Author: Nermin Hajdarbegovic

Quanta slashes tablet forecast by a quarter

cheap-tabletsQuanta Computer, the world’s biggest laptop maker for hire, has slashed its tablet shipment forecast for 2013 from 20 million units to just 15 million. The reason? Cheap white-box tablets.

“We were optimistic about the company’s tablet shipments this year and didn’t expect that our clients’ products would face pricing competition from Chinese white-brands,” Quanta vice chairman C.C. Leung said in a conference call, reports Taipei Times.

In other words, it wasn’t exactly Quanta’s fault, it was their clients’ fault. Amazon and Google account for the majority of Quanta’s tablet orders and they obviously underestimated the impact of cheap white-box tablets on Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire sales.

However, Quanta still believes it will be able to ship 20 million tablets – next year, of course.
Luckily Quanta did not see a dip in laptop shipments and its annual forecast of 44 million units still stands. In addition, Quanta is hoping to see plenty of growth in server shipments next year thanks to growing demand for could servers.

Smartphone subscriptions to hit 5.9bn by 2019

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The findings of the latest Ericsson Mobility Report indicate that the smartphone craze has not peaked just yet. The report found that the number of mobile subscriptions will reach 9.3 billion by 2019 and more than 60 percent of all subscriptions will be for smartphones.

An estimated 90 percent of the world’s population will be covered by current generation WCDMA/HSPA networks, while 65 percent of the population will have LTE coverage. Smartphone data traffic is expected to increase tenfold over the next six years.

“The rapid pace of smartphone uptake has been phenomenal and is set to continue. It took more than five years to reach the first billion smartphone subscriptions, but it will take less than two to hit the 2 billion mark,” said Douglas Gilstrap, Senior Vice President and Head of Strategy at Ericsson.

“Between now and 2019, smartphone subscriptions will triple. Interestingly, this trend will be driven by uptake in China and other emerging markets as lower-priced smartphone models become available.”

At the moment, smartphones account for about 25 to 30 percent of all mobile phone subscriptions, but they are already outpacing feature phones in terms of new sales.

Currys and PC World to peddle Tegra Note 7

tegra-tabIn a rather surprising development, Currys and PC World will be selling Nvidia’s Tegra Note 7 tablet under their own brand.

The Advent Vega Tegra Note 7 as it’s known, will be available in stores and online from November 15, but pre-orders will be available tomorrow. The price is £179, slightly less than the Nexus 7, but quite a bit more than Tesco’s Hudl.

Although it has a different brand, the hardware is identical – Tegra 4 SoC, 7-inch 1280×800 IPS display, 1GB of RAM, 16GB storage and a stylus to boot. The only difference is the sticker.

Here is the interesting part. Although we speculated that some players could sell the Tegra Note 7 under their own brand, when it was announced, Nvidia said it would be sold by five AIBs, one or two handling every major region. Nvidia never mentioned retailers.

If Currys and PC World and willing to give it a go, and if Nvidia is happy to offer such an arrangement, they might be the first of many retailers to adopt Nvidia tablets and sell them under their own brand.

In addition to the Tegra Note 7, Nvidia is also working on a few other Android devices. The Shield console is already out, although it lacks the mass market appeal of tablets. However, Nvidia is also working on a reference phone platform (Phoenix) and rumour has it that other tablets are in the works, too.

AMD bullies Nvidia with $399 Hawaii card

radeon-r9-290A few weeks ago AMD introduced its Volcanic Islands products at an event in Hawaii. Most of the line-up were just rebrands, but the flagship R9 290X and R9 290 weren’t. 

The Hawaii cards are based on all new silicon, 6.2bn transistors crammed onto a 28nm die. AMD did not announce the prices at the event, but a couple of weeks later it launched the R9 290X at $549. The price was lower than expected and it forced Nvidia to slash the price of the GTX 780 by $150.

Just as Nvidia countered the R9 290X, AMD decided to make its life miserable once again. The Hawaii Pro version of the card, the R9 290, launched at $399 – making it $100 cheaper than the GTX 780, which went down from $649 to $499 last week.

