Kelway buys Dixons’ Equanet

thenorthUK IT services provider Kelway is picking up the IT business, Equanet, from Dixons Retail.

Equanet, Kelway says, has an established presence in the North of England and the buy will help it expand its customer base. At first, Equanet will operate as its own brand within the larger group, though will trade on integrated systems.

Dixons will carry on operating the PC World Business service for small businesses.

Kelway says that Equanet is noted for its e commerce platform, which will now fit in with Kelway’s ServiceTrack offering for online order management. By combining both, Kelway hopes that it can offer a unique experience towards its customers.

Kelway will also offer its ServiceWorks cloud services to Equanet’s clients.

In a statement, Sebastian James, chief exec of Dixons Retail, said that the two complement each other “extremely well” and he expects the transaction will help “Equanet to flourish in the specialist B2B market”.

HTC struggles to stay afloat despite top notch products

htc-quietly-going-underHTC was one of the first smartphone makers to cash in on the Android craze a couple of years ago, but the good times are long gone and if its fortunes don’t turn around soon, it might be up for sale, or worse.

Back in 2010 and the first half of 2011, HTC was the darling of tech hacks and investors alike. It was posting strong sales, with triple digit revenue growth for four consecutive quarters. However, it has been downhill ever since.

On Wednesday HTC announced that its sales in February dropped a whopping 44 per cent year-on-year and 27 per cent compared to January. At the moment, HTC’s market cap is roughly one fifth of what it was in mid-2011.

So what on earth went wrong, and what led to HTC’s annus horribilis last year?

It wasn’t the products. Last year HTC decided to focus on fewer phones, which seemed like a logical step for a small outfit, as it could allocate its resources more efficiently and turn itself into an upmarket brand. The resulting One series phones got stellar reviews, but the positive vibe did not result in strong sales. HTC’s flagship One X featured a better screen than its arch nemesis, the Samsung Galaxy S3. It also looked a bit nicer and its build quality was vastly superior. In terms of hardware and software, it was on a par with Samsung’s S3 juggernaut. The same is true of other HTC phones.

For years HTC was viewed as a geeky smartphone brand with excellent but somewhat dull products. It tried to shake off this perception by introducing a bit more flare to its smartphone designs and then there was the ill-conceived Beats Audio deal. Clearly, it didn’t help. Worse, Samsung’s approach of flooding the market with countless Galaxy models worked like a charm. Instead of diluting the Galaxy brand with cheap, plasticky phones, Samsung managed to get more brand recognition than Google’s Android OS. Galaxy has become synonymous with Android, and then some.

HTC’s new flagship, dubbed One sans suffix, is already getting great reviews. It features a 4.7-inch 1080p display, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600 processor, which is the fastest currently available mobile chipset, along with an innovative Ultrapixel camera and a new dual-membrane microphone. It ticks all the right boxes and should be able to take on anything Samsung, LG or Sony could throw at it.

Sadly though, that is not enough. HTC simply can’t sell its gear or get its message across. It lacks the resources of consumer electronics giants, so it can’t market its products as effectively and it can’t get sweetheart carrier deals like big players. What’s more, smartphones have already gone mainstream and HTC simply lacks the brand recognition of more consumerish brands. Geeks might love HTC phones, they can get very positive reviews, but mainstream consumers just don’t care. They don’t read tech sites and they buy Samsungs instead.

So although HTC pioneered Android phones and although it still has excellent products, it could get the unflattering distinction of being the first Android smartphone maker to go out of business, in the middle of a mobile boom and with very little fault of its own.

Towns look to NFC to attract high street shoppers

google-walletHigh street shops are under a lot of pressure from tech savvier e-commerce outfits, but a group of town and city managers believes they can help reverse the trend by enlisting the help of NFC technology.

It is not a case of fighting fire with fire, though.

The Association of Town and City Management (ATCM), which represents close to seven hundred shopping locations, has teamed up with NFC loyalty programme supplier MoLo Rewards. They aim to enhance the town centre offer by integrating NFC support in a more traditional setting.

The goal is to provide local, independent shops some of the same capabilities used by major retail players, allowing them to compete with internet based competitors. The programme offers establishments in town centres to better integrate their services, combine reward programmes with free parking , access to leisure centres or events.

