Apple's iPad has captured the imagination of computer users worldwide thanks to its versatility and portability. Along with other tablet devices, it is claiming a bigger share of the market - a trend that looks set to accelerate in the UAE, writes Michael Robinson
Andrew Macbeth, a business consultant in Abu Dhabi, is clear about why he bought an Apple iPad, which he uses daily to stream video, check e-mail and play games such as Angry Birds.
"I already had an iPhone and a laptop and used the laptop in front of the TV a lot for casual surfing," he says. "But I found it a bit awkward as the battery life wasn't great and you have to be sitting upright to use it. Meanwhile, the iPhone was great for things like that but the screen was too small.
"The iPad is a great combination of these devices."
Demand from Mr Macbeth and millions of others for tablets has helped Apple to take centre stage among the world's electronics stores, resulting in negative consequences for personal computers (PC).
Gartner, the research company, recently lowered its view on global PC market growth for a second time this year, as customers in developed markets choose to buy tablets rather than desktops or laptops.
The global PC market is now expected to grow 9.3 per cent this year instead of the previously forecast 10.5 per cent. Gartner also says that netbook shipments have contracted during the past few quarters.
Even Acer, the world's second-largest PC vendor, said this week its sales last month fell 28 per cent to US$1.1 billion (Dh4.04bn) compared with June last year.
Yet despite all this bad news, the UAE computer industry has escaped the fall in revenues that other parts of the world have experienced.
Analysts predict that computer hardware sales, including notebooks and accessories, will continue to show growth across the region this year. Ashish Punjabi, the chief operations officer of the electronics retailer Jacky's, which has nine stores in the UAE, says netbook and notebook sales have held up well.
"Although a lot of the talk initially was that tablets are going to start eating into netbooks and notebooks, we didn't actually see that figure in our numbers," he says. "In fact, we've seen notebooks grow, we've seen netbooks grow, and we've seen tablets grow exponentially. As a category, actually all of them have done rather well for us."
Notebook sales make up 80 per cent of total IT sales for Jacky's, a figure that has been growing by 8 to 10 per cent this year. Tablets make up 12 to 15 per cent of total IT sales for the retailer.
Mr Punjabi mainly attributes the continued strong demand for notebooks to improved processor technologies from the chip-maker Intel and a drop in prices.
He says the expatriate population is another reason for PC demand remaining strong in the UAE.
The typical profile of a computer buyer here would be a middle-class expatriate who wants one device to send e-mails, surf the web and chat with family and friends back home.
The limitations of 3G services are also potentially holding back sales of tablets over PCs in the region because they are more difficult to travel with compared with a laptop, Mr Punjabi says.
Regardless of the reasons that many in the UAE are still choosing notebooks over tablets, the iPad and its rivals are building a growing market.
Jacky's expects its tablet market to grow to 16 per cent of total IT sales, with one notable victim of this success being netbooks, the smaller, less powerful laptops.
"The netbook sale[s] I could say for us has dropped almost to a level of 8 to 12 per cent," says Vijendra Singh, the general manager of FDC International, one of the region's largest IT distributors.
Even PC makers such as HP, Samsung, Lenovo and Asus shifted their focus from producing netbooks to making tablets instead.
"So many brands - it's really getting populated at the store level," Mr Singh says. "I can see the prices starting to erode now."
Ultimately, it is the availability of these new devices, the inevitable lowering of prices and, especially, the UAE's reputation as an electronics shopping and bargaining hub, that is helping the Emirates buck the falling global PC trend.
"In this part of the world if you buy the laptop you get the carry case, you get the mouse, you get the handset, you get an extra web cam. If there isn't a web cam, you get a hard disk, and these are actually the products which we're making our margins off and we're giving them away for free," Mr Punjabi says. "We sit here as a retailer at times together and scratch our heads and say why are we doing all of that? But I think it's always been a bargaining destination in Dubai, it's always been a shopping destination and it's always been what more can you do to make the pot more interesting."