Sizzling hot devices to heat up SA's telecom market this year
After a frantic few years of activity in the South African data services market, it is mobile devices and applications that I see driving the country's ICT sector in the year ahead. With sleek new tablets and ultrabooks reaching the market and a revolution in mobile banking, we can expect to see more and more South Africans depending on mobile communications and devices to access data for work and fun while staying connected to their social networks.
Before I delve too deeply into my predictions for this year,I'll look back on the forecasts I made near the beginning of 2011:
The year of the tablet - I expected certain brands to perform better than they did, but apart from that, the prediction that tablets would go mainstream in 2011 was correct and even exceeded expectations.
Android on the rise - Android performed really well in South Africa and the rest of the world in 2011. I was surprised, however, by just how instrumental Samsung was in driving Android's growth.
Nokia gets its groove back - The jury is still out, but Nokia looks in better health than it has for years. I expected the revival to come from the Meego operating system, but it is a new relationship with Microsoft that has improved Nokia's outlook.
ADSL becomes a must-have - I was far too optimistic with this prediction. Low fixed-line penetration and South Africa's love affair with mobile broadband mean that ADSL is a niche market and is likely to remain such for the foreseeable future.
Tariffs keep dropping - The drop in voice tariffs wasn't as sharp as I hoped it would be, but lower termination rates have translated into some real savings for consumers. There are also some great bundled deals out there.
Now, let's look ahead to the rest of 2012 and the trends we can expect to see unfold in the local and global ICT industries.
Ultrabooks become must-have gadgets
Cynics may simply see ultrabooks as nothing more than thin notebooks or a response to Apple's sleekest MacBooks from other PC manufacturers, but they will be one of the most talked-about gadgets of the year. Thanks to Intel's innovations in making its chips smaller and more power-efficient, manufacturers are able to make ultrabooks that are thinner and lighter than ever before while offering better battery life. We saw many exciting products announced at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and more will follow during the rest of 2012. Don't expect the products to be particularly affordable quite yet - they'll initially find favour with early adopters
Tablets keep getting stronger
This prediction is as much of a no-brainer as it was last year. Researcher Strategy Analytics says 67 million tablets were sold in 2011 worldwide, up 260% from 18.6 million units in 2010, and the market is just getting started. According to one report, record tablet shipments in the US over the last festive season resulted in one in every five Americans owning a tablet or e-reader by the beginning of 2012. With the likelihood of an Apple iPad 3, better Android devices for the entry-level and high-end alike, and the arrival of first Windows 8 tablets this year, we're likely to see fireworks in this market
Commoditisation of traditional notebooks
So you can't afford an ultrabook? The good news is that a run-of-the-mill laptop or notebook computer will be more affordable than ever before, thanks to the competition from the ultrabook and tablet segments. You'll be able to buy a machine with good specs and battery life at a very low price tag by the end of the year
Innovations in mobile banking
The cellphone is already one of the biggest electronic banking channels in South Africa, although many of the services most commonly used are based on old technologies such as SMS and USSD. But this year, we'll see a flurry of mobile banking activity as the banks position themselves for a mobile banking revolution.
Expect plenty of action on the application front. FNB led the charge in 2011 with its tablet and smartphone deals aimed at getting mobile devices into its customers' hands, as well as rich apps for mobile banking. The others are likely to emulate its success.
The other trend to watch is Near Field Communications (NFC), a short-range wireless technology that will allow you to eventually use your mobile phone as your wallet. Some South African banks are already trialling the technology and most newer mid-to-high range smartphones already feature NFC. Though it won't be deployed commercially this year, expect the banks to experiment and investigate NFC very thoroughly during 2012.
Innovations in mobile banking
The costs of mobile data have fallen dramatically, but I don't see much scope for them to tumble too much further until more spectrum-efficient technologies such as LTE are deployed widely by the South African networks.
Already, cellular networks are congested in the metros and deliver patchy performance on the best of days. I expect to see Wi-Fi networks prosper as a result - many users will use cheaper and faster hotspot access from their tablets, smartphones and notebooks when they can over cellular data services.