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Tablet wars get going

As iPad arrives in India and media baron Murdoch launches a daily exclusively for tablets, a host of brands get ready for an imminent market shootout. Vivek Sinha reports.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2011 23:03 IST
Vivek Sinha

The tablet game has just begun, but is already hot.

Last week, the iPad arrived in India, finally. Indian lovers of the Apple’s thin mobile device geared to help an era of Internet videos, online music and e-reading were buying the device abroad even before this, signalling the potential of the tablet PC in a country where 700 million mobile subscribers already sport handsets, while 10 million personal computers are sold every year.

The iPad had rivals waiting before it landed on the shores. The Dell Streak and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab were launched a few months ago.

Smartphones are already here, doing on small screens some of the stuff larger tablets do but the key differentiator is that it is easier to watch movies, share photos or access the internet on tablets, that typically have 5 to 10-inch screens. In memory, screen size and features, they are a nice cross between the mobile handset and the laptop PC.

With the rise of 3G services that make broadband content easier to pump, tablets are well timed. And earlier this week, media baron Rupert Murdoch launched a pioneering tablet newspaper, The Daily, for iPad newspapers, underlining the emerging significance of the device. Newer versions of the iPad are coming and the next one — yet a secret for the public — was seen at the launch of The Daily. This is expected to enable video calls through two cameras — one at the front and another at the back.

But wait! Some models already have that feature, showing that nothing is going to be easy even for strong, cool players like Samsung and Apple.

Gone or the days when brand leaders like Nokia or Apple could have technology based leadership based on headstarts. The arrival of Google’s Android platform changed the way smartphones multiplied in the market. It is just out with the Honeycomb, a tablet-friendly version of the platform. As a result, dozens of manufacturers can make and sell cutting-edge tablets with design or feature variations at relatively lower costs – because it is software and applications that are key drivers in tablets.

Thanks to that, the Indian market could turn complex and exciting.

Consider this: Relatively lesser known brands such as Motorola, China’s G’Five and desi labels like Lava have definite plans to hit the Indian market in 2011.

Analysts say these brands could sell tablets in the R15,000 to R20,000 range. The iPad’s cheapest version is retailing at more than R27,000, while the Dell Streak and Samsung Galaxy Tab are even costlier.

“We are already researching on ways to launch a Tablet around Rs 10,000,” S.N. Rai, co-founder and director Lava International told HT.

The company would initially hit the market at R15,000 to R20,000 and slash prices later. "Our plan is to take our tablets to consumers in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities and with our strong channel we could gain a major headway in the Indian market," Rai said.

Lava has close to 50,000 sales channels across India and says even if it sells two per channel, it could sell 100,000 a month. Jaideep Chopra, country head of G’Five India, confirmed that his company is eyeing a Rs 15,000 tablet. “These (small) brands were years behind in smartphones but are only months away in tablets.

If they give credible options to a user then big brands will have to cut the prices of their brands,” said an analyst.

The Android OS, which was launched for smartphones has been immensely popular and recently overtook Nokia’s Symbian globally. In the game of tablets, it already has a headstart. Let the shootout begin.