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Smartphones stall

Recent figures from IDC have shown that the shipment of smartphones in Africa fell 5.2% to 23.1 million units in the second quarter of 2016.

These figures, presented in IDC’s recently published ‘Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker’, indicate that the boom in smartphone sales in Africa is slowing, despite the fact that overall mobile handset shipments were up slightly in Q2 2016, with shipments of basic feature phones rising 31.9% year on year to total 29.8 million units.

South Africa and the North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia remain the most developed handset markets on the continent. The northern trio showed continuing strong growth in the smartphone space, with Long-Term Evolution (LTE) handsets accounting for three-quarters of smartphones sold in the region. “The launch of 4G is giving a boost to the mobile business in North Africa, and telecom operators have made huge investments in new LTE networks,” says Nabila Popal, research manager for mobile phones at IDC Middle East, Africa, and Turkey. “As a result of these investments, 4G services are now being offered at affordable prices to a growing band of customers.”

In South Africa, the most striking change was the continued growth of the low-price smartphone segment, with devices priced below $100 (retail price less VAT) now accounting for more than two-thirds of the country’s Android sales. This space has evolved after top-end sales became well established in the market courtesy of the country’s substantial postpaid segment, which is a rare feature of the operator environment in Africa.

In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country and biggest handset market, there was a sharp slowdown in growth in Q2 2016, with total smartphone shipments down 6.8% year on year. Sales of 4G phones in Egypt, Africa’s second-largest mobile phone market, surged in anticipation of the impending launch of LTE networks. Such phones accounted for almost twice as many shipments as 3G devices during the quarter.

However, in the extremely price-conscious markets of Sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa), 3G phones remain the predominant choice. Transsion’s principal brands – Tecno, Infinix, and itel – continue to perform very well in this region, dominating feature phone sales while collectively accounting for the second biggest share of the Sub-Sharan Africa smartphone market behind Samsung.

IDC believes that the smartphone market will continue to grow in Africa, particularly after the current commodities slump eases. However, sales are unlikely to reach the rates seen a year or two ago now that many urban markets are becoming saturated. Overall mobile shipments in Africa will top 200 million units in 2016, equating to year-on-year growth of 7.0%, with smartphones accounting for a marginally higher share of the market than was the case in 2015.

“Outside the cities, network connectivity is often basic, data speeds are much lower, and rural disposable incomes are often very low,” says Simon Baker, senior program manager for mobile phones at IDC CEMA. “As a result, feature phone sales are proving to be resilient across Africa, and this will continue to be the case going forward. Despite downturns in many economies, Africa retains significant long-term growth potential when compared with other developing regions, particularly as smartphone penetration across the continent remains relatively low.”

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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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