iPad mini, iPhone 5, hit the shelves

It is debatable which will turn out to be the bigger product launch in South Africa: the iPad mini or the iPhone 5. Both officially hit the shelves on Friday, December 14, although the mini began to make its appearance earlier in the week.

Either device would have been big news in its own right, but arriving together makes for a major assault by Apple on the South African device market.

The iPhone remains a relatively small player in the overall South African smartphone market – it had around 5% market share before the arrival of the iPhone 5 – but it is one of the phones of choice at the top end of the market.

While the Samsung Galaxy S3 has dominated high-end sales this year, it also competes with the likes of the Nokia Lumia 920, HTC One X, BlackBerry Torch 9810, Huawei Ascend P1 and Sony Xperia T1. This is the challenging landscape into which the iPhone 5 is being launched, and even picking up another 3% smartphone market share would be an achievement.

The picture is very different for the iPad mini. It enters a tablet space dominated by Apple. While Apple's share of the total base of tablets in use in South Africa is "only" around 50%, it is well ahead of the next biggest player, Samsung, which has around a third of the market (see South Africa headed for one million tablets). In an even more distant third place, Huawei continues to surprise, holding onto about 8% share. The rest of the market together makes up the remaining 10% or so.

The key to Apple's tablet dominance in South Africa is not only the power of the brand, and its huge early advantage in being the first major tablet manufacturer. It lies in the fact that its highly desirable products also reach South Africa at a highly desirable price.

The iPad mini is a case in point. It starts at R3 399 for a 7.9" device that offers the entire range of apps available for the 10" iPad. Its performance is on a par with any other name brand 7" device on the shelves, but oh, that price. The equivalents from the main competitors, the Samsung Galaxy Tab2 P3100 7" and the Huawei Mediapad 7", both cost around R1 000 more.

The Google Nexus 7", initially available from Kalahari.com at R3 500 and now cut to R3 000 in answer to the iPad mini pricing, is the only true competitor on price. Ironically, however, it does not have the awareness of the others. Kalahari almost seemed to want to avoid too much attention. The arrival of the Nexus, one of the biggest rivals to Apple in the USA, was unheralded in South Africa.

Of course, the iPad mini is not the only Apple tablet to arrive in South Africa in the past week. Last weekend it was the turn of the iPad 4, or as Apple prefers to name it, the "iPad with Retina Display (4th generation)". Starting at R5199, it is R200 higher than the launch price of the previous editions, but that is a factor of the deteriorating exchange rate rather than rising prices at source.

The equivalent Samsung devices, the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1" and the Galaxy Note 10.1", start at around R6 500. The latter has appeal beyond standard tablet features, with input options that include an innovative pressure-sensitive stylus, so a direct price comparison does not tell the full story.

The choice between the 10" devices comes down to personal preference, and many will find the Android environment as well as the input and output options – did someone say SD slot? – offered by Samsung less restrictive than Apple's closed garden approach.

This is all ahead of the arrival of Windows 8 tablets in South Africa, of course. Can they win market share from Apple and Android? The experience of a Windows 8 tablet – I've tried Acer, Samsung and Lenovo devices – is possibly superior to that of any other tablet. But, as the iPad mini is likely to show the market once again, to beat an iPad, you also have to beat it on price. – Gadget

Follow Arthur Goldstuck on Twitter on @art2gee

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