There is, however, a slight problem for Nvidia. The R9 290 ends up significantly faster than the GTX 780 and in some cases it can even give the $999 GTX Titan a run for its money.
So, the new card is $100 cheaper than what Nvidia has to offer, yet it’s faster. There is one problem though, reviewers report the R9 290 can get very loud, but it seems like a small price to pay considering the price/performance ratio. In addition, it’s only a matter of time before AIB partners come up with non-reference designs, with custom coolers to keep the noise down.

Nvidia was already forced into two price cuts following AMD’s launch. First it slashed the prices of its sub-$199 products to compete with AMD’s rebranded R7-series. Then it slashed the prices of the GTX 780 and GTX 770, only to be undercut by AMD’s new $399 card. Most punters were expecting the R9 290 to end up at ~$449, but like we said last month, AMD had a couple of good reasons to launch it at $399 – and it did.

Nvidia simply doesn’t have much wiggle room left. Perhaps it’s feeling a bit like Guy Fawkes, and hoping bonfire night is merely a damp squib.

Industry experts talk up R2B, R2D2

highA group of executives behind the Retail to Business (R2B) initiative is warning retailers that they could be in a world of trouble if they don’t start targeting businesses.

The R2B initiative was formed by Context and it’s backed by execs from Lenovo, AMD, Lexmark, Tech Data and other companies. The ultimate goal is to make retailers more competitive and capable of taking on B2B resellers.

“Let’s stop the decline – or stores will end up being showrooms,” Global MD for Retail at Context Adam Simon told PCR. “Don’t just focus on consumers and tablets – blur the consumer and SMB. Support the small business people and their entourage.”

The consumerisation of IT and trends like BYOD is already blurring the line between SMBs and average people. Context argues British retailers could learn a thing or two from telecoms who have dedicated in-store corners in their shops for business users. Germany is also setting an interesting example, as its retailers are already selling heaps of laptops to businesses.

Retailers are pulling an NSA on shoppers

smartphone-shoppingSmartphones and tablets have not just changed the way we shop online, they are also having an impact in brick-and-mortar shops, as many shoppers are using them to compare prices and read product reviews. But shoppers aren’t the only ones doing a bit of intelligence work on the ground, the retailers are responding in kind.

More and more retailers, or click-and-mortar outfits are gathering data from smartphone users in stores, reports AFP. They are simply using the smartphones to check what the shoppers are up to, where they are moving and what they are looking for. The practice is not going down well with privacy groups, but shops seem to like what they are getting and there are even a number of start-ups specialising in the field.

Of course, the data shops can collect is rather limited, but it is nonetheless useful. They can track users visits and their identities, learn how frequently the shoppers return, see what they are looking for in the shops and so on. The data allows them to better understand customer behaviour and to come up with ways of getting more return business and making better offers to potential customers.

Although privacy concerns are rather fashionable these days, thanks to America’s attempts to beat East Germany in spying on its own citizens, most of the data collected by the shops seems relatively harmless, as it doesn’t include any truly personal data, such as phone numbers, emails or credit card info. In fact, anyone who swipes a credit card in the shop is likely to be providing the shop with more valuable information.

It sounds like a benign and relatively harmless practice, but if it catches on it will undoubtedly draw more scrutiny. Not because it is dangerous or unethical, but because talking about privacy and data security is a pretty good way of getting on the telly and getting some free publicity.

Cheap tablets start to make their mark

cheap-tabletsEver since Google launched its $199 Nexus 7 last year, tablet makers have been looking for ways to come up with even cheaper devices to undercut Google and other brands who targeted the sub-$200 space. Smaller form factors were popularised by Apple’s iPad mini, too. As a result the tablet underwent a massive transformation over the last 12 to 15 months in what can only be described as a race to the bottom. However, we’re not at the bottom just yet.

Big brands have started rolling out cheaper devices, first hitting the $149 mark and now going towards $99. The white-box gang is already there and cheap tablets are slowly making their presence felt. According to Bloomberg, sales of sub-$149 tablets will account for almost 35 percent of the US market next year, up from 25 percent in 2011.

However, cheap tablets have evolved. The average $199 or $149 tablet two years ago was absolutely horrible, but this is no longer the case. Here are a few examples proving that cheap tablets have come a long way.

