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B2B Technology Market Research & Business Solutions

The business of selling technology products into the commercial market is changing. We help our clients get the right products in the right places, at the right prices, for the right people.

You can make sense of the shifts in this market using our B2B technology market research. It’s the industry’s authoritative resource for tracking and sales-out data in the total commercial channel. Tracking data from over 100 manufacturers, commercial resellers, and distributors makes us the only source for this information.

Additionally, our monthly and weekly reports, available for key CE, BTO PC, storage, networking, and software categories, provide timely technology market research information and insights – including unmatched detail down to the item level. We help our clients get the right products in the right places, at the right prices, for the right people.

The NPD Group provides market information and advisory services to help clients make better business decisions. We combine our point-of-sale data and industry expertise to provide comprehensive, high quality technology market research to our respective client bases.

In B2B distribution, we are the only U.S. source for tracking sales-out data in the distribution technology channel. Our monthly and weekly reports, available for key CE, IT, and software categories, provide timely technology market research information and insights – including unmatched detail down to the item level.


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Solutions


Distributor Track

Tap into the only source for tracking sales out data in the B2B technology channel. NPD’s monthly and weekly data service delivers timely market research information and analysis with unmatched, item-level detail. The aggregated sell-through data from the world’s leading IT distributors offer a precise view of distributor sales in all key CE, IT, and software categories. It includes information from members of the Global Technology Distribution Council (GTDC), with whom we have an exclusive North American partnership.


Reseller Tracking

Derived from an exclusive panel, Commercial Reseller Track is the source for tracking sales of technology products sold through the largest National Solution Providers, Office Product Dealers and Contract Stationers. Commercial Reseller Track is available as a monthly or weekly data service and provides item-level detail in all key CE, IT and software categories. Combine both Distributor Track and Commercial Reseller Track, for a complete view of the products sold in the U.S. indirect B2B technology channel, all with item-level detail.


VAR Service Invoice

There’s a new way to see exactly what’s happening in the VAR channel. It’s the VAR Invoice Service, and it provides new insights about the products and brands purchased together in the VAR channel. The service provides monthly POS reporting of IT hardware subcategories within networking, computing, printing, storage hardware, and more. It tracks 1,400 brands and provides detail on sales for thousands of IT hardware items.


SMB Technology Monitor

Gain access to new B2B insights on anticipated purchase intentions and spending, brand perceptions, and services attached to PCs, networking equipment, storage systems, servers, and printers. You can use this information to understand small to medium business (SMB) buying behavior and make informed business decisions related to the commercial market. This quarterly report is based on an online survey of SMB technology decision-makers.


Analytic Solutions

NPD’s Analytic Solutions group includes senior leaders with extensive experience developing and delivering analytic solutions that help clients predict areas of risk and growth to improve marketing and product development. By combining NPD’s unique data assets and industry expertise with state-of-the-discipline research techniques and proprietary solutions, our Analytic Solutions team is able to answer clients’ most pressing business questions.



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Reports



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Press Releases


April 18, 2018

U.S. B2B Indirect Software Market Growth is Outpacing Hardware

In the 12 months ending February 2018, the U.S. B2B indirect software market grew 11 percent year over year, outpacing B2B indirect hardware growth by five percentage points, according to global information company, The NPD Group. The segment experiencing the strongest growth during this time period, cloud infrastructure and platform as a service software, increased 26 percent, according NPD’s new U.S. B2B Software and Cloud Tracking Service.


March 8, 2018

The NPD Group Announces Executive Leadership Appointments In Technology Sector

The NPD Group, a leading global information company, announced today a series of executive leadership appointments being implemented to build upon the company’s strong growth in the U.S. Technology sector, enabling it to enhance its service to clients and retail partners.


March 7, 2018

The NPD Group Debuts B2B Software and Cloud Tracking Service

The NPD Group, a global information company, today announced the launch of its new U.S. B2B Software and Cloud Tracking Service, as part of its continued industry and marketplace expansion.


February 15, 2018

The U.S. B2B Indirect Hardware Market Grew Four Percent in 2017, According to NPD

– In 2017, the U.S. B2B indirect hardware market grew four percent vs. 2016, from $55 billion to $57 billion, according to The NPD Group’s Distributor Track and Commercial Reseller Tracking Service. This increase outpaced the annual U.S. GDP growth and demonstrates the strength of the hardware market in the B2B channel, which is being driven by segments such as PCs and networking devices.


December 27, 2017

Unlimited Data Plan Users Consume 67 Percent More Cellular Data Than Users on Limited Plans Consume

Users on limited data plans rely on Wi-Fi more than unlimited users, according to NPD Connected Intelligence


December 1, 2017

Access Point Unit Sales Are on the Rise in the U.S. B2B Indirect Channel, Driven By Ever-Increasing Network Demands, According to NPD

Year to date through October, the access point market has experienced an 18 percent unit and 10 percent dollar sales growth in the U.S. B2B Indirect Channel compared to the same period year ago, according to The NPD Group’s Distributor Track and Commercial Reseller Tracking Service. Growth can be attributed to a series of trends, including infrastructure upgrades to match the increasing demands of bring-your-own-device and IoT strategies, movement towards controller-less management, and strong K12 and federal buying seasons.


