by Arthur Goldstuck. Smartphones, tablets, undersea cables, fibre networks and the Cloud will all contribute to a storm of change in 2012.
The year 2012 is already shaping up to be a big year in hi-tech.
Seldom has so much been expected and anticipated of device manufacturers even before the New Year has started.
The main focus will be on Apple, as the market waits to see what it produces in a world without Steve Jobs. The next iPhone, version 5, will certainly be released, but will it live up to the groundbreaking impact of its predecessors? The next iPad, too, or rather iPad 3, will also see the light, and will tell us much about continued innovation at Apple.
While most do expect to see the iPhone continue setting the pace for cutting edge smartphones, the iPad will be the true test. By the time it appears, competitors will have had two years to catch up.
Already, Samsung has shown that it can match and surpass Apple’s offerings in the device, producing variations in almost every size from 5” to 10”, against Apple’s one-trick 10” pony. The one arena in which it has failed dismally has been price. If their 2012 devices both take technology higher and prices lower, Apple CEO Tim Cook will have to find Jobs-like inspiration to keep Apple ahead. A range of iPad sizes is just one option.
Beyond the tablet wars, the real action will occur in the smartphone environment. Nokia has already heralded its comeback with the Lumia range of Windows phones, while Motorola has continued its own astonishing comeback with the RAZR phone, claimed to be the thinnest – and certainly one of the most gorgeous – on the market.
Along with Motorola, HTC, Sony and LG are expected to roll out a new generation of phones using the next version of the Android operating system, 4.0, curiously named Ice Cream Sandwich. It is regarded as a worthy competitor to Apple’s iOS, and is likely to cut deep into the latter’s market share in smartphone operating systems.
At the other end of the mobile phone spectrum, cheap and sometimes nasty phones will carry on selling in vast numbers. That prospect was underlined just last week when MTN announced its own name-brand phone, the S50S, going on sale in PEP stores at just R79 on a pre-paid account. The phone is manufactured in the Far East, as are most phones nowadays.
Rival networks also have sub-R100 phones, notably the Samsung E1080 from Vodacom, the Cell C MF Live and 8ta’s G2101, all at R99. Such phones continue to dominate the lower socio-economic segments of the market – which also happen to make up the biggest slice of the market.
However, in 2012, smartphones will come down so rapidly in price, they will begin making serious inroads into this market, and by the end of the year may even overtake normal phones in total sales. Chinese manufacturer ZTE, selling low-end and often rebranded phones, has quietly emerged from below the radar to become the fourth largest phone maker in the world. They are expected to move up the smartphone ladder with new Android phones combining high specs with low prices.
These developments will all set the scene for a smartphone-dominated market, and a rapid rise in data demand.
Talking of data, 2012 is also the year when the West Africa Cable System (WACS), the massive new undersea cable that recently landed north of Cape Town, is switched on. At the same time, many of South Africa and Africa’s national and urban fibre network projects will near completion, and data capacity of all networks and telecommunications providers will rise dramatically. So don’t be too shocked when you see data costs plunge yet again, and even data quality improve.
On the back of all this data demand and supply, the Cloud can also be expected to come into its own. That’s simply a nebulous term to describe services and applications that can be accessed directly over the Internet. It’s never been feasible as a wide-scale option in South Africa due to our lack of broadband infrastructure.
But, in the business world, that is changing, and by the end of 2012 more than half of South African corporations will be using Cloud services. Small businesses and consumers will follow in their wake – if not leading the climb into the cloud.
It won’t be calm in this Cloud, however. A storm of change is headed our way in 2012.