Experts have low expectations for tablet sales in the year ahead, as indicated by research from IDC. Its five-year forecast has been scaled back, predicting slow but positive growth as commercial demand increases and Microsoft Windows gains a presence in the market.
The news follows a poor quarter towards the end of 2014, during which tablet and hybrid device sales fell for the first time since the market's inception in 2010. Just about every major tablet vendor saw shipments fall, with the exception of Lenovo.
IDC, which released the new data on March 12, doesn't hold much hope for 2015. Global tablet shipments are expected to hit 234.5 million units, a small increase of 2.1% from 2014. The phablet craze has weakened the demand for tablets among consumers, who don't see a benefit to purchasing a touchscreen device that so closely resembles a smartphone.
Despite the increasing popularity of phablets, there are still customers who demand a larger screen size for functions that aren't compatible on a smartphone. Enterprise customers who use applications like Microsoft Word and Excel likely comprise a large portion of this market.
While some vendors might be content to rely on enterprise customers, others are working to boost sales by slashing prices and integrating features such as voice calling into tablet devices. The battle between phablets and voice-capable tablets will be an interesting one to watch, notes Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst at IDC.
The market will also see a shakeup among its top players. Android will remain on top, dominating two-thirds of the market over the next five years. Former leader iOS will likely be the weakest link, IDC predicts, as its share plummets throughout 2015 to its lowest levels over the past three years.
iOS might be facing some stiff competition from Windows. Despite modest adoption to date, Windows is expected to make significant progress over the next five years. Its marketshare is expected to escalate from 5.1% in 2014 to 14.1% in 2019.
Productivity features will likely stay in high demand among tablet customers going forward. They're critical to the functionality of Windows 10, which should have a tremendous impact on Microsoft sales – and the tablet industry – when it launches later this year.
"There is an appetite for a platform that can provide a productivity experience that remains consistent across multiple form factors and device types," Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director for tablets at IDC, wrote in a statement. "We believe Microsoft is well positioned to capture some of that demand."
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