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Big new name in mobile

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It seems that every new high-end mobile phone is powered by a Qualcomm chip, but there’s a new name in town, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The typical cellphone user doesn’t care who makes the insides of that cool new handset, but it’s a major selling point for manufacturers and resellers. For several years, it was a badge of quality to claim a Qualcomm processor as the heartbeat of the device.

Now the San Diego-based chipmaker is facing growing competition from the other side of the world.

MediaTek, headquartered in Taiwan, has quietly risen to number three in the world, with 2016 revenue of around US$8.6-billion. That’s still less than half of Qualcomm’s $23.5-billion, and some way behind number two, Broadcom Limited, at $13.2-billion. But, for a brand that has been primarily known as a chip supplier for cheap feature phones, its rise should send warning signals to the market leaders.

It also powers some of the best-selling entry-level smartphones in the world, and is beginning to rise up the value chain.

“We consider ourselves number one in the world in feature phones, so that’s still a very strong focus of the business,” says Dominique Friedl. “In smartphones, our biggest strength exists in the entry smartphones, from the Vodacom Smart Kicka, and other 3.5-inch display smartphones, pushing all the way up into the mid-tier smartphones, like the Sony Xperia XA, Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime Plus, and brands like TECNO, Infinix and Itel.”

The latter three are all owned by Transsion Holdings, which has become one of the most successful smartphone businesses in West and East Africa, and is slowly entering the South African market.

“Each of its brands is positioned to serve a particular segment of the market, with Infinix at the top, TECNO in the middle, and Itel as the entry-level brand,” says Friedl. “All use MediaTek.”

He points out that South Africa is very different to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, where retailers dominate cellphone sales, whereas this country’s market is driven by operators. That makes it more difficult for new brands to enter the market, unless they are able to build a good relationship with operators.

Nevertheless, home-grown brands Mint and Mobicel, Latin American entrant Azumi, and Transsion are all making inroads into the South African market.

“It’s quite a rainbow nation of brands that MediaTek supports. Our strength was traditionally in the Chinese market, and then supporting regional brands.”

In South Africa, it is already a dominant player. With some estimates putting annual smartphone sales as high as 16-million, MediaTek has a market share of

about 45%, or just under 8-million.  For the entire Sub-Saharan Africa, it is forecasting 120-million smartphones, and 100-million feature phones.

“South Africa and Nigeria remain the two biggest markets,” says Friedl. “Growing rapidly behind them, we see the East Africa countries, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and now also Ethiopia. That’s a unique market because it has one mobile network, which drives the market in a specific direction.”

The ability to address the opportunities as well as the complexities of global markets has grown MediaTek to 15 000 people globally, and more than 30 global offices.  It has grown turnover between 20 and 30 percent a year for the past few years, almost doubling revenue in three years.

Yet, this may be just the beginning. As more and more consumers decide that mid-range phones meet their needs just as well as expensive flagship devices, a new category is emerging, says Friedl.

“We’re starting to see the New Premium. You saw a decline in flagship phone sales in 2016 as people started questioning the diminishing returns of upgrades. The result is the trend towards the New Premium tier.

“It’s really by demand from customers and what their expectations are of phones. They want quality technology, performance, and power, all the things that were flagship features, but they want them now in mid-tier devices. That’s where the exciting stuff will happen in the next two years.”

The result is that the features that are currently associated with top-of-the-range smartphones, like dual cameras, edge to edge display, and fingerprint and biometric sensing, will arrive in mid-tier phones in the next year or so.

“You can equate it to Formula 1 racing, where advanced technology is developed in Formula 1 cars and then finds its way into commercial vehicles down the line. That’s the trend in 2017 and 2018 in smartphones.”

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Smash hits the
Nintendo Switch

Super Smash Bros. delivers what the fans wanted in the latest “Ultimate” instalment, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the latest addition to the popular Nintendo Smash series, has landed on the Nintendo Switch with a bang, selling 5-million copies in the first week of its release. The game has been long-anticipated since the console’s release, as many fans consider iy to be a Nintendo staple. And the wait was well worth it.

It features 74 playable fighters, 108 stages, almost 1300 Spirit characters to collect while playing, and a single-player Adventure mode that took about three days (or 28 hours) of gameplay to complete. The game offers far more gameplay than its predecessors, making it the Smash game that gives its players the best bang for their buck.

For those new to the game, the goal is to fight opponents and build up their damage score (draining their health) to knock them off the stage eventually. This makes the game seem chaotic, as many players jump around the platforms as if they were on quicksand, in order to avoid being hit by the other players.

It also services two kinds of players: the competitive and the casual.

Competitive players can be matched on the online service by skill ranking to enjoy playing with similarly high-skilled opponents. This is especially important in e-sports training for the game, and for players wanting to master combos against other human players. The casual gamer is also catered for, with eight-player chaos and button-mashing to see who comes out luckiest. This segment is also important for those wanting to learn how to play.

Training mode is also a place to go for those learning to play. It offers “CPU” players that are graded by intensity to train as a single player to learn a character’s moves, combos and general fighting style. More challenging CPU players can also be used by competitive players to train when there isn’t a Wi-Fi connection available.

Direct Play features in this game, allowing two players with two Switch consoles to play against each other over a direct connection – no Wi-Fi needed. This is especially useful to those who want to have a social gaming element on the go, similar to that of the cable connector of the Gameboy.

Click here to read Bryan Turner review of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

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Win Funko Fortnite in Vinyl

Gadget and Gammatek have nine Funko Fortnite figurines to give away.

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A Funko Pop figurine based on a character set is indicative of reaching the heights of pop culture. It is no surprise, then, that the world’s biggest online game, Fortnite, has its own line of Funko Pop figurines. The Funkos are modeled on the characters in game, including Drift, Ragnarok, Dark Vanguard, Volar, Tracera Ops, and Sparkle Specialist.

Now, local Funko distributor Gammatek has released the Fortnite figurines in South Africa. To celebrate, Gadget and Gammatek are giving away a set of three Funko Fortnite figurines to each of three readers (9 figurines in total). To enter, first click on your favourite Funko Pop on the next page and post the Tweet that appears. Then, follow Gadget on Twitter.

You can put the tweet in your own words, but entries must have the competition’s hashtag (#FunkoFortnite) and mention @GadgetZA to be considered valid.

Click here to select the Funko Fortnite character you want to tweet.

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