x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Apple and Samsung big winners in this year's gadget race

Look Back 2012  Electronics revenues broke records,but the wealth was not spread evenly. Despite some local surprises, Apple and Samsung extended their leads with new releases of coveted devices, while lagging competitors struggled to keep pace.

Tablets such as the Apple iPad and the iPad Mini, above, emerged as one of the year's top performers across the technology sector. Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg News
Tablets such as the Apple iPad and the iPad Mini, above, emerged as one of the year's top performers across the technology sector. Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg News

The annual revenues generated from mobiles, tablets and other consumer electronics is expected to top a record US$200 billion (Dh734.62bn) - and that figure is based on sales from the United Statesalone.

But not all gadgets sold well this year.

Mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones ultimately prevailed as the year's best-selling items. In marketing battles that stemmed from Seoul and Silicon Valley, Samsung and Apple each poured millions into touting their latest devices in these two categories and saw blockbuster sales.

Meanwhile, competitors such as Nokia and HTC also splashed out on worldwide advertising campaigns to back the release of their newest models. In comparison, though, their sales have fared poorly.

Then, there were some of the unanticipated hits in the UAE.

"Headphones suddenly became a huge category for us this year," says Ashish Panjabi, the chief operating officer at Jacky's Electronics.

Even more unexpected, though, was that while Beats By Dr Dre headphones surged in sales due to their growing appeal, other models branded with Hello Kitty and SpongeBob SquarePants - or lacquered in flashy colours such as pink, purple and orange - also sold well.

"What surprised us was that it wasn't kids buying this only - but grown adults," says Mr Panjabi.

The BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, which has struggled in numerous markets and failed to sell many of its PlayBook tablets, pleasantly surprised some local retailers with the release of its BlackBerry Porsche Design P'9981. The smartphone boasts a stainless-steel frame and leather backing and commands a premium price. "We sold a decent number of units considering the steep Dh8,000 [US$2,178] or so price tag," says Omar Kassim, the founder of JadoPado, an online retailer in the UAE. "I wasn't initially willing to give it a chance but it performed well."

A surge in sales of the Apple TV also surprised Mr Kassim. The Dh429 device, which helps to play television shows and movies in high-definition from iTunes and YouTube, as well as stream music and photos, turned out to be JadoPado's most-sold gadget this year.

Overall, tablets emerged as one of the year's top performers across the technology sector.

More consumers in the US this winter intend to buy a tablet instead of a laptop, according to the research firm Parks Associates, and analysts from the Consumer Electronics Association predict a full 25 per cent of US holiday-buyers will have bought a tablet.

At local tech retailers, such as Jumbo Electronics, Jacky's and EmiratesAvenue.com, more shoppers bought an Apple iPad this year than other tablets - or any other gadget, for that matter. Some customers preferred to use the slate for gaming, reading or social networking, while others predominantly purchased it for productivity tasks such as checking email and creating or viewing apps for business use.

"The continual increase in sales we've seen for this product is down to the fact that it has moved really from being a product that everyone bought for the sake of buying it to being something that is being used now," says Mr Panjabi.

"Most initial buyers of tablet devices like the iPad bought them and then figured out what they were going to use it for. These days we've seen customers actually coming into stores looking to use the iPad for specific functions."

Some consumers felt the latest iPad failed to deliver the kinds of bells and whistles that preceding models featured. That is why some of them waited until the price of an older edition dropped before buying one through EmiratesAvenue, says Julien Pascual, the company's founder.

Apple also proved to be popular in the ever-expanding smartphone category.

Globally, the company's iPhone 5 sold more than 5 million units just three days after launching in September. Some analysts project that more than 45 million units could be sold this quarter.

"Since Apple releases products much faster than any other brand, this helps in driving sales," says Nadeem Khanzadah, the head of retail for Jumbo Electronics.

But Apple is not the only major player in this market. Samsung has made major inroads this year in the smartphone category, say retailers in the UAE. The manufacturer's Galaxy S III, which boasts voice-activated GPS service and eye-tracking ability to keep a screen backlit when looked at, sold well this year at Jumbo, Jacky's, JadoPado and EmiratesAvenue especially during shopping events such as Dubai Summer Surprises and Gitex Shopper.

Worldwide, more than 30 million Galaxy SIII mobiles have sold since its debut in May.

Samsung has also successfully started blurring the lines between the smartphone and tablet categories. Its so-called phablet, commonly known as the Galaxy Note 2, is able to make calls but features a jumbo 13.9-centimetre screen. More than 5 million units sold two months after the device first launched, and it is selling at a faster clip than its predecessor.

"I think the Note 2 has been another surprise," says Mr Kassim. "It truly is a phablet, but there seems to be a growing market for it, and the only player of significance within it is Samsung."

When it comes to the most popular gadgets, though, the unavailability of some models has hampered sales at local retailers.

Nikon and Canon duked it out for sales tied to their digital SLR cameras. Nikon struggled at the beginning of the year after it was hit with a severe shortage due to floods in Thailand, says Mr Panjabi, but the company ultimately recovered.

"The share of these brands has changed throughout the year based on supply situations but overall both have shown tremendous growth this year," he says.

For others, a shipment shortage was only part of a larger problem.

There was a lot of marketing mayhem surrounding Nokia's new Lumia range of smartphones, which boast Windows Phone 8 software from Microsoft. But stock availability at some online retailers has been an issue, including for JadoPado, says Mr Kassim.

Beyond that, the Lumia line of mobiles has failed to achieve the kind of early blockbuster sales that Apple and Samsung have enjoyed, says Mr Kassim.

"Unfortunately, it didn't really pick up at all."

Well, there is always next year.