Tablet Sales Sag - InformationWeek
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11:12 AM

Tablet Sales Sag

Tablet sales slumped for the first time since the iPad's introduction, suggesting that more consumers may be opting for large-screen smartphones.

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Big-screened smartphones continue to put the hurt on tablet sales. Shipments of tablet computers around the globe retracted during the first three months of the year, according to new data from NPD DisplaySearch, marking the first retreat since the iPad debuted in 2010. The drop in shipments could spell trouble for makers of tablets and other gear.

Tablet manufacturers shipped about 56 million units during the first quarter, down from approximately 59 million during the same period a year ago. The drop isn't enormous, but it is cause for concern. Tablet shipments have gone nowhere but up, up, up during the four years following the Apple iPad's arrival. The iPad is generally held responsible for the modern resurgence in tablet computing.

NPD DisplaySearch suggests increasing sales of large-screened phones are partly responsible for the decline in tablet shipments. Oversized smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, HTC One Max, and Nokia Lumia 1520 are more appealing than small tablets to many consumers.

[Samsung's smartphone sales sag. See Samsung Smartphone Juggernaut Shows Signs Of Weakness.]

"Tablet PC demand in 2014 is being impacted by falling demand for seven-inch-class sizes in emerging regions and in China, where many local white-box brands have experienced lower-than-expected shipment growth," said Hisakazu Torii, VP, smart application research at NPD DisplaySearch. Sales of tablets with screens ranging from seven to eight inches represented 58% of the entire tablet market in 2013.

NPD's research corroborates recent findings from Accenture, which suggested sales of large-screen phones are primed to take off at the expense of smaller tablets. Last month, Accenture conducted an online survey of 23,000 consumers across 23 countries. Of those polled, a significant percentage indicated they'd rather buy a big phone than what is now defined as a conventional smartphone, or a device with a screen measuring between four and five inches. Emerging markets posted the strongest interest in big phones. Further, Accenture's data suggests tablet buyers also maximize when it comes to screen size. The survey discovered 72% of potential tablet buyers would prefer a full-sized tablet, while only 20% would prefer a smaller tablet.

Samsung also revealed data suggesting sales of small-screened tablets are cooling. This week the company warned of lower profits thanks to sluggish sales of tablets -- particularly those with smaller screens.

Replacement cycles are another factor. Both NPD and Samsung say instead of replacing tablets every year, consumers are following a cycle similar to laptops. "There is a risk that the replacement cycle for tablet PCs will lengthen beyond the one- to two-year range unless brands can develop more attractive usage scenarios," noted NPD DisplaySearch's Torii.

Apple stills sells more tablets than any other hardware maker, but Samsung places second. The companies rank 33% and 22% of the global market, respectively. Despite flooding the market with new models, consumers aren't buying in the same numbers they were in 2013. NPD says gear makers are already changing their orders for the rest of the year. The research firm now expects tablet shipments to grow just 14% this year, reaching 285 million units. That's down from the 315 million units NPD previously forecast. NPD believes growth in the tablet market will drop to single digits as soon as 2017.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

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User Rank: Moderator
7/11/2014 | 11:36:54 AM
Re: Only so many
The big question in my mind is whether a HUD like Google Glass or a dockable like the Ubuntu Edge concept succeed first - or a merger of the two. How awesome would it be if your smartphone could provide a full computer experience on a pair of HUD glasses?
User Rank: Strategist
7/11/2014 | 10:42:38 AM
Continuum of Usability
Every protable device is a compromise between portability and usability.  The difference between a 5" phone and a 7" tablet isn't dramatic, particularly for those of  us with older eyes, so having a 7" tablet that isn't a phone and won't fit on your belt just isn't a strong value proposition, but it make a decent e-reader.  The 10" tablet adds enought screen real estate to make a difference, though without a better input method than typiing on glass, it remains primarily a data consumption device, and is severely limited for data creation.  A real live desktop (or in a pinch, laptop) computer with a real keyboard and mouse is, for the forseeable future, going to be the natural home for people who are creators. 

Bottom line, there's a market for a range of devices, and even a 'tiny' market for 7" tablets will amount to millions of units per year.  The market will always change over time, but it is as silly to predict the imminent death of tablets as it was to predict the death of desktops.
User Rank: Ninja
7/11/2014 | 10:17:40 AM
Wait I thought "they" told us that tablets were going to kