Tablet market woes continue

Consumer spending during the holiday quarter of 2016 was clearly not aimed at consuming tablets as the market continued its spiraling decline. The fourth quarter of 2016 (4Q16) marked the ninth consecutive quarter that tablet shipments have declined. 

According to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, vendors shipped 52.9 million tablets in the fourth quarter, which was a decline of 20.1% from the same quarter one year ago. Similarly, shipments of 174.8 million units for the full year 2016 were down 15.6% compared to 2015, marking the second straight year of declining shipments.

"The sentiment around the tablet market continues to grow stale despite a lot of talk about vendors pivoting their product portfolios toward the detachable segment," says Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. "Typical tablets without a dedicated keyboard, which IDC refers to as slate tablets, are continuing to lose relevancy across all regions and, as a result, we see the decline happening globally. We do see future growth in some emerging markets like the Middle East and Africa as well as Central and Eastern Europe with the sole catalysts being simplicity and low cost. Unfortunately for the industry these are the devices that don't equate to large revenues."

Vendors that have historically led the notebook PC market are also talking about expanding their product portfolios to include more detachable tablets, although currently there is more talk than action. As a result, Apple and Microsoft are dominating the detachable tablet segment. IDC believes the second half of 2017 will bring a wide range of new detachable devices from the notebook PC OEMs as well as those playing primarily in the smartphone space.

Yet even detachable tablets struggled to maintain momentum in the fourth quarter as flagship products from key players like Microsoft and Apple started to show signs of age, according to the research group.

"The market continues to warm up to two-in-one devices, but we're now getting to a point where the price and performance disparity between detachables and convertibles has started to narrow, and this added competition led to a dampening in the growth of detachable tablets," says Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. "However, we expect this to be temporary as only two of the three major platforms have any significant hardware presence in the detachable market, and as the ecosystems are further refined with future updates and developer support."

Apple's venerable hold on the tablet market is yet to be challenged although the company is not immune to overall market challenges, declining 18.8% in 4Q16. The iPad Pro lineup made up only a small portion of overall shipments as the iPad Air 2 and Mini tablets continued to account for the majority of the shipments for Apple, according to IDC. For every 10 slate tablets shipped, Apple only sold one iPad Pro tablet.

Samsung remained the number two tablet vendor in the holiday season capturing 15.1% market share on 8 million shipments. The bad news is that this was down -11.4% from the holiday quarter in 2015.