IDC: tablets set to return to growth in 2018

Worldwide tablet shipments are expected to decline for the second straight year in 2016, dropping 9.6% compared to 2015 volumes, according to a new International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker forecast. However, that will change in 2018, adds the research group.

The tablet market in totality has seen its peak and will face down years in 2016 and 2017, followed by a slight rebound in 2018 and beyond driven by detachable tablet growth. Right now the detachable category only accounts for 16% of the market and IDC expects it to reach 31% in 2020.

Tablet life cycles have proven to be more like PCs a few years back, which is likely to be somewhere around four years, notes the research group. Tablet manufacturers, both large and small, are slowly shifting focus toward the detachable tablet market segment, which has quickly resulted in increased product offerings, lower average selling prices (ASPs), and broadened consumer awareness for the category. 

IDC says that many traditional PC manufacturers have assumed the detachable category to be a natural extension of the PC market and perhaps assumed it would rightfully be theirs to capture. Now they find themselves in head-to-head competition with a slew of new manufacturers that have created their market off of smartphone and slate tablet growth. This brings new channel dynamics and lower prices to a brand new category with an abundance of upside.

"The detachable tablet segment is also considered by some manufacturers, like Apple, as a way to spur replacement cycles of the existing slate tablet installed base," says Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director, Tablets, IDC. "One reason why the slate tablet market is experiencing a decline is because end-users don't have a good enough reason to replace them, and that's why productivity-centric devices like detachable tablets are considered replacement devices for high-end larger slate tablets.”

Despite all of the negativity around slates, most of which is driven by the forecasted negative year-over-year growth, IDC still expects well over 100 million slates to ship annually through 2020. The main driver for this is the low cost associated with smaller screen slate devices. Slate tablets with screen sizes less than nine inches had an average selling price of $183 in 2015. IDC expects this to decline to $157 in 2020. 

"It wasn’t long ago the industry talked about one PC per person and to some extent that theory has vanished," says Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. "I'd rather look at it and say the PC we were referencing six to eight years ago has changed, drastically. In many emerging markets the only computing device for many will be a mobile device, whether that is a small screen tablet, smartphone, or both. This is the main reason why, despite all the hype that the detachable category receives, we believe cheaper slate tablets fill an important void." 

IDC considers the iPad Pro a “detachable computer.” However, I’m still holding out hope for "MacPad."