Chips with everything on the menu

A new year means new features and innovations from technology companies. Here is how some of the most popular kinds of gadgets in the UAE are expected to change.

Apple is one to watch when it releases its next tablet. Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg
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When it came to tech trends this year, it was all about tablets. But next year gadget fans in the Emirates will be eagerly eyeing the hybrid.

Technology Key players

Apple Known for: iPod MP3 players, iPad tablets and iPhone smartphones. Watch out for: Despite blockbuster sales, the iPad 2 failed to impress retailers with flashy new features. They expect "major innovation" next year, along with a release of a full-blown Apple television in around the third quarter

Nokia Known for: Smartphones such as the N9. Watch out for: New smartphones with software from Microsoft. This will enable customers to tape then play music on certain devices wirelessly, or even pay for products at certain stores. After struggling with sales in recent years, the mobile maker is starting to "turnaround," says Tom Farrell, the vice president of Nokia Middle East

Samsung Known for: Galaxy S smartphones, Galaxy Tab tablets and TVs. Watch out for: More releases of both the Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets that run Google's Android software. The company recently became the world's largest smartphone maker

Sources: The companies, Canaccord Genuity, IDC and Gartner

The next generation of tablets is expected to become even slimmer, with a greater spectrum of sizes.

There will also be an emerging category of "ultrabooks", taking tablet features and blending them with the traditional form of a laptop.

Behind the scenes, Intel is producing enough chips so that 40 per cent of its notebooks are eventually made up of these hybrid gadgets, although retailers will be watching closely next month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to see how positively customers buzz about these devices.

Other segments of the market will also experience major changes.

If rumours hold true about a new Apple TV, the television market could undergo a major transformation after having already introduced the capability of displaying 3-D images as well as content from the internet.

Smartphone sales, meanwhile, are expected to pick up as novel technologies become commonplace and make certain models more enticing. Near field communication, for one, now makes it possible to tap some mobiles against speakers to play music wirelessly, or touch payment pads to buy goods in grocery stores.

These kinds of innovations are expected to help boost the sales of consumer electronics in the UAE, from US$3.4 billion (Dh12.48bn) this year to about $4.3bn by 2015, according to market research from Business Monitor International.

Retailers are now busy forecasting what consumers might want as they try to keep key devices stocked in their stores.

"For products like smartphones and tablets, we've seen the product life cycle reduce quite drastically, whereby consumers are upgrading to the latest and the best every 12 to 18 months," says Ashish Panjabi, the chief operating officer for Jacky's Group of Companies, which runs a local electronics retailer.

"This sort of momentum is expected to continue in the new year."

First, let's look at the smartphone market.

Apple is slated next year to release the iPhone 5, which is rumoured to have a larger screen than past models and improved battery life. The company will face "strong competition" from rivals who have partnered up with Google to package its Android software on their models, says Julien Pascual, the chief executive of the online tech retailer

Apple may still be America's sweetheart, but South Korea is now king of this market.

Samsung, which has its headquarters in Seoul, recently overtook Apple to become the world's biggest smartphone manufacturer. Fresh updates to its Galaxy-branded mobiles are expected next year. There are also reports that Samsung will release a 3-D model that does not require dorky glasses to view images.

Competitors such as HTC and LG have this year already announced 3-D mobiles, which could also prove popular.

But the biggest threat could be Nokia, which has struggled in recent years but has partnered with Microsoft to feature its latest Windows Phone software on new mobiles. Nokia has also embraced near field communication, which lets consumers tap-to-play music and touch-to-pay in stores, and will be included on more forthcoming models.

"Nokia is clear that they will introduce a more complete suite of services for the Middle East when they launch their Windows Phone devices, which means we'll have Arabic-language support, a local app store [and] localised content," Mr Panjabi says.

"If Nokia doesn't deliver in 2012, then I don't think consumers will be patient to sit and wait for them to perform in 2013 as it may be too late by then."

Apart from smartphones, computers will go through a radical makeover. But first things first. With the recent rise of the tablet as a dominant force in this sector, is 2012 the year the pint-sized netbook will die?

"No, I don't think so," says Samir Al Schamma, the general manager for Intel in the Middle East and North Africa. But sales have levelled off and are now shrinking as "the tablet factor" gobbles up market share. Retailers here are expecting a lot from the next generation of tablets, which will probably feature thinner designs, software improvements and perhaps even flexible displays.

Major manufacturers such as Samsung and Sony have displayed bendable tablets or electronic readers in the past, although they have stopped short from manufacturing them en masse.

While Lenovo, the world's second-biggest computer manufacturer, plans to roll out more models within its family of tablets, it is unclear what Research In Motion (RIM) might do.

RIM is known for its BlackBerry smartphones, but the company has famously flopped in the tablet category with its low-selling PlayBook.

Once again, the biggest players to watch for are Apple and Samsung.

Some retailers predict the price of Apple's iPad 2 to drop ahead of the iPad 3's release. "The iPad 2 wasn't really a major innovation over the original iPad so we may see Apple's first real leap in 2012 in tablets," Mr Panjabi says.

Samsung's approach at providing multiple sizes of its Galaxy Tab tablet helped to boost sales, and other competitors are expected to follow suit next year.

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