October 10, 2017

Security Appliance Market Sees Double-Digit Dollar and Unit Sales Growth Year to Date in the U.S. B2B Indirect Channel, According to NPD

U.S. dollar and unit sales in the security appliance market are on the rise as companies, large and small, look to protect their information with advanced products, such as next generation firewalls. Year to date, the security appliance market has experienced a 11 percent dollar and 12 percent unit sales growth in the B2B Indirect Channel compared to the same period year ago, according to The NPD Group’s Distributor Track and Commercial Reseller Tracking Service. Comparatively, revenue for the total U.S. B2B hardware market has grown six percent in the same channel over the time period.


September 7, 2017

2017 U.S. "Rising Star" Award Winners Announced During GTDC Vendor Summit

Yesterday the Global Technology Distribution Council (GTDC) announced this year’s recipients of its esteemed U.S. Rising Star Awards, which recognize today’s leading technology companies for exceptional sales growth and market share performance through U.S. distributors over the past year. GTDC members drive more than $130 billion in annual worldwide sales of products, services and solutions through diverse business channels.


September 7, 2017

USB-C Compatible Mobile Power Accessory Sales Soar in the U.S., As New Devices Require Consumers to Switch, According to NPD

According to The NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service, unit sales of USB-C compatible mobile power accessories1 have more than doubled from the first quarter of 2017 (Jan.- March) to the second quarter (April- June) in the U.S. When compared to Q2 2016, sales in Q2 2017 increased more than 10 times, primarily driven by the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ launch this April.


May 3, 2017

All-Flash Array Market Experienced 72 Percent Year-Over-Year Revenue Growth in the U.S. B2B Indirect Channel, According to NPD

U.S. dollar and unit sales of all-flash arrays (AFAs) are rising, as companies leverage them to process growing quantities of data at a faster pace.


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Insights


April 23, 2018

Software Reigns Supreme in the Distribution Channel

IT hardware sales revenue rose 6% in the distribution channel in 2017, with unit sales growing solidly at 5% — but software gains were even bigger. See what we see . . .


March 5, 2018

U.S. B2B Indirect Hardware Market Growth

In 2017, the U.S. B2B indirect hardware market grew 4% compared to 2016, from $55 billion to $57 billion. The increase outpaced annual U.S. GDP growth and shows the hardware market's strength in the B2B channel, driven by segments such as PCs and networking devices.


November 9, 2017

Security Appliance Market in the U.S. B2B Indirect Channel


May 24, 2017

B2B Technology Insider

The United States business-to-business channel and Canadian distribution market closed the first quarter slightly down at -0.7 percent and up 6 percent year-over-year, respectively. Our industry analysts have identified key trends and categories to watch in the U.S. and Canada, including all-flash arrays, hyperconverged systems, print and supplies, and notebooks.


May 24, 2017

In-Market Testing: How HP, Inc. Determined the Effect of Its Ad Investment on Printer Sales

While HP, Inc. has a strong track record of measuring marketing campaigns using existing modeling and analytics, they wanted to run a market test to quantify ROI on these campaigns and project returns on future campaigns at a national level.


March 10, 2017

Do You Know What Your Top-Performing Product Is?

How a New Measure, Store-Level Enabled Retail Tracking, Will Change Your Business


September 14, 2016

Using NPD’s VAR Invoice Data to Improve Product Attachment Rates

A leading IT manufacturer wanted to know more about its business with VARs



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Insights and Opinions from our Analysts and Experts


May 22, 2018

The Future of Cloud – The Ultimate Trojan Horse

For years now, there’s been an ongoing debate among channel partners regarding if cloud is going to be this draconian thing that’s going to run their businesses off the road like Wez (red Mohawk) inMad Max 2: The Road Warrior. While it’s natural to take a defensive posture, I would recommend taking a step back, and thinking about the things in your business that could be positively, rather than negatively, impacted. 

Cloud has created a number of opportunities for channel partners. How do we know? Well, for starters, the large hyper-scale providers (e.g., Microsoft) that many thought would go completely direct still have strong channel programs, which infer it’s not that easy to reach the highly fragmented SMB market on your own and the channel will be a big part of that.

According to NPD’s U.S. B2B Software and Cloud Tracking Service, the cloud infrastructure and platform-as-a-service segment grew 34 percent in Q1 2018 versus the prior year period, which is much faster than the overall channel. From a license term perspective, the one month segment dwarfed all others, which could indicate that the SMB market is partial to the flexible nature of cloud. We believe this to be true because the cloud allows smaller businesses with smaller budgets and firms in service industries that are often contract-based (e.g., market research, advertising, photography) to lease applications as needed on a project-by-project basis, versus a large upfront cost. 

