IDC reports says sales for tablets and Chromebooks grew in 2020 and will continue to do well in 2021.

It says both classes of devices sold to consumers, businesses and schools as people looked to stay connected during the pandemic lockdowns.

IDC says tablet shipments had double digit growth in 2020. It forecasts shipments will grow a further 1.8 percent in 2021. That’s a modest number, but is better than flat or negative growth experienced before the Covid outbreak.

A different take

Gartner offers a different take on the tablet sector. It forecasts the number of tablets in use will rise 11.7 percent in 2021.

That is faster growth than for laptops, which Gartner says will increase 8.8 percent this year.

IDC expects Chromebook sales to climb 33.5 percent this year. 2020 was the best year ever for Chromebook sales. Gartner puts last year’s growth at 80 percent.

While Chromebook growth is higher, it is off a smaller base. IDC expects a total of 43.4 million Chromebooks to ship this year while tablet numbers will reach 166.5 million.

In both cases, the devices’ lower price when compared with laptops or desktops is behind the growth.

Tablets future less certain

IDC is less positive about future sales of these devices. It says it expects demand to slow as lockdown restrictions relax.

In the past Chromebooks have mainly been popular with schools and with cash-strapped parents looking for low-cost devices for learning and entertainment.

Jitesh Ubrani, research manager with IDC Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers says: “Chromebooks are quickly proving themselves useful within workplaces. While they will not supplant Windows and Mac in these settings, they are expected to provide competition, particularly in job functions where high performance and legacy support isn’t a priority.”

“On the tablet side, detachable tablets will remain a bright spot as these devices are more PC-like than ever, both from a hardware and a software perspective.”

Meanwhile phones are about to see a modest upturn in sales after an ugly year in 2020. Gartner says the total number of phones in use declined 2.6 percent in 2020 and will rise by one percent this year.

For years we wondered. What use would humanity find for cryptocurrency? Now we know. It is not necessarily a force for good.

There have been other technologies which emerged before there were practical applications.

When the first laser was built in 1960 it was impressive. Scientists thought it may one day find use in spectrometry or even nuclear fusion.

Others thought it could be used as a ‘death ray’ military weapon. it didn’t help that the Pentagon funded early research into laser applications.

In time engineers found thousands of applications. Today it powers fibre communications networks. They are used to measure distances with incredible accuracy. Application include medicine, office printers and cutting objects for manufacturers.

The killer app

When the first PC arrived, it looked like it had potential. It could do lots of things, but it did one thing very well: spreadsheets. VisiCalc, an early spreadsheet was the first computer ‘killer app’.

Likewise, the graphically gifted Macintosh computer had its power unleashed by PageMaker. It was a desktop publishing program and another killer app.

In May criminals attacked Waikato DHB demanding a ransom in return for unlocking computers.

It wasn’t the only ransomware attack that month, nor was it the biggest or most disruptive. Ireland’s health computer system was also shut down. The pipeline moving oil to the US East Coast was shut down.

All of these ransomware attacks, and most other online crimes, have a common denominator. The criminals want ransoms paid in cryptocurrency. That’s because Bitcoin and the other cryptos are harder to trace than conventional forms of money.

Ransomware and cryptocurrency

Ransomware is crypto’s killer app.

Cryptocurrency remains a shadowy world. It is not that everyone involved in cryptocurrency is a criminal. It’s more a case of every online criminal uses crypto.

For many everyday folk, their first interaction with cryptocurrency is when they need to buy it to pay a ransom.

This is not an argument to ban cryptocurrencies. Although it could be. And the stories about the vast amounts of energy needed to ‘mine’ these new currencies are also a concern.

Part of the attraction of crypto is that it remains unregulated. That has to stop. The exchanges that deal with cryptocurrency have to face the same accountabilities as other financial institutions. It has to be made harder to move unaccounted funds from crypto into traditional banks.

There is more to stifling ransomware than regulating Bitcoin and its peers. Yet the ransomware epidemic now threatens online commerce. In cases like attacks on hospitals, it is potentially a literal ‘killer app’. Regulating cryptocurrency will save lives and jobs.

 

Many computer users don’t need to spend extra money on security software. Others do. Here’s a short guide to help you decide where you fit.

Modern operating systems have built-in security software. Windows has Microsoft Defender1 for free. MacOS has built-in security features2.

