The smart home opportunity in Spain – reflections from the AECOC TCG Congress

“We prefer to stay outdoors.” Some cultural norms will never change, and locking up a Spaniard in his own high-tech smart home, the new digital castle for an Englishman, is not intrinsically attractive. “You have to understand that we like to go out, socialise, see our friends, and do not invest so much in our homes as you do in the UK.”

So is there a future for smart home in Spain? Continue reading

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Eurozone Blues

1999 was a momentous year for CONTEXT. Not only were we facing the Y2K bug, but at midnight on 1 January 1999, the national currencies of participating countries in Europe, aka the Eurozone, ceased to exist independently. Their exchange rates were locked at fixed rates against each other.

By then we had built up a pretty successful pan-European price tracking and comparison service, PriceWatch. It had depended for years on our ability to monitor prices and VAT rates across different countries and currencies thus enabling customers to perform apples to apples comparisons across a huge swathe of IT products, from desktops to printers to displays.

The service started in the late ’80’s thanks to a chance comment from Unisys: was there anything we could do about tracking prices as the work involved was causing them a headache? We obliged, and started turning out huge folders, updated monthly, filled with pages of indexed specifications and prices, which then graduated into – gasp – an accompanying 3.5” floppy with the data in digital form. Many a CONTEXT old-timer will remember the wrapping and binder duty into the late hours of the night to meet deadlines.

The big question we faced was this: with the introduction of the Euro, was that the death knell for our European Pricing Service? The pundits said yes. Why would any manufacturer pay for data on prices when transparency was assured thanks to the common currency?

Of course, we need not have worried. In fact, if truth be told, the manoeuvring by vendors attempting to rationalise VAT rates and prevent grey market activity gave us more work than ever before.  The PriceWatch service grew, and is now an extremely successful component of the suite of information products we provide today across the globe.

by JD

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Will there be competition in the mobile OS market?

Following Microsoft’s exit from the mobile OS market, Google and Apple are clearly dominating this space but for how long?

We have seen various attempts to break this duopole already: Tyzen, Salefish, Ubuntu – to name just a few. All of these attempts failed. However, it may be possible that Huawei or Tencent will change this. Tencent owns WeChat, a Chinese analogue of Telegram and Whatsapp and the company is now expanding to Russia.

WeChat in China has many features unknown to users outside of China. For example, while in Europe operators, Apple and Google are making first steps in the mobile payment systems, WeChat in China has had this feature for a number of years now. WeChat also features many other OS functions and, as announced last year, Tencent plans to expand these even more, which could be a concern for Facebook and Google. Essentially, WeChat could substitute Android by taking over all of its functions and apps. So this makes WeChat nearly an OS but Tencent is missing the hardware platform.

Now to Huawei. In recent years Huawei became a globally recognised Smartphone vendor. The key feature is Kirin – Huawei’s own processor. The only missing jigsaw piece is the OS. With nearly 2 billion users alone in China, Huawei can afford to have its own operating system. Add to this the fact that Google Store doesn’t work in China which makes for a unique experience of managing apps without Google.

Finally, Tencent and Huawei could join forces to enter the mobile OS battle. And if they do – we will be monitoring this space closely.

 

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Russia Goes Graphics Card Mad as State Crypto-mining Efforts Increase

Has Russia become a nation of gaming fanatics? At first look it appears so: CONTEXT figures from the graphics card market show growth of 250% year-on-year in distribution sales for Q1 2018. That’s an increase of €7m to €30m to reach second in Europe behind Germany.

These figures came after an already strong 2017 year for graphics cards across Europe. The market grew by 90% year-on-year for Q1 2018, according to our distribution sales-out data. Nvidia GTX 10 series sales account for 75% of the European year-on-year market growth and Asus has the vendor top spot. Power, performance enhancements and new features have caught the eye of consumers, who waited a relatively long time to change out their older graphics cards as previous 800 and 900 series for Nvidia disappointed in terms of real gains.

But this isn’t the whole story.

A crypto-mining revolution
While graphics cards are a key component in gaming PCs, they’re also vital to the mining of crypto-currency. Can you guess which country is embracing crypto-mining with great enthusiasm? That’s right, Russia.

The truth is that mining for digital currency is an intensive task requiring large amounts of energy to power computers and cool machines. In fact, the process globally now consumes the same amount of electricity every year (33TWh) as Denmark, according a one recent report. Russia is at an advantage in having a cold climate in many parts of the country, plus cheap energy: ideal conditions to build farms of graphics cards to mine crypto-currency.

This isn’t necessarily being done by private enterprises and entrepreneurs with an eye for a quick buck. State-run bank Sberbank recently admitted buying a huge number of graphics cards, even apologising for the shortage which caused prices to double. Russia certainly wouldn’t be the first nation state to embark on a crypto-mining spree to swell its state coffers: North Korea is also said to be investing significant resources into operations in order to skirt international sanctions, although many of its efforts are said to be illegal, relying on botnets of compromised computers to mine currency.

In fact, most of the European markets have seen triple digit-growth in graphics card revenue on the back of rising crypto-currency valuations. So how is the market responding?