When we think about how cloud will grow in the channel or the SMB market, we usually look at it from a few angles.

1. What are the end markets (e.g., vertical and sub-vertical) demanding from the reseller partners and how are those markets expected to change over time?. 

2. How are the two-tier distributors, hyper-scale providers,  and others creating programs to address the market?

From a reseller (e.g., MSP, retailer, national solution provider) or end-market perspective, you can pretty much concede that demand is there. We are getting beyond the base hit stage of creating practices, landing wins in a small business (e.g., dentist office), or department (e.g., human resources), in a mid-size organization dropping in office productivity, back-up storage, and hosting services to name a few, coupled with staying within a 100-200 mile radius for mainstream resellers. To support that, according to our most recent SMB Technology Monitor, 65 percent of small businesses in the U.S. are expected to buy a PC in 2018, and 37 percent of those PC buyers want to also leverage cloud-based applications. 

Based on this, cloud can be a strategic weapon for channel partners to extend business geographically, departmentally, and also to get the hardware drag. For example, what does that client also have the propensity to buy with a standard notebook that will drag peripherals? Perhaps they might want a laptop case, PC headset/microphone, monitor for dual work, and more, which increases the total available market significantly beyond the PC. Thus, cloud is also a strategic weapon for partners getting their foot in the door and working within  more departments, employee use cases, or the ecosystem around a particular software package (e.g. Autodesk + plotter + wide format printer + wide screen monitor).

What does that mean for two-tier distribution or other segments (e.g., retailers) trying to address the needs of the SMB market with cloud? A few things. First, we expect the aforementioned firms to look at the top vertical markets they have exposure to that are highly fragmented and potentially acquire best-of-breed applications. Second, once the firm has acquired a package, we expect more wedge-in or sticky services to help the partner move beyond a technology service provider and transition to a business consultant spending more time on business outcomes (e.g., margin accretion, OPEX management, outreach, analytics). In the future, we expect two-tier distributors and one-tier providers (e.g., retail, national solution providers) to layer or bundle more services such as business process outsourcing and knowledge process outsourcing to potentially take on AR/AP coupled with leveraging marketing and advertising services. In essence, we expect cloud will be the ultimate Trojan horse to wedge in products and services, but also make the partner the nerve center of that practice.


May 10, 2018

Not The Same As It Ever Was

To loosely borrow some of the words of the Talking Heads, you may find yourself, working at the head of a large agency safeguarding large amounts of company data. And you may find yourself asking how that data was exposed? Unfortunately, this scenario can become a reality, as we are living in a new age where protecting consumer information, intellectual property, and government secrets is a priority and IT professionals need all of the help they can get. 

In the B2B channel, the market for information security remains one of the fastest growth markets in IT with no signs of slowing. According to NPD’s B2B Software and Cloud Tracking Service, the U.S. B2B security software market grew 13 percent from 2016 to 2017, outpacing the overall software market growth of six percent.

One of the fastest growth segments within the information security market is security information and event management (SIEM). The growth of the SIEM market is expected to outpace overall IT spending and will continue to be one of the fastest growth segments in the information security market for the next several years for myriad reasons.

First, firms in key vertical markets that generate a colossal amount of consumer and patient information are tied to federal mandates to protect that information and face regular audits to stay compliant. For example, in the U.S., firms are dealing with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act while companies in the financial services industry (e.g., credit card companies) need to comply with The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard that works to safeguard consumer information.

At a local level, New York’s Department of Financial Services recently introduced the 23 NYCRR Part 500, a regulation that requires organizations to perform annual penetration testing of their IT systems, audit trails, and more. In the European Union, companies have until May 25, 2018 to meet the General Data Protection Regulation and are feverishly trying to put solutions in place to stay compliant.

Second, the days of a reactionary information security (InfoSec) approach are over and firms need better tools to centralize anything they can that is incoming from outside the network to what employees are touching inside the network to gather more intelligence on what is normal or unusual behavior. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) will play a critical role to augment the InfoSec teams.

What does SIEM/AI look like in the future?

Well, if you’re a firm protecting some highly sensitive information that you don’t want to fall into the hands of your rivals, you are talking about always-on instantaneous profiling of your employees and correlating myriad log files from all across the network. Let’s say you have an employee that is about to leave the company and violate the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, created to protect trade secrets. AI would allow you to track the following activities, in addition to many others, to assist the Chief Information Security Officer and executive management for risk mitigation:

  • Did the employee get a bad review and is starting to peruse rival websites for job openings?
  • Are they starting to save more information than normal?
  • Are they accessing files that are out of the ordinary?

Due to the current needs of the market, SIEM is here to stay and organizations need to embrace the AI tools that go hand-in-hand with traditional security products to do the job.



April 5, 2018

IoT Implications: A World of Pre-Alerts

Imagine you’re driving up a mountain and suddenly you begin getting warnings from your smart car or phone telling you to turn around since 1,000 people who were on the same medication you’re taking, at the same elevation and weather conditions, had a heart attack. Would you turn back? Well, your insurance company hopes so and your smart car will probably do it anyway.

This is one example of the many scenarios where artificial intelligence will play a role in the coming years, as we continue to stuff more semiconductors/sensors into industrial grade and consumer devices that can monitor temperature changes, proximity, pressure, smoke, infrared, chemicals, gas, image, motion, acceleration, and more. Also, don’t forget, this data is being correlated with who you were with via popular social media applications, what you ate, what you liked, how long you were there and more, which means AI will have massive implications for marketing, advertising, and sales, as well. In order to allow for this, a lot will have to change, from the way data centers are managed, to the type of components that are being put in storage subsystems, and more.

On the software side, a key to making all of this work is data integration and data quality tools, coupled with the relational databases, and analytics software that data scientists or artificial intelligence use to find those insights.  In fact, according to NPD’s B2B Software and Cloud Tracking Service, from 2015 to 2017, the Business Intelligence and Database Systems category grew at a six percent compound annual growth rate in the U.S. Given the volume of data being pumped into the data center on a regular basis, it must go through a ‘rinse cycle’ before it can be stored correctly and analyzed to find insights at a much greater speed. 

On the hardware side, an area exhibiting strong growth is the all flash storage array segment (+30 percent dollar sales in 2017 vs. 2016), since flash can significantly improve the performance of multiple data scientists performing queries on a relational database. Thus, as the world of data explodes on the market, so do the tools that database administrators will need to manage it. 

In the future the world will be much smarter, with pre-alerts offering you warnings about your physical safety or something as simple as an unexpected crowd at the restaurant you were planning to head to. Also, keep in mind that while you’re enjoying the benefits of AI the underlying technologies are also changing and vendors, advertisers, and retailers are investing billions of dollars to make this all work.


March 7, 2018

MWC 2018: The Perpetual Déjà Vu of Flagship Smartphones

Apart from 2017 when the Note 7’s battery issues forced the company to run excessive quality checks and delay the debut of the Galaxy S8, Samsung always commands attention at Mobile World Congress, and this year was no exception.


The new Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ models boast impressive upgrades to their predecessors, though almost all of these advances are under the hood, as Samsung did not make any radical changes to the form factor. Some of the noteworthy interior upgrades include a much faster processor (Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845), impressive camera hardware, and software updates, such as dual aperture lenses and super slow-motion video capturing mode at 960 frames per second.

But none of these advancements created as much buzz on the show floor as the animated self-emoji feature, which allows users to create their own emojis via the AR-powered app using the front facing camera. This was probably the most exciting feature of the new S9 models, as attendees were desperately trying to get their hands on a test device to create their self-emojis. I should mention that I was no exception…



Samsung’s animated self-emoji feature is a great example of how OEMs are utilizing their enhanced camera hardware with AR/AI algorithms on top to enhance user experiences. Most flagship models debuted at MWC 2018 offered foretastes of these capabilities in various formats, such as the LG V30s’ Vision AI feature that scans and recognizes objects in the surrounding area and adjusts shooting parameters accordingly, or ZTE Zenfone 5’s AI-powered scene detection technology that configures the camera settings for optimum picture quality. These AR/AI enhancements undoubtedly provide a richer user experience, but they hardly offer any differentiation for consumers to select one OEM over the other.

Browsing through OEM booths at MWC eventually begins to feel like a perpetual déjà vu. You hold many 5.8-6.0 inch no-bezel flagship smartphones running on Android Oreo and Snapdragon 845, boasting a dual-lens camera powered by AR/AI, resulting in high competition for smartphone consumers in this space. While Apple experiences an upgrade conversion rate of over 90 percent, meaning nine out of 10 iPhone users buy another iPhone when it’s time upgrade, that’s not the case for Android-based OEMs, according to the NPD Connected Intelligence Mobile Connectivity report (1H 2017). In the same timeframe Samsung enjoyed a 56 percent upgrade conversion rate, which is quite high compared to other Android OEMs. With soft touches such as animated emojis in combination with aggressive trade-up campaigns, this figure is poised to go up in the upcoming months.

As expected, the new Galaxy S9 models were heavily discounted by U.S. carriers right off the bat. All major carriers alongside their prepaid arms (such as AT&T’s Cricket and T-Mobile’s MetroPCS) launched various buy-one-get-one and trade-in campaigns to entice upgraders. It’s refreshing to see carriers charging full throttle with the S9 campaigns at launch, as while the predecessor Galaxy S8 variants were also heavily promoted at launch, the rigid eligibility requirements adversely impacted volumes during the first couple months of availability. It wasn’t until late Q2/early Q3 2017 that carriers loosened the requirements and enjoyed high volumes.

