Globally, Deloitte expects 2012 to see the emergence of a multi-million strong cohort of users with two or more tablets, part of a long-term steady increase in the number of computers used and owned per person Image Credit: Corbis

Ashish Panjabi, COO of Jacky's Electronics, sees a gap in the tablets market. With content distribution in the Middle East lagging behind areas such as the West and Asia, the region offers a huge opportunity for development.

"Tablet form factors are still evolving, as are content distribution models, app stores and operating systems that link all of this together. Today we still have not seen anyone offering music, movies or books in the Middle East region," Panjabi tells GN Focus in an interview.

"If someone can make this happen, then that platform or tablet stands to gain market share quickly."

Whether this happens in 2012 or not remains to be seen, but by and large, manufacturers and retailers expect this to be the year when the device gains traction and enjoys mass acceptance.

A must-have device

Jack Lee, corporate vice-president for Lenovo Group and general manager for Middle East and Africa, says 2012 will see a ‘coming of age' for the tablet computer.

"Last year was full of announcements around form factors, size and weight as the tablet battled to win a place in the consumer's suite of must-have devices," he tells GN Focus. "This year we see consumers acknowledging its value in portability, connectivity and ease-of-use that — along with their PC, smartphone and possibly also a smart TV — completes the user's seamless digital experience."

Raed Hafez, managing director for Motorola Mobility, Middle East and Africa, agrees "we foresee strong growth numbers in 2012 compared to last year," he says. He expects the rise to largely come from the consumer market, although the corporate market is likely to see higher growth rates.

"We expect a lot of noise in 2012. We will see a lot of offerings from a variety of mobile and PC vendors. Tablets will vary in shape and sizes, and some will have a variety of attachments. However, we believe the consumer will end up going with the mainstream design and sizes available today, and will look for a trusted brand with a strong legacy in mobile telecommunication," Hafez elaborates.

Since 2010, some 75 million tablets have been sold worldwide, consulting firm Deloitte said in its 2012 Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) forecast. The company expects the supply of tablet choices to become even more varied in 2012, with demand likely to follow suit. As with smartphones, a category which now describes multiple types of devices, tablets will become increasingly diversified by size, processor power, operating system and business model.

Deloitte predicts that in 2012 almost 5 per cent of tablets sold will likely be to individuals or households that already own a tablet, which equates to five million tablets worth between $1.5 and $2 billion (between Dh5.5 and Dh7.3 billion) in revenue.

Although this represents a small percentage of total tablet sales, given that the tablet sector is only three years old it will mark the most rapid ‘multi-anything' market penetration in history.

Here in the UAE, we are likely to see a 62 per cent growth in the sale of tablets this year to 406,340 units, compared to 249,951 units last year, according to the International Data Corporation, with demand driven both by home users and by commercial end-users, such as the hospitality, health care and education sectors.

Product differentiation

Thus far tablet demand has been largely homogeneous — over 80 per cent of all tablets to date have been roughly ten inches in size, with a single LCD capacitive touch screen, weighing about 650 grams, and an average selling price of about $600 — but this year will be marked by product differentiation.

The Deloitte study forecasts the key drivers for multiple tablet ownership are likely to be size, usage and enterprise deployment of specific tablet models that workers are required to use.

Already, consumers are making more confident choices when choosing tablets that cater to their own specific needs.

"In 2012, it's not a question of ‘do I need a tablet?', instead consumers are thinking ‘what do I need my tablet to do?' and seeking out the device that best fits their lifestyle. Moving on from simply considering size and weight, now consumers want to know what the device can actually deliver in the home, at work and on the move," says Lee.

"This year we anticipate more interest in the power of the device, the applications that it offers access to and convenience factors such as how quickly the tablet boots into action," he says.