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A Galaxy of choice

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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.
Thendays of the iPad’s dominance of the tablet market are numbered. Until recently,nmore than two thirds of tablets sold across the world have been made by Apple.nThat has afforded the manufacturer the luxury of dictating the direction of thenmarket, from size to functionality to case studies of ideal uses.

Butnthat is all about to change. And the South African market offers a goodnindication of the coming shift in the balance of tablet power.

Thenlaunch of a range of new tablets in Cape Town last week, along with newnstatistics on the size of the tablet market, mark the beginning of the next bignshift.

It’snnot bad news for Apple, however: figures compiled from retailers show they havensold 205 000 iPads to South Africans since the device was launched in Apriln2010. Of those, 20 000 were sold on the “grey” market by unofficial importersnor bought on overseas trips. Since then, official distributors have sold 150n000 iPads in stores, while First National Bank alone have moved another 35 000nthrough a massively successful special offer to their own customers.

Thesenhuge volumes have stunned the market, but have also obscured the rise ofnApple’s most formidable competitor in both the smartphone and tablet market:nSamsung Electronics.

Untilnnow, most of Samsung’s sales have been left out of the tablet equation due tonlack of clarity on their numbers. MTN SA head Karel Pienaar has confirmed 100n000 tablets on their network, of which close to 40 000 are Samsung tablets.nVodacom CEO Pieter Uys has confirmed it has about 120 000 tablets on itsnnetwork, with a high proportion being iPads. However, these numbers onlyninclude 3G devices, as WiFi-only tablets are not active on mobile networks –nand these make up half the market.

Now,nSamsung has shared its tablet sales figures, and reveals that their impact onnthe market has been every bit as dramatic as Apple’s.

Theirnanswer to the iPad, the Galaxy Tab 10.1, sells around 20 000 units a month innSouth Africa. In combination with a 7-inch option, it’s coming close to totalniPad sales. According to Samsung’s Chief Operating Officer for Africa, GeorgenFerreira, they have moved 180 000 of the devices in South Africa since thenbeginning of 2011 – about the same as Apple have sold through officialnchannels. Most of Samsung’s sales have come through contracts and bundles withnthe mobile networks.

Ifnone makes a modest assumption that other brands have accounted for only anothern5 000 or so tablets (HTC, Asus and Acer have not revealed numbers), that makesnfor total tablet sales of 400 000, with Apple taking just over 50% of thenmarket and Samsung just under 50%.

Atncurrent growth rates, the half-million figure of tablets sold in South Africanwill be reached before June 2012.

Andna tipping point may well have arrived by then. At the annual Samsung AfricanForum in Cape Town last week, the Korean giants unveiled the new Galaxy Tab 2 range,nwith both 10.1” and 7” models running the new Android 4.0 operating systemncreated by Google.

Alongnwith these, Samsung also formally launched two in-between models, a 7.7” and ann8.9” tablet. If that isn’t enough of a choice, the 5.3” Galaxy Note straddlesnthe gap between the smallest tablet and the largest smartphone. At the top end,nthe 10.1 is now joined by a Galaxy Note 10.1 – a subtly different device to thenTab 10.1 in that it comes with a stylus and is geared towards artistic uses.

Andnthen, to top it all, Samsung have quietly released the Series 7 Slate PC, whichnlooks like a tablet with an accessory wireless keyboard. In reality, it is a fully-fledgednWindows computer with an 11.6” screen, but designed for both portability andnversatility. When used on the desktop, the tablet part rests in a small docknwhile you type on the keyboard or use a stylus on the touchscreen. Whenntravelling, you can use the device as a tablet computer, but with the fullnfunctionality of a Windows device.

ThenSlate will be upgraded to Windows 8 the moment Microsoft release the newnversion of their operating system – probably by October this year –  but is already evidence of the coming ofnMicrosoft to the tablet market. When the software behemoth arrives in fullnforce across other tablet brands like Acer, Asus, Lenovo, and HTC, the momentumnmay finally push Apple below 50% of the local tablet market, and eventually acrossnthe globe as well.

Ofncourse, the imminent release of the new third generation iPad, which have gone  on sale in Apple’s 10 priority markets at thensame price as the previous version, will give Apple a huge boost. And with thenprice of the iPad 2 slashed at the same time, even sales of the older modelnwill accelerate.

Clearly,nthis is a story that will still have many a twist in the plot.

* Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chiefnof Gadget, Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

* A more conservative total for thenSouth 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 fromnSamsung and Vodacom.

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