The age of the tablet may already be over. That’s according to a report from research group NPD which says that the slate computer shipment numbers have fallen for the first time in the first quarter of this year. The slight drop in sales of the devices might be a statistical aberration, a circumstantial occurrence or it could represent a weakening of the market.

Tablet Shipments

According to the NPD report there’s little chance of a total decline in sales of tablets. According to the research the first quarter stumble was due to the delay of a number of high profile devices, the fall in demand for smaller tablets, and lower demand for low price devices in China. The company lowered its full year tablet shipment forecast from 315 million to 285 million units, but still expects growth on last year.

First tablet sales decline shows soft market

The total number of shipments in the first quarter was 56 million units. In the same three months of 2013 59 million tablets were sold across the world according to the company’s research.

Tablet Shipments

Tablets have by no means reached the market saturation of the smart phone and, despite the reasoning of the NPD analysts, any decline in sales in the market shows softness. Tablet manufacturers are not, by and large, giving consumers what they want, and it is showing up in the shipments attributable to the companies.

Firms like Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), which sold 16.35 million iPads in the first quarter compared with guidance of 19.7 million, will need to rethink their tablet strategies going ahead if they want to ensure the survival of the device segment as a growth business.

Tablets may not be the answer

The end of the PC appears to have been called a little early. Earnings from PC component manufacturers delivered in 2014 have shown renewed strength in that market after 2013 lead many to declare the end of an era. The laptop is not going anywhere, and hybrid devices are becoming a commonality among Windows 8 users. Those devices defy characterization and may be responsible for some of the change in the sales of tablets in the early months of 2014.

Phablets, the larger than life phone category, have been eating into the lower end of the tablet market, and the greater power and functionality of the current generation of smart phones means that tablets may not be quite as important to a consumer as they were two years ago. Given the greater portability of notebooks like the MacBook Air and similar offerings with Windows, the demand for tablets may be waning.

The world has computing needs, but the tablet is a half measure. It’s not useful enough to work on outside the home and it’s not portable enough to bring along for a jog. Assuming the question is how we’re going to do our computing in the future, tablets might be the wrong answer, and sales numbers are reflecting that.

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