We all knew tablet sales were decreasing, but few thought it was this bad. According to reports from the International Data Corporation (IDC), total tablet sales for the year 2016 were down 15.6 percent, compared to 2015. Moreover, despite last year’s holiday season, retailers recorded roughly 53 million shipments in the fourth quarter, down from the 66 million tablets shipped the previous year, in the same quarter.
Experts attribute this decline primarily to the growing demand for detachable devices. Tablets without a dedicated keyboard are steadily losing relevance in a world where smartphones are now nearly as big. Additionally, key brands in the notebook PC scene, such as HP and Lenovo are also expanding production to include more laptop-tablet hybrids.
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But the hybrid doesn’t take all the blame. Trend analysts also suggest that customers are simply not upgrading their aging devices. Mainstream tablet owners often have a smartphone, as well as a PC, all which share the user’s daily workload.
Of the three, however, it’s often the tablet that gets used the least. And when it comes to upgrading, the owner will likely buy a new phone and a new laptop first, before coming to the tablet.
Tablets may have shown great promise when they first hit the shelves, but nobody seems to need them as much anymore.
Tablet vendor highlights
There’s no better way to outline the tablet’s recent woes than to look into the books of major manufacturers individually.
Records show that Apple is still at the helm of the industry, but the company has not been immune to the overall market difficulties. IPad sales saw a 19 percent decrease in 2016’s fourth quarter, and although the highly-anticipated launch of the iPad Pro was met with acclaim from both reviewers and customers, it did little to salvage the situation.
Sitting not so comfortably in second place is Samsung, shipping 8 million units in the last quarter to register a -11.4 percent drop from the same period in 2015. However, Samsung itself played a part in this decline by not unveiling a single tablet in 2016, despite a prior history of issuing new releases every couple of months.
As a result, majority sales resulted from the now aging Tab S2 and Tab A. Many expected the Galaxy Tab S3 to enter the market by the end of the year, but we’re well into 2017 and Samsung is yet to release the device.
Coming in at a distant third is Amazon, and while annual tablet shipments also declined, they experienced the smallest percentage decrease in the fourth quarter of last year, compared to Apple and Samsung.
These relatively favorable sales were credited to the release of an updated Fire HD 8 version, which albeit already lowly priced was further discounted during the Black Friday period. The overly friendly price tags are a clear indication of Amazon’s commitment to acquiring as many new Prime subscribers as possible.
What to expect in 2017
Sugar-coating aside, tablet sales are projected to continue declining all through the year. Regardless, certain upcoming events render a few glimmers of hope.
For starters, native tablet makers are slowly but steadily joining the convertible hybrid industry. Apple made the bold move with the iPad Pro last year to offer a device that’s ideally a tablet running a mobile operating system in iOS 9 but can be a decent laptop replacement when combined with a keyboard and Apple Pencil.
The 2-in-1 was meant to bridge the gap between tablet and PC, but at the moment, the best hybrids are essentially portable laptops, with full PC functionality. Take the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, for example. Although undoubtedly remarkable, the Windows-based 2-in-1 offers nothing to promote the tablet industry other than a detachable screen.
The commendable success of the iPad Pro will likely encourage other manufacturers to make a stronger stand in the hybrid market, and consequently lead to the release of more tablet-inclined iOS and Android convertibles this year.
Furthermore, despite the deteriorating tablet sales, new players are joining in to claim their spot on the market. Huawei, for example, was one of the few manufacturers that recorded an increase in tablet sales last year, and its MediaPad M3 was consistently placed among the best tablets by reviewers. If this healthy competition persists, it could bring about a rush for cutting-edge innovations in the tablet scene.
We, therefore, expect tablet makers to up their game at least a little, this year. One new, clever feature might be all it’ll take for tablets to regain their lost popularity.
Lastly, the list of tablets set for release in 2017 looks pretty good. All the leading brands: Apple, Samsung, and Amazon are expected to introduce more than one device onto the market, and even the smaller players won’t be left behind. Among the most anticipated devices are the iPad Mini 5 and the Galaxy Tab S3, as well as updates to the Fire HD 7 and HD 10 tablets.
Speculations point to the unveiling of the iPad Pro 2 in March, which will come packed with Apple’s new A10X processor. Google is supposedly also planning to grow its new Pixel line with the Pixel 7; an update to the critically and commercially successful four-year-old Nexus 7.
If anything, the upcoming releases indicate that manufacturers are still determined to bring the tablet back to its former glory. Therefore, even as the demand for 2-in-1s increases, the traditional tablet is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Article by Vigilance Chari
Vigilance Chari is a freelance writer from LapopNinja covering tech news and gadgets. She is an International presenter and published author. When she’s not writing, she spends her time as an enthusiastic professional party planner and part-time painter.