Last year we saw the launch of a new “mining” series of graphics cards tailored specifically to this new use case. However, interest has been disappointing and we’ve not seen anything in our distribution sales-out numbers to compare to the growth of standard models. The GTX 1060 and 1070 remain the number one cards for crypto-mining in their power/price combination.

It will be interesting to see how the market evolves this year. Clearly, graphics cards makers believe there is some mileage in developing tailored solutions for the new crypto-mining market, and will be disappointed to see how little impact they’ve made early on. Some will argue they shouldn’t change a winning formula. But either way we’re likely to see some stronger marketing efforts for the new “mining” series going forward.

by GM

 

 

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TCG Summit – innovate to accelerate…and collaborate!

We meet in Berlin, in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate, archetype of 20th Century history, with its memories of terrible conflicts but also the place of a remarkable peace which flowered in the ruins of the grim wall. Are we still in the war of technology retail? Or are we establishing a peace where the key players across the industry lay down their arms and look for ways to collaborate, and build an enduring omnichannel retail space in Europe?

Collaboration has been an important theme of the TCG Summit in the last 5 years. It is an aspiration waiting to be turned into reality. Alessandro Stanzani of Canon gave an impassioned plea for more data sharing – he gave statistics showing that 51% of online shoppers leave the Canon website and head straight for a retailer. If the manufacturer and retailer shared this customer information, the retailer could welcome the arrival on their website with a Canon banner, prepared and ready with precious browsing information from the customer’s previous online visit. This model exists already – it is called Amazon. As Henk de Jong, EVP at Philips put it “Amazon teaches us that data sharing is an important practice which we should do.” However, the internet giant has an advantage of being an integrated company, whereas retailers and manufacturers are frenemies. They collaborate most of the time, but in those activities where they compete – manufacturer online sales being the most flagrant example – the trust disappears and the motivation to build a powerful technology ecosystem withers.

Small trust building projects is the way forward. This is the Amazon approach – innovate quickly, assess and then progress. Some retailers retort that, before they share data, they need consistent support from all suppliers. This may happen, but it won’t happen quickly enough and by that time, the innovation and acceleration which were the themes of the conference, will have eaten up more traditional retailers who have not adapted fast enough to the new realities. As Enrique Martinez, CEO of Fnac Darty said in his opening remarks “yes, there will be more consolidation of retailers in the market.”

“Let’s start with sharing product availability data,” was the suggestion of Rick Londema, SVP at Sony Europe. “By sharing data there is so much space to gain cash and optimise inventory.”

Some are already collaborating with different partners to combine datasets, as mentioned by Helmar Hipp, CEO of Cyberport, the German etailer who are “using data and algorithms to predict customer trends.”

Chen Zhang, the CTO of China’s JD.com, the third largest internet retailer in the world, stretched our horizons beyond Europe and reminded us how digitally advanced the Chinese are. He shared JD’s progress in unmanned warehouses, customised manufacturing, dynamic pricing, drones and even delivery robots. And returning to the theme of collaboration – by working closely and sharing data with Nestle, they have reduced delivery times from 5-8 days to 2-3 days and increased on-shelf availability from 73% to 95%.

CONTEXTTCG

Martin Wild, CTO of MediaMarktSaturn, speaking at the TCG Summit

As in previous years, the TCG Summit has the power to surprise, motivate and enthuse its attendees about the future of technology retail. Martin Wild, a relative newcomer to the industry (Chief Innovation Officer of MediaMarktSaturn since 2011) resonated with urgency and a call to action to innovate and accelerate. “We are just at the beginning of change – we have to be open to transform everything in order to remain relevant.” And he proceeded to show us the depth of innovation at MediaMarktSaturn – from renting products to customers as part of the shared economy and outsourcing this to a 3rd party, piloting AR (70% of customers in the pilot said they liked it and wanted more), and building collaboration with other retailers (notably Schwarz group) to invest in start-ups for smart retail technology.

The future of technology retail is indeed to innovate in order to accelerate, but also to collaborate – this means sticking to your knitting – “the biggest instore experience is through the motivation of the 6,000 people who work in Fnac now” said Enrique Martinez. But it also means investment as MediaMarktSaturn is doing, all this against a background of Amazon’s spend of $18bn on IT and $27bn on R&D, and similar or maybe even greater sums by the Chinese retailers.

by AS

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Wi-Fi Mesh Systems Start to Find their Feet in the Corporate Market

At CONTEXT we’ve seen consumer awareness of smart home products across Europe slowly start to take off over the past 18 months. That’s why the launch into the market of Wi-Fi Mesh systems last year seemed like a smart move, designed as they are to enhance Wi-Fi coverage for internet-connected gadgets around the home.

However, this hasn’t quite proven to be the case. It’s not the consumer but the corporate space which appears to be showing most interest. Continue reading

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Analytics beyond the “one” 3D Printer market

There’s a certain amount of buzz around 3D printers again at the moment, and with some justification. The global market reached $5.6bn in 2017, an increase of 16% from the previous year with the market now seeing household company names like HP and GE driving sales, competition and innovation. But what is the next major step for this technology and for its paradigm-changing potential? Is the much-touted move into mass production a reality yet, or is it a classic example of hype and speculation masking reality? Continue reading

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