Before the iPad came around, tablets were just another has-been sector that didn’t show much promise (does anyone remember Windows XP Tablet PC Edition?). However, following the introduction of the iPad in 2010, the sector exploded in popularity. Numerous manufacturers have jumped onboard in the years since, although Apple is still the top tablet manufacturer, with Samsung taking up the second place position.
But over the past year, we’ve seen some softness in the tablet market. Apple’s iPad has seen sales declines for the past few quarters. For fiscal Q1 2015 (actual Q4 2014), iPad shipments fell to 21.4 million units, representing an 18 percent year-over-year decline. However, the iPad sales were merely a tiny pothole on Apple’s road to a record quarter that saw its rack in $18 billion in profit.
The downturn in tablet sales that Apple experienced during the fourth quarter was echoed throughout the industry according to IDC. Samsung saw its shipments fall by 18.4 percent year-over-year from 13.5 million units to 11 million units, while ASUS’ tablet shipments fell nearly 25 percent to 3 million units. The biggest loser, however, was Amazon; it’s tablet shipments fell 70 percent from 5.8 million units in Q4 2013 to 1.7 million units during Q4 2014. The only top-five player than didn’t experience a downturn in shipments was Lenovo, which posted a 9.1 percent increase.
The poor showing from the biggest players meant that there was an actual year-over-year decline in shipments by a modest 3.2 percent. Despite the Q4 decline, full year tablet sales still managed to increase by 4.4 percent.
IDC indicates that Apple was torpedoed by lackluster updates provided by the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, and cannibalization from the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus which offer screens sized at 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches respectively. As for Amazon, the company refreshed its Kindle Fire HDX and HD family of tablets in September, but it was not enough to win over customers during the holiday shopping season. Lenovo’s positive sales came from a product mix was cited as being “ideal” thanks to it covering “most screen sizes on both Android and Windows, allowing Lenovo to capture benefits of end users' shift towards larger screen sizes and productivity in general.”
"The tablet market is still very top heavy in the sense that it relies mostly on Apple and Samsung to carry the market forward each year," said Jitesh Ubrani, Senior Research Analyst for IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker. "Although Apple expanded its iPad lineup by keeping around older models and offering a lower entry price point of $249, it still wasn't enough to spur iPad sales given the excitement around the launch of the new iPhones. Meanwhile, Samsung's struggles continued as low-cost vendors are quickly proving that mid- to high-priced Android tablets simply aren't cut out for today's tablet market."
Looking forward, IDC expects that the introduction of Windows 10 and its dedication to ensuring an optimum user experience for tablet users should lead to continued positive growth for the tablet sector in 2015.