London - Not since Moses delivered slabs of stone inscribed with things thou shalt not do has there been such a zealous interest in tablets.
The latter-day devices are already selling faster than any other in technology history, driven by demand for Apple's shiny and pricey iPads. But as two of the UK’s biggest high-street names launch budget rivals, analysts have asked if their primary interest might not be the democratisation of the market - but data collection.
Tesco triggered a new tablet war late last month with the launch of its Hudl device, which sold out in two days as 35 000 people snapped it up in exchange for £119 (about R1 400), or just £60 worth of Clubcard vouchers.
Since then, the 7in device, which runs the latest version of the Android operating system, has defied expectations for a brand not associated with high technology by winning positive reviews.
Then Argos hit back with its MyTablet, which cost just £99.99 and, like the Hudl, comes preloaded with a store app. Independent analysts say the retailers' move into a new market is a significant development in data-driven business and will enable the chains to add significantly to their giant data pools with the behaviour and insights of millions of customers.
Matt Atkinson, the chief marketing officer at Tesco, which already has more than 16 million regular loyalty-card holders, says the Hudl was designed to make technology more accessible, in particular to first-time tablet users who are naturally less tech-savvy.
The firm's e-marketing promotion says the tablet “comes with easy access to the Tesco world” thanks to pre-installed apps for Tesco banking as well as Blinkbox, the supermarket's multimedia streaming service.
Matthew Rubin, a retail analyst at Verdict, says: “What the Hudl really gives Tesco is not just what people are buying but how they are buying it. It has the potential to give them locational data and the time spent browsing.
“The Tesco apps are intertwined with the device and it may give them more information than just your credit card details. The long-term potential is great - it's following the footsteps of Amazon who have been so successful on the back of customer data and insights.”
Steve Parker, MediaVest's managing director, says that Tesco's multi-channel strategy also promised to offer brands more data about customers and new opportunities to develop commercial partnerships.
“Having enjoyed success with Clubcard, the tablet allows Tesco to take another step towards a more seamless relationship with its customers to deliver information, value and experience,” he told Media Week.
Some analysts believe that the Clubcard database is potentially more valuable than the caches of information gathered by Google and Facebook.
Sir Terry Leahy, the former Tesco chief executive who built the company into one of the world's largest retailers, attributed the company's success to “the ability to focus its effort around the consumer based on the use of data”. In a speech to business leaders last week he said: “Around the world Clubcard is more famous than Tesco… but not enough companies are showing a mastery of data.”
Predicting customers' behaviour and when they are likely to alter their buying habits is big business in itself. Tesco's customer-science company, dunnhumby, which helped to launch Clubcard, has now launched “personalisation programme products” to target Tesco customers by email.
- The Independent