Of the top four nationwide carriers, T-Mobile offers the most competitive pricing on the S9 models. This is a brilliant move on T-Mobile’s part, as the Galaxy S9 franchise is the perfect remedy to the carrier’s network-related deficiencies. The Galaxy S9 supports T-Mobile’s 600 MHz low-band frequency network that provides extended coverage in rural areas as well as superior indoor coverage. NPD’s Connected Intelligence findings reveal that T-Mobile over-indexes in satisfaction levels for almost all tracked attributes (service value, pricing, hidden fees), except network related areas (network coverage, dropped calls, network speed). A wide adoption of the S9 models among existing and new T-Mobile customers should help the carrier immensely in boosting its network image and perception. T-Mobile’s desire in pushing the S9 is also tremendously important for Samsung, which trails behind Apple in volume share at every carrier except T-Mobile. Apple enjoys 50 percent or more market share at the other three carriers, and its market share at T-Mobile has also been on the rise (up from 26 percent at yearend 2016 to 40 percent at yearend 2017). The heavy promotional push on the S9 variants by all carriers, coupled with Apple’s steep price tag on the iPhone X, will create the ideal landscape for Samsung to strengthen its foothold in the U.S. market.

Source: NPD Connected Intelligence Mobile Connectivity Report



March 1, 2018

Mobile World Congress in Review

This year’s Mobile World Congress is wrapping up and soon everyone will be heading to the airport. While the show was, as expected, heavily focused on smartphones (coming in the next blog), there was plenty of other things to see too…

 

Google’s Show

Amazon’s Alexa may be a strong presence at shows such as CES, but when it comes to Mobile World Congress, Google Assistant rules the roost. Large OEMs such as LG and Huawei made plenty of room for the assistant, featuring it both as part of the phone ecosystem, as well as within the home. LG, for example, demonstrated Google Assistant in the kitchen environment, making sure the oven was on, the clothes were washing, and plenty more. But one suggestion for Google’s next show: stay inside. The company’s tent at CES was flooded out, and the company’s MWC “village” outside enjoyed snow. So, torrential rain in Vegas and snow in Barcelona, remind me to avoid their next outside exhibit.

 

Of Clouds ...
While firmly a device and infrastructure show, there was still plenty of room for discussions about “the cloud,” particularly as the faster speeds and lower latency of 5G will allow for more processing to take place in the cloud, rather than at the edge device. What that means is we could see much smaller VR devices (yes, they were there) with the headset acting more as the simple “glass” for the computations in the cloud. Not only does that help justify 5G investments (cue a sigh of relief from carriers around the world), it could also lead to a very big leap in innovation in consumer electronics over time. Speaking of clouds and VR, kudos to HTC for the best VR demo, which allowed participants to float above the desert in a hot air balloon they control.

 

…and Cars

The car of the future is fast becoming a “must have” feature of any self-respecting show and MWC is no exception. Daimler Benz, in particular, came to show the latest in car connectivity, not to mention the smart car of the future. All of which, of course, need a low-latency, high-speed network (cue a second sigh of relief from carriers). It takes quite something to overshadow the combination of Mercedes and Smart… but having Formula One (F1) exhibiting at the show took things to the next level. Why was F1 racing there, you may ask? They announced the launch of F1 TV, an over-the-top streaming channel. While details were limited, one would hope that this will include 360-degree cameras in the cars, streamed live to VR headsets at home. Although, of course, we may need to wait for 5G networks to actually launch before we see that (cue groans from F1 enthusiasts across the world).

 

Big Presence

Huawei may be struggling to crack the U.S. market, but the company was out to show its market strength with an impressive booth. With top of the line phones, tablets, and laptops, the presence felt second only to Samsung… just like its place in the Android worldwide device market. The laptop was particularly nifty, with the camera popping out of keyboard (the middle of the function key row), meaning you can “disable” the camera at the press of a button. The move may leave some people in the U.S. government scratching their collective heads… it does rather go against the argument that Huawei is always trying to spy on us...

 

A Small Throwback

Two niche products came together at the show in the form of Sailfish (a version of Linux from ex-Nokia folk) and the Gemini Computer, a refresh of the old Psion from the early 1990s. In fairness, the Gemini will be a dual-boot device, allowing you to have both Android and Sailfish (or some other Linux version) running happily together. We’ve talked about the Gemini before, having first spotted it last year at CTIA, but Planet Computing, the company responsible for the Gemini, is now shipping the first of them to the early Indiegogo fans. With 4G and the ability to connect to external screens, the Gemini could become a useful “real keyboard” device to throw in a pocket for future trade shows rather than a laptop.

 

Same As It Always Was

Remember the years when mobile shows were full of talk about mobile payments, such as those vending machines where you could by a soda using your phone? Yup… that hasn’t happened, at least not at the very show where you would expect it. Instead, the machines we came across looked the same as they always have, with slots for coins and bank notes. And yet, we came across no vendors showing off the vending machine of the future. Did the dream die? While they may not need the low-latency OR the high-speeds of 5G, the vending machine is still a great IoT implementation, which is another promised use for 5G. And, not to pile on (too much), perhaps every self-respecting smart city (that’s you Barcelona) should be expected to adopt smart payments too. Perhaps next year Barcelona...



