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White-box tablets gaining share as iPad alternatives

Price-sensitive buyers opting more for iPad knockoffs

Shipments of inexpensive tablets from little-known vendors are growing as customers avoid the price of premium tablets such as Apple's iPad, DisplaySearch said in research released on Tuesday.

Shipments of white-box tablets are growing in emerging markets where customers are price sensitive, DisplaySearch said. China is the biggest market for white-box tablet PCs, while shipments in the first quarter also went up in other markets such as Latin America and Eastern Europe.

"Despite some quality issues of these white-box tablets, they remain appealing to value conscious buyers, such as students, who are shopping based on price," said Richard Shim, a senior analyst for DisplaySearch, in a statement.

The white-box tablets, which in some cases are knock-offs of top-name brands like the iPad, could have inferior hardware such as lower-quality screens, DisplaySearch said. White-box tablet makers may use panels that are rejected by major brands, DisplaySearch said.

Many white-box tablets are sold in retail stores or through individual retail sites at prices that range from US$75 to $300. Some tablets have unrecognizable brand names, come with no support and cannot be returned.

White-box tablet configurations pale compared to a new range of more expensive branded tablets, which come with multitouch screens, dual-core processors and the latest OSes. Some white-box tablets have single-core processors running under 1GHz and older Android versions, but offer Wi-Fi, USB ports, 3G slots and cameras that could make the devices useful. For example, a $126 Epad with a 10-inch screen on Chinese wholesale site Sourcinggate has a 1GHz ARM processor, Android 2.1, 2GB of storage, Wi-Fi capabilities and USB and HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) ports.

Some buyers such as Lorrie Jollimore have bought white-box tablets to experiment with the form factor. Jollimore bought a 7-inch tablet from China at about 15 percent of the cost of a new iPad 2. She's not sure about the device's quality and is waiting for the tablet to arrive.

"I couldn't picture why I'd even need a tablet for the past year. I have my Mac laptop at home and my iPhone and didn't think I was ever without a device that seemed activity appropriate," Jollimore wrote in a blog entry.

Worldwide shipments of white-box tablets were 1.9 million in the first quarter this year, up from 567,000 units in the fourth quarter last year. White-box vendors in China accounted for 44 percent of those shipments. Overall shipments in the tablet category were down 5.2 percent sequentially to 9.7 million units.

Apple was the top tablet vendor during the quarter, with 54 percent market share, followed by other vendors including white-box tablets makers, which took 20 percent of the market.


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