The cheap white-box tablet, anno 2011, usually shipped with 512MB of memory, single-core A8 processor and low-res 1024×600 or 1024×768 TN panel. Some even featured outdated resistive touchscreens. However, 1GB of RAM is now the bare minimum, while many cheap tablets already pack 2GB. Practically all cheap tablets now sport IPS panels and it’s even possible to get a WUXGA (2048×1536) tablet for as little as $200, or ~€160 in Euroland. Dual-core A9 or quad-core A7 processors are standard, but there are even some A9 quads available for that sort of money.

Components are getting ridiculously cheap, allowing vendors to add more for less. This is especially true of processors and displays.

Several companies are churning out cheap ARM SoCs and it is estimated that Rockchip can sell a SoC for as little as $5. MediaTek is currently shipping one in five SoCs on the planet and most of them are cheap, A7-based parts. Prices of relatively high-quality IPS displays have tumbled as well and many cost less than $10. Prices or RAM and NAND have gone down as well, but the drop wasn’t as drastic. All in all, Bloomberg reckons the cost of components used in today’s cheap and cheerful tablets is $60, down from $175 in 2011.

It should be noted that cheap tablets, or the companies behind them, don’t get nearly as much press as they should. After all, cheap tablets will make up a third of all tablet shipments next year, but tech sites are focusing on clickbait, pricey high-end models churned out by brands who tend to advertise on the same sites.

It’s all somewhat reminiscent of the vanilla PC boom in the mid eighties, although we don’t believe cheap tablets can replicate the success of cheap PCs three decades ago.

Facebook marketing works after all

visa-epayIt appears that Facebook is finally starting to make sense for marketers. For years Facebook users complained about every single redesign and the inclusion of more ads, especially intrusive ones that appear in newsfeeds.

However, it appears that they are working. The Drum reports that 12 percent of Facebook users in Britain have already made a purchase after seeing a product in their newsfeed. So for all the talk of hating Facebook ads, the same people who are complaining seem to be falling for the ads.

What’s more, Faceboom EMEA veep Nicola Mendelsohn said mums spend three times as much time on Facebook during the holiday season and they account for the vast majority of Christmas gift purchases.

Facebook has recently announced the launch of a new SMB content hub that should help small businesses promote goods and services on the social network.

Old PCs are costing SMBs time and money

ancient-laptopSmall businesses are bleeding cash thanks to their reliance on antiquated PCs. According to Intel’s Small Business PC Refresh Study, the average small business worker loses one work week per year due to old PCs.

The Techaisle survey covered 736 businesses across six countries and found that more than 36 percent of them use PCs that are more than four years old. The old boxes require more maintenance, repairs and they exhibit security and performance issues, all of which have a negative impact on productivity.

Worse, the average repair costs for older PCs usually equal or exceed the cost of buying a brand new one. On average small businesses spend a staggering $427 to repair a PC that’s four years or older, which is 1.3 times the repair cost of PCs that are less than four years old. Almost a half of respondents did not even know that Redmond is planning to cut off support for XP next year.

Curiously, businesses in the US tend to use the oldest PCs on the planet – 8 percent of them are using PCs that are five years or older. In India, just one percent of small businesses use ancient PCs.

The results aren’t very surprising. A couple of months ago Intel released another survey which found that the average age of PCs is going up and it’s now at four years or more. The upgrade cycle is getting longer and there’s practically no incentive to upgrade for many users.

HP to slash 7,000 EMEA jobs

HPHewlett-Packard is planning to cut as many as 7,095 jobs in EMEA. Some of the staff will be redeployed, but some will get the sack. HP did not offer a timeline for the cuts.

“Under the proposal presented to the European Works Council (EWC), HP expects approximately 7,095 employees to exit the company or to be redeployed into new roles,” the company said.

HP added that workforce reduction plans will vary by country, based on legal requirements and consultation with work councils and employee representatives. Needless to say, HP is adamant that the cuts will have no effect on customer service.