February 26, 2018

With HomePod, Apple’s Audio Ambitions Come In Crystal Clear

Earlier this month, HomePod pre-orders began shipping, and as of February 9, excited new owners began receiving their speakers. HomePod has been one of 2018’s most anticipated products in what has proven to be one of the industry’s most intriguing product categories, and early demand for the speaker did not disappoint. In fact, in the U.S., day one pre-orders of HomePod were higher than all other smart speaker first day pre-orders, except Amazon’s Echo Dot, according to NPD’s Checkout service1. With Siri, Apple Music, and HomeKit, Apple has all the necessary integrations to be a success in the smart speaker market. 

HomePod also represents Apple’s entry into the premium audio hardware market. Apple has made it a point to emphasize the audio fidelity of HomePod, in addition to its smart capabilities; and while the device will surely compete with other premium voice-activated speakers, like Sonos’ One, and Google Home Max, it will also jostle for share with audio heritage brands like Bose, Harman Kardon, and Sony.  Apple’s success in audio was on display throughout much of 2017 as AirPods became the top-selling headphone product by year’s end (based on dollars and units2).  Further, if taken together, Beats and Apple were the top-selling headphone brand of 2017, accounting for 44 percent of all dollar sales (not just wireless).

The audio market continues to deliver industry growth as well – another reason for Apple’s interest.  According to NPD’s forthcoming Future of Tech report, sales of Bluetooth headphones and wireless speakers are each expected to see double-digit growth by the end of 2018. And as more brands add music services and voice app marketplaces, audio hardware will become a way to strengthen those ecosystem ties. Smart speaker users are encouraged to use the music service that ties in most closely with their device. Proprietary components in hardware (like Apple’s W1 chip or the real-time translation feature in Google’s Pixel Buds available only through the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2XL smartphones) offer unique benefits and can further incentivize users to invest in branded devices. Apple’s success selling iOS, Apple Watch, and Mac devices, as well as all their content offerings, seem tailor made for integration into HomePod.

While Apple’s interest in additional audio categories remains unclear, their rapid ascent in headphones demonstrates the brand’s appeal in markets like audio, where it has largely been untested. Much of AirPods’ success has hinged on the device’s ability to unite different parts of Apple’s ecosystem (in particular Siri and iOS). While HomePod will fill a similar role in Apple households, the new focus on sound quality means Apple is not merely looking to impact smart speakers, but has its sights set on a larger disruption in connected audio.


1Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Checkout E-Commerce Tracking
2Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Retail Tracking Service


February 22, 2018

Getting them hooked

I gave my daughter, Charlotte, her first phone when she was just five years old. It was hardly an appropriate age, but what’s the point of having kids if you cannot use them in the occasional social experiment. And besides, it was a cool little phone - a Firefly - that had mom and dad call buttons.  The phone gave us peace of mind when Charlotte was on play dates, but she very rarely hit the call button.

Several phones later (she requested a “real phone” quickly), Charlotte’s mobile life finally took off in fifth grade when all of her friends started getting phones, too. Suddenly, her world became a lot more private, leaving us - and our fellow parents - muttering about the similarities between Pandora’s box and mobile phones. And there was an obvious lesson for me: my kids don’t need a phone to call home, or perhaps don’t want to call home; ouch!

The choice of a Firefly phone ages me (and my daughter, who is now in college), and I’ve lost count of how many phones she has gone through by this point. But it appears that apart from some serious advances in phone technology in the past 12 years, the age-appropriateness remains quite similar. Indeed, in many respects, advances in technology may be a limiting factor: I recall the Firefly phone costing less than $100; but today, everyone needs a smartphone, which means shelling out $500 or more to connect your children.

 

At what age did you give your child their first phone?

Chart

Source: Civic Science, February 2018. Base: 633 parents who have children


So while roughly 11 percent of parents hand out a phone to the under tens, the biggest adoption bump remains between the ages of 9 and 11, exactly when Charlotte’s friend all started to get their first phones 12 years ago. And this makes sense as it is when our little babies have to grow up a bit, moving from relatively small elementary schools up to the “big league” of middle school. It’s a daunting time for the kids, and downright terrifying for many parents if it is the first child to make the leap.

It is also the point when kids need a phone as so much more of their day-to-day school life revolves around technology, from Google Classroom to Chromebooks. And when it turns out that there are too few Chromebooks for the number of kids in the class, being able to whip out your phone is essential.

So there are a few lessons here for phone OEMs and carriers. From a carrier perspective, marketing to parents of fifth graders is a strong move. The timing is a little tricky as it is too late to wait for the “back to school” period as these kids migrate to middle school, and targeting too soon, as part of the fourth to fifth year move seems premature. Which makes me think that we are in the appropriate time now, somewhere around the middle of the school year.

