IDC: Voice calling on tablets a growing trend in emerging markets

According to new data from research firm IDC, users in Asian emerging markets are increasingly turning to tablets to make voice calls. The firm said that close to 50 percent of all tablets (touchscreen gadgets with screens bigger than 7 inches) in some markets are shipping with voice-calling capabilities.

"This shift highlights the sustained interest among consumers, at least in emerging markets, to have a single mobile device for all their needs--be it watching movies and soap operas, taking pictures, texting or making calls, even if the device has a huge 7-inch screen on it," said IDC's Avinash K. Sundaram in announcing the firm's findings. "It also helps that these devices are quite affordable, playing in the entry-to-mainstream price bands in most markets."

IDC said that smartphones with large screens (often dubbed phablets) continue to grow in popularity in Asia. But sales of voice-capable tablets are growing at a surprising clip: The firm said that sales of tablets with screens 7 inches or bigger that offer calling functions broke the 25 percent mark in the overall Asia/Pacific region (excluding Japan).

The firm said a total 13.8 million tablets were shipped in this Asia/Pacific region, and around 3.5 million included built-in calling services. "This translates to more than 60 percent growth on a year-on-year basis in unit terms for this category of tablets, which also incidentally happen to be 100 percent Android-based," the firm said.

Such findings are notable to companies that are targeting international markets, including Samsung and Apple. Samsung has long offered a wide range of tablet options, but Apple to date has not supported voice-calling functions on its range of iPads. However, Apple is widely expected to hold a media event Sept. 9, where it is expected to release two new iPhones with bigger screens as well as new iPads. No rumors have yet indicated that Apple may add voice calling to its iPads, but the company has been keen to increase sales of iPhones and iPads in emerging markets, especially China.

As for the United States, sales of cellular-capable tablets continue to grow at a steady pace--and tablet activations have grown into a big part of wireless operators' quarterly net adds. For example, of the 1.42 million retail net customers Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) added during second quarter of 2014, fully 1.15 million were postpaid tablet subscribers. However, those tablets generally do not support voice-calling services, only data connections.

In the United States, carriers continue to sell cellular-capable tablets as a companion to smartphones, but IDC's numbers could point to potential demand for tablets with voice-calling capabilities.

For more:
- see this IDC release

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