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The year of reinvention

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Five of the world’s great hi-tech brands ‚ Nokia, Sony, Ericsson, Huawei and HP ‚ made announcements in the last three weeks that point to their reinvention in 2012, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

In just three short weeks, at least five of the world’s great hi-tech brands have made announcements that will profoundly change the way they do business ‚ and the options available to consumers.

Most prominent among them is the biggest cellphone brand in the world outside the USA, Nokia. Not long ago it was written off by the media, especially when it announced in February it would abandon its own smartphone operating system (OS) and embrace the Windows Phone OS from Microsoft. Last month it unveiled the fruit of that decision: the new Lumia range of phones for high-end users, and the Asha range of Internet-enabled for the lower end where Nokia tends to be dominant.

The real message sent out by Nokia was: ‚We’re back‚ . Considering how many phone users in the developing world cut their teeth on Nokia devices, it’s a brand that will enter 2012 on new legs.

The same can be said for Sony and Ericsson, who were joined at the hi-tech hip with their Sony-Ericsson mobile phone brand. A few weeks ago they announced that Sony would buy out Ericsson’s share, and would rebrand their range.

But it’s not only Sony that is being reinvented as a result. Ericsson too, will be reborn. Its technology already plays a role on most other cellphone brands, but what it could offer rival manufacturers was always constrained by the very fact that they were rivals.

‚When the business started, the most important thing was the need to make handsets accessible to consumers, because the cost of handsets was very high,‚ said Magnus Mchunguzi, managing director of Ericsson in South and East Africa, speaking at the Ericsson stand at the AfricaCom congress in Cape Town last week. ‚What is crucial now is how to combine the different technologies available and make that work to the benefit of society.‚

In short, rather than going away, Ericsson will become more of a mobile role-player than ever before.

Another big ‚ and changing ‚ presence at the frenzied AfricaCom event was Huawei, better known for providing infrastructure to mobile operators, as well as almost all the 3G modems sold in South Africa.

For the past three years, the company had been focused on co-branding phones with major network operators like Vodafone and Verizon, so that their own brand was almost invisible. The availability of the Android and Windows Phone operating systems is changing that.

Last week they unveiled two new high-end devices, the Vision and the Honour. The former has 3D-style interface, while the latter’s large battery tries to reverse the outgoing tide of low battery life in smartphones.

‚It’s a huge opportunity for Huawei,‚ said Leo Wang, managing director, devices, of Huawei Eastern and Southern Africa, chatting over a hastily sipped cup of coffee at AfricaCom. ‚Now we need to set up our own brand, because our market share and market opportunity is getting bigger and bigger, and we need customers to understand the value of our brand and service.‚

Huawei also entered the tablet market this year with their Slim 7‚ , which costs almost half that of most of its rivals producing the same sized devices ‚ albeit with a poorer quality screen. They will shortly release a more advanced successor, also at a lower price.

One after the other, brands are reinventing themselves ‚ PC market leader HP more than most. Shortly after former CEO Leo Apotheker declared in August that HP would can their tablet brand and get rid of their PC division, the company’s board of directors fired him. This month, new CEO Meg Whitman announced they would hold onto their PCs, and re-enter the tablet market.

All these announcements and launches have one thing in common: they acknowledge that the ordinary consumer has become the heart of the hi-tech industry. Even companies focused on the largest enterprises now have to gear themselves to the needs of the lowliest customer. In 2012, this re-invention will be visible everywhere gadgets are sold.

* Arthur Goldstuck heads up World Wide Worx (www.worldwideworx.com) and is editor-in-chief of Gadget. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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