iPad sales are up, but the overall tablet market declined 4.5% in the third quarter

The third quarter of 2017 (3Q17) closed with 40 million tablets shipped globally, according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker. And Apple’s iPad did better than most.

The research group says growing demand for smartphones combined with the lengthening replacement cycle of tablets and strengthening position of traditional PCs left the tablet market in an awkward middle ground that it has not been able to escape. Growth in 3Q17 declined 5.4% year over year, marking the twelfth consecutive quarter of annual decline.

"There's a penchant for low-cost slates and this holds true even for premium vendors like Apple," says Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. "However, many of these low-cost slates are simply long-awaited replacements for consumers as first-time buyers are becoming harder to find and the overall installed base for these devices declines further in the coming years."

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Meanwhile, growth in the detachable tablet market has been slower than expected as Apple and Microsoft are essentially the only two vendors supplying the category and other PC vendors champion the convertible PC form factor, he adds.

"In a recent IDC survey, owners of both convertibles and detachables stated they were far more inclined to recommend a convertible to another shopper than a detachable," says Linn Huang, research director, Devices & Displays. "Market momentum has steadily shifted away from the latter towards the former over the course of this year. The 2017 holiday season may prove to be a critical crossroad for the detachables category."

Although Apple still enjoys a substantial premium over competitors, the lower-priced iPad has helped it to cement the first-place position, according to IDC. The latest version of iOS has helped make iPads a more serious PC competitor than ever before but the need for legacy apps (especially in the commercial segment) and strong value offerings from other PC and mobile vendors has prevented iPads from becoming the primary computing device for the masses, adds the research group.

Perhaps, but iPad sales were up 14% year-over-year in Apple’s fiscal 2017 fourth quarter that ended Sept. 30. Apple tablet numbers were 10.3 million for the quarter compared to the 9.3 million iPads sold in the same period of 2016

Samsung’s tablet market share declined 7.9% year-over-year in 3Q17. However, Amazon.com's aggressive hardware strategy in the tablet market has proven to be quite successful as the company managed to grow 38.7% on an annual basis. The low-cost hardware push has always been a means to create a long-standing and ongoing relationship with end users, notes IDC. To that extent, Amazon even offered the 7-inch tablet for under $30 during the Prime Day Sale.