Tablet market continues to decline

The global tablet market shrank by 15% in Q1 2016, according to the latest data from analyst firms IDC and Strategy Analytics.

Just as with smartphones IDC and SA tend to publish their numbers at the same time, usually around the time Apple announces its sales, and there is considerable disagreement between the two companies over unpublished shipment data. As we default to SA on smartphones it seems only fair to focus on IDC for tablets.

The total number of tablets shipped globally, according to IDC, was 39.6 million in Q1 2016, down from 46.4 million a year ago. A big reason for this was a 19% decline by the market leader Apple alongside a 28% decline from second-placed Samsung. Apple CEO Tim Cook described how much longer the replacement cycle is for iPads than iPhones during his recent quarterly analyst call and it seems like most people who are ever likely to own an iPad already have one.

One major source of growth was Amazon and its Fire tablet range. The 2.2 million IDC says they shipped was up from almost zero a year ago. It’s surprising learn that Amazon wasn’t selling any Fire tablets at all in Q1 2015 as, while IDC doesn’t count a six-inch device as a tablet, Amazon did have other products on the market then too.

SA also says the market declined, but by only 10%, from 51.9 million units in the year ago quarter to 46.5 million in Q1 2016. The main reason SA perceives 7 million more tablets in the global market than is its sizing of the ‘White Box’ vendor market at 13.3 million. This category consists of cheaper devices, including Amazon, that are rebranded from the manufacturer and SA does count six-inch devices as tablets. While SA didn’t break out its Amazon shipments it guided that they were less than 1.5 million in Q1 2016.

Tablets have been a major factor in the long-term decline of the PC market, which IDC sized at just over 60 million units in Q1 2016. There are a growing number of form factors that occupy the space between laptops and tablets, which IDC seems to collectively refer to as ‘detachables’, and which it says managed to ship 4.9 million units in the quarter.

“Microsoft arguably created the market for detachable tablets with the launch of their Surface line of products,” said Jitesh Ubrani of IDC. “With the PC industry in decline, the detachable market stands to benefit as consumers and enterprises seek to replace their aging PCs with detachables. Apple’s recent foray into this segment has garnered them an impressive lead in the short term, although continued long-term success may prove challenging as a higher entry price point staves off consumers and iOS has yet to prove its enterprise-readiness, leaving plenty of room for Microsoft and their hardware partners to re-establish themselves.”

“The introduction of detachables from traditional smartphone vendors is only beginning and pose a real threat to traditional PC manufacturers,” said Jean Philippe Bouchard of IDC. “Their understanding of the mobile ecosystem and the volume achieved on their smartphone product lines will allow them to aggressively compete for this new computing segment. It is likely that those smartphone vendors will utilize the detachable segment to create new mobile computing end-user experiences if customers are using their detachables in combination with their smartphones.”

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