Tablet computers such as Apple’s iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy have had a fanfare of publicity, but they are unlikely to kill off their older cousin the laptop anytime soon, Asian analysts and vendors say.
Sales of smaller-screen and cheaper netbook laptops may appear to be sloping off in a mature market like the US, but analysts in Asia believe this is not the end of the road for the laptop itself.
“The tablet is a secondary device, meant for people who already have a PC and want a device for portable usage,” said Tracy Tsai, a Taipei-based analyst with technology research company Gartner.
“Using the tablet as your only device is rare, as you still need something with a keyboard to type in things, and storage,” she said.
Apple’s iPad has replaced half of US electronics chain store Best Buy’s cheaper netbook sales, the retailer estimated last month, and the pressure can only increase as a stream of gadget makers bring out their own tablets.
Best Buy has begun showcasing e-readers, tablets and mobile devices in its most prominent store displays as Christmas approaches.
“People are willing to disproportionately spend for these devices because they are becoming so important to their lives,” Best Buy chief Executive Brian Dunn told the <
In Taiwan, a Nielsen Global Consumer survey in March found that 36 percent of people either had a tablet computer already or planned to buy one.
“iPads have faster Internet connections than laptops,” said a vendor in downtown Taipei surnamed Wen. “It’s lighter and easy to carry around so many people are buying it now.”
But Taipei is not typical of Asia’s billions of consumers, however, and there will initially be relatively limited markets for the iPad and competing tablets made by several manufacturers, including Samsung and Dell.
“In emerging markets users in places like Shanghai or Beijing have a purchasing power similar to the average person in Singapore and Taipei, but it’s still limited to first-tier cities,” Tsai said. “Most emerging markets are price-sensitive, and in Indonesia for example a price difference of 20 or 30 dollars is important.”
Japan is definitely alert to the advantages of moderately sized tablet computers in cramped spaces, but observers are careful not to pronounce the laptop dead, or even ailing, just yet.
“A tablet computer is an item you can literally walk around with in one hand,” said Takumi Sado, a senior analyst at Daiwa Securities Capital Markets.
“You can carry a notebook computer around, too, but you still need to find a place to sit down and work on it, but if you want to type up something, a notebook computer still works better ... At this point, I can only say that tablet PCs are for different needs, such as online search, from those of laptop computers,” he said.
Japanese electronics giant NEC, the dominant player in the domestic computer market, sold 2.73 million PCs last year, 60 percent of which were laptops, a company spokesman said.
“Basically in Japan, a notebook computer has become an essential item in a regular household. We are considering a tablet PC as an item somewhere between a notebook and a mobile phone,” he said.
“We think the tablet computers will create a whole new market on top of notebook PCs. We don’t think the tablet would diminish the market of laptop computers,” he said.