Worldwide Tablet Market Faces First Decline

by Jeff Wiener on February 3, 2015

Since the inception of the modern tablet in 2010 the market has experienced nothing but growth and success, with analysts predicting for years that this particular gadget would revolutionize our computing habits and usher in the demise of the laptop. While admittedly market research during the last several years did seem to confirm analyst’s expectations that the tablet would become the default computing form factor, 2015 has, for the first time, produced quarterly results that have some thinking that tablets may in fact be nothing more than a passing fad.

While certainly not doom and gloom, as IDC reported earlier this week, total global shipments of tablets and hybrid 2-in-1 devices during the fourth quarter of 2014 reached 76.1 million units, a decline of 3.2 percent over the same quarter in 2013. Again, while not a landslide decrease by any stretch, this news is somewhat shocking in that this is the first time since the iPad sparked the tablet craze that the market has declined.

In fact, with tablet shipments down significantly for 4 out of 5 of the major tablet vendors, and the fact that the only company to see gains wasn’t Apple or Samsung and certainly not Amazon, but Lenovo, and I can’t help but wonder if Blackberry’s former CEO Thorsten Heins wasn’t right several years ago when he predicted that there soon won’t be a need to have a tablet anymore.

As the IDC report explains, the decline in the tablet market were felt almost across the board. While the iPad remained the market leader during Q4 2014, its 21.4 million units shipped was down 17.8 percent compared to the year previous. Samsung, second place in the worldwide tablet market, saw its own shipments drop 18.4 percent, to 11 million units, while Amazon suffered the worst decline over the year, with its Kindle Fire precipitously tumbling 70 percent to only 1.7 million units shipped. ASUS, the fifth place finisher, also saw its shipments decline by 25 percent.

The problem with the tablet is that it stands as a consumer oriented piece of technology, much like the smartphone, but because of prohibitively high pricing, the lack of subsidies, and its longevity, the tablet market simply doesn’t experience the same high turnover and repurchasing rate that the smartphone market enjoys. Additionally, studies indicate that tablet owners who actually do purchase a new tablet often give their old one to someone else, further reducing tablet sales.

I would wager a guess, however, that there’s one more point that IDC’s research has yet to fully gauge in relation to its decline, and that’s a tablet’s overall lack of productivity and functionality, particularly for enterprise. Sure tablets are handy mobile computing platforms, but the reality is that aside from offering some basic information gathering tools, tablets really can’t deliver the same suite of productivity options that laptops can, and given that laptops are now lighter, faster, and cheaper than ever, it does seem that perhaps the tablet’s time in the sun has come to an end.

In fact as I look at current technology trends I would wager a guess that the enterprise market will likely settle on two primary pieces of mobile and computing technology for its employees in the near future: the larger, phablet-style smartphone, which has seen a huge surge in popularity this year, and a return to the laptop, now lighter and more powerful than ever, offering users the perfect mix of mobility, functionality, and productivity. Of course forthcoming productivity-oriented tablets may have something to say about that, but we’ll have to wait and see.

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