UAE residents prefer lesser known brands for tablet computers

Many consumer electronics shoppers in the region are buying up gadgets by lesser-known brands. Here is what's driving their preference for the underdogs.

Price is not the only factor prompting shoppers to pick up gadgets from lesser-known competitors.
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The new kid on the tablet block is the Acer Iconia Tab. If you have never heard of it, that is no surprise. It is the preferred choice for only 5 per cent of UAE residents, but many individuals in the region are turning to lesser-known companies for their latest gadgets. Neil Parmar writes
A Like many gadget fans, Narain Jashanmal picked up a shiny new iPad on the first day of its release.
But now, he prefers another breed of tablet to email and surf the Web: the Acer Iconia Tab.
Never heard of it? Only 5 per cent of UAE residents say they most often use this kind of tablet, according to a new poll released by Netlog, an online social portal under the Massive Media group of companies.
Yet Mr Jashanmal, the general manager for overseas career services, books and newspapers at Jashanmal Group in Dubai, says the Acer Iconia Tab has been both entertaining and engaging.
He has also been able to hook up a handy number of accessories to it such as a wireless keyboard and an external computer monitor.
Although tablets are "new, shiny and exciting", says Mr Jashanmal, "it's very early days". But he believes the next 12 months will see major developments inside the sector.
"I think that when a few other developments and ideas come together next year things are going to get a lot more interesting. While I do own and use Apple products, I actively try to explore and use alternative 'underdog' products."
Plenty of shoppers prefer sticking to the biggest brands in the consumer electronics industry, whether it is Apple's tablet, a BlackBerry smartphone, the music-playing iPod or a Dell Inspiron computer.
Yet many individuals in the region are also turning to companies with much less market share for a variety of reasons. Mr Jashanmal, for one, has a growing collection of smartphones where some of his most regularly used models have included the Atrix by Motorola as well as the Mozart by HTC.
Other users, more than 5 million globally, in fact, have opted for the Galaxy S II from Samsung. One of the drivers for the rapid sales of this device has been the growing popularity of Google's Android operating system, which appears on Samsung's mobile.
Some people in the Middle East and North Africa have bought less popular options because they often cost less and can help to save money within an in-demand category of gadgets.
"Price is an issue," says Magnus Nystedt, the group editor of the PCWorld, Macworld and GameWorld magazines in the Middle East. "Better-known brands are typically, though not always, more expensive."
In the price war between Apple's and Acer's tablets, the latest iPad loses out with its Dh2,149 (US$585) to Dh3,599 price tags versus Dh2,199 to Dh2,599 for the Iconia Tab W500 and A500.
In Egypt, where the economy has been hit hard this year, just 19 per cent of residents polled said they most use the iPad.
This was relatively close to the 12 per cent who said they prefer the more affordable tablets from Acer, according to polling data from Netlog.
Price is not the only factor prompting shoppers to pick up gadgets from lesser-known competitors.
Some people do not like having all of their devices primarily tied to one company's system for their entertainment needs.
With Apple's smartphones, tablets and MP3 players, for instance, the company pushes consumers to use its iTunes operation as a hub for downloading apps, music, videogames, movies and other digital content.
"Whenever you want to use an iPhone or iPad you're tied into Apple's ecosystem," says Mr Nystedt.
"Lesser-known brands tend to be more open. Take an MP3 player. It's usually totally open in terms of the format it supports. You can do whatever with it."
When it comes to the competitive market of computers, just four make up more than half of the world's total shipments of desk-based and notebook PCs: HP, Dell, Lenovo and Acer.
The underdogs include Asus and Toshiba, each of which commands just 5 per cent of the market but which together have managed to ship more than 8.8 million models during the second quarter of the year, according to data released last month from the market research company Gartner.
In this corner of the consumer electronics market, according to data showing computer shipments, Apple is also an underdog.
Mr Jashanmal has owned a computer since he was a child, with the first one having been a desktop model from Apple. Yet he says he is certainly not tied down to that brand or any other.
"I don't feel a need to buy into one company's paradigm," says Mr Jashanmal. "I'd rather have a level of flexibility and affordability and choice in where I store my media and what the form factor is."