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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Local Laptops Enjoy Growing Popularity

MTSmart marketing has boosted the popularity of Russian-produced RoverBook laptops, shown here in a Bely Veter store in Moscow.
Ivan Zassoursky, deputy general director of the Rambler Internet Holding, likens Russia's laptop market to the Japanese automobile phenomenon.

For years, Japanese car manufacturers dominated the market by producing quality products for cost-wise consumers. So, too, in Russia, local laptop producer Bely Veter battles imports by churning out 18 competitively priced RoverBook models -- and specifically boosting its sales with a "people's notebook," which it debuted last summer.

Populist in name and in price, the RoverBook Partner KT5/KT6 is helping make laptop sales one of the fastest-growing sectors of the hardware industry. With comparable models from international rivals starting at about $1,300, the Partner KT5/KT6's $1,000 price tag has boosted Bely Veter's market share.

This local success story is something of a rarity in this niche of the information technology industry, traditionally dominated by international powerhouses IBM, Compaq, Toshiba, Sony and Fujitsu. IDC Russia research director Robert Farish, an independent industry researcher, said that worldwide, the dominant vendors continue to be the big U.S. companies, and few indigenous products survive to compete.

After 11 years in business, Bely Veter is considered an old company around town and has invested considerably in marketing its name and establishing its reputation. It held its ground during the 1998 ruble devaluation and even expanded its market share.

Andrei Andreyev, senior manager of Bely Veter's marketing department, said when competitors rushed to slash prices, RoverBooks had already captured the low-cost market with a time-tested product.

RoverBooks accounted for less than one-third of total laptop sales before 1998 but are now approaching 50 percent by Bely Veter's estimates. IDC's Farish puts Bely Veter's market share at around 20 percent and the market share of other local laptop producers at 2 percent.

Farish said the IT business reached a landmark in 2001, when it returned to its pre-August 1998 size. And a March 30 U.S. Commercial Services report, "Trends in the Russian IT Market," heralds 2001 as a boom year for laptop sales and predicts further growth in 2002 and 2003. Although the Russian IT market overall is still relatively small at about $3 billion, it expanded by 18 percent in 2001 and is expected to reach $3.9 billion in 2002. The same report predicts 20 percent expansion in 2003, largely from the growth of the hardware market.

Andreyev said laptop or notebook sales occupy five percent of the total IT market, and the portable computer market is expanding by 35 percent a year.

RoverBook sales this year are expected to exceed 60,000 notebooks, and next year's are predicted to be between 90,000 and 110,000. These optimistic figures are based on Bely Veter's perception of a new breed of computing customers in the Russian marketplace. Andreyev's market research shows that first-time buyers are now are choosing between desktop PCs and laptops or notebooks -- and every month their numbers are growing.

Andreyev credits RoverBooks' success to three factors: The Russian brand is more flexible, more prepared for the Russian market, and offers more local servicing. The wide range of models allows potential customers more choice; the low price of models like the people's notebook makes notebooks affordable for a price-conscious consumer base. The Russian maker works directly with Intel and Microsoft to ensure that RoverBook will be the first on the market with the newest mobile technologies.

However, to call RoverBooks a totally Russian product is misleading. The computers are assembled in Russia from imported parts.

Bely Veter, which maintains an office in Taipei, imports the notebook platform -- that is, a notebook without central processor, hard disk, memory and in several cases without a screen -- from a plant in Taiwan. All the parts are imported and assembled at a factory in Moscow called the Micromachine plant.

"I would say that Bely Veter is more of a Russian marketing success story than a manufacturing success story," Farish said.

Apart from Bely Veter, other Russian companies producing laptops include Nexus, TS Computers and R-Styles.

Irina Lakayeva, a commercial specialist at U.S. Commercial Services, said other Russian notebook contenders are poised to challenge Bely Veter. "It will be a few years before other Russian companies start to exert a presence in the market," she said. "But other companies are in the beginning stages of production."

Bely Veter's RoverBooks might be a Russian success story, but in the end, have they reached the people?

At the Bely Veter store near Lubyanskaya Ploshchad, the answer seems to be yes. There, two businessmen already toting notebooks browse the new offerings. A university student asks for help with a first purchase. A teenager points and clicks. The store administrator scoffs when asked if normal people can afford notebooks. The answer: "Of course."

Whether laptop use has really trickled beyond the elite and outside of centers like Moscow, St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk seems less likely.

"Unfortunately, the number of portable computers purchased for use at home is still very small," Farish said. "Businesses still account for the majority of sales."