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What a Journey! CONTEXT Scoops Best UK Workplace Award

We always knew CONTEXT was a good place to work, but now it’s officially one of the best in the country, according to Great Places to Work. A massive “thank you” should go out to all those whose hard work made this possible.

The value of Great Places to Work
Great Places to Work (GPTW) is a highly respected industry voice on a mission to help improve workplace culture and CSR. As part of its efforts it releases an annual Best Workplaces ranking, announced this year on 3 May. Its unique methodology is what sets it apart. It comprises two elements: a Trust Index employee survey; and a Culture Audit, where experts appraise any HR and management policies designed to help drive engagement.

This methodology makes it a particularly credible way to measure workplace culture and engagement. In fact, many organisations apparently use it as a stand-alone work assessment tool, helping HR analyse where it’s performing well and which areas might need attention.

Engagement and innovation
After identifying the award as a focus for us back in 2013, we’ve done much to transform the company, and we will not get tired of looking for new ways. A CONTEXT-wide questionnaire identified seven areas of improvement, ranging from salary and benefits, to training, communication, and – my favourite – more fun! A focus group was set up to tackle each, with an executive team sponsor and employee(s) on each group.

The succeeding three years has been a constant journey of improvement which has seen us introduce a range of fantastic new initiatives. These have included:

  • Summer family outings at Hever and Leeds Castles
  • End-of-year Christmas party River Thames cruise
  • Much greater focus and investment in training
  • IT training and English classes
  • Two People Days, company-wide meetings designed to foster bottom up feedback during which we listened to and learnt from each other on areas in which we could improve
  • New air conditioning
  • A two week salary bonus in 2016 – 2017 bonus still pending Q2 results
  • A range of innovative new benefits – including healthcare benefits, early leave on your birthday, discounts in local restaurants and stores, etc
  • A new STAR recognition system

Getting better all the time
It goes without saying we’re all delighted to have been named as one of the UK’s Best Workplaces. It’s testament to all the hard work that’s been put in over the past three years, and will help us grow as a company by attracting the brightest and best going forward.

But I also have to say, this is the beginning. We’re onto something special here and we’ll certainly not be resting on our collective laurels. The challenge going forward will be to continue listening to and engaging with our employees, working to introduce more innovative new initiatives, and ultimately, to continue making CONTEXT an ever greater place to work.

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by JD

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Global Desktop 3D Printer Market Rises +27%

According to our latest figures, worldwide shipments of 3D Printers rose +25% year-to-date (YTD) through the first three quarters of 2016 thanks again to shipments of low priced Personal/Desktop 3D Printers.

Of the total 217,073 3D printers shipped year-to-date, 96% of these were Personal/Desktop printers, carrying an average price of just under $1,000.  This represents a 27% year-on-year growth for this sub-category compared to a decline in shipments of -12% YTD in the Industrial/Professional segment which saw only 7,726 units shipped through the first three quarters of 2016. While the market is still largely defined by the shipment of Industrial/Professional printers – which accounted for 78% of the global revenues – the market is clearly settling into two distinctive segments.

Vendor wise, in the Desktop/Personal 3D Printer segment, Taiwan’s XYZprinting remained the global leader so far in 2016, seeing its share grow to 22% through the first three quarters.  This side of the market saw the exit by the #3 global overall player 3D Systems and the continued repositioning of the #1 global 3D Printer market Stratasys of its MakerBot line away from the lowest end.

The Industrial/Professional segment was marked by the official entrance of HP into the space but printers did not begin shipping until the end of the year. While the Industrial/Professional segment has, in general, cooled off in the past few years, the shipment of additive manufacturing devices capable of printing in metal materials was one major bright spot within this category.  This Metal side was not immune to market changes in recent quarters either however, with a slow-down seen in this sub-segment as well in the 2nd half as General Electric (GE) acquired two of the top five metal making 3D Printer companies (Arcam and Concept Laser).

Projections for the full year 2016 remain reserved for the Industrial/Professional market and bullish for the Desktop/Personal market, largely in-line with trends seen through the first three quarters.  Forecasts turn more bullish in the Industrial/Professional sector in 2017 and beyond as the HP and GE ramp results in a return of growth; the Desktop/Personal market is expected to continue its unfettered growth.

by CC

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2016 was always going to be the year of democratised VR, not mass adoption

Estimating shipments of products in new areas of IT is a bit like being the only lighthouse in view above banks of thick fog. It’s the only light you can see, so you’ve nothing to lose heading for it. We’ve been there with pocket PCs, Smartphones and Tablets. And while the fog has cleared for these products, the true state of the market for the much anticipated Virtual Reality headsets is still shrouded in mist.

