vendors and channels across the region are expected to plan and order cautiously so as to avoid being left with high inventory levels.”

Similar to IDC’s previous forecasts, there will continue to be a gradual shift in the weight of demand from consumers to the commercial segment as a growing proportion of home users switch from PCs to tablets and smartphones while commercial end users maintain a greater loyalty to PCs. As a result, commercial demand for PCs in the region is expected to surpass that stemming from home users by the year 2017.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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