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Battle royale brews in tablets

New Delhi, July 22: Get ready for the tablet-phablet wars.

India’s penchant for seemingly gibberish rhymes has found a semantic foundation in the world of communication gizmos.

In April 2010, Apple and Steve Jobs opened up a brave new world of cyber engagement when they launched the iPad — and sold 300,000 units on the very first day and 3.27 million by the end of the first quarter after launch.

The iPad presented the perfect audio-visual platform that gave Apple’s fanboys the opportunity to flip through books and magazines, download movies and music, organise their lives and moods through a myriad specially-crafted apps, play games and trawl the Web.

It was nifty, it was quick and a darn sight more attractive than any other gadget that you could either curl your fingers around or pop on your lap. With a 9.7-inch screen, it meant that you weren’t having to squint to read something on the phone; nor was it something so bulky to heft — like a laptop — that left you with a permanently bruised shoulder.

The Tablet was born.

The riposte from the rivals came almost immediately after. The 5-inch Dell Streak (which failed to capture the imagination) and the Samsung Galaxy Note, which met with massive commercial success, unwrapped devices that combined the voice-calling capabilities with all the features of the tablet.

It was dubbed the Phablet — and promised to do everything that the iPad could do and then some more.

This year the Tablet-Phablet wars are going to turn uglier and messier as Big Boys Google and Microsoft plan to stir things up with their devices — giving gadget geeks a feast of choices in a rapidly-evolving space.

Come October, Google plans to launch the Nexus 7 tablet in India, which is powered by the next version of the Android operating system called the Jelly Bean. But before that, by August-end, home grown Karbonn Mobiles plans to bring out its version of the Jelly Bean gizmo.

Apple isn’t far behind and is aiming to come out with a “mini” 7-inch version of the iPad later this year — which seems to underscore how seriously it is viewing the challenge from the tearaway success of the Samsung Galaxy Note. iPad Mini will be cheaper than the current crop of iPads.

Most home-grown, low-cost versions — around two dozen models are available currently sporting the 7-inch screen.

The Chinese are also not far behind. While Huawei Mediapad is available in India through online stores for around Rs 28,000, ZTE Light tablet is expected to join the domestic tablet war later this year.

“The Indian handset device market is observing a transition as more and more people are adapting to the mobility offered by tablets. Moreover, with affordable tablets swarming the market and foray of promising domestic players, the demand dynamics could see a significant change,” said Ashish Garg, director, Zync Global Private Limited.

Earlier this month, Zync launched its Android tablet — Z-999 — priced at over Rs 11,000 with voice calling and 3G.

Toshiba, one of the largest electronic equipment manufacturers in the world, also recently announced that it planned to enter the Indian tablet arena sometime this year.

About 250,000 tablets were sold in the country last year (2011). Apple iPads, Samsung devices and Research in Motion Ltd’s BlackBerry PlayBook accounted for 70 per cent of the sales, says IDC Centre for Consultancy and Research.

IDC estimates tablet sales in India will double in 2012 to 500,000 units. While these are still small numbers compared with the figures for mobile phones — 50 million sold between January to March 2012 -— tablet makers say they have scratched only the surface and there is a huge latent demand that needs to be met.

Deepak Mehrotra, CEO of Micromax, says: “We have been available in the market for around 70 days and have sold 1.20 lakh units already.” Micromax launched its Android operating system based Funbook tablet in April, priced below Rs 6,500.

Mehrotra added that Micromax aimed to sell over a million tablets by the end of this financial year (March 2013).

According to industry estimates, the Indian tablet market grew 770 per cent to around Rs 2,000 crore in 2011-12 from Rs 230 crore in 2010-11.

Shashin Devsare, executive director at Karbonn Mobiles, expects “tablets to be one of the major areas of action in the coming future”. He is targeting Karbonn tablet sales of 50,000-75,000 units in the current quarter.

Analysts said in India, tablets were mostly used for Web-browsing, gaming and media consumption such as watching movies, creating a strong market for devices that are light on the pocket but have pretty decent hardware.

“The challenge lies in tapping this market,” said Rajat Agrawal, executive editor at BGR India, an online tech journal.

Forging tie-ups

Mobile service providers are also getting into the act.

Reliance Communications (R-Com), which is the only service provider in India to launch its own 3G and CDMA powered tablet devices, has tied up with Google to exclusively market its Android devices in India over the next two years.

Content creators are also being drawn into the game. Micromax, for instance, has partnered Pearson and Everonn to provide content for students and with BigFlix, Zenga and Indiagames to provide entertainment and gaming content on its Funbook.

Major players

Despite the huge influx of cheap devices, analysts said “sales in India are dominated by Samsung followed by Apple”.

While most low-cost devices are sold through online portals such as Flipkart, Letsbuy and Yebbhi.com, electronic retail outlets such as Croma and Vijay Sales stock tablets from global brands such as Apple, Samsung, Sony, and BlackBerry.

“With Google and Microsoft entering the foray, it will be interesting to see how the market share pie changes,” said Sunil Mehta, a technology expert.

US-based technology giant Microsoft has unveiled its Windows-based tablet — Surface — which is rumoured to be launched in India by January 2013.

It is expected to be priced around Rs 35,000, which is also the price of the current iPad.

Meanwhile, Google Nexus 7, which will be priced in the Rs 12,000 price band, may create a price war of sorts in the branded tablet market. The pricing may make the Nexus 7 an impulse buy, unlike the iPad, which is a well-advised and researched purchase decision.

However, the game may be turned on its head when the “mini” iPad hits the Indian shores.

A report on Apple tracker blog iMore said the 7.85-inch iPad would come with “aggressive” pricing at $200 to $250 (Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000).

 
 
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