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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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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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