Tablet sales down 20 percent in the third quarter (but the iPad still rules)

The worldwide PC [personal computer] market experienced its fourth consecutive quarter of negative growth, with shipments declining 14 percent to 114.2 million units, according to Canalys. Unlike some other research group,  Canalys counts tablets such as iPads in its tally of personal computers. 

The market struggled in the third quarter (Q3) as vendors continued to grapple with the impact of currency headwinds, excess channel inventory and product transitions driven by Microsoft and Intel. With the exception of North America, all regions experienced double-digit annual shipment declines, including EMEA [Europe, the Middle East and Africa] that fell almost 18 percent. 

While the majority of annual shipment comparisons make for depressing reading there was some positive news, according to Canalys. The two-in-one PC category grew 77 percent year-on-year and global notebook shipments increased 12 percent sequentially, as the market gears up for the holiday season. Also, Mac sales set an all-time record in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2015.

Tablets, once the driver for PC market growth, were the worst performing PC category in Q3 2015, with shipments falling 20 percent year-on-year, according to Canalys. Apple continued to lead the market but an aging portfolio saw iPad shipments dip 20 percent, falling below 10 million units for the first time since Q2 2011 to 9.9 million units. 

Samsung posted a similar year-on-year shipment decline as it continues to occupy second place. It shipped 7.9 million units in the quarter while still coming under pressure from competition in the low-end.

The Greater China region saw the steepest annual decline in tablet shipments, falling around 34 percent year-on-year. Apple led the market in mainland China with shipments of 1.8 million units, a decline of 13 percent from the previous quarter. Local vendors have also been affected, with Huawei and Lenovo experiencing sequential declines of around 20 percent.

“New iPads were not announced until the end of Q3, meaning that the vast majority of Apple’s shipments comprised of products that have not been refreshed for over a year. Although iPad shipment declines do not make for good headlines, the fact that Apple continues to lead in this market speaks volumes,” says Tim Coulling, Canalys senior analyst. “Holiday purchases, as well as the launch of the iPad Pro and iPad mini 4, will boost shipments in Q4.”

However, he says Canalys doesn’t expect a significant increase in sales until Apple launches a successor to the iPad Air 2, a product that some expected in Q4 but is currently unannounced. However, a new rumor from The China Times says Apple plans to start mass production of the new iPad Air in the first quarter of 2016,

In the light of consumers delaying upgrades, slowing down the iPad product cycle would be a positive step for Apple, says Coulling. It can raise product margins by delaying inevitable price drops and decreasing the likelihood of people skipping iPad generations by delivering meaningful hardware improvements, he adds.