Windows Phone outselling iOS, ultrabooks on the rise: Estonia does hardware differently

While Estonia reflects some of the mobile and PC hardware trends we take as read, in others areas - Apple's popularity, for example — the country does things its own way.
Written by Kalev Aasmae, Contributor

The trend of tablets gaining market share at the expense of desktops and laptops hasn't left Estonia untouched — the country's biggest retailers are forecasting that next year there'll be more slates sold than desktops and laptops combined.

Similarly, Estonia's smartphone market is set to blossom. According to the largest mobile operator EMT, more than 70 percent of mobile devices now sold by the company are smartphones.

Klick, one of the biggest electronics retailers in the Estonia, estimated in May that tablets already hold about 35 percent of personal computing device sales, while telecommunications company Elion put it at 40 percent.

Estonia's other well-known retail chains, Euronics and ONOFF, agree the volume of tablet sales in Estonia is only just below those of laptops and desktops combined. According to the two chains, tablet sales will outstrip those of laptops and desktops sometime in the next year.

Klick, meanwhile, has already seen such a situation come to pass once in recent times: the retailer said it sold more tablets than laptops and desktops over the last Christmas shopping season — a trend it hopes to repeat during this year's holiday period.

Elion — which, along with EMT, is owned by Swedish telecommunications company TeliaSonera — is the most optimistic of the retailers, and hopes to sell more tablets than laptops and desktops before then, when the back-to-school season starts in September.

"The chances are, by the start of the school year, that the situation will have changed — there are a lot of people already today pondering whether it's reasonable to buy a new and cheap laptop, or keep their old laptop for activities that are more suited to it, like typing, and buy a tablet as well for reading news and email," said Elion's IT business manager, Aivar Ots.

Android trumps iOS

Unlike most of the rest of the world, Android is by far the most popular tablet operating system among Estonian consumers — almost all of the biggest retailers estimate it has between 75 and 90 percent of the local tablet OS market.

The only big retailer to sell more iPads than Android tablets is Euronics, but the company acknowledges that the market for Android tablets is still growing.

The popularity of Google's OS can at least partially be linked to the lower price of the tablets running it, compared to the cost of iOS and Windows slates. Although it's quite hard to paint a picture of pricing among the most popular models, their average cost in ONOFF and another retail chain Photopoint is up to €250, in Klick and Elion it's somewhere between €300 and €400.

Mobile operator EMT announced last month that the most popular tablets it sells come with 4G LTE support, and more than 90 percent of the tablets it ships now have 3G or 4G connectivity built in.

The company hasn't disclosed sales figures for the devices, but it has broken out the most popular devices in its tablet range: Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 and Galaxy Note 10.1 were the most popular devices sold by EMT, the 16GB version of the latest iPad took third place, while the Asus Nexus 7 and PadFone 2 made fourth and fifth place respectively.

Windows 8 for tablets and hybrid devices hasn't still gained popularity in Estonia, however — a fact retailers are putting down to the high prices and the narrow range of devices that run the OS.

As in the global market, desktop PC sales have been decreasing in Estonia too, but they still do have a certain stable user base – gamers, people who need a powerful  computer for stationary work, and business clients needing workstations. According to the retailers, desktop PCs make about 10 percent of the retail personal computing market.

The rise of ultrabooks

The laptop market in Estonia has really felt the impact of the growing sales of ultrabooks, and Elion estimates ultrabooks' share of the laptop market to be in the region of 25 percent.

"Consumers have really started to understand [ultrabooks'] advantages over the older generation laptops, such as speed, compactness, longer battery life, and weight," said Taavi Raidma, the head of product development at Klick.

Although the mobile phone market as a whole in Estonia has been decreasing of late, the smartphone segment in the country is on the rise. The tipping point came somewhere last summer, when two of the biggest mobile operators in Estonia, EMT and Elisa, announced they were now selling more smartphones than regular mobile and feature phones.

According to the research company GfK Retail and Technology, there were 86,000 new mobile phones sold in Estonia in the first quarter of 2013 — 57 percent of which were smartphones.

Although taken as whole, that means 15,500 fewer devices were sold than last year, the operators claim not to be worried and put the sales dropoff  down to the dwindling popularity of regular and feature phones, and the durability of the new wave of smartphones. Doubtless, the tendency for operators to increase the length of customers' mobile contracts also has a part to play in it.

"Eighteen-month contracts, which were quite widespread in Estonia just a few years ago, have been been replaced by 24-month contracts. We sell more than 78 percent of the devices with post-paid deals and our clients prefer the two-year contracts," said Mailiis Ploomann, product manager for mobile operator Elisa.

Windows Phone in second place

The most popular smartphone platform among smartphones bought from EMT is Android: the OS has a big lead over its neck-and-neck competitors, iOS and Windows Phone. For devices sold through EMT, Windows Phone accounts for around 10 percent of sales — pipping Apple, with nine percent, to second place.

Retailers see the smartphone market continuing to grow over the coming quarters and the signs so far have been promising: EMT announced just a few weeks ago that more than 70 percent of the mobile phones it is selling are smartphones, while Tele2 is sure that with the new models hitting the local market this quarter, its smartphone sales will grow as well.

"Mobile phone sales decreased not only in Estonia, but in the whole Baltic and Scandinavian market. As a lot of companies are coming to the market with their new flagship models, I'm quite positive that the situation will change," said Risto Taliaru, the head of Tele2 Estonia product unit.

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