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Smartphone sales decline in Africa

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Africa’s smartphone market experienced a quarter-on-quarter (QoQ) decline of 6.4% during Q4 2017, according to the latest insights announced today by International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker shows smartphone shipments were down to 20.3 million units for the quarter. Year on year (YoY), this represents an 18.0% decline, meaning the YoY improvement seen in the previous quarter did not extend to the year’s final – and traditionally strongest – quarter.

In the feature phone space, shipments totaled 33.4 million units, up 3.1% QoQ after decreasing in the previous quarter. Year on year, the feature phone market was up 9.9%. Feature phones continue to account for a majority share (62.2%) of the region’s overall mobile phone market as they adequately address the needs of consumers that have limited purchasing power and require a reliable long-lasting mode of communication, particularly in rural areas.

Combining smartphones and feature phones together, the overall Africa mobile phone market saw shipments of 53.7 million units in Q4 2017, which represents downturns of 0.7% QoQ and 2.6% YoY. The continent’s two biggest markets saw extremely strong growth, with shipments up 19.9% QoQ in Nigeria and 27.0% QoQ in South Africa. North Africa also experienced a slight increase, although there were declines across most other markets, which explains the region’s overall decline.

“Major campaigns took place around Black Friday and during the lead up to Christmas, which positively impacted consumer spending in Nigeria and South Africa,” says Ramazan Yavuz, a research manager at IDC. “While Nigeria continues to recover from recession and consumer spending is on the rise, there are also clear signs of improvement in South Africa. The end to the political crisis means that challenging economic conditions will be addressed as a priority by the new government, which will have a positive effect on consumer confidence and spending on mobile phones.”

In terms of the vendor landscape, Transsion brands continued to lead the smartphone category in Q4 2017 with 30.4% share, followed closely by Samsung on 27.0%. “The Transsion Group maintains its top position by designing attractively priced devices that address the specific needs of each local market – a strategy the group proudly refers to as its ‘glocal’ approach,” says Nabila Popal, a senior research manager at IDC. “Despite the significant presence of Transsion brands in most African markets, it is important to note the increasing prevalence of local brands that are gaining considerable share in their home markets and slowly expanding to surrounding countries.” In the feature phone space, Tecno and itel – both of which are Transsion brands – continued to dominate in Q4 2017 with a combined share of 57.2%.

IDC’s research shows that 4G phones are growing in popularity, finally accounting for a majority share of the smartphone market at 56.8%. Shipments of 4G devices were up 3.9% QoQ in Q4 2017, with a drop in prices for entry-level 4G phones and an increase in the number of 4G networks across the continent driving this growth. “Despite the push of operators towards 4G, the price differential between 3G and 4G devices together with the price sensitivity of African consumers means that many people in Africa still prefer 3G phones,” says Popal.

Looking ahead, IDC expects Africa’s overall mobile phone market to grow 0.7% QoQ in Q1 2018, with overall shipments to increase slightly through 2018, leading to YoY growth of 2.0% for the year as a whole. Demand for feature phones is expected to remain strong, although IDC expects vendors to drive smartphone uptake by offering more features in affordable price bands.

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

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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

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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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