Future For Tablets Looks Dim

The future of tablets doesn’t look bright. During the third quarter, global shipments were down 14.7% year-over-year to 43 million, according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC).

Since the second quarter, shipments were actually up 9.8% -- but for all the wrong reasons.

Along with the usual preparation for the holidays, low-cost (below $200) “detachables” reached an all-time high, as vendors like RCA flooded the marketplace.

Despite the short-term shipment gains, lower-quality tablets aren’t good for the long-term health of the sector, according to Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers.

“Unfortunately, many low-cost detachables also deliver a low-cost experience,” Ubrani notes in a new report. “The race to the bottom is something we have already experienced with slates," he notes. He writes it may "prove detrimental to the market in the long run as detachables could easily be seen as disposable devices rather than potential PC replacements.”

Beyond the different end-user experience delivered by low- and high-end tablets, Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director of Tablets at IDC, said he and his colleagues are witnessing “real tectonic movements in the market with slate companion devices sold at the low-end serving a broader platform strategy … and more expensive productivity tools closer to true computing and legitimate notebook replacement devices that should manage to keep average prices up.”

Among vendors, Apple appears to be faring best. While the tech giant’s tablet shipments declined 6.2% year-over-year, total iPad-related revenues were flat for the quarter, thanks to its iPad Pro offering.

Samsung’s over-reliance on the declining slate market led to a decline of 19.3% year-over-year, while Amazon’s Prime Day sale in early July led to a huge surge in shipments of its Fire tablets.

This column was previously published in Moblog on November 1, 2016.
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