Living in a bubble

28 May, 2013
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I was fortunate enough to visit the Hong Kong Electronics Fair in April. The exhibition is held in a massive expo space in an area called Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island. The fair is billed as ‘Asia’s Largest Spring Electronics Fair’. I’ve been to my share of expos in the past and this one was the biggest I’ve ever seen.

Product categories on show included audio/visual, accessories, gaming, parts and components, healthcare electronics, home appliances, in-vehicle electronics and navigation systems and personal electronics. There was something for everyone.

But what struck me was the sheer number of tablets that were being sold. Nearly every booth I wandered past in the main expo halls had tablets for sale.

The tablets ranged in size from 5in all the way up to 10in and all of them ran a variety of Android. Most of the tablets looked like you’d expect a tablet to look. Some were complete copies of the iPad and the iPad mini, but with some interesting twists.

For instance, I found a vendor who was selling tablets with built-in digital TV tuners. You reached down the side of the tablet, where you might expect to find a stylus, but instead found an antenna. Extend the antenna and boom… your tablet is now an instant digital TV.

I enquired as to the cost of the tablet. With a dual-core processor and 7in display, the tablet was available to buy in bulk orders of 1000+ for US$88 each. The 10in model was only a little bit dearer at US$110.

Tablets are now a commodity. Traders from around the world tour the show floor trying to find the tablet that best suits their business model. These cheap tablets aren’t the models you read about in magazines like Macworld Australia, but are the products you might find in an Aldi supermarket, available at a special price of $99 to lure in shoppers.

For consumers, a $99 tablet isn’t a big risk – and is substantially cheaper than an iPad mini. After visiting the expo, it’s clear that these tablets will continue to place price pressure on all other tablets, including the iPad.

Ironically, everyone at the expo who wasn’t selling cheap Android tablets was either selling portable Bluetooth speakers or iOS device cases. You’ve never seen so many of these products under one roof.

One notable absence from the show floor: anything that ran Windows. I reckon there’s trouble brewing for Microsoft. Windows tablets aren’t selling and I only saw three people using a Windows phone.

I travelled to and from the expo via the subway, an amazing array of stations and tunnels that connect different parts of Hong Kong. In Australia when you get on a train, tram or bus more people are likely to have an iPhone. Android is growing here, but when I take a straw poll on the train I still see more iPhones than anything else.

Not so in Hong Kong, where it’s clear that Samsung devices have as much, if not more, presence than Apple devices. Typically these smartphones were either a Galaxy S2, Galaxy S3 or even more common was the Galaxy Note 2 – that has a massive 5.5in screen.

On paper, 5.5in seems too big, but in practice it’s a nice size that combines the portability of a phone with the greater space of a tablet. It might be the sweet spot for a phone and I think you’ll see Apple make something that big soon.


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