ATCM manager Guy Douglas told NFC World that the association decided to use MoLo’s approach after the outfit made the case for NFC and elaborated its ideas.

“It just made sense to us,” he said. “A town and city centre is only vibrant and thriving if people find a reason to go there. NFC is a way of delivering an enhanced town centre offer, which can only be a good thing especially when the high street is hugely challenged by e-commerce.”

ATCM chief exec Martin Blackwell said the association will use its two decades worth of experience to enhance the high street shopping experience, with support from MoLo Rewards. He added that the association is organising meeting with mobile network operators, card issuers and retail groups in an effort to shape the adoption of NFC technology.

ATCM and MoLo believe they could bring their integrated NFC system to town and city centres later this year.

Google Play gift cards available at Tesco and Morrisons

googleplaycardsGoogle has officially introduced its Google Play gift cards in the UK and they are already on sale. That was quick, but still a bit too late for baby Jesus’ birthday. 

The cards are available at Tesco and Morrisons branches across Britain.

Although the cards should be available in three denominations of £10, £25 and £50, early reports indicate that some denominations are not available in all shops, but it is probably a minor glitch that will be worked out.

Obviously, the cards can be can be used to buy content from Google’s Play store, ranging from Android games to books and films. Sadly though, the gift cards cannot be used to buy Nexus hardware, digital subscriptions or accessories.

The cards can be redeemed by simply entering the code on the back of the card in the Google Play app, during the purchase or by entering the redemption code through your browser.

iPad 3 case is a nice little number

Snugg ipad3 caseThere’s a lot of choice for iPad cases out there.  Out and about, on the train and the road, we’ve noticed a lot of Apple cases which are, frankly, pretty tacky.  If you’re someone who is status conscious, and you probably are if you’ve lashed out hundreds on your Apple device,  putting an expensive iPad 3 into a yucky case doesn’t really cut it.

Apple iPad3s can be considered rather fragile, so you really do need a protective case if you’re often out and about.

Snugg (thesnugg.co.uk) sent us, for review, a black leather iPad 3 case which sells for £29.99 in the UK.

At the same time as it acts as protection for your iPad 3, the unit also can be used as a stand, with two positions.  There’s also a strap you can shove your mitt into to hold the device – illustrated. This isn’t my mitt which is considerably older and more gnarled than this specimen.

This is a sturdy and well-made case with the black leather finish complemented by white stitching.  There’s space for you to insert your contact details so that if you leave it on the train and an honest person finds it, she or he can get hold of you.

Microsoft Windows 8 OEM prices may drop in UK

Windows-8Despite claims that Microsoft is planning to offer discounts on Windows 8 OEM prices over in Taiwan, disties and resellers have said that they have not seen the same happening in the UK.

However, they have hinted that if the rumours are correct, there could be a knock on effect on UK sales later on in the year.

The comments come as DigiTimes reported that Microsoft would lower OEM licensing costs by offering a discount of $20 for 11.6-inch and below notebooks that are equipped with touch screens.

Sources and vendors said this was because Windows had fallen short of expectations in driving demand mainly because its notebooks and tablets were too expensive

For below 10.8-inch notebooks, tablets and hybrids, Microsoft  is said to offer the $20 discount plus free Office 2013 software, from the beginning of April, while retail prices for 11.6-inch touchscreen Windows 8 notebooks were expected to be reduced beginning June to reflect the discount.

However, a big distie who works closely with Microsoft in the UK said that it had not seen evidence of this.

“We haven’t heard of any reductions but we can confirm that these are failing to shift,” he told ChannelEye.

“I suppose if the news is coming from the Far East we can expect to see similar announcements in the next few weeks/months.

“These sources are rarely wrong and it would make sense given the way these products are failing to fly off the shelves.”

One reseller was less convinced, telling ChannelEye: “Sales are slow but I don’t think they are at a pace to send Microsoft into a price slashing frenzy just yet.

“It’s invested a lot of money in these products as well as us, its resellers, so it’s going to hold out. Of course that puts pressure on us to sell, but c’est la vie.”

