Tablets go the way of PCs, with shipments down 10.1pc in 2015

2 Feb 2016

The iPad Pro from Apple, which outsold Microsoft's Surface devices, was the true winner of Q4 2015 and an indicator that detachable tablets are the future of personal computing

The global tablet computer market declined 10.1pc in 2015, with shipments of 206.8m down from 230.1m a year earlier, according to IDC.

This means that the three main form factors for computing today – PCs, smartphones and tablets – are all struggling.

For the vital Q4 holiday sales season, 65.9m units were shipped, down 13.7pc year-over-year.

However, the one ray of hope in the market is that demand for tablets with detachable keyboards is on the rise and has doubled, good news for vendors like Microsoft with its Surface devices and Apple with its new iPad Pro tablet.

‘We believe Apple sold just over 2m iPad Pros while Microsoft sold around 1.6 million Surface devices’

The bad news – especially for players like Samsung – is that pure slate tablets experienced their greatest annual decline of 21.1pc.

iPad Pro was the clear winner in Q4 2015


“This quarter was unique as we had new detachables in the market from all three of the major platform players,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC‘s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers.

“Despite lukewarm reviews, the iPad Pro was the clear winner this season as it was the top-selling detachable, surpassing notable entries from Microsoft and other PC vendors.

“It’s also important to note that the transition towards detachable tablets has presented positive opportunities for both Apple and Microsoft. However, Google’s recent foray into this space has been rather lacklustre as the Android platform will require a lot more refinement to achieve any measurable success.”

Apple’s reign as market leader continued in Q4 2015, though the company faced a 24.8pc year-over-year decline. With the successful launch of the iPad Pro, the company was able to curb the decline in iPad revenues as its model mix shifted towards higher-priced iPads.

Samsung managed to keep its second position in the market, though it did decline by 18.1pc compared to last year. Samsung is the vendor with the deepest tablet portfolio and manages to reach multiple price points and screen sizes, a position that should facilitate the transition to detachables in 2016.

The surprise hit of Q4 was Amazon’s $50 Kindle tablet, making it number three in the world’s top five. Huawei and Lenovo also continued to focus on the low end, while also expanding outside their home country of China.

The top trend for 2016 will no doubt be detachable tablets and this could determine the overall shape of personal computing for the rest of the decade.

“One of the biggest reasons why detachables are growing so fast is because end users are seeing those devices as PC replacements,” said Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director (tablets) at IDC.

“We believe Apple sold just over 2m iPad Pros while Microsoft sold around 1.6m Surface devices, a majority of which were Surface Pro and not the more affordable Surface 3. With these results, it’s clear that price is not the most important feature considered when acquiring a detachable – performance is.”

iPad Pro image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years