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Vodacom makes smart push to become handset player

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As mobile operators struggle to maintain revenue growth in a saturated market, Vodacom’s own branded phones are making a big impact, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The numbers don’t look good for mobile operators right now.  In their most recent annual results, MTN reported group revenue up 5 per cent, running behind inflation in South Africa. Vodacom’s latest quartely results showed marginally higher growth, at 5.8%, almost catching up to inflation.

The challenge that has faced operators for several years now, as voice revenues plateau and rising data revenues don’t rise fast enough to replace the voice slow-down, has been to find new revenue streams.

Very quietly, they have been doing just that in the handset arena, with MTN punting the locally manufactured Mint devices and now getting behind the rising Chinese brand Xiaomi. Vodacome has taken a far more aggressive approach to this strategy, rolling out a wide range of devices under the brand of its parent company, Vodafone.

No less than six new Vodafone devices have been released in South Africa, with a seventh on the way. There are three likely winners as a result:

  • Vodacom itself will enjoy higher margins from its own devices;
  • Consumers will benefit from high-spec devices at low-end prices; and
  • Their manufacturer, Alcatel, will find itself in the uncustomary position of being a market leader beyond only its entry-level Pixi phones.

Alcatel manufactures Vodafone-branded smartphones by virtue of winning a tender that is put out from time to time. However, it’s not merely a matter of being able to make the phones most cheaply.

Alcatel has proven itself at both the entry-level, with its sub-R600 entry-level smartphone, the Pixi – which has at times been the top-selling phone in southern Africa – and its mid-range Idol phones. This year it also introduced the Go Play ad Pop Star ranges, aimed respectively at active and youth markets.

That cements it as a technology leader in the segments where operators see the biggest opportunity for their own brands. They can’t compete at the high end with the likes of Apple and Samsung, or even Sony and LG, whose brands are associated with both the highest quality and the top specifications available.

However, the real volume in emerging markets comes from mid-range phones costing anywhere from R2 000 to R8 000, and entry-level phones costing less than R1 000.  These are usually not the most profitable phones, as their margins are much lower than those of the big brands’ flagship devices. However, by taking out the cut that goes to the big brands, the cheaper phones suddenly become much more profitable.

In the financial year ending 31 March 2016, Vodacom sold 6,5-million smart devices, of which 25 per cent were Vodafone branded – up from 16.8 per cent a year before. The growth in revenues from this division marginally outpaced overall revenue growth.

This sets the stage for the next big growth spurt in device sales from Vodacom, as it makes the transition away from non-smart handsets. In the year to March, almost 4-million of its 10.4-million device sales fell into the latter category. In the next year, that segment will begin to vanish as the new range kicks in.

The new devices from Vodacom include:

Vodafone Smart platinum 7 LTE Smartphone

The flagship Vodacom phone retailing at a recommended price of R8509, will be available on a 24-month contract at R399 per month.

Customers will also get a Smart VR basic virtual reality headset, and a free one-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365, which includes a license for three devices and 1TB of cloud storage.

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Vodacom Smart ultra 7 LTE Smartphone

The budget alternative to the platinum, at R3 539 for purchase, and R199 per month on contract. It also comes with a one-year Microsoft Office 365 license for three devices, with 1TB of cloud storage. 

Vodacom Smart prime 7 LTE Smartphone

The entry-level big-screen smartphone, at R1 799 outright and R129 per month. Also with Microsoft Office 365 license for three devices and 1TB of cloud storage.

Vodacom Smart Kicka 2

The best value entry-level smartphone on the market, at R499 outright or R59 a month.

The Kicka is the standout devices here. Given the poor exchange rate, it is an absurdly cheap phone, with a powerful quad core processor, 1400 mAh battery, 2Mp camera and 4GB storage, expandable with a micro SD slot. It runs Android 5.1, which just a couple of years ago would have made it a cutting edge phone.

However, the big surprise comes from the flagship phone, the platinum 7. It’s 16MP rear camera produces photos as good as anything outside of the Samsung S6 and S7 devices. Those cost almost twice as much, so one would expect their images to be better, but many other phones costing far more than the Vodafone flagship cannot match its image sharpness. While the phone itself is slow, it is ideal for someone who wants a phone for the camera quality but cannot afford the top of other manufacturers’ ranges.

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 Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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