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Smartphones still growing strongly in SA

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Retail growth in SA’s mobile computer market has flattened out, though the market is performing reasonably well considering the tight economy, according to point of sale data from market research firm, GfK South Africa.

GfK South Africa’s data shows that mobile phone sales has decreased by 23% for January to June 2017, compared to the same period in 2016. Smartphone unit sales has increased 17% in the same timeframe. Smartphones accounted for 64% of mobile devices sold in the first half of 2017, while feature phones comprised the balance. By comparison, the split was 58% smartphones and 42% feature phones in the 2016 calendar year.

Notebooks experienced flat growth for the first half of 2017, with around 295,000 units sold through retail during the period. This follows a decline of more than 20%, from 360,000 units sold through in January to June 2015 to about 295,000 units in January to June 2016. Tablet computer retail sales, meanwhile, have dropped from 862,000 units in the first half of 2016 to around 540,000 for January to June 2017.

Smartphones buoyant in a flat market

Says Nicolet Pienaar, Business Group Manager: IT and Telecoms at GfK South Africa: “Growth in South Africa’s consumer computing devices market has flattened in recent years, partly because of economic conditions, partly because the weak rand has pushed prices up, and partly because of high penetration of these devices into the segments of the market that can afford them. The smartphone market, however, remains buoyant as consumers migrate from feature phones.

“We are also seeing cellular networks, manufacturers and retailers come up with innovative ways to drive sales volumes. For example, some smartphone and PC makers continue to focus on laybys and store credit to make notebooks, tablets and smartphones more affordable to the first-time buyer. Some vendors are also seeking to increase the value of the units they sell—such as notebook manufacturers who have opened new markets such as the premium R40,000-plus gaming notebook.”

Adds Berno Mare, Product Manager: IT, Office and Photo at GfK South Africa: “Growth in South Africa’s mobile phone market is predominantly driven by the introduction of extremely low cost smartphones. This is fuelling the transition from traditional mobile phones to smartphones. Another trend sees consumers enthusiastically adopt larger screen sizes of five inches and above.

“Brand loyalty and design are the main drivers in the premium market. Features are secondary in consumer purchasing decisions because most premium phones have excellent spec levels and similar functionality. In the credit-driven sector, the smartphone is a critical status symbol and screen size is a major factor in smartphone purchasing decisions.”

Tablets feel the pressure

Commenting on the tablet market, Pienaar says that tablets are seen as a secondary support device, used to consume media rather than to create content. As a result, this category is feeling the pressure of a tight economy more than mobile computers and smartphones, which many consumers regard as essentials.

Says Pienaar: “A trend we have noted in Europe is that people prefer to use their smartphones to hail an Uber or take notes in a meeting because their handsets are right at hand – they don’t want to take out a tablet or hybrid. The same trend is taking place, here, too.”

There is fierce competition in the entry-level tablet market, thanks to a growing choice of brands as well as telecoms networks offering contract deals. However, the professional segment – including slate and hybrid form factors – is struggling because prices are too high for mass market appeal.

In the notebook market, a volatile exchange rate and higher component prices are making it difficult for manufacturers to keep price points low for entry-level devices. The industry is focusing on combining spec configurations that allow for aggressive pricing. As a result, there is a little innovation in the low-end of the market, with some devices leveraging older processors. In the premium market, thin form factors, SSD and other innovative features are driving growth.

Spurred by innovations, such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, smart home functionality, mobile payments and mobile health, smartphones are going to gain further relevance for consumers in premium segments in the next year to two. Meanwhile, low-cost smartphones will continue to grow as users migrate from feature phones, especially younger people who see connectivity as a life essential.

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ConceptD: Creatives get a tech brand of their own

The unveiling of a new brand by Acer recognises the massive computing power needed in creative professions, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It’s a crisp Spring morning in Brooklyn. The regular water taxi from Manhattan pulls up at Duggal Greenhouse on the edge of the East River. It’s a building that symbolises the rejuvenation of Brooklyn as a hub of artistic and creative expression.

Inside the vast structure, global computer brand Acer is about to unveil its own tribute to creativity. Company CEO Jason Chen takes to the stage in faded blue jeans and brown t-shirt, underlining the connection of the event to the informality of the area.

“Brooklyn is become more and more diverse,” he tells a gathering of press from around the world, attending the Next@Acer media event. “It’s an area that is up and coming. It represents new lifestyles. And our theme today is turning a new chapter for creativity.”

Every year, Next@Acer is a parade of the cutting edge in gaming and educational laptops and computers. New devices from sub-brands like Predator, Helios and Nitro have gamers salivating. This year is no different, but there is a surprise in store, hinted in Chen’s introduction.

As a grand finale, he calls on stage Angelica Davila, whose day job is senior marketing manager for Acer Latin America. But she also happens to have a Masters degree in computer and electric engineering. A stint at Intel, where she joined a sales and marketing programme for engineers, set her on a new path.

Angelica Davila, marketing manager for Acer Latin America

For the last few months, she has been helping write Acer’s next chapter. She has shepherded into being nothing less than a new brand: ConceptD.

Click here to read more about ConceptD.

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Which voice assistant wins battle of translators?

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Take the most famous phrase from the Godfather – “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” – or “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” from the inaugural address of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and see just how the virtual assistants do in translating them using their newly introduced Neural Machine Translation (NMT) capabilities. One Hour Translation (OHT), the world’s largest online translation service, conducted a study to find out just how accurate these new services are.

OHT used 60 sentences from movies and famous people ranging from the Godfather and Wizard of Oz to Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, US presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Fitzgerald Kennedy and historical figures like Leonardo da Vinci and Aesop. The sentences were translated by Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri from English to French, Spanish, Chinese and German and then given to five professional translators for their assessment on a scale of 1-6. 

Google Assistant scored highest in three of the four languages surveyed – English to French, English to German and English to Spanish and second in English to Chinese.  Amazon’s Alexa, whose translation engine is powered by Microsoft Translator, was tops in the English to Chinese category. Apple’s Siri was second place in English to French and English to Spanish and third place in English to German and English to Chinese.  (See chart). All three virtual assistants are compatible with mobile phones.

“The automated assistants’ translation quality was relatively high, which means that assistants are useful for handling simple translations automatically,” says Yaron Kaufman, chief marketing officer and co-founder of OHT. He predicts that “there is no doubt that the use of assistants is growing rapidly, is becoming a part of our lives and will make a huge contribution to the business world.” 

A lot will depend on further improvements in NMT technology, which has revolutionized the field of translation over the past two years.  All the companies active in the field are investing large sums as part of this effort. “OHT is working with several of the leading NMT providers to improve their engines through the use of its hybrid online translation service that combines NMT and human post-editing,” notes Kaufman. He adds that this will no doubt have a huge impact on the use of assistants for translation purposes.

OHT has made a name for itself in assessing the level of translations by NMT engines.  Its ONEs Evaluation Score is a unique human-based assessment of the leading NMT engines conducted on a quarterly basis and used as an industry standard. 

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