For many people these free OS security tools are more than enough protection.

That doesn’t mean you can ignore security risks. Far from it. Online security is more a state of mind than a product.

Online is a dangerous world

You will continue to rub up against risks. The online world is as dangerous as ever.

Yet, for many people paying for additional protection delivers little value. You might be better off using the money elsewhere. If, say, you run a business, it may be smarter to spend the money on training your staff about the risks.

Your computer security won’t be foolproof even if you buy the most comprehensive security products or services on the market. A clever social engineering attack can shimmy past the most sophisticated defences.

Passwords

The most common example is when a crook persuades a victim to hand over a password or otherwise let them behind the defences. No software will stop that.

Teaching people not to hand over information that helps a criminal to know or guess a password is better protection.

Backups

Backups are a powerful weapon in your armoury. If you make regular encrypted backups of everything you’ll recover fast if attacked.

This is an essential defence against ransomware attacks. If you have backups, your data can’t be held to ransom.

Given a choice between spending on security software or a backup service, I’d pick the latter every time.

You should make more than one type of back-up. Say, a cloud service and a local hard drive or server. Ideally that would be a removable hard drive that you can store it away from your computer.

Before you relax. Take some time to check your data actually is backing up as expected. You don’t want to leave it until it’s too late before you learn otherwise.

With one or more good back-ups in place you can recover from common attacks. You can buy commercial security products and services that include back-up as part of their deal.

Were you should spend on security

When do you need to spend on extra protection?

  • If you deal with customer data or anyone’s personal data then you have a legal responsibility to protect that information from attack. Installing suitable security software goes part way towards meeting your legal obligations. Not having security could increase your liability. Security software can reduce the likelihood of attack, criminals find enough low hanging fruit to leave protected data alone.
  • If you have valuable data including material you want to stay secret. This includes complex business plans or product designs.
  • If you are otherwise a potential target for online criminals. This can include having valuable IP that crooks or government sponsored attackers might want. There’s a similar risk if you work for a political party or a campaign where there’s a sizeable community that would be happy to embarrass or otherwise expose your information.
  • If you indulge in risky behaviour online. This can mean activity like illegally downloading material or visiting dodgy streaming sites. In cases sites at the darker end of the web are fronts to find victims.
  • If you run a small business where employees are on a local network or you have a home system with teenagers. Sure, you trust people, but you can’t be certain they won’t make mistakes, either by indulging in risky behaviour or being susceptible to scams. Spending money on security is easier and less stressful than attempting to monitor and police other people’s activity.

  1. Microsoft Defender isn’t perfect, but it does a good job and doesn’t interfere with your computing ↩︎
  2. In six years I’ve never had the slightest security scare on my Macs ↩︎

At The Verge Thomas Ricker writes a review of a smart home light switch.

See: Philips Hue Wall Switch Module review: smart-ish, at last – The Verge

The switch in question controls Philips Hue lights, nothing else. It won’t control your standard light bulbs. It’s expensive. To use it you need to dig around in your house wiring. Strictly speaking that’s a job you should leave to a qualified tradesperson. Which isn’t cheap.

If you buy it you can play with your home’s lighting. Each bulb can be any one of millions of colours.

Yes, infinitely controllable lighting could be nice.

In theory it could be useful and fun. No doubt there will be people reading this who are true believers.

There may even be people who need to control home lights to this degree for some reason. But for most people it is an indulgence. You do it, not because you have to, but because you can.

Smart homes are complicated homes

Smart home technology is still at the stage where it is often time consuming to install and complicated to use. Few people who opt for smart homes do more than scratch the surface.

It reminds me of the early 1980s when I had to buy a soldering iron to make my own home computer. In my case I did this because it was my job. Most people who went down this route saw it as a hobby.

After hours spent soldering components you get an early 1980s home computer that couldn’t do much. But hey! It’s a home computer. Never mind there were few practical applications and each model of home computer was incompatible with every other model.

You could say the same things, about smart homes.

Eventually the technology will come good. Someone will develop the Ms-Dos and IBM PC of the smart home era. The applications will follow.

But for now, it is an expensive toy for people who have time on their hands and lives that clearly are not already complicated enough. There will be people who enjoy the challenge; people who enjoy tinkering.

EverCommerce 1 bought Dunedin-based Timely in a deal that could be worth more than $100 million.

