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Smart sales dip in Africa

Africa’s mobile phone market started 2017 off with a drastic quarter-on-quarter (QoQ) decline according to the latest figures announced by International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s newly released Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker shows that overall shipments for the first quarter of the year in Africa totaled 54.5 million units, down -8.2% on Q4 2016. The prime driver of this downturn was a stark -17.6% decline in the smartphone segment, with shipments falling from 25.8 million units in Q4 2016 to 21.2 million units in Q1 2017.

When viewed year on year (YoY), the overall mobile market was up 8.4%, primarily due to feature phone shipments growing from 26.6 million units in Q1 2016 to 33.3 million units in Q1 2017. Feature phones have now been rising as a proportion of the total market for more than a year, which highlights the continuing importance of basic mobile communications in many parts of Africa, particularly in rural areas.

The drop in smartphone shipments in Q1 2017 was caused by substantial QoQ declines in the continent’s three largest smartphone markets – South Africa (-13.6%), Nigeria (-8.1%), and Egypt (-11.5%). “In South Africa, the drop was mainly due to high levels of stock in the channel from previous quarters,” says Nabila Popal, a senior research manager at IDC. “Nigeria’s decline was caused by the ongoing recession in the overall economy as well as difficulties in accessing foreign currencies for imports, while continuing exchange-rate difficulties were also behind the major decline seen in Egypt.”

The smartphone markets in Morocco and Algeria also performed poorly in Q1 2017, although the QoQ declines were much less drastic at -2.2% and -1.5%, respectively. “Morocco’s economy was significantly impacted by a stalemate in the government that is delaying the disbursement of budgetary funds, while Algeria’s unstable politics continue to dampen consumers’ willingness to make discretionary purchases,” says Soufiane Bouhaji, a research analyst at IDC. “Tunisia was the only market in North Africa to record a QoQ increase in smartphone shipments (0.5%) in Q1 2017 and that was mainly due to the country’s healthier macroeconomic environment.”

The East African markets performed stronger than any other region in Africa in terms of smartphone shipments for Q1 2017, with Tanzania and Uganda seeing substantial QoQ increases of 8.1% and 11.6%, respectively. The Kenyan market, which has seen big gains in smartphone shipments over the last two years, was more subdued in Q1 2017, with shipments declining slightly by -1.3 % QoQ.

In terms of vendor rankings, Samsung remains the continent’s leading smartphone vendor, with 29.8% share in Q1 2017, up on the previous two quarters but slightly down on Q1 2016. Its big rival in Africa, the China-based Transsion group, took second place with 23.9% share of the smartphone market, thanks to its diversified portfolio of mid-range phones and strong focus on the ˂$150 price segment. In the feature phone space however, it is Transsion that dominates not Samsung, with its Tecno and itel brands accounting for three out of every five feature phones shipped across the continent in Q1 2017.

“IDC expects Africa’s overall smartphone market to slowly rebound from its current lull to a state of growth,” says Bouhaji. “Despite the tough macroeconomic conditions currently inhibiting much of the region, smartphone prices continue to fall and this will drive their adoption across Africa. Almost 40% of all smartphones shipped in Africa in Q1 2017 were priced below $80, up from 28% just two years earlier. Mobile data charges are also becoming more affordable, while increasing use of video-sharing applications and improving penetration of over-the-top services are further encouraging smartphone adoption.”

IDC is forecasting that Africa’s smartphone shipments will remain flat this year, but for growth to resume in 2018 as the economy gradually recovers.

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

The Middle East and Africa (MEA) personal computing devices (PCD) market, which is made up of desktops, notebooks, workstations, and tablets, suffered a decline of -7.3% year on year in Q2 2017, according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly PCD Tracker for Q2 2017 shows that PCD shipments fell to around 6 million units for the quarter.

“As forecast, the market followed a similar pattern to recent quarters, with the downturn primarily stemming from a decline in shipments of slate tablets and desktops,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa. “This was the result of desktop users increasingly switching to mobile devices such as notebooks or even refurbished notebooks, while users of slate tablets shifted to smartphones. These trends translated into year-on-year declines of -21.9% for desktops and -15.7% for slate tablets in Q2 2017, while shipments of notebooks and detachable tablets increased 11.0% and 63.3%, respectively over the same period.”

“Market sentiment in the region remained low overall, although an aggressive push from some slate tablet vendors meant the market declined much slower than expected,” continues Charakla. “At the same time, heightened competition has also made it harder for certain players to sustain their slate tablet businesses and generate profits, causing them to lose interest in the slate tablet market altogether. Despite this, slate tablets are still the most popular computing device among home users in the region.”

