Look to the future

If we knew what the future held for the IT industry, we'd currently be sitting on a beach somewhere. Sadly, we don't, so when we decided to do a preview for 2004 there was only one course of action available. Ask the experts...

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By  Peter Branton Published  December 28, 2003

Introduction|~|Windows-DPS-feb04_200w.jpg|~||~|If we at Windows Middle East knew what the future held for the IT industry, we'd currently be sitting on a beach somewhere catching some winter sun and counting our good fortune. Sadly, we don't, so when we decided to do a preview for 2004 there was only one course of action available. Ask the experts... We put questions to ten vendors to see just what they expect to happen in the IT industry this year. We hope the results will enlighten as much as they entertain, inform as well as amuse and, crucially, give you a few ideas on what you'll be doing with technology this year. Enjoy our preview to year 2004. Remember, you read it here first! THE (VIRTUAL) PANEL Rod O'Shea, regional manager, Intel Middle East, Turkey and Africa (RS) Philip Ashkar, director of sales and marketing, Acer Computer Middle East (PA) Sudhir Nair, sales and marketing manager, Samsung Gulf Electronics (SN) Ahmed Khalil, regional manager, Toshiba Middle East (AK) Christoph Schell, general manager, HP Middle East personal systems group (CS) Jim Morrison, senior vice president, Carrier Devices (JM) Abdullatif Al Mulla, general manager for Microsoft South Gulf (AM) Zsolt Ménesi, marketing manager, Nokia Middle East (ZM) Robert Dung, managing director, BenQ Middle East (RD) Ian Gobey, sales and marketing manager, Viewsonic Northern Europe and Middle East(IG)||**||Main trends|~|abdullatif_Al_Mulla_200w.jpg|~|Abdullatif Al Mulla, general manager for Microsoft South Gulf|~|Windows Middle East: What are going to be the main technology issues of 2004? RS: I think technology users today have a huge array of choices before them, where numerous products and solutions are available to meet everyone's needs and at all price points. In the Middle East most of these technologies and solutions are on offer, but the main challenge is to expand PC and internet penetration. Many studies on the region, such as a paper by Madar research, indicate that overall internet penetration in the Arab world is still at around 3%, so a lot of work has to be done to ensure that more people are exposed to technology. This involves cooperation on behalf of governments and the private sector to devise creative programs, such as the home computing initiative in Egypt, to increase PC and internet usage throughout the Middle East and North Africa. This will be one of Intel's prime areas of focus in 2004, as we believe that it is key to the development of IT in the Middle East. AM: The most likely technology issues for next year will be pure software challenges. In the last 10 years, Microsoft has worked to free hardware connectivity and bring about network connectivity to thousands of individuals and businesses around the globe. New and innovative ways of communication and trading have surfaced We have pushed the boundaries of connectivity innovation and developed technologies that allow people to seamlessly compute through advanced software. The next period will be about developing the software code that synchronises all existing and new hardware, whether desktop, tablet PC or a PDA, in a very natural and seamless way. SN: One of the main technology issues of year 2004 will be the higher demand of memory capacity in camera phones. This is a very important subject because with the popularity of camera phones and MMS functionality, more and more pictures will be required to be stored. Secondly with the increase in the resolution of the camera phones, the memory capacity will need to be increased to cope with that. JM: I think that connectivity will be the main feature of 2004. Consumers are beginning to recognise the power of smart, connected devices and are starting to use them for more than simply picture messaging. Internet on your phone, your email, messaging are all being combined to change the way people think about the internet and their phones.||**||Next big thing?|~|philip-ashkar_200w.jpg|~|Philip Ashkar, director of sales and marketing, Acer Computer Middle East|~|Windows Middle East: What is going to be the next big thing? AK: Wireless 'hotspot' solutions are rapidly spreading worldwide and their presence will also proliferate in the Middle East. Hotspots enable people, away from their homes or offices, to send and receive information just as quickly as those who are plugged into a fixed computer network. In Europe alone, an estimated 10,000 hotspots will be in place by mid-2004 based at sites such as hotels, convention centres, coffee shops, motorway stops and other popular public locations. PA: Looking at the trend in the market for increasingly sophisticated home-entertainment options, Acer believes that integrated 'enjoyment centers' will be the next innovation in the market. Acer's market analysis indicates that the next big trend to open up in the region is going to be PCs that provide an entire range of home entertainment options. To meet this need, Acer launched at Gitex the Aspire RC500, targeted at users who want their home computer to be more than just a work-station. The