It’s the fourth trade sale of a New Zealand based technology company this year. That has raised eyebrows.

Timely runs a cloud-based application used for appointment bookings that also manages staff scheduling. It is popular with busy hairdressers and others in the beauty industry.

A story in the Otago Daily Times says Timely serves 50,000 professionals in 90 countries. It deals with 30 million appointments a year.

The deal is not yet complete. It has to wait on approval from the Overseas Investment Office. The OIO has a $100 million threshold. The two companies involved in the deal don’t want to talk about the price, but OIO involvement suggests it has to be more than $100 million.

If everything goes to plan, EverCommerce says Timely will join its suite of small business software-as-a-service applications. It would expand the company’s reach into New Zealand, Australia and the UK, where Timely has a decent presence.

Job fears calmed

One of the fears when a New Zealand tech company is sold overseas is that the jobs will go with it. Timely days there are no plans for that.

The company’s Mary Haddock-Staniland​ told Tom Pullar-Strecker at Stuff there will be no restructure and, if anything, staff numbers will grow. The story says Timely employs 125 people, mainly in Wellington, Dunedin and Auckland. Staff numbers climbed as the business found customers used its technology to help get through the Covid pandemic.

Between them, the three earlier sizeable New Zealand tech sales this year collected over $2 billion.

Christchurch-based Sequent, which models ground conditions, sold for a shade under $1.5 billion. Auckland-Based Vend went for close to $500 million. Ninja Kiwi, a games company, sold for $200 million.

Sometimes when a NZ tech company is sold overseas we see comments complaining the deals damage the economy or are bad in other ways. If there has been any today, I’ve missed it.

Great result for Timely founders

All this year’s deals are great news for the founders and early investors in these companies. They bring money into the country. In many cases this is recycled into fresh tech ventures.

Rod Drury used the money from selling his earlier tech companies to get the Xero ball rolling. Others might not go down that path.

There are times when an overseas sale sees the intellectual property and a leader or two travel with the brand while the local business is wound down. On balance, this has happened less in recent years.

The alternative to a trade sale like the EverCommerce-Timely deal is for a company to list either on the NZX, the ASX or an overseas exchange. It’s a well-trod path and can work well, but it requires time, effort and can cost. Taking the money from a big overseas buyer is a simpler, less stressful process.

The slew of sales that have taken place this year mean valuations are running hot. The momentum could see other founders getting offers that are too good to refuse.


  1. No, I’ve never heard of it either. ↩︎

Tablet shipments are up 55 percent on the same period last year. The 2020 tablet sales boom that started when the world went into lockdown rolled over into the first quarter of 2021.

IDC reports almost 40 million tablets were shipped in the quarter. It says the market hasn’t seen growth of this magnitude since 2013.

Demand for tablets remains high. IDC says it expects strong numbers to continue for a while yet.

Chromebook surge

Meanwhile some 13 million Chromebooks shipped in the quarter. This compares with 2.8 million in the same period a year ago. Growth was a stunning 357 percent.

We don’t see as much Chromebook activity in New Zealand as elsewhere. That could change, but most education sales activity here seems to be around low-cost conventional laptops and tablets.1

Apple dominates tablet sales boom

Apple’s iPad remains the star tablet performer ahead of Samsung, Lenovo and Amazon, in that order.

IDC says the iPad accounted for 31.7 percent of shipments in the quarter. A total of 12.7 million iPads left Apple’s warehouses during the period. Year-on-year growth was a 64 percent.

A rival research company, Strategy Analytics, says iPad shipments were up 75 percent. It counted a total of 16.8 million.

There’s a significant spread between the two market share estimates. Either way, iPad sales are surging.

Apple’s most recent financial reports noted the company made US$7.8 billion revenue from iPad alone during the quarter. That’s up 79 percent on the previous year’s revenue.

Things could be as strong this quarter. A week ago Apple announced the first iPad Pro model to use the company’s M1 processor and a mini-Led display.

Samsung strong

Samsung remains in second place with 20 percent of the market. It moved eight million units and saw shipments grow 61 percent.

Lenovo more than doubled its shipment numbers to 3.8 million. That’s a shade under 10 percent of the market. Growth was 138 percent.

We don’t see much of Amazon’s tablets in New Zealand. In the first quarter the company moved into fourth place ahead of Huawei which slipped from third place a year ago.

