Can the Pro model turn around iPad sales? Two research groups have differing predictions

Worldwide tablet shipments will reach 211.3 million units in 2015, down -8.1% from 2014, according to new data from IDC. However, the research group expects the iPad Pro, which it considered a “detachable” device, to turn around Apple’s tablet sales.

The forecast from the research group follows three consecutive quarters of declining worldwide tablet shipments in 2015. Despite the challenges facing the overall market, IDC expects detachable tablets will continue to represent a growing portion of total shipments.

"We're witnessing a real market transition as end users shift their demand towards detachables and more broadly towards a productivity-based value proposition," said Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director, Tablets, IDC. "The proliferation of detachable offerings from hardware vendors continues to help drive this switch. We're starting to see the impact of competition within this space as the major platform vendors – Apple, Google and Microsoft – now have physical product offerings.”

The transition to detachable tablets also ushers in two other key trends: the growth of Windows and a turnaround for Apple's iPad device line, according to Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst, Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers, IDC. 

"Though early reviews for the iPad Pro have been mixed, we believe the Pro to be the only reason for Apple to gain tablet market share in the coming years as they target select enterprise and prosumer audiences,” he added. “At the same time we expect Windows-based devices – slates and detachables combined – to more than double its market share by 2019, driven by a combination of traditional PC original equipment manufacturers, as well as more household smartphone vendors.”

A report by TrendForce echoes IDC’s report to some extent, although it doesn’t think the iPad Pro can turn things around significantly. The research group says that demand for tablets has become soft as these devices are still mainly limited to Internet browsing and entertainment in terms of functionality. 

With no novel features that can pique consumers’ interests, small tablets are increasingly being replaced by smartphones, which continues to grow in size. For these reasons, TrendForce has lowered its tablet shipment forecast for 2015 to 163.4 million units, representing a year-on-year decline of 14.9 percent.

“Business products such as Apple’s iPad Pro have high unit prices, so they will not be able to offset the decline in small tablet shipments even if they do become a market success,” analyst Anita Wang said. “The latest tablets from Microsoft and Apple clearly compete against notebooks, but they are limited to the business/professional market segment. It will be difficult for large tablets to replace notebooks in short term because the former are priced too high, whereas low-priced notebooks are plentiful.”

TrendForce’s estimation indicates that a total of 153.4 million tablets will be shipped in 2016, down 6.1 percent year-over-year.