Decline in tablet sales bigger than expected, IDC says -- and won't reverse course

Sales of detachable-keyboard tablets like the iPad Pro and Surface Pro are growing, but not enough to offset the steep decline in slate-style tablets

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Demand for tablets like the iPad -- which IDC calls "slates" -- is declining even faster than expected.

For all of 2016, global tablet shipments will drop by 9.6 percent over 2015, market research firm IDC forecasts, marking the second straight year of decline. In March, IDC had forecast a decline of 6 percent for this year.

"The impact of the decline of slates is having a bigger impact, faster than we thought. They are not coming back," said IDC analyst Jean Phillippe Bouchard.

But Bouchard was quick to add that slates are not disappearing entirely. There will continue to be a strong market for small slate tablets, those under 8 inches, that are sold for less than $125 by Amazon and others, primarily for use by children.

"There will also continue to be a slate market for commercial uses in health care, education, and hospitality, so there are a lot of use cases for slates saying that slates are not going away," he said. "There will still be a need for slates, but not as great as in 2010." IDC said well over 100 million slate tablets will ship annually through 2020.

As IDC and others have said in the past, slate tablets have saturated the market. "Everyone wanting a slate has one, and there's very little reason to replace it or upgrade it," Bouchard added.

While slate sales continue a steep decline, another form of tablets is showing strong growth: detachable tablets -- aka hybrid laptops and 2-in-1s -- that assume use of a detachable keyboard, like Microsoft's Surface Pro and Apple's iPad Pro. Still, their growth won't be enough to prevent an overall decline in tablet sales, IDC said.

IDC pegged the total tablet market of both slates and detachables at 207 million units shipped in 2015, but that figure will decline to about 187 million in 2016. IDC didn't release its forecast for years beyond 2016, but said the market will continue to decline in 2017 before having a "slight rebound in 2018 and beyond, driven by detachable tablet growth." Even by 2020, the market will not have rebounded to above 2015 levels, IDC said.

Detachables are now 16 percent of the total tablet market and will grow to 31 percent of the market in 2020, IDC said.

IDC's latest forecast also includes a marked increase in demand for Apple's detachable tablets, primarily due to the buyer excitement over the smaller, 9.7-inch iPad Pro. IDC this week increased its March forecast for 2016 for Apple tablets to a 38 percent share of all tablets, up from 28 percent and for 2020 to 29 percent, up from 7.3 percent, powered by iPad Pro sales. "The main volumes of the smaller iPad Pro have occurred in the second quarter, and we believe it will spur replacement of the iPad installed base," Bouchard said.

This story, "Decline in tablet sales bigger than expected, IDC says -- and won't reverse course" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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