Apple's iPad 2

South African telecoms solutions firm Nashua Mobile says tablet computers are surging in popularity and could spark added demand for mobile data.

The company expects the rapidly growing tablet computer market to spark new demand for mobile data that will handsomely benefit South African cellular operators and service providers in the next few months.

That’ s the word from Tim Walter, executive head of marketing at Nashua Mobile. He notes that Gartner forecasts that annual global tablet shipments will jump from less than 18 million in 2010 to 294 million in 2015. Much of this growth is cannibalising worldwide sales of PCs and notebooks as end-users start to consume more of their media on the run from their tablet computers.  

Says Walter: “ The runaway success of the iPad and the iPad 2 in the South African market indicates that there is a real hunger among local consumers and business users for tablet computers with cellular data connections. Apple’ s local distribution and retail partner sold hundreds of iPad 2 units within hours of the product hitting the shelves on April 29.

“ Unusually for a computer product launch in South Africa, people were queuing for the iPad 2 before stores even opened on that day. The most popular models of the iPad 2 were those with both 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, which sold out in many stores within the space of a few hours. That’ s just a taste of the growth to come from the tablet market.”

Walter says that the tablet market can be expected to enjoy strong growth in the coming months, with new Android tablets from the likes of Motorola arriving in South Africa as well as the upcoming launch of the BlackBerry PlayBook.  

“ Users have only a few tablet options to choose from right now – basically, it’ s the Apple iPad or Samsung’ s Android-based Galaxy Tab. But that picture is changing fast. With more choice from June onwards, more competition and more marketing, we can expect to see the tablet market really take off,” Walter says.

“ Since so many tablets ship with integrated 3G connectivity, this will be good news for mobile operators, opening up a whole new market for them to address.” Although initial shipments of the BlackBerry PlayBook and some of the other new devices may be Wi-Fi only models, tablets with 3G connectivity will eventually dominate the market, believes Walter.  

Walter says that some of the growth will come at the expense of cellular data usage on smartphones and notebooks, but much of it will be new. End-users will begin to devour more cellular data as they use their tablets to browse the Web, send and receive emails, read magazines and books, play online games, watch video and use business applications.

Walter says that to capitalise on the growth of the tablet market, service providers and operators will need to put together affordable data bundles, possibly with subsidised hardware. Eventually, this market will add up to a substantial opportunity since tablet users will be consuming a lot of data to cater for their appetite for rich online media and applications, he concludes.

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