Tablets by the numbers: No slowdown in sight

Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad on 27 January 2010, which happened to be the day my mother turned 88. Back in 1922, the year she was born, sales of the Model T Ford had begun slowing down after it had dominated the market for more than 13 years. Some analysts of the time suggested the plateauing of sales meant the automobile was a passing fad, and the cheaper and more familiar horse-drawn carriage would make a comeback, restoring the transport industry to the previous supposed normality.

The tablet hasn’t had its own Model T moment yet, but be sure it will come, as sales growth tapers off and it turns out people still use laptop computers.

It will then become clear that the tablet represents not a replacement for previous formats, but rather a replacement for the previous computing ecosystem. The new ecosystem will incorporate both the PC and the tablet, along with smartphones, and will be closely linked to Cloud services and the content industry.

Make no mistake, though: the tablet has changed the market. Corporate PC purchases still mask the scale of change, but at the retail level in South Africa, stores that sell the Apple iPad say the tablet is making up between 20% and 30% of computer sales. Expect that proportion to rise as cheaper tablets bring computing access to millions who previously would have been stuck on the other side of the digital divide.

The iPad isn’t the only tablet on the market, but makes up more than 80% of tablet sales. This means that, where the iPad goes, the tablet market goes.

It doesn’t, therefore, take too much arithmetic to unpack the tablet market in a country like South Africa.

At the end of 2010, fewer than 20 000 iPads were in use in this market — all of them brought in through the “grey market” — imported by “unauthorised” dealers, bought directly over the internet or bought by early adopters during overseas trips.

In January 2011, nine months after its release in the United States, the iPad was officially admitted into South Africa. Despite the fact that the second edition was imminent, the old version sold another 10 000 units within weeks. With the release of the iPad 2 in March 2011, Apple showed that it had heard the protests from the South African market, and only kept it waiting five weeks before releasing it in the country.

Its newfound faith paid off.

By June this year, the tablet market had reached the 60 000 mark, with most of those being iPads. Five months later, that number has more than doubled, although other brands have crept in, most notably Samsung with its 7″ and 10.1″ Galaxy Tabs.

The South African tablet market now stands at around 150 000, and is expected to pass the 160 000 mark by the end of 2011. The single biggest contributor to the current growth spurt is First National Bank, which offers iPads at huge discounts and on interest free contracts — and almost overnight was picking up orders for more than 20 000 machines.

By the time the next iPad and Galaxy Tab models are released towards mid-2012, and price reductions on almost all brands kick in, the market will have reached the quarter-million mark. Most of that growth will have occurred in a mere 12 months.

My mom will be 90 by then, and she won’t be in the market for a tablet — just as her father wasn’t in the market for an internal combustion engine in the 1920s. In both cases, however, it is clear that while the entire market doesn’t embrace such emerging technologies overnight, enough do so to change the underlying industry forever.



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