HP dominates Chromebook shipments, it accounted for one-in-three units during the first quarter. Shipments are up 633 percent.

Lenovo is in second place with a 25 percent market share. Shipments are up 350 percent. Samsung is a smaller player with only eight percent market share, but shipments climbed 500 percent. Now that’s a tablet sales boom in itself.

Phone shipments have shown similar growth in 2021


  1. I’m interested to hear if there are sizeable pockets of Chromebook action in New Zealand. If you know, please drop me a line. ↩︎

“Cybersecurity is an increasingly strategic issue that needs a whole-nation approach. The rules are changing in ways not always controlled by government.

“Without action it is increasingly clear that the key technologies on which we will rely for our future prosperity and security won’t be shaped and controlled by the west.

“We are now facing a moment of reckoning.”

– Jeremy Fleming’s speech notes as reported in the Guardian.

Fleming heads GCHQ;  the UK spy agency. It provides the UK government with signals intelligence.

China in the cybersecurity frame

He doesn’t mention China by name in these speech notes. Yet it is clear that’s what he means when he talks about the west not shaping key technologies.

There is no other plausible candidate.

Elsewhere, the Register reports Fleming actual speech. He says:

“China’s  size and technological weight means that it has the potential  to  control the global operating system”.

Fleming’s main cybersecurity concern is China, but he has strong words to say about Russia. It has sophisticated world-class state-sponsored hacking. Russia was behind the attacks on the SolarWinds software used by US government departments.

Emerging technologies

He says China is working on emerging technologies, but it has a competing vision of the future. It’s a vision that doesn’t respect liberal western thinking.

His answer is for the west to develop its own technologies. He also wants allies to work more closely to build better cyber defence networks.

Up to a point this is an extension of the earlier campaign against Huawei. That resulted in western governments banning the company from building strategic 5G cellular networks.

At the same time it reflects increased tension between China and the west.

There’s a deepening rivalry between China and America. Western nations are being asked to pick sides. This now extends beyond commerce, both sides have increased their military activity.

Russia is opportunistic and threatens Eastern European nations. That presents the rest of Europe with a security problem.

Behind these rivalries nations are fighting a tech war online. Many of the threats facing computer users come from state controlled teams.

Mood swing

There’s a mood swing against globalisation and world wide technology supply chains.

Many tech companies have become dependent on China. That presents western countries with a diplomatic problem.

It make it harder for them to criticise Chinese aggression or human rights abuses. There’s always a threat China could turn the manufacturing tap off.

The UK is preparing legislation that will allow the government to block foreign take-overs. That’s another step away from the liberal economic model that has dominated the last 30-odd years.

None of this will pass New Zealand by. We’re in a difficult spot. We are caught between our traditional alliances and our trade relationship with China.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

You can hear me discuss this story on RNZ Nine-to-Noon with Kathryn Ryan

Six months have past since Apple launched its first M1 based Macs. This week saw a slew of new Macs and an iPad Pro all using the same processor.

M1 is at least a generation ahead of anything Intel can offer. It is, in effect, an entire system on a chip. There’s no indication the chipmaker will close the gap any time soon. Intel is in trouble.

If you want the best battery performance and the most powerful everyday processor it’s Apple all the way.

M1 across the Apple range

Your M1 choices run from the NZ$1200 Mac Mini through the iMac range up to the NZ$2550 MacBook Pro. The same processor runs the iPad Pro (prices start at NZ$1350).

The M1 is nominally an eight-core processor. In practice it is more complicated. There are four high-performance cores and four low power, high-efficiency cores.

There’s something else going on.

The M1 changes how we think about the relationship between processors and computers.

Over the years we’ve been trained to see processors as the key component defining the difference between low-end and high-end computers.

Until now it always been the case.

Processor power

You spend more money to get a more powerful processor running at a faster speed. In many cases computer brands sell what amounts to the same laptop equipped with different processor combinations.

That extra money buys you more grunt to crush more numbers, render huge graphics files or kill virtual aliens faster.

It wasn’t always a linear relationship. There were sweet spots in the Intel line-up where you could buy the maximum bang for the minimum number of bucks.

None of this applies to Apple in 2020

No doubt there will be more powerful Apple Silicon processors in the months and years to come. But for now it is one chip to rule them all.