The cuts come as no surprise, as HP has already outlined plans to reduce its workforce by 15 percent in an effort to save $3 billion. It’s all part of Meg Whitman’s cunning five-year plan, which like most five-year plans isn’t going well. However, Whitman is not in a position to send anyone to Siberia or unperson them, so all HP can do is sack a bunch of people and hope Lenovo doesn’t eat its lunch in the meantime.

AMD shakes up high-end GPU market

radeon-r9-290AMD has lifted the NDA veil off its new flagship Radeon card and the first reviews and products announcements are popping up on the interweb. The press loves the R9 290X. AMD went to great lengths to keep the launch price a secret until the last possible moment, which appears to have been a very good move.

Most observers were expecting the new card to launch with a $599 or even $699 price tag, but it ended up at $549. This sounds like a very good deal as it wipes the floor with Nvidia’s $649 GTX 780 and it can even take on Nvidia’s $999 Titan card in some tests. Clearly Nvidia will have to do something to counter AMD’s launch and it already has a new version of the GTX 780 in the works, but pricing will be a problem and the R9 290X will erode Nvidia’s margins on GK110 products.

As far as specs go, the R9 290X is the first card based on AMD’s new Hawaii GPU. It features GCN 2.0 architecture, 512-bit memory bus, 2,816 shaders and it’s the biggest GPU AMD has ever built. Reviews indicate that performance is not an issue, although the card tends to get hot and loud in AMD’s high performance “Uber” mode. The cooler is not that great, which leaves a lot of room for AIB partners to play around with custom designs.

Another question is the Pro version, or the R9 290. The NDA will reportedly be lifted in a week and there is still no word on the price. The XT-based R9 290X is shaping up to be quite a performer, but the Pro version will offer plenty of performance at a much more attractive price point. However, it is still unclear how AMD plans to price it. At $449 it would be a nice deal, but if AMD really chooses to stick it to Nvidia and sacrifice margin, it might end up at $399, which would be very disruptive.

Nvidia has already reduced the prices of its sub-$199 cards to counter AMD’s rebranded R7 and R9 series products. Now it remains to be seen how low it can go and it won’t be easy – Nvidia’s GK110 GPU has about a billion transistors more than AMD’s Hawaii, which makes it quite a bit more expensive to produce, yet it ends up slower in most versions.

See Also
AMD declares war on Nvidia

Dell Precision M3800 workstation raises the bar

Dell logoDell has rolled out a new Dell Precision mobile workstation and it’s a very interesting piece of kit. Dell claims the new M3800 is the world’s lightest and thinnest workstation, which is hard to dispute as it weighs in at just 4.15 pounds and it’s a mere 18mm thick.

But the really good stuff is under the bonnet. It features a 15.6-inch IPS display with a staggering 3200×1800 resolution, or 205 pixels per inch. Only the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus and Lenovo’s new Yoga 2 Pro offer such a resolution on a Windows machine. The screen is tucked away under a sheet of Gorilla Glass and it has five-finger multitouch support.

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It’s got the brains to back it up, too. It is powered by an Intel Core i74702HQ processor and Nvidia’s Quadro K1100M professional GPU. It can be configured with up to 16GB of DDR3 and there’s no shortage of storage options, as it has two standard 2.5-inch bays and a mini-card SSD option.

The M3800 goes on sale November 14 in the US, with prices starting at $1,799. Not exactly cheap, but similarly specced products from Lenovo and Samsung don’t come cheap, either.

EMEA PC shipments down 16% in Q3

european-commissionPC shipments in EMEA declined 16 percent in Q3 2014, hitting a grand total of just 21.4 million units. What’s more, research firm IDC reports notebook shipments dropped 20.6 percent, while desktops weathered the storm with a 7 percent plunge. This is understandable because desktops can’t be cannibalized by tablets, so sales of workstations and gaming desktops are still relatively stable.

However, there are some encouraging signs. Although the market contracted, the drop wasn’t as bad as last quarter and there are some signs of recovery.

“The third quarter marked a change in the overall market trend,” said Chrystelle Labesque, EMEA research manager. “While it is too early to talk about recovery, the worse seems to have been reached in the second quarter of 2013. However, the ramp-up is mainly in the commercial area, with September performance above expectations for most players.”

Labesque added that the end of Windows XP support in 2014 is already driving IT departments to focus on hardware refresh, generating higher renewal in the corporate space.

