Tablets become feebleslabs as sales spiral down

Even detachables like the Surface are making buyers snooze

The tablet computer market has slumped into “spiraling decline”, according to box-counter IDC.

The firm defines tablets as either a “slate”, like the iPad, or a “detachable” that offers a first-party keyboard like a Microsoft Surface device.

The firm's totted up all the sums from a year's worth of its Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker and the results are ugly: total sales sinking 15.6 per cent, year on year, with sales of 174.8m units in 2016 compared to 2015's 207.2m.

Only Amazon and Huawei were immune from the slump, while Lenovo stayed just about steady.

Apple sales fell 14.2 per cent and Samsung was down 20.2 per cent.

Even Christmas couldn't excite buyers, with sales down 20.1 per cent for the fourth quarter.

Here's IDC's numbers for Q4 2016.

Top Five Tablet Vendors, Shipments, Market Share, and Growth, Fourth Quarter 2016 (Preliminary Results, Shipments in millions)
Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, February 2, 2017
Vendor 4Q16 Unit Shipments 4Q16 Market Share 4Q15 Unit Shipments 4Q15 Market Share Year-Over-Year Growth
1. Apple 13.1 24.7% 16.1 24.3% -18.8%
2. Samsung 8.0 15.1% 9.0 13.6% -11.4%
3. Amazon.com 5.2 9.7% 5.2 7.8% -0.6%
4. Lenovo 3.7 7.0% 3.2 4.9% 14.8%
5. Huawei 3.2 6.0% 2.2 3.4% 43.5%
6. Others 19.8 37.4% 30.5 46.0% -35.1%
Total 52.9 100.0% 66.2 100.0% -20.1%

The firm reports that tablets as a form factor aren't dead. It's just that people want them to be part of a detachable PC. But even that market isn't red-hot, IDC says, citing a stale crop of products from Microsoft and Apple as a purchase-crimping problem.

“For every 10 slate tablets shipped, Apple only sold 1 iPad Pro tablet,” the form says.

There are some bright spots. Huawei's growing thanks to its emphasis on built-in cellular connectivity and is yet to make a serious pass at the US market. Lenovo makes striking kit that IDC says makes it the one to watch in 2017. Amazon's discounted its tablets to win more Prime subscribers but IDC thinks it won't care too much about sales of its Fire devices, as the device customers use to access Prime doesn't overly bother the company.

Here's IDC's numbers for all of 2016.

Top Five Tablet Vendors, Shipments, Market Share, and Growth, 2016
(Preliminary Results, Shipments in millions)
Vendor 2016 Unit Shipments 2016 Market Share 2015 Unit Shipments 2015 Market Share Year-Over-Year Growth
1. Apple 42.6 24.4% 49.6 23.9% -14.2%
2. Samsung 26.6 15.2% 33.4 16.1 -20.5%
3. Amazon.com 12.1 6.9% 6.1 2.9% 98.8%
4. Lenovo 11.1 6.3% 11.2 5.4% -1.2%
5. Huawei 9.7 5.6% 6.5 3.1% 49.9%
6. Others 72.7 41.6% 100.3 48.4% -27.5%
Total 174.8 100.0% 207.2 100.0% -15.6 %

This data will worry not just tablet-makers but PC-makers and Intel, as the latter two have held out hope that detachables would become a hot new class of device. Perhaps they will in 2017 as new devices emerge and businesses recognise the inevitability of Windows 10 upgrades and start looking for new kit. ®

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