Looking at the region’s key markets, IDC’s research shows that when compared to Q2 2016 overall PCD shipments were down -11.4% in the UAE, -8.9% in Turkey, and -6.7% in the ‘Rest of Middle East’ sub-region (comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Afghanistan). South Africa and Saudi Arabia bucked this trend, recording year-on-year increases of 3.5% and 9.6%, respectively.

A massive education delivery in Pakistan acted as a key driver for notebook shipments in the region overall. Similarly, the education sector was the biggest driver of detachable tablet shipments, triggered by a huge delivery in Kenya, as well as two other deliveries in Pakistan and Turkey, which enabled this category to achieve the fastest growth of all the PCD categories.

“While a component shortage prevented market players from reducing their prices too much, the average price of consumer notebooks experienced a considerable year-on-year decline in Q2 2017,” says Charakla. “This played a key role in driving demand from the consumer segment, and was reflected in the growing popularity of lower-priced notebook models.”

Looking at the PC market’s vendor rankings, each of the top five vendors maintained their respective positions compared to the previous quarter, with the top four all gaining share.

Middle East & Africa PC Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
HP Inc. 23.7% 27.6%
Lenovo 19.8% 21.5%
Dell 16.3% 16.7%
ASUS 8.7% 9.4%
Acer Group 5.9% 4.1%
Others 25.7% 20.7%

Although Samsung continued to lead the tablet market, the vendor rankings in the space saw quite a few changes, with Huawei catapulting itself to second place. Lenovo also climbed up a position compared to the previous quarter, causing Apple to drop to fourth place.

Middle East & Africa Tablet Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
Samsung 20.5% 18.9%
Huawei 11.2% 15.8%
Lenovo 12.7% 9.8%
Apple 9.1% 8.8%
Alcatel 2.9% 5.0%
Others 43.5% 41.7%

“Looking to the future, the MEA PCD market is expected to decline at a faster rate than previously forecast for 2017 as a whole,” says Charakla. “Technological shifts are playing a pivotal role in deciding the future of this market, with demand for certain products shifting to other PCD products and beyond (i.e., smartphones). Accordingly, shipments of slate tablets are expected to continue declining over the coming years as demand is cannibalized by smartphones. Meanwhile, the ongoing shift to mobile computing will see growth in the desktop market remain close to flat throughout IDC’s forecast period ending 2021. Notebook shipments will experience very slow growth beyond 2018, while detachable tablets will remain the fastest growing PCD category, eating away share from other computing devices.”

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Gazer cyber-spies exposed

ESET has released new research into the activities of the Turla cyberespionage group, and specifically a previously undocumented backdoor that has been used to spy on consulates and embassies worldwide.

ESET’s research team are the first in the world to document the advanced backdoor malware, which they have named “Gazer”, despite evidence that it has been actively deployed in targeted attacks against governments and diplomats since at least 2016.

Gazer’s success can be explained by the advanced methods it uses to spy on its intended targets, and its ability to remain persistent on infected devices, embedding itself out of sight on victim’s computers in an attempt to steal information for a long period of time.

ESET researchers have discovered that Gazer has managed to infect a number of computers around the world, with the most victims being located in Europe. Curiously, ESET’s examination of a variety of different espionage campaigns which used Gazer has identified that the main target appears to have been Southeastern Europe as well as countries in the former Soviet Union Republic.

The attacks show all the hallmarks of past campaigns launched by the Turla hacking group, namely:

  • Targeted organisations are embassies and ministries;
  • Spearphishing delivers a first-stage backdoor such as Skipper;
  • A second stealthier backdoor (Gazer in this instance, but past examples have included Carbon and Kazuar) is put in place;
  • The second-stage backdoor receives encrypted instructions from the gang via C&C servers, using compromised, kegitimate websites as a proxy.

Another notable similarity between Gazer and past creations of the Turla cyberespionage group become obvious when the malware is analysed. Gazer makes extra efforts to evade detection by changing strings within its code, randomizing markers, and wiping files securely.

In the most recent example of the Gazer backdoor malware found by ESET’s research team, clear evidence was seen that someone had modified most of its strings, and inserted phrases related to video games throughout its code.

Don’t be fooled by the sense of humour that the Turla hacking group are showing here, falling foul of computer criminals is no laughing manner.

All organisations, whether governmental, diplomatic, law enforcement, or in traditional business, need to take today’s sophisticated threats serious and adopt a layered defence to reduce the chances of a security breach.

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