Shipments in Western Europe were down 13.2 percent year-on-year. The back-to-school period didn’t help much, as demand remained soft, which can also be attributed to the late rollout of Windows 8.1, at least to some extent.

IDC believes new form factors like convertibles based on Intel’s new SoCs could drive demand in the fourth quarter and the introduction of Bay Trail and Windows 8.1 products might be the reason shipments were slow in Q3, as nobody wanted to end the quarter with practically outdated inventory.

Interestingly, Central and Eastern Europe did even worse than the Middle East and Africa, with a decline of 22.2 percent. MEA dropped just 14.5 percent.

As far as vendors go, Lenovo is continuing to outperform the competition. It ended the quarter with a 15 percent share of the market, up from 10.7 percent in the second quarter. HP also gained share, and it’s still the leader with 21 percent, up from 18.2 percent. Acer and Asus continued to bleed, losing almost a fifth of their share in the process.

Gartner sees more gloom in PC market

pc-sales-slumpShipments of smartphones and tablets are skyrocketing, while PC shipments are going off a cliff – that pretty much sums up every single market research report over the last couple of years. Gartner’s latest report is just more of the same.

Big G estimates tablet shipments will grow 53.4 percent this year, hitting 184 million units. At the same time, shipments of PCs will be down 11.2 percent compared to 2012. It’s no surprise, but it’s worse than what Gartner forecasted back in April, when it said PC sales would decline 7.3 percent.

The trouble for PC churners is that old form factors are dying, but at the same time new form factors such as hybrids and ultrathins aren’t growing fast enough to balance things out. Even when shipments of ultraportables like Windows 8 tablets are thrown into the mix, the decline is still 8.4 percent. However, Gartner still believes new form factors will help in the long run. Shipments of traditional desktops and laptops are expected to total 303 million units this year.

Tablets are evolving as well and new form factors are emerging. In the high-end we’re seeing more elaborate designs with proper mechanical keyboards, although OS constraints are limiting their success. At the bottom, shoppers are picking up cheap 7-inch tablets like the Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire series. Even cheaper devices are available. Last year was all about the $199 price point introduced by the Nexus 7, while this year is shaping up to be the year of the $99 white-box tablet.

Tablets aren’t just hurting PC sales, cheap and cheerful tablets are also expected to cannibalize holiday smartphone sales. Smartphone penetration is already relatively high and western markets are still in love with pricey high-end devices, so a cheap tablet seems like a good holiday gift idea.

The most impressive figure in the report is the combined shipments estimate. The world will gobble up a staggering 2.32 billion phones, tablets and PCs this year.

Microsoft study sheds light on UK app economy

smartphones-genericMicrosoft has revealed the results of its new study into the state of the UK app landscape and it’s crediting “brave developers” with creating a dynamic little economy. App developers aren’t just IT professionals, there are plenty of hobbyists coding out of their homes and they are joining the fun.

However, it’s not all smooth sailing. Low return on investment is a big concern, as only 51 percent of apps were achieving a reasonable return. App development also requires plenty of new skills and 86 percent of developers believe the skill set is much different from five to ten years ago. Other challenges include the need to design cross-platform apps and potential problems with security and privacy.

Despite these challenges, Britain’s app economy is thriving and 95 percent of developers are optimistic about the future of their niche. Another 86 percent believe current apps have only scratched the surface, while 83 believe demand for custom apps will increase over the next few years.

“The ecosystem of UK developers is growing rapidly, with professionals, hobbyists and a new breed of those responsible for commissioning applications bringing their own unique blend of passion and potential,” says Anand Krishnan, General Manager, Developer and Platform Group, Microsoft Limited. “It’s a world of opportunity – and harsh new challenges. The days of developing for a single platform, a single form factor, even a single kind of device are over.”

Although there’s no shortage of optimism, it’s probably a good idea to be cautious. Some developers were talked to believe app development is slowly transforming into a bubble. As mobile apps mature, there will be less room for newcomers and new ideas. Furthermore, the cost of developing mobile apps is going down, as coders in traditional outsourcing markets gain the necessary skills and start to compete at a fraction of the cost of western devs.