It was not all that long ago when analysts and tracking firms were predicting the demise of the PC in the wake of rising tablet shipments. Like the creatures from Wayward Pines, it was expected that tablets would overwhelm traditional computers with sheer numbers and wipe out the populace of PCs. We knew better all along, and now so do the analysts. As IDC now notes, the worldwide tablet market continues to contract.
Tablet makers combined to eek out 36.2 million unit shipments in the first quarter of 2017. That is a year-over-year decline of 8.5 percent, and the tenth consecutive quarter that tablet shipments were lower than the same quarter a year prior. It has not been a slow descent, either—tablet shipments have declined by double digit percentage points year-over-year in the previous five quarters.
"As far as most are aware, the tablet market was created in 2010 with the launch of the original iPad, despite unsuccessful product attempts by other OEMs in the years leading up to this," said Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. "The rate at which the tablet market grew from 2010 to 2013 was unlike many other consumer-oriented device markets we've seen before. However, it appears for many reasons consumers became less eager to refresh these devices, or in some instances purchase them at all. We continue to believe the leading driver for this was the increased dependency on smartphones, along with rather minimal technology and form factor progression."
In other words, instead of tablets cannibalizing traditional PC sales, smartphones swooped in and rendered tablets redundant. If we are to speculate, we suspect that part of the reason for this is because smartphone displays have been increasing in size over the past few years. Even the iPhone has seen its display balloon after Tim Cook took over from Steve Jobs—what used to be a 3.5-inch handset is now 4.7 inches (iPhone 7) or 5.5 inches (iPhone 7 Plus).
Speaking of Apple, it leads the withering tablet market with its iPad lineup accounting for 24.6 percent of the market in Q1 2017. Apple saw 8.9 million iPad shipments in the first quarter, versus 6 million tablet shipments for Samsung, which is in second place with a 16.5 percent share of the market. After that, it's a steep drop to third place where Huawei sits with a 7.4 percent chunk.
Apple's interest in the tablet space is not as enthusiastic as it once was. The company recently announced a new 9.7-inch iPad model called simply iPad that starts at $329 with 32GB of internal storage. That is the cheapest debut price of any 9.7-inch iPad to date, and also the most storage for an entry-level model.