desktop PC - that does everything from playing films and functioning as a television to playing music or listening to the radio - has already made a significant impact in the market. ZM: MMS and entertainment will be the growth area in 2004. MMS has good global coverage, currently 167 operators worldwide offer commercial MMS services. The advent of WCDMA 3G is happening here and now. Nokia is the leading network vendor in rolling out 3G networks. Most of Nokia's new GPRS mobile phones will incorporate XHTML technology. In all Nokia has launched 47 Java handsets. And the Series 60 platform - developed and licensed by Nokia - is now the leading smart phone platform. Windows Middle East: How close are we to mobile computing as a reality in the Middle East? AK: I think we're already there! The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait account for 70 per cent of the region's computer sales, and of these almost 40 per cent are mobile systems. RS: As you know, at Intel, we are working very closely with ISPs and solution providers in the region to ensure that we have the right infrastructure in place to spread the use of mobile computing. We have certainly gone a long way this year, especially since the launch of the Intel Centrino Mobile Technology in March 2003. For instance, we consider the Izone announcement by EIM to be a major breakthrough, setting the ground for the achievement of a real mobile lifestyle throughout the UAE. We trust that this will greatly support and ease the spread of mobility in the UAE and we also know that many other countries will soon take up such initiatives. PA: The demand for mobile computing products in the Middle East has been on the rise for the past few years and we believe this trend will continue. The overall notebook market in the Middle East is growing in excess of 50 percent year-on-year and Acer has recognised that there is increasing interest in notebooks equipped with Centrino technology. IG: We are starting to see some traction in the business segments for Tablet PC and our airpanel smart display products are finding applications that we were not expecting such as information kiosk and retail applications. CS: Mobile computing has taken the Middle East by storm this year. However, there is still room for improvements on the wireless networking side. With more localised applications, I am confident that the mobile drive in the region will reach its full potential. SN: Mobile computing as a technology is already available to an extent, however it is not so popular. PDA phones are slowly becoming popular; however the key issues will be the size of the device and ease of configuration and use. With the technological advancement and with the arrival of services such as 3G, the use of data will increase compared to the present system. Data usage will surpass voice usage once the data speed is high enough to accommodate features such as video conferencing, video on demand (VOD), downloading movie clips and so on. ||**||Convergence: hype or reality?|~|rod-o-shea_200w.jpg|~|Rod O'Shea, regional manager, Intel Middle East, Turkey and Africa|~|Windows Middle East: There's a lot of talk about convergence of digital technology, is it just hype or is it reality? And is it happening in the Middle East? RD: In the Middle East, there is a strong push from consumers for technology that makes their lives easier and more enjoyable. It is this drive in the market that makes it clear to us that convergence is quickly becoming a reality in the Middle East. Since BenQ launched the Joybook range earlier in 2003, we have witnessed firsthand the demand in the market for integrated technology. Our first digital hub products released in the region - the Joybook 8000, Joybook 5000 and Joybook 3000 - are all fully-fledged multi-media devices. Demand has been phenomenal for this range of products, which enable users to undertake a wide array of tasks including connecting personal digital equipment, editing videos, sharing files and storage functionality. Our research revealed that the distinction between work and leisure time has become increasingly blurred in the Middle East. BenQ has spotted this trend in the market, and the Joybook demonstrates BenQ's ability to create products that cut across work and play. Joybooks deliver entertainment and corporate efficiency in one versatile product to our customers in the Middle East. IG: This is certainly not hype in the display industry. Lower prices have put LCDs on the shortlist for many home users, fundamentally LCDs are the same display technology employed for computer display and TV-type display. This is driving the convergence of what has been two very distinct markets and applications. RS: The PC is becoming more and more central at home. People are communicating through the internet more than ever, they are exchanging more data of very different types, and they are downloading more files and information than ever before from the web. We think that this will keep on increasing and as such, users will have to multitask more than ever before. Already today, most of us conduct different tasks when we are online, we surf internet pages, chat with one or more people and download music. We also often also have to edit pictures and send them out. This means that we will see increasing usage of digital devices at home such as digital cameras, MP3 