FRAMINGHAM, MA – The worldwide tablet market recorded lower shipments for the fourth straight quarter, with 48.7 million units shipped in the third quarter, down 12.6% year-over-year, according to International Data Corp.
At the close of 2014, IDC estimated the installed base of tablets to be 581.9 million globally, which was up 36% from 2013 but slowing quickly. With mature markets like North America, Western Europe, and Asia/Pacific well past 100 million active tablets per region, the opportunities for growth are getting fewer, the firm says.
"We continue to get feedback that tablet users are holding onto devices upwards of four years," said Ryan Reith, program director with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. "We believe the traditional slate tablet has a place in the personal computing world. However, as the smartphone installed base continues to grow and the devices get bigger and more capable, the need for smaller form factor slate tablets becomes less clear. With shipment volumes slowing over four consecutive quarters, the market appears to be in transition."
In response to these challenges, the industry is seeing growing interest from vendors in new form factors, with detachable tablets becoming a clear focus for many. While detachable tablets have held a single digit percentage of the overall tablet market, IDC expects this share to increase dramatically over the next 18 months. However, the shift toward detachables presents some new challenges. In particular, the mix of traditional PC OEMs evolving their portfolios to include detachables will face pressure from the traditional smartphone OEMs, many of which have become accustomed to delivering extremely low-cost products.
"The first generation of detachable tablets failed to gain much traction, as they represented a series of compromises in terms of both operating system and hardware that few consumers or businesses were willing to accept," said Tom Mainelli, program vice president, Devices & Displays at IDC. "The devices shipping now represent a clear evolution of both OS and hardware, and it's our expectation that both home and pro users will begin to embrace the form factor in larger numbers going forward."
Apple still holds the top position in the worldwide tablet market, although the days of deifying the iPad as the ultimate tablet may have come to an end, says IDC. Increasing competition from PC vendors with detachable tablets has contributed to a decline in iPad shipments. However, the impending launch of the iPad Pro may serve as a silver lining as the market shifts toward productivity-enabling devices.
Samsung's everlasting marketing push has once again helped close the gap between itself and top rival Apple. Though the Galaxy-maker is one of the few remaining premium Android tablet vendors, the bulk of their shipments have focused on the low end. The market's shift toward detachables has also piqued Samsung's interest, as the vendor continues to launch new devices like the Tab S2 with an optional keyboard to cater to this growing segment.
Lenovo finally felt the sting of a slowing market after numerous quarters of positive growth. In this down market, Lenovo's flat growth should be viewed as a positive sign the vendor is committed to being a market leader and has the means to achieve that goal.
Asus’ reputation for low-cost detachable devices helped drive volume over the past year. However, this quarter the vendor has struggled to maintain momentum in the detachable market as its refresh of the Transformer lineup earlier this year hasn't been as successful and, more important, other vendors have been able to offer similar devices at comparable price points. Asus has still been able to capture a spot in the top 5 largely due to its low-cost Android tablet portfolio.
Huawei has been successful in finding its niche: cellular-enabled tablets. With more than two-thirds of its tablets mobile connected, the vendor has been able to appeal to the growing trend of tablets used for voice calling and tablets used in markets with low broadband penetration.