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Global tablet market in decline for fourth straight quarter

IDC predicts market transition will lead to rise of detachable devices

The worldwide tablet market saw shipments decline by 12.6% year over year
The worldwide tablet market saw shipments decline by 12.6% year over year

The worldwide tablet market saw shipments decline by 12.6% year over year during the third quarter of 2015, according to the latest research from IDC.

The research house said that this was the fourth straight quarter that the tablet market had recorded lower shipments. IDC added that, despite signs of slight seasonal improvements, the numbers highlighted the challenges that the market is facing.

Indeed, at the close of 2014, IDC estimated the installed base of tablets to be 581.9m globally, up 36% from 2013 but slowing quickly. With mature markets like North America, Western Europe, and Asia/Pacific well past 100m active tablets per region, the opportunities for growth are getting fewer, IDC said.

"We continue to get feedback that tablet users are holding onto devices upwards of four years," said Ryan Reith, program director for IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers.

"We believe the traditional slate tablet has a place in the personal computing world. However, as the smartphone installed base continues to grow and the devices get bigger and more capable, the need for smaller form factor slate tablets becomes less clear. With shipment volumes slowing over four consecutive quarters, the market appears to be in transition."

According to IDC, that transition is causing vendors to explore new form factors, with detachable tablets becoming the go-to choice for many. And while detachable tablets represent just a single-digit percentage of the market today, IDC said that these devices would see their share increase dramatically over the next 18 months.

However, IDC warned that this shift would present new challenges. In particular, the mix of traditional PC OEMs that are evolving their portfolios to include detachables will face pressure from the traditional smartphone OEMs, many of which have become accustomed to delivering extremely low-cost products.

"The first generation of detachable tablets failed to gain much traction, as they represented a series of compromises in terms of both operating system and hardware that few consumers or businesses were willing to accept," said Tom Mainelli, program vice president, Devices & Displays at IDC.

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"The devices shipping now represent a clear evolution of both OS and hardware, and it's our expectation that both home and pro users will begin to embrace the form factor in larger numbers going forward."

Vendor highlights

IDC said that Apple still holds the top position in the worldwide tablet market, although the days of deifying the iPad as the ultimate tablet may have come to an end. Apple's self-cannibalisation and increasing competition from PC vendors with detachable tablets have both contributed to a decline in iPad shipments. However, the impending launch of the iPad Pro may serve as a silver lining as the market shifts towards productivity-enabling devices, IDC said.

Meanwhile, Samsung's everlasting marketing push has once again helped close the gap between itself and Apple, IDC said. Though the Galaxy-maker is one of the few remaining premium Android tablet vendors, the bulk of their shipments have focused on the low end. The market's shift towards detachables has also piqued Samsung's interest as the vendor continues to launch new devices like the Tab S2 with an optional keyboard to cater to this growing segment.

Lenovo felt the sting of a slowing market after numerous quarters of positive growth, IDC said. In this down market, Lenovo's flat growth should be viewed as a positive sign that the vendor is committed to being a market leader and has the means to achieve that goal.

Asus banked on its reputation for low-cost detachable devices, which helped drive volume over the past year. However, IDC added that this quarter, the vendor has struggled to maintain momentum in the detachable market as its refresh (earlier this year) of the Transformer line-up hasn't been as successful and, more importantly, other vendors have been able to offer similar devices at comparable price points. Asus has still been able to capture a spot in the top five largely due to its low-cost Android tablet portfolio.

Finally, IDC said that Huawei has been successful in finding its niche - cellular-enabled tablets. With over two-thirds of its tablets being mobile connected, the vendor has been able to appeal to the growing trend of tablets used for voice calling and tablets used in markets with low broadband penetration.