Detachable tablet sales climbing (is the iPad Pro a ‘hybrid’ device? if not, will Apple make one?)

Apple has pooh-poohed the idea of a “hybrid” device — a laptop with a detachable screen that can be used as a tablet — but the IDC research group says such devices are growing in popularity.

Despite the holiday season, the worldwide tablet market declined yet again in the fourth quarter of 2015 (4Q15) with 65.9 million units shipped, down 13.7% year over year, according to preliminary data from the (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker.  Total shipments for 2015 were 206.8 million, down 10.1% from 230.1 million in the prior year. Despite the market's negative trajectory overall, shipments for detachable tablets reached an all-time high of 8.1 million devices.

The transition towards detachable devices appears to be in full swing as pure slate tablets experienced their greatest annual decline to date of 21.1%, according to itesh Ubrani, Senior Research Analyst with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. Detachable tablets more than doubled their shipments since the fourth quarter of last year. 

IDC classifies the iPad Pro as a detachable device thanks to the Smart Keyboard. However, I don’t think it’s a “hybrid” gadget, though my “MacPad” idea would come closer.

It may never see the light of day, but Apple has been granted a patent (number 9176536) for a hybrid tablet/laptop.  Dubbed “wireless display for electronic devices,” the patent involves a computer and a display that can be removed. Think of it as the reverse iPad Pro. Instead of a tablet with an attachable keyboard, it’s a computer with a detachable screen.

The invention’s base includes a processor, a base wireless chip, and a power source. The display includes a screen for displaying a video output, a display wireless chip in communicating with the base wireless chip, and a power wireless chip in communication with the power source. The base wireless chip transmits data from the processor to the display. Also, when the display is at least in one position with respect to the base, the power source transmits power to the power transition member of the display. Of course, this “hybrid” device could be running iOS instead of OS X, but the patent definitely talks about laptops and computers, not tablets.

"This quarter was unique as we had new detachables in the market from all three of the major platform players," says Ubrani. “Despite lukewarm reviews, the iPad Pro was the clear winner this season as it was the top selling detachable, surpassing notable entries from Microsoft and other PC vendors. It's also important to note that the transition towards detachable tablets has presented positive opportunities for both Apple and Microsoft. However, Google's recent foray into this space has been rather lackluster as the Android platform will require a lot more refinement to achieve any measurable success.”

"One of the biggest reasons why detachables are growing so fast is because end users are seeing those devices as PC replacements," adds Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director, Tablets at IDC. "We believe Apple sold just over two million iPad Pros while Microsoft sold around 1.6 million Surface devices, a majority of which were Surface Pro and not the more affordable Surface 3. With these results, it's clear that price is not the most important feature considered when acquiring a detachable – performance is."

According to IDC, Apple's reign as the tablet market leader continued in 4Q15 though the company faced a 24.8% year-over-year decline. With the successful launch of the iPad Pro, the company was able to curb the decline in iPad revenues as its model mix shifted towards higher priced iPads.

Samsung managed to keep its second position in the market though it did decline by 18.1% compared to last year. Samsung is the vendor with the deepest tablet portfolio and manages to reach multiple price points and screen sizes, a position that will facilitate the transition to detachables in 2016.

Amazon's latest Kindle iteration piqued everyone's interest with its low price point, allowing Amazon's annual growth to reach 175.7%, the highest amongst the top 5. Amazon's success in the tablet market has thus far been purely based on price. While this bodes well during the holiday season, it's unlikely the Kindle's success will continue in the remainder of the year, says IDC

Lenovo maintained its market share in the last quarter of 2015, shipping 3.2 million units for a 13.5% decline over the same period last year. However, the Yoga, MIIX, and Thinkpad brands' combined traditional PC savoir faire should help Lenovo regain market share in 2016, says IDC.