players etc. AK: Digital entertainment is already becoming more and more central to our lives, and complete digital convergence across the range of household devices - based on powerful and portable multimedia computers - is the shape of things to come. With the advent of new-generation mobile PCs - with Centrino mobile technology and multi-media capabilities, true digital convergence is just around the corner. For example, Toshiba is currently investing heavily in research and development for products that will involve cross-pollination between at least two of our divisions - whether PC Products, Audiovisual, Mobile Phone, Storage, or Display. Our home appliances, once a completely separate entity from computer-related products, are now being equipped with silicon chips and wireless connectivity. The future - and by that I mean the practical future and not just dreaming - lies in the adoption of multimedia products in the wireless home and office. Windows Middle East: What is going to have the most impact on the home user? JM: For the home user, mobile messaging will have a great impact on how people keep contact with their friends and family. The success of SMS is being replaced with a more immediate form of group communications such as Instant Messenger. RD: In 2004, the trend to equip the home with the latest technological devices will continue because consumers in the Middle East have increasingly sophisticated tastes. Greater demand for flat screens, the bigger the better, to recreate the home cinema experience is expected in 2004. Additionally, we expect similar demands for projectors. To meet the needs of the market, we will continue to introduce increasingly innovative and affordable technology. Windows Middle East: So what is going to have the most impact on the business user? AK: The integration of wireless LAN networks, voice-over IP, and ever-increasing mobility. Seamless roaming is being made possible by a WIFI-integrated site and interconnecting cellular service areas. This system offers a wireless mobility solution, converged voice and data communications, seamless roaming across domains, a platform for enterprise applications, integration with existing infrastructure, security and cost effectiveness. RS: For business users, the focus will remain on productivity and the importance of the IT infrastructure for businesses of all sizes will keep on increasing. In 2003, we saw a lot of data coming out of analyst houses such as Gartner about the need to apply proper desktop refresh programs, and we expect that this will gain momentum in 2004, where IT managers will start applying the three year refresh cycle, because the cost of new PCs is actually lower than the maintenance cost and loss of productivity caused by older machines, so, in the more mature markets such as the UAE and other Gulf states, we expect to see businesses adopt the refresh concept and apply it. In countries where PC penetration is lower, we expect to see more focus on IT deployment in companies.||**||Take the tablets|~|kristoff_200w.jpg|~|Christoph Schell, general manager, HP Middle East personal systems group|~|Windows Middle East: Why didn't we all use tablet PCs in 2003? PA: Taking into account that tablet PCs are relatively new in the market, Acer believes that the product has met with significant success. However, Acer believes that the tablet PC would be able to achieve greater success if more software was developed for it. Another factor that has limited the tablet PCs potential in the Middle East is the lack of Arabic input - but we believe that as more tablet PC applications come out, the product will receive greater acceptance with the public. AM: The next version of the Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system will be available in the first half of 2004 and will be free for Tablet PC customers. The new operating system features deep integration of pen support in Windows XP, making it easier to create text anywhere in Windows and familiar Windows-based applications, as well as enabling software developers to add inking capabilities to both new and existing applications. IG: We will be launching the V1250 during Q1 as an expansion to the current V1100 slate product. We still expect tablet sales growth in the region to be sluggish but were surprised and encouraged by the increased interest at this years Gitex. We sold a number of models at Computer Shopper, and saw a lot of interest in the product. CS: Tablet PCs aren't going to replace volume sales products, we've learned that over the past year, but it is a great tool for niche sectors. What we have seen with tablet PC is that it helps round out your product portfolio. And to have the tablet you need to have a mobile solution, that's starting to happen now in this region. We're seeing a big push towards mobility as I said before. Windows Middle East: Finally, what gadget would improve the quality of your life? JM: I think global roaming would be high on the list, allowing me to be connected which-ever country I am travelling in. SN: I would like to see one device that, which does everything while one is on the move. For instance, imagine all that you have in your wallet, credit cards etc, are all available in your device and can be transmitted anywhere, all by a simple push of a button.||**||

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