When Blackberry CEO Thorsten Heins predicted the death of tablet computers in the next five years, he probably didn't have a look at India where sales of tablets or 'tabs' have soared. According to estimates by research firm Cybermedia Research (CMR) in March, 1.09 million tablets were sold between October-December last year. The total units shipped last year were 3.11 million.
"When they first hit the market in 2010, tabs were a 'buzz' word and a luxury," says CMR analyst, Tarun Pathak. "But now, from a consumer and industry perspective, tabs are portable productive utilitarian devices. We predict that 4 million tabs will be sold in India in the next year."
As the demand for tablets goes up, vendors have begun to cater to growing market needs. That is why Indian manufacturers such as Micromax and Karbonn have been succesful by selling affordable 3G-enabled tablets, providing better connectivity for consumers.
A unique feature of the Indian market, says Pathak, is that international giants and Indian companies are on an even keel. The Apple iPad is no longer the market leader, coming in second (with a share of 10.88%) to Micromax, which has 17.07% of the market. Samsung came third with 10.39%. (These figures are for tablets with screens larger than 7 inches.)
In the rest of the world as well, there has been a surge in tablet sales, growing 142.4% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2013, according to the International Data Corporation Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker. But tablet sales have not cut into smartphone sales. IT research company Gartner estimates that of the 1.875 billion phones expected to be sold in 2013, one billion will be smartphones, compared with 675 million in 2012.
As the market evolves, competition has increased. Late last year, a new category of 'phablets' (phone-tablets with screens smaller than 5 inches) was added to CMR's study. As a consequence, average sales prices are likely to drop, prompting more consumers to buy tabs.
The non-metro Indian market is being targetted by the likes of Datawind, developer of the government's ambitious Aakash tablet. While the 'laptop or tablet' dilemma might still exist, "the growth hub of the population, especially in non-metros will be the tablet or phablet," says Ashish Bhatia, tech-writer and former editor, PC World.
The tablet, in India, has found equal appeal from all - the elderly who use it to keep in touch with their grandparents, students who use it for academic research, businessmen who track the stock market, or even farmers checking the weather. It seems then, the tab is becoming a truly democratic device.