Seagate revamps SSHD line-up

seagate-hddSeagate recently announced that it will phase out 7200rpm laptop drives by the end of the year and now we know what it will use to replace them. The company announced its third generation solid state hybrid drives, or SSHDs, and for the first time it is bringing NAND cache to desktop drives as well.

Seagate’s venerable 7200rpm laptop drives will be replaced by two new SSHDs, in 500GB and 1TB capacities. Both feature 8GB of NAND, double the 4GB used in first and second generation Seagate Momentus XT hybrid drives. They are 7mm thick and Seagate claims the new drives are up to 40 percent faster than its previous SSHD generations. Better yet, they are up to five times as fast as 5400rpm mechanical drives.

Seagate’s vice president of marketing Scott Horn likened the new drives to adding a turbo charger to a PC and he added that the drives will come cheap, much cheaper than proper SSDs. The 500GB is priced at $79, while the 1TB variant costs $99.

However, Seagate’s decision to bring SSDH technology to mid-range desktop drives is perhaps the most interesting part of the announcement. Seagate will sell 1TB and 2TB desktop hybrid drives for $99 and $149 respectively. Although the prices sound a tad too high, 3.5-inch hybrids should have no trouble attracting plenty of takers.

They will allow OEMs to come stick them into very cheap desktops, greatly improving performance and reducing the storage bottleneck which plagues most PCs. The speed of solid state drives increases with each new generation, which is not the case with HDDs. However, SSDs are still too expensive to be used in most desktops. Decent hybrid drives with a reasonable price tag can bring the best of both worlds to boring entry level desktops and they can easily become a big selling point for vendors.

SAS appoints new business development director

DaveSAS Global Communications has appointed Dave Everest as its new business development director.

The provider of managed network and professional services has said Everest will be responsible for driving  new revenue growth across the UK via partner and direct channels.

He will be reporting to director of sales Mike Stichbury, and will be based in the north of England.

Everest climbs into SAS from managed services provider Calyx, where he held a number of senior sales and business development director roles over a four year period. He is claimed to  have an extensive sales experience in IT services, networking and telecoms, having spent more than 16 years working with major organisations, including PSINet, Cable and Wireless, Network Partners and MXC.

His appointment comes as part of a new SAS strategy with plans to enhance the company’s  managed services portfolio to become an £21 million business in the next three years.

LTE smartphone shipments surge 1100% in Q4 2012

LTE-logoThe smartphone market is slowly maturing and overall handset sales, including feature phones, remained flat in the fourth quarter of 2012. However, sales of LTE enabled devices skyrocketed in developed markets.

According to Strategy Analytics, shipments of 4G smartphones grew by 1100 per cent in Q4 2012.

The surge was led by Apple and Samsung, while at the same time shipments of 3G phones slowed. The trend coincides with an aggressive carrier push in Europe, including the UK.

Just a year ago, LTE connectivity was reserved for high end smartphones, but the mobile landscape is changing and even cheaper SoCs now offer integrated LTE. Qualcomm leads the way with last year’s Krait-based Snapdragon S4 chips, along with new “century series” Snapdragons coming on line right now. Apple already has LTE in current generation products, although older 4-series iPhones lack LTE support. By the end of the year Nvidia will introduce the Tegra 4i, its first SoC with integrated LTE, and Intel also plans to deliver LTE in its next generation mobile chips, coming in early 2014.

In terms of volume, smartphones are expected to overtake feature phones this year, which means plenty of mid-range LTE smartphones will find their way to consumers’ pockets. Although LTE is expected to be the fastest growing WWAN technology in history, it is still off to a slow start in many markets, including Britain. According to its last earnings report, Everything Everywhere didn’t add many 4G users since it launched its 4GEE network. However, things are picking up and other carriers will enter the market later this year, although Ofcom failed to raise plenty of cash on its 4G spectrum auction.

Highstreet sales for Feb hit three year high

highstreet South endFebruary brought with it a breath of fresh air for the high street, with figures showing sales grew at their fastest rates in years.

In its latest report, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said dry weather last month encouraged people to venture out, with figures rising by 2.7 percent on the previous year and marking the fastest growing rate in three years.