At CONTEXT, as part of the work with our VR Research Group made up of major PC, HMD, and software vendors, our first predictions estimating the total number of VR headsets shipped in 2016 are conservative compared to some estimations from this time last year. If the basic HMDs are included, the lowest possible total global shipped units start at 8.5m, with true figures probably being closer to 12m+ once the plethora of minor Chinese brands are included. Theo Valich of global consortium VR First commented: “While we are seeing that the adoption of VR is waiting on content, the growth of VR in the emerging markets in Asia-Pacific is not being properly covered. The number of VR start-ups on both the hardware and software side is almost exponential.” The shipped units for the high-end headsets such as the HTC Vive, PSVR, and Oculus Rift CV1 are <15% of the total market, but to get a true picture of what has happened in 2016 and will develop in 2017, it is important that all types of headsets are included.

There are many factors to be considered when attempting to get a handle on the true state of the VR headset market. For a start, 2016 was never going to be about mass adoption for companies such as HTC and Oculus and here are several reasons why: in terms of the headsets designed for use with a PC, a very powerful machine is required and that rules out all but the most dedicated gamers and developers. Awareness of the category is only just starting to become widespread, and even for those with the required hardware, there is a lack of major hit AAA titles to drive sales.

In a recent survey, CONTEXT showed that only 10.5% of members of the general public in the EU had heard anything significant about VR, compared to 79.9% of gamers, with 26.5% of people having not heard anything at all. The issue facing the VR industry right now is that there is a transformative effect of trying it out that needs to happen; simply describing the experience is akin to attempting to explain the taste of Cola to a Martian. As a result, even the cheaper headsets – and yes, we are including the Google Cardboard – can make a profound impact on consumers. In 2016 anyone with a Smart Phone was able to experience VR for the first time, and thanks to Google and others there is a wealth of apps to demonstrate what VR can do. In the early stages of VR, such products are vital to raise awareness. Taking the analogy to the extreme, why would anyone spend $1000 on a sound system when they’ve never heard music on a transistor radio?

In summary, CONTEXT expect VR headset shipments to increase in 2017 for all types of VR headsets, with new industry verticals opening up. We’re seeing more and more VR technologies going through the ICT sales channels into a huge variety of sectors, including healthcare, education, elderly care, military, as well as major public entertainments. With current VR price points, the democratisation – and therefore unit shipments – can only increase, and all types of headsets will continue play a significant role, not just premium products.

by JW

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Tech Predictions: 2017

Untitled.pngPC’s in 2017
In 2017 European PC sales in the business segment are likely to benefit from a gradual pick up of Windows 10 refreshes. In Western Europe in particular, the commercial PC segment is expected to also benefit from the need for enterprise mobility solutions which will be a co-driver in sales of both notebooks and mobile 2-in-1 products.

The consumer PC segment is expected to remain more challenged across Western Europe. There is a possibility that component shortages, which impacted product availability in 2H 2016, will lead to price increases in the first half of 2017which could affect demand. However, on a positive note, the market is likely to benefit from continuing high demand for gaming PCs. While this segment remains small in terms of volume, new technologies – including virtual reality – will also drive growth that will have a positive effect on revenue and margins.

From a wider, macroeconomic perspective, PC sales in a number of EMEA countries are likely to continue to be affected by uncertainties including currency fluctuations and political instability.
Marie-Christine Pygott, Senior Analyst, PCs

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View on Apple
Although you never know what Apple will pull out of the hat when launching new products, the last few years have been quite staid. The last “new” new Apple product was the Watch: but this was heavily trailered so, when it finally arrived, it wasn’t a surprise. We have waited in vain over the years for an Apple TV, and recently yawned when the new MacBook’s Touchbar was announced. In 2017 we have the prospect of yet another phone, the iPhone 8, and not much else.

Except, after much speculation, Apple has acknowledged for the first time that it is investing in autonomous car technology. In a letter to US transport regulators, Apple said the company was “excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation”. Apple was first rumoured to be working on an autonomous vehicle in early 2015, when reports suggested that the company already had 600 employees working on an electric car design. Later that year, more rumours suggested that the company hoped to launch an electric car to the public by 2019.

