Mobile computer unit shipments in South Africa continue to be driven by all-purpose, workhorse notebooks, but resellers have opportunities to grow margins by seeding demand for more specialised form factors among their customer bases.

This is the word from Mark Campbell, GM of Tarsus Distribution, who says that around 70% of Tarsus’s mobile computer unit shipments are comprised of general-use notebooks. These are often destined for business use, despite the availability of niche products aimed at segments such as media usage, gaming, ultra-mobility, 2-in-1 convertibles and desktop replacement.

“We’ve seen a nice uptick in mobile computer unit sales this year, helped along by a more stable currency exchange rate at the beginning of 2018,” says Campbell.

“Lower prices and higher levels of consumer and business confidence also helped to improve sales. For the rest of the year, the channel should seize the opportunity to drive sales of specialist products for niche markets.”

In much the same way as the smartphone market serves different niches—with products with higher-end cameras for keen photographers or large-screen phablets for media consumption, for instance—PC manufacturers have created specialist notebooks for a range of customer needs, says Campbell.

“Resellers should be fitting products to end-user requirements—for example, ultra-slim units with fast charging and long battery life for mobile warriors; high-performance notebooks with 4K, HDR screens and powerful graphics cards for workstation replacement and gaming; and convertibles for people who need a media consumption device combined with a PC,” he adds.

Looking to the future, Campbell says that the growing maturity of voice interfaces and artificial intelligence could reshape the mobile computing market in the years to come. “As exciting as 5G connectivity or ultrahigh definition displays are for the higher end of the market, they represent incremental advances over existing technology,” says Campbell.

“But the next generation of voice interfaces could change the way we interact with our devices. Voice-enabled assistants like Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa represent a major advance over the computer dictation systems of the past. As people get used to speaking to their smart Amazon Echo speakers and to smartphone assistants like Siri, they will also start making more extensive use of the voice features on their PCs and notebooks.”

The technology is still not perfect, but it has come a long way in the past three years, Campbell adds. “Most voice assistants including Cortana have become so much better at understanding different accents and voices without the need for you to spend hours training the system,” he says. “We can expect voice rather than  mouse-and-keyboard or touch to become the preferred interface within the next 10 years.”