Or, to put it another way, unless you have specific needs, there’s no longer any need to worry about the processor part of a computer’s specification.

Where does M1 leave Windows and Intel?

There have been reports of Windows running faster on Apple Macs than on more expensive Intel-based computers. If you stick with MacOs, you’ll see even better speeds.

Apple’s price-performance advantage is stark. Yes, you can buy Windows laptops or desktops for less than Mac prices. In cases, a lot less. If you’re not looking for performance, that remains a plausible buying strategy.

Otherwise, it is becoming harder and harder to justify the prices of higher-end Intel-based laptops or desktops.

Price competitive

The old idea that Apple is an expensive option needs revisiting.

Take Microsoft Surface. The devices have a lot going for them. It’s hard to make direct comparisons and, at the time of writing, the market is muddied by a lot of aggressive discounting.

Yet there are cases where Microsoft asks for 40 percent more than Apple for computers with shorter battery life and less raw processing power.

It’s much the same when you look at HP, Dell or any other well-known PC brand.

Hard to ignore

There will always be computer buyers who convince themselves that Apple is not worthy of their business. As if HP, Acer or Lenovo are somehow morally superior.

This isn’t always irrational. Many people have a lot invested in Windows, although that is less of a barrier than it was.Running Windows on Mac may be easy, but it means compromises and extra spending.

For everyone else, it’s getting harder and harder to walk past Apple’s computers.

On a personal note, I’m concerned that this looks unbalanced. Perhaps I’ve swallowed the Apple propaganda. The advantage seems so extreme, there must be a catch somewhere. I’ve been over the numbers repeatedly and I don’t see it. Yes, you can find all kinds of reasons to not want an Apple computer, but, for now, the raw price-performance argument seems solid. 

After years of decline, PC sales picked up in 2020. They should remain above their long-term trend this year.

What happens after that is less certain.

As the pandemic spread, companies sent employees home to work. Schools asked students to continue lessons online. Zoom became a household name as many of us attended video meetings or classes.

Two forces combined to boost PC sales.

Personal again

First, many people could no longer get by sharing a laptop or desktop PC.

It’s fine sharing when you need a PC for a few hours a week. The rest of the time a phone or tablet, a workplace computer or a games console does the heavy lifting.

Sharing isn’t ideal when your employer or teacher expects you to be online for eight hours a day.

Working in a lockdown needs closer to one computer per person.

This simple change expanded the PC market beyond anything anticipated before lockdown.

PC sales are upgrades

A second force was that old laptops sitting in cupboards weren’t good enough for long-term working from home.

Many 2020 PC sales were upgrades.

Sales that year could have been higher but for shortages and supply chain challenges.

There’s likely to be a spillover this year.

Expect more upgrades as employees adjust to spending more time working from home. For years people didn’t care about the home PCs experience. Their desktops and laptops were secondary.

Overnight everyone neeed better video calling. They wanted brighter screens, faster computers, better sound, better everything. The PC experience mattered again.

When you realise this is how life will be from now on, this becomes more important.

And less mobility means less emphasis on phones. It’s no accident the 2020 trend for phone sales was towards less expensive, smaller models.

Squeezing out value

For close to a decade we hung on to PC hardware for longer. We skipped upgrades because they added little that improved everyday life.

That’s likely to change. We can expect shorter product lifecycles, more frequent upgrades.

Where possible families will edge closer to the one PC per person goal which allows everyone to work.

Another element in this will be company hardware purchases. This will drive the market. Firms that give employees better work from home computers will see higher productivity. They will have better engagement.

Those that skimp on buying technology will suffer.

Rising PC sales mean fresh ideas

It would be fair to say falling PC sales went hand-in-hand with a slump in innovation. Digital brands diverted their best design and engineering brains to growing markets. Phones, tablets, cloud computing, AI and the like got their attention.

This may not change as much as when the PC boom was racing along. Yet, we can expect fresh ideas to better match the new role played by PCs.

Take the cameras on the front of laptops used for video calls. They are way behind the cameras used on even modest mobile phones. It means poor quality video images, at times coming from odd angles. Any PC brand who can sort that out will find a ready market.

PC sales may never soar again, but they may bump along at a higher level than if there had never been a pandemic. We may even see market excitement. Wouldn’t that be a fine thing?