So maybe Apple can surprise us next year. The race for electric vehicles is hotting up, and with the word being that Apple has been in talks to buy luxury-supercar maker McLaren, we may just see a prototype iCar roll onto the stage in 2017 after hearing those words, “one more thing”.
Jeremy Davies, CEO & Co-founder

Enterprise
CONTEXT will be closely tracking the evolution of storage systems and converged architecture: as cloud-managed wireless network service companies slowly but surely replace in-house wireless LAN appliances, we expect continued strong growth on these two fronts. Companies to watch: Cisco Meraki, Open-Mesh, Zebra (part of Extreme Networks), Ruckus.

Sales of solid-state drives (SSDs) have increased throughout 2016 and, for the first time, surpassed those of hard disk drives. As the price of SSDs fall and their capacity increases, 2017 will see this trend continue. In 2014, we predicted that 90% of storage components would be SSDs by 2020, and the industry is well on track to achieve this.
Gurvan Meyer, Senior Research Analyst, Enterprise Team

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Displays
Large Format Display sales in 2017 are expected to continue to grow strongly with demand being driven by the education and corporate sectors. For AV providers, the corporate business market continues to be a huge growth opportunity, with a big shift towards interactive products for meetings rooms, as corporates increasingly collaborate over multiple sites, with numerous remote attendees.  The education market is also expected to be a key driver of growth in the LFD segment with educational institutions increasingly adopting display solutions to change and enhance the ways they communicate with students, staff and visitors.
Lachlan Welsh, Senior Analyst, Displays

Imaging
Printer hardware sales will continue to contract overall, though some segments are expected to register growth in 2017, such as business inkjets with higher end products due to be released in 2017 to compete with laser devices. The shift from hardware to contract sales continues, therefore, the importance of partnerships and focus on channel partners will prevail. HP’s acquisition of Samsung printer business is expected to complete in the second half of 2017, as companies join their efforts aiming to disrupt the A3 copier market business.
Zivile Brazdziunaite, Senior Market Analyst, Imaging

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3D Printing
2017 will continue to see the two sides of 3D printing – the personal/desktop side (those under $5,000) and the industrial/professional side – evolve separately.  Desktop 3D printers will become even more affordable (some already cost as little as $300!) while the some of the world’s biggest brands will increase their presence in the Industrial/Professional market where technology will continue to advance and improve.

Desktop market leader XYZprinting has already expanded its brick-and-mortar retail presence – at Best Buy, Toys-R-Us, and Barnes and Noble in the US, and Darty, Dixons and Media Saturn in Europe – and it is expected to continue with aggressive price points in to promote further retail expansion around the globe. Next year will see HP fully enter the 3D printing world with the first shipments of their professional Multi-Jet Fusion 3D Printers, and a new business is to emerge from GE after their acquisition of two of the top five metal 3D printing companies in 2016.  HP and others will champion a change of focus in the plastics 3D printing market from rapid prototyping to mid-range production.
Chris Connery, Vice President Global Analysis and Research

VR & Gaming
The world of eSports will continue to grow in both popularity and recognition, as a movie is planned starring Will Ferrell on the burgeoning phenomenon. Vendors and retailers will pay more attention to PC gaming as the category offers them the chance to make up for losses in a sector which has been declining in the last few years. High average selling prices for gaming products, excellent attach rates and margins for gaming accessories, and the availability of unsecured consumer borrowing will be major drivers. Virtual reality will also continue to grow in the consumer space, although still at a modest pace. However we expect to see more HMDs going into the B2B and corporate reseller channels for which products such as the Hololens are a gift.
Jonathan Wagstaff, Country Manager UK & Ireland

Smart Home – Battle of the Giants
Back in October 2015 we predicted that new forms of control for smart home devices would stimulate growth in the market. We highlighted three: voice activation, gesture recognition and mind control. The first two are already here: voice control has exploded since Amazon launched the Echo in 2016 and 5 million devices have already been sold. We predict that this trend will grow quickly in 2017 with the Amazon Echo continuing to sell and the launch of Google Home in 2017. Google will apply a massive marketing budget – in the US they are already paying for end-of-gondola slots for Google Home devices.

With this in mind, we see four, and potentially five, giants battling for the smart home in 2017: Amazon, Google, Apple (with Homekit), Samsung (with Smart Things) and Microsoft. The ace up their sleeve for Amazon is entertainment (access to Prime Music), for Google it is search, for Apple and Samsung it is interoperability (potentially using the TV), and for Microsoft it is building out from the PC. We are optimistic that consumers will benefit: with a more coherent offer, small start-ups will no longer be able to create proprietary systems and existing systems will make themselves linkable to the big five in order to survive. It is too early to place bets on a winner, but Amazon has rapidly taken advantage of being first-mover. Gesture control will grow and develop in 2017, but mind control will need to wait for another year!
Adam Simon, Head of Retail

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