Electrical goods were said to fuel the figures with the BRC describing these as the growth engine of the high street, with “big ticket goods and items for the home recovering particularly well”.

Despite the horse meat scandal, food grew by one percent, although frozen burger sales fell in favour of ingredients to make products from scratch.

The organisation pushed once again for changes in the upcoming Budget to ensure the high street continued to dig its way out of despair, claiming that the government had to realise that retail is central to generating growth and jobs critical to the UK’s economic recovery.

However, it pointed out that weak consumer confidence was the real and present obstacle, and as a result the Chancellor had to create a Budget that left people with “more money in their pockets and the confidence to spend it and retailers with the means to invest”.

It also reiterated that if the proposed rise in business rates went ahead then retailers would be placed under “inexorable pressure”.

The BRC figures contrasted with a recent CBI survey which reported that food stores suffered their worst performance for five years in February.

Although the BRC painted a rosier-than-usual picture, high street staple Debenhams recently issued a profit warning, claiming the bad weather in January could dent its margins.

It said that earnings would miss expectations and that underlying revenues were 10 percent lower in the affected fortnight, compared with a five percent rise over the festive period.

Revised profits for the six months to 2 March will now stand at around £120 million, against £128.5 million a year earlier and City forecasts in the £131 million area.

Infoblox and Wipro announce cosy reseller arragement

cosyInfoblox and its Wipro owned chum Infotech have announced a global reseller arrangement claimed to give businesses and public organisations greater control over their corporate IT networks

The pair have said that the move is as a result of a “changing landscape” and the increasing demands put on networks by mobile devices and bring-your-own-device programs. Virtualisation and private clouds, as well as the transition to IPv6 were also claimed to have  created greater complexity and risk for IT teams to manage.

Through this reseller deal, Wipro will use Infoblox’s technology to help its customers automate network control functions like DNS, DHCP and IPAM  to cut complexity and costs, increase security and stay uptime longer.

This will be done through Infobloxs’ services for discovery, real-time configuration and change management, and compliance for the control plane – the layer in between infrastructure like switches and routers, and applications and endpoints like IP phones or virtual machines.

It said this would help IT teams as instead of adding manual processes and increasing network bandwidth, they could “more efficiently” control their networks, and free up resources to focus on strategic projects that create business value.

Smartphones will outpace feature phones in 2013

nexus4-ceSmartphones have become so affordable and readily available in all markets that they are finally expected to outsell feature phones this year. It is not a “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” sort of thing, since smartphone shipments have gone from strength to strength for years.

IDC’s latest report forecasts that 918.6 million smartphones will be shipped this year, accounting for 50.1 percent of all mobile phone shipments.

The research outfit says it based its predictions on falling prices of smartphones and increased consumer interest, which probably has something to do with the fact that smartphones are getting dirt cheap. With 4G services being rolled out in major markets, IDC expects smartphone shipments to hit 1.5 billion units by 2017.

China is expected to be the biggest market in 2013, as IDC estimates it will gobble up 301.2 million smartphones. The US ranks second with 137.5 million, way ahead of the UK and Japan, tied in third place with 35 million, reports The Next Web

The BRIC march continues in fifth and sixth spot, which will go to Brazil and India respectively. However, by 2017 India will rank third and consume 155.6 million smartphones. Brazil will see plenty of growth as well, going from 28.9 million to 66.3 million units by 2017.

In other words, smartphone makers will have to start designing more devices with emerging markets in mind, which means we might see a bit more emphasis on value moving forward.

Bitcoin hopes to take on big players

bitcoinBitcoin is slowly gaining more support from mainstream businesses, but it is still largely relegated to transactions involving virtual goods, gambling or some even shadier activities. Bitcoin Store hopes to change all that.

The outfit focuses on consumer electronics and gadgets and according to The Verge,   it has a pretty good variety of products to offer. Since it’s not the first Bitcoin retailer out there, the company hopes to make a name for itself by undercutting the competition, including the likes of Amazon and NewEgg.

Bitcoin Store head of marketing Jon Holmquist said the whole point of the site is to demonstrate that both consumers and businesses can save a bit of cash simply by using Bitcoin. He said that Ingram Micro is the site’s supplier and that all large electronics sites use the same supplier.