For the handset manufacturers, there is perhaps an opportunity to build products that are more relevant for the younger kids. There have been several attempts at this market over the years, ranging from the Firefly to wearables, but none of them have really hit the mark as being “sophisticated” yet durable and small. In many ways, I think I’m describing a good old flip phone, but one that has been dragged into the twenty-first century so that the kids still consider it a “real” phone. We’ll be scouring Mobile World Congress next week to see if we can find any good examples.



February 22, 2018

Telecom and Tapas

It’s nearly time for Mobile World Congress, a show that provides a chance to catch up on the latest mobile solutions, as well as feast on the best tapas and sangria Barcelona has to offer (along with 100,000 of our closest colleagues). But while it’s a show that highlights the latest and greatest in mobile technology, it sometimes starts with a whimper. The show was slow to migrate from a paper-based registration to a mobile pass, and while it made the transition a few years ago, the official app seems to get poor reviews, as the login process is still challenging and seemingly unrelated to the Web-based registration process. Anyway, moving on from this issue, and assuming the app will let us into the actual show, the below are a few highlights of what we expect to see.

It’s still a phone show at its heart
Mobile World Congress has expanded its scope over the past few years, but the headlines are usually still about new phone launches. Samsung will be launching the Galaxy S9, which is expected to be the big news in the handset market… but it will hardly be the only news. While LG may have delayed its next big launch, there are still expectations that it will announce a V30 enhancement. And a slew of other vendors, including Sony, Huawei (remember, the third largest handset OEM worldwide), and Alcatel will also be making noise. And let’s not forget Nokia, which had a surprise hit last year with the retro 3310 bar phone. This year, the OEM needs to up its game with some pretty slick smartphones if it hopes to make a comeback. But the show can also be somewhat unforgiving for some vendors, reminding us of how far some of them have fallen and scratching our heads as to why they are still trying to succeed in this space. This can sometimes mean a tiny little booth, compared to previous years, or worse, a large floor space with not much to show.

IoT takes over
While handsets provide the shiny new toys that attendees come to gawk at, the Internet of Things provides the chance to show off just how wide-reaching wireless can become. And when we say “wireless” we do, of course, mean the next generation of cellular, 5G. With some concerns about how to make the business model work in a smartphone-centric world (see blog: In Search of a 5G Business Need), vendors showing off the latest concepts for the Internet of (cellular) Things will have the carriers’ attention. We can expect to see a wide range of new concepts, promising far more than simply throwing a cellular modem into a video camera, or “redundancy/backup” justifications for that one time of the year when your broadband connection fails.

Adding more Smarts to the City
Somewhere down the road to the Internet of Things, you suddenly discover that you’ve entered a Smart City, and Mobile World Congress is no exception. For the past few years there has been a GSMA-managed Smart City demonstration highlighting everything from connected trashcans to the operational control infrastructure necessary to make all of this work. While Smart City is already become a rather worn and overhyped category, Barcelona is a city that can get away with the demonstration as it has long been a leading example of Smart City implementations.

Electric everything
The mobility part of “mobile” can be expected to make its presence known, and we can expect to see the occasional car, used to highlight, yes, you’ve guessed it, 5G implementations. To date, the big news in cars has been the move towards electric vehicles (EVs) and Connected Cars (the addition of connectivity into traditional vehicles), which have left us feeling a little underwhelmed. Hopefully this year, there will be better examples of how 5G can make the car a connected mobility space, rather than just trying to find a compromise between Internet connectivity, while still maintaining the car company’s core money makers such as antiquated mapping solutions (hint, car companies...give us access to Google Maps and Waze please!).

And a little bit of everything else
Virtual reality will be a highlight, powered (of course!) by 5G rather than a more mundane connectivity solution, but it will be the pockets of unusual products that we are mostly hoping to scope out. And of course, we should expect to see some voice assistants. These were the big news at CES (for the second year running) and while they are, in some ways, a direct competitor to the smartphone’s dominant position with the consumer, there will be many examples of how the two technologies can come back together in a cohesive singular solution.

We’ll be providing an update on what we see during the show – so stay tuned!



February 21, 2018

Beneath The Surface

A few months ago, I started thinking about buying a compact camera. My friends thought I was crazy; after all, my smartphone has a pretty good camera. But I wanted advanced features such as the ability to change the speed and aperture, features that often belong on a DSLR, rather than a compact camera, and especially not on a smartphone camera. Except, of course, I’m wrong, while my phone may not be able to change aperture, I can certainly play with the speed and get many of the effects that I’m looking for.

Misguided as I was in my desire to buy more tech gadgets, I did come to realize something about my smartphone: it’s really hard to find, and use, all of the features hidden below the surface. Of course, not all of the new features, especially on the camera side, are hidden away and it’s clear that the phone’s camera is still one of the biggest selling points for new devices. Indeed, we can expect that at Mobile World Congress later this month, camera functionality, especially combined with artificial intelligence, will be frequently cited as the next huge innovation by manufacturer after manufacturer.

But does it matter?

The history of smartphones is full of camera innovation that didn’t result in significant sales boosts for the OEM. Take, for example, one of my favorite smartphones of all time, the Nokia Lumia 1020 with its 41 megapixel camera. While other smartphones talked about pre-photo zoom capability, the Lumia allowed users to take photos first, and choose to zoom in later, cropping the picture however you wanted. And yet, it wasn’t enough to save Nokia… or even noticeably impact sales, frankly. Super slow-motion video is also likely to be talked about at this year’s MWC, with Samsung rumored to be adding that feature into the upcoming Galaxy S9. Super slow-motion is a cool feature, and will make Samsung the second OEM to launch it (Sony added that feature at last year’s MWC). And yet, Sony, with a year’s advantage, didn’t make a big impact in the U.S. market, which is a shame.

But despite the fact that smartphone cameras may have advanced as far as many consumers need, there are benefits to the ever-evolving technology. Most importantly, as visual recognition becomes more important for security, better cameras, and the underlying AI, make this a more usable service. But perhaps the real benefit is for marketing and promotional reasons, with most phones running the same OS (Android), and looking fairly similar, the camera provides a potential differentiator. That’s why many smartphone ads focus on beautiful landscape shots taken with the phone, demonstrating that the technology within can provide stunning photos for all to share.

And so, back to the upcoming Mobile World Congress, we can expect that the camera will once again be heavily featured by the OEMs. LG is expected to launch an updated version of its V30 device with an AI-based camera solution, while Samsung’s new S9 is rumored to have a slew of new camera enhancements. And these will just be the tip of the iceberg for the camera noise, which will all be received enthusiastically by the attending media. But will it make a significant impact on the consumer market in the longer term? Probably not.



February 20, 2018

2017 Indirect Channel: A Love-Hate Relationship Heats Up

For 20+ years the IT industry has predicted a cataclysmic event known as the end of the indirect channel.  Reporters, analysts, influencers, and even some high-profile vendor executives have predicted the death of distribution and value-added resellers. And when the internet got its makeover to cloud, and SaaS started to scale, the doom and gloom rhetoric around the indirect market got worse.

Yet, here we are, in 2018, and hardware sales for the U.S. IT channel for 2017 versus 2016 grew from $55 billion to $57 billion, outpacing the U.S. GDP; and the IT channel is more relevant than ever. It’s obvious the indirect channel is not going away anytime soon. Why? Because even though it appears every company is becoming an IT company, clearly not every person is becoming a tech expert. Our economy, our businesses and our way of life – personally and professionally, has become reliant on technology and integration. The more we rely on IT, the more we need channel partners to make IT work. 

Also, not every firm wants to move their infrastructure to the cloud, which again doesn’t mean IT just happens. Behind the scenes integrations, security measures, policies, and management are needed. Adding to the complexity in cloud are the millions of small businesses in the U.S. with different models and vertical applications to boot (pun intended). To think that any one vendor will hire experts for every sub-vertical or departmental application that can understand the economics and vernacular of those sub-industries, is unrealistic. It’s never going to happen - another reason why the channel is commanding more attention and value.

When looking at the 200 plus technologies that NPD tracks in the channel, we often categorize them into higher level segments. For example, the general office worker’s desktop, the mobile worker, conference rooms, data center infrastructure, general campus infrastructure (e.g., lobbies, passage ways, parking lots). We also look at how each department is using technology and the verticals and sub-verticals that use them.

In 2017, on the general office productivity side, we saw companies deploying technology solutions coupled with facility upgrades to help them find and retain talent. For example, companies are making their employees’ workspaces more open and collaborative, connectivity friendly, multi-tasking oriented, analytically driven, ergonomic to reduce stress levels, and cost efficient to keep operating expenses in check.

Organizations are also adjusting the way they collaborate by growing their huddle room strategy, which often mimics a coffee house atmosphere for employees to “collaborate.” This increasing trend, in turn, promotes sales of the large format commercial display market, where firms are trying to offer employees a means to instantaneously communicate and share ideas with one another to foster innovation.  

From a data center, or wiring closet perspective in the networking market, firms are seeking ways of more efficiently managing virtualized infrastructure, as well as improving access point throughput while protecting critical infrastructure (e.g., next generation firewalls).  This extends to the enterprise storage market, as companies look for ways to add scalable infrastructure in order to prepare for the onslaught of data that will be used to provide analytic solutions in the organization. 

As more companies work to upgrade their internal and external customer experiences, the IT channel will continue to be a key player in deploying solutions such as a truly software-defined data center, enhanced collaborate solutions (e.g., unified communications), analytic solutions, and network security, and offering services that keep businesses moving forward, people connected and transformation happening. It’s these increases collectively that should continue to drive the channel’s relevance and sales of technology categories, leading to another strong growth year in 2018.


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