Apple's iPad has real Xmas rival in Samsung's Galaxy tablet

Last Christmas anybody asked if they wanted a "tablet" probably thought they were being offered a pill to ease indigestion caused by a little bit of festive over-indulgence.

But this year, millions of people around the world will be glued to their iPad or other tablet computer instead of watching yet another re-run of a movie on TV.

Samsung Electronics says it has sold over 700,000 of its Galaxy Tab device in the six weeks since its launch and believes at least a million will be in people's hands by the end of the year.

But that's still miles behind the iPad, which only went on sale in South Korea - Samsung's home turf - for the first time on Tuesday.

Apple has sold more than eight million of the gadgets since it went on sale in April but could have sold more, experts say, were it not for problems making enough to meet demand.

Sony, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM), Toshiba, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Dell, Asus, Acer - most of the big global brand names in the technology sector have a tablet computer on the market or in the pipeline.

Technology research firm Gartner last month said sales of tablet computers are expected to soar from nearly 20 million units this year to 55 million next year and over 208 million in 2014.

The Galaxy Tab has a seven-inch (18-centimetre) touch screen - significantly smaller than the iPad's nearly 10-inch display. But Samsung says it will introduce "new tablets of different sizes in the near future".

Apple's first generation iPad does not have a camera, does not function as a phone and the company does not allow the Flash video standard on the gadget.

These are all big advantages for Samsung, the company says.

"The Tab sets itself apart from other similar smart media devices by featuring optimal portability, Flash support, dual cameras and phone-call functions," Samsung Electronics spokesman Nam Ki-yung told AFP

"Owning a Tab is like having your personal library, entertainment system, office workstation and e-learning resources rolled into one device - that snugly fits into your pocket."

While Apple has its own App store where iPad owners can buy software and games to run on its array of gadgets, Samsung and most other tablets run on Google's Android, with apps available from the Android Market store.

Sales in tablet computers should see exponential growth in the next 12 months, analysts say.

"Tablets are basically new creatures," Young Park, a tech analyst for South Korea's Woori Investment and Securities, told AFP.

"So this is a brand new market which is set to grow substantially. It will be interesting to watch how the market evolves over the next year or so.

"As more and more tablet devices come onto the market, that will inevitably eat into Apple's lead."

Sales of tablet computers, Hong Kong-based Young believes, will remain steady during the run up to Christmas but will not increase significantly.

"A tablet computer such as Apple's iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab is hard to give as a Christmas gift," Young said.

"The main problem is most of them require a subscription with a network and you have to sign a 12 or even 24 month contract. That makes it difficult to give as a surprise. Plus, they're not cheap."

The cheapest iPad costs 499 dollars in the US while the top model is priced at 829 dollars. Samsung's Galaxy Tab costs around 600 dollars, when bought without a subscription to a network.

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