However, the Bitcoin Store somehow managed to get into the highest pricing tier for Ingram Micro, which means it is the first time that a Bitcoin company is getting products at the same price as conventional retailers.

“It really showcases how much cheaper it is to pay with Bitcoin,” he said. Holmquist went on to point out that pricing on the site changes automatically as Bitcoin exchange rates fluctuate.

He also pointed out that the site’s owner, Bitcoin guru Roger Ver, decided to keep all Bitcoins amassed from sales, as he believes Bitcoin will continue to rise in value.

Tyan launches cheap, powerful server stuff

Tyan1Tyan has launched products aimed at people looking for powerful and cheap computing performance.

The server platform design manufacturer has shown off the Tyan TA77-B7061, its latest and flexible 2U GPU supported platform; the S7042, entry-level dual socket motherboard -GT62A-B5512 and the GT20A-B7040, the “cost-effective” 1U server at CeBIT.

The TA77-B7061 is said to help consumers who are looking for accelerated data-processing and efficient computing performance as a result of supporting up to four GPUs in a 2U server chassis, it is also said to save server and rack space through the use of Intel Xeon Phi processors, NVIDIA Tesla K20 Series and ATI FirePro.

The TA77-B7061 supports Intel’s Xeon E5-2600 Series Processors, (8+8) DDR-III R/U/LR-DIMM,  PCI-E x16 G3 slots, PCI-E x8 G3 slots,  GbE ports and 2.5” HDDs.

The S7042 motherboard is targeted at the SMB market, claiming to offer these sectors a cost-effective platform.  It is claimed to have multiple expansion slots and a cost-optimised dual socket motherboard designed for SMB and workstation environments.

Those looking for strong performance with a weak price tag are said to benefit from the GT62A-B5512 which is a one way 1U rackmount server, which is claimed to target nearline storage, and  bring down the cost of server deployment.

HMRC to introduce massive PAYE changes this April

hmrchqIn just under a month, HMRC will demand all employers, and by extension, all employees will have to move to a new PAYE system – Real Time Information.

In April, the RTI will immediately become effective. For such a considerable change in employment law, the changes have not had much visibility. According to the HMRC website, from 6 April employers must report PAYE information to MRC in real time – in effect meaning employers, accountants, bookkepers or a payroll bureau will have to submit data to HMRC each time an employee is paid, when they are paid. Using a payroll system, they will have to send the information electronically as part of the routine payment process.

The website boldly asks if you are ready for RTI. A survey late last year from the Federation for Small Business revealed that as many as a quarter were not, at the time, prepared at all. Asking 1,700 small firms, 25 percent had not heard of the RTI programme, and just 16 percent of those asked were fully aware of all the details.

Critics have slammed the move as purely political, as the changes are propping up the payments of Universal Credits. HRMC claims that it is aiming to make it more simple to report new starters and leavers, plus making the entire payroll process more simple. At the time of the FSB’s survey, in October 2012, most respondents were not confident that RTI will help achieve those aims. Over sixty percent of small businesses it contacted had not had any correspondence from HMRC.

With just under a month to go for businesses to understand the changes, one SMB told ChannelEye that RTI is a disaster in waiting.

“This year is going to be a disaster,” ChannelEye heard. With barely any visibility to such a massive and immediate change, there are bound to be teething problems if not all out chaos for small business. “Just stand back and watch it all go pear-shaped,” our source said.

A spokesperson for the Federation of Small Businesses said, speaking with ChannelEye: “HMRC has completed a pilot programme and has written to small businesses but we still believe that some businesses won’t know the extent of the changes they will have to make.

“It is going to be a huge learning curve and possibly mean additional costs for small firms if they have to buy new software or use their accountant for longer,” the spokesperson said. “All small firms will have to report in their payroll and we think that the smallest of firms will need to have much more education than the largest of firms.

“HMRC should use the results of the pilot programme to put clear guidelines and a clear education plan for small firms together,” the spokesperson said. “We are pleased that HMRC has said that they won’t implement fines in the first 12 months of the scheme, but they must educate firms within that time if mistakes are made.”