IDC reported this week that during the fourth quarter the tablet market sector, which includes 2-in-1 devices in IDC’s world, experienced the first year-over-year decline since the firm began following it in 2010. Shipments for the quarter shrank by 3.2 percent: 78.6 million units shipped during the fourth quarter of 2013 and 76.1 million units during last year’s fourth quarter. Not all the news was bad, however: Shipments rose 4.4 percent to 229.6 million units for the year.
Lenovo was the only top five tablet vendor that experienced a year-over-year gain (9.1 percent) in the fourth quarter of 2014. Apple (-17.8 percent), Samsung (-18.4 percent), ASUS (-24.9 percent) and Amazon.com (-69.9 percent) rounded out the top five. Market share slices for the top five, which represent a bit over two-third of the market, changed significantly. Apple and Samsung remained the top two, but in 2014 Lenovo passed ASUS and both passed Amazon.com.
Though the jostling among the bottom three of the top five is interesting, it is not the most important question. What is vital is the cooling of the public’s desire for tablets.
Canalys released research on the worldwide computer market that pointed at the same trend. It said that tablet shipments fell 12 percent to 67 million during the fourth quarter of 2014. Apple and Samsung were down 18 percent and 24 percent, respectively.
Tablets are so high profile that it is surprising to think that the modern market is only a few years old. Though the slowdown in growth is newsworthy, it is not necessarily a sign of deep underlying problems. The real problem would be if vendors didn’t expect the market to slow as it matures. They no doubt understand this, though.
There are a number of likely reasons for the slowdown of tablet sales. Stuart Dredge at the Guardian notes that buyers are retaining their tablets longer, phablets have eaten into tablets’ market, competition for a laptop market that is not as dead as analysts thought it was, Samsung and Apple are struggling and innovation appears to have slowed. The list is circular in that a dearth of innovation may partially be causing the first, which is longer retention by customers.
Creative Strategies’ Ben Bajarin makes the point that the tablet world is not monolithic—in fact, there are many niches. To say that tablet growth has slowed is an oversimplification, in his view. Bajarin believes that the fast drop in prices in basic utilitarian tablets is leading people to share them. A family may buy a couple for the kids to use on trips, for instance. The generally assumed paradigm of one user to one machine no longer is in effect.
Although overall growth in the tablet sector is slowing, this slowing is a normal function of maturation and shouldn’t be considered a sign of trouble – unless, of course, other problematic issues emerge.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.