A Galaxy of choice
Samsung has revealed South African tablet sales figures, which are closing in on iPad numbers, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK. And that was before a new range of Samsung devices was launched last week.
The days of the iPad’s dominance of the tablet market are numbered. Until recently, more than two thirds of tablets sold across the world have been made by Apple. That has afforded the manufacturer the luxury of dictating the direction of the market, from size to functionality to case studies of ideal uses.
But that is all about to change. And the South African market offers a good indication of the coming shift in the balance of tablet power.
The launch of a range of new tablets in Cape Town last week, along with new statistics on the size of the tablet market, mark the beginning of the next big shift.
It’s not bad news for Apple, however: figures compiled from retailers show they have sold 205 000 iPads to South Africans since the device was launched in April 2010. Of those, 20 000 were sold on the “grey” market by unofficial importers or bought on overseas trips. Since then, official distributors have sold 150 000 iPads in stores, while First National Bank alone have moved another 35 000 through a massively successful special offer to their own customers.
These huge volumes have stunned the market, but have also obscured the rise of Apple’s most formidable competitor in both the smartphone and tablet market: Samsung Electronics.
Until now, most of Samsung’s sales have been left out of the tablet equation due to lack of clarity on their numbers. MTN SA head Karel Pienaar has confirmed 100 000 tablets on their network, of which close to 40 000 are Samsung tablets. Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys has confirmed it has about 120 000 tablets on its network, with a high proportion being iPads. However, these numbers only include 3G devices, as WiFi-only tablets are not active on mobile networks – and these make up half the market.
Now, Samsung has shared its tablet sales figures, and reveals that their impact on the market has been every bit as dramatic as Apple’s.
Their answer to the iPad, the Galaxy Tab 10.1, sells around 20 000 units a month in South Africa. In combination with a 7-inch option, it’s coming close to total iPad sales. According to Samsung’s Chief Operating Officer for Africa, George Ferreira, they have moved 180 000 of the devices in South Africa since the beginning of 2011 – about the same as Apple have sold through official channels. Most of Samsung’s sales have come through contracts and bundles with the mobile networks.
If one makes a modest assumption that other brands have accounted for only another 5 000 or so tablets (HTC, Asus and Acer have not revealed numbers), that makes for total tablet sales of 400 000, with Apple taking just over 50% of the market and Samsung just under 50%.
At current growth rates, the half-million figure of tablets sold in South Africa will be reached before June 2012.
And a tipping point may well have arrived by then. At the annual Samsung Africa Forum in Cape Town last week, the Korean giants unveiled the new Galaxy Tab 2 range, with both 10.1” and 7” models running the new Android 4.0 operating system created by Google.
Along with these, Samsung also formally launched two in-between models, a 7.7” and an 8.9” tablet. If that isn't enough of a choice, the 5.3” Galaxy Note straddles the gap between the smallest tablet and the largest smartphone. At the top end, the 10.1 is now joined by a Galaxy Note 10.1 – a subtly different device to the Tab 10.1 in that it comes with a stylus and is geared towards artistic uses.
And then, to top it all, Samsung have quietly released the Series 7 Slate PC, which looks like a tablet with an accessory wireless keyboard. In reality, it is a fully-fledged Windows computer with an 11.6” screen, but designed for both portability and versatility. When used on the desktop, the tablet part rests in a small dock while you type on the keyboard or use a stylus on the touchscreen. When travelling, you can use the device as a tablet computer, but with the full functionality of a Windows device.
The Slate will be upgraded to Windows 8 the moment Microsoft release the new version of their operating system – probably by October this year – but is already evidence of the coming of Microsoft to the tablet market. When the software behemoth arrives in full force across other tablet brands like Acer, Asus, Lenovo, and HTC, the momentum may finally push Apple below 50% of the local tablet market, and eventually across the globe as well.
Of course, the imminent release of the new third generation iPad, which have gone on sale in Apple’s 10 priority markets at the same price as the previous version, will give Apple a huge boost. And with the price of the iPad 2 slashed at the same time, even sales of the older model will accelerate.
Clearly, this is a story that will still have many a twist in the plot.
* Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chief of Gadget, Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee
* A more conservative total for the South African tablet market was reported in memeburn last week (http://memeburn.com/2012/03/tablets-arent-taking-off-in-emerging-markets-think-again/), but these excluded updated figures from Samsung and Vodacom.