When Mahendra Kumar Jain first thought of manufacturing a touch screen device four years ago, the word 'tablet' had only one meaning - it was something the doctor prescribed. He wanted to be in the infotainment device segment, and the touch screen seemed just the right device to make. However, by the time he unveiled his device in mid-August this year, an enormous change had occurred: the tablet had become the gadget of desire for the well-heeled. So much that in the April to June quarter Apple's iPad grew at 183 per cent year on year, while the global PC industry grew 2.6 per cent in volumes.
Apple sold 9.25 million iPads during the period. India, the last of the major global markets to get the iPad, already has six to seven tablets on offer, including Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Research In Motion's PlayBook, apart from the iPad. Yet, Jain, Managing Director of Bangalorebased Laxmi Access Communications Systems, or LACS, fancies his chances of making a dent.
His cheapest tablet costs Rs 4,500, with the price rising up to Rs 36,000 for more costly versions.
The iPad costs Rs 28,000, the Galaxy Tab Rs 26,000 and the PlayBook Rs 27,000. LACS, which was so far into information technology distribution and manufacture of coated paper, is not the first Indian company to try and crack open this market by offering tablets cheap.
Reliance Communication has come out with its own at Rs 12,000 and Beetel, a Bharti company, has launched one for Rs 9,999. Around six months back, HCL Infosystems also came out with a range of India-made tablets, priced at Rs 12,000 onwards.
Will tablets follow the mobile handset pattern? Long dominated by multinationals like Nokia, Samsung and Motorola, and later raided by RIM's BlackBerry, Apple's iPhone, and various HTC models, this market was turned on its head by a clutch of Indian manufacturers who based their operations in countries like China and Taiwan, and pulled off a coup.
As the market share of the Indian manufacturers, led by Micromax, Lava and Spice, climbed from zero in 2008 to more than 20 per cent in 2010, market leader Nokia lost ground, with its share falling from 46 per cent to 35 per cent in the same period.
What gave Indian companies the edge was a rich list of features and long battery life for their products, and low prices. Should we brace for an encore in tablets? "The tablet market is clearly going the mobile handset way," says Naveen Mishra, lead telecom analyst at Cyber Media Research. He believes the market adoption of Indian tablets will speed up once Broadband Wireless Access takes off. Tablets are all about use of data on the move.
The tablet market is at 100,000 pieces a year and expected to grow at 35 per cent, say current estimates. "Beetel is trying to break the affordability barrier," says Vinod Sawhny, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, Beetel Teletech. Jain of LACS is trying to do exactly the same, and more forcefully. He believes that many people in India aspire to owning a tablet - make it more affordable and they will come in droves. "At Rs 6,000-7,000, our products will have a much larger multiplier effect," says Jain. More so because he has tied up with finance companies, so customers can buy his tablet on a 12-month instalment scheme.
Sawhny and Jain both believe that there is a large untapped market in the rural and semiurban space. The lowering of the entry price, therefore, would be critical, as will be the world of applications that these companies can open up to the user.
They had better hurry, because Micromax and Lava are getting ready to launch their tablets, too.