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From the shadows: Tim Cook, left, takes centre stage tonight as he kickstarts a post-Steve Jobs era for Apple. Paul Sakuma / AP Photo
From the shadows: Tim Cook, left, takes centre stage tonight as he kickstarts a post-Steve Jobs era for Apple. Paul Sakuma / AP Photo

Apple's iPad3 launches Cook into spotlight

Steve Jobs's replacement at Apple takes centre stage tonight to unveil the company's latest iPad. He will face not only the legacy of the late Jobs, but also a far more competitive tablet market.

It used to be all about Steve Jobs when Apple launched a revolutionary new device.

But since the death of the driving force behind the most valuable company in the world, the spotlight has shifted to its latest chief executive, Tim Cook.

Tonight, Mr Cook is likely to face his biggest public test to date when he is expected to unveil the third version of Apple's hugely successful tablet, the iPad 3, in California.

Yes, there will be shades of Jobs, an Apple co-founder. Like his mentor, Mr Cook prefers to wear a black shirt and jeans, and he does not seem afraid to take centre stage. But standing out from the crowd will not be easy these days.

"I think it's a pretty big responsibility for Tim," says Omar Kassim, the founder of the Dubai-based e-commerce site JadoPado.com. "Steve had that charisma, which we've not quite seen from Tim Cook yet."

When the first iPad debuted nearly two years ago, it cracked open a whole new segment in the electronics industry and took control of nearly 90 per cent of the tablet market.

Last year, Apple shipped more than 40 million iPads and is fuelling a global market that is projected to grow to US$49 billion (Dh179.98bn) in value by 2015, according to Strategy Analytics, a research and consulting firm.

But the tablet sector is rapidly evolving.

Since the iPad arrived on the scene, major companies including Samsung, Sony and Amazon.com have pushed into the market with their own innovative tablet products.

Globally, Apple's grip on the media tablet market has slipped as more alternatives have come out. Apple's market share has dropped from 87 per cent in 2010 to 57 per cent during the final quarter of last year, according to IHS iSuppli, a market research firm.

During the Dubai Shopping Festival this year, tablets proved to be the most popular electronic product at the local retailer Jumbo Electronics, which credited the launch of Sony's Tablet S - priced between Dh1,895 and Dh2,295 - for the strong surge in sales.

Jacky's Electronics, another retailer in the Emirates, has also noted strong sales of tablets during the shopping festival and also singled out the Tablet S as well as Samsung's Galaxy Note, priced from Dh2,999 to Dh3,349.

"At the end, there's no one device that solves everybody's needs," says Samir Al Schamma, the general manager for Intel in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).

Different manufacturers now ship about 1 million tablets each week, Mr Al Schamma points out, and production of tablets using Intel's technology is increasing for the second half of the year.

"With iPad 3 being launched shortly, it won't affect us that much," he says.

As more major brands roll out tablets, they are also encouraging the creation of a larger pool of apps that can access games, songs and other content.

"Apps development is likely to get a boost in Mena, as smartphones and tablets are getting increasingly popular [here]," says Joanna Truffaut, who founded Ibtikarati.com to support entrepreneurs and start-up investors.

"This is an opportunity for tablet providers to differentiate themselves by selling tablets with not only international blockbuster pre-installed apps but also with local or regional pre-installed apps," she adds.

While fostering the development of apps is one focus, manufacturers are also busy "converging" tablet sizes, Mr Al Schamma says. That means some ultralight laptops now feature a tablet-like screen that can snap off and be used without a keyboard.

At the same time, some smartphone screens are growing in size and bordering more on the usual dimensions of a tablet.

Last week in Barcelona, during the Mobile World Congress exhibition, the Asus Padfone was displayed as a 4.3-inch device that could slip into an optional accessory to become a 10.1-inch tablet.

Samsung also showcased a new 10.1-inch version of its Galaxy Note smartphone - nearly double the size of the original. Samsung is playing up the blurring between lines and says on its website promoting the smaller Note: "Phone? Tablet? It's a Galaxy Note!"

Ashraf Fawakherji, the head of the telecommunications group at Samsung Gulf Electronics, believes that more businesses as well as schools are finding a use for tablets, which is helping to drive up sales.

Last month, Lenovo launched its ThinkPad tablet, priced at $799, in the Emirates aimed at professionals and enterprises that want a mobile model with a focus on security.

The company has included apps for entertainment, accessing music and books as well as programmes for pulling up work documents and Excel sheets.

"Mobility is an extremely important aspect for business users," said Jack Lee, the general manager for Lenovo Middle East and Africa, when the device was released in the UAE.

But not everyone is having success in this market.

Research In Motion, which produces the BlackBerry, has famously flopped in trying to compete against the iPad with dismal sales of its PlayBook tablet.

Other major manufacturers are sticking to smartphones - for now.

"We have nothing to add to our previous statements that Nokia is looking at tablet strategies, but we would need to be sure we could offer meaningful differentiation and not simply be the 202nd tablet manufacturer," says Tom Farrell, the vice president of Nokia Middle East.

Against this backdrop comes Apple's iPad 3. For Mr Cook, the challenges in staying ahead of the pack are just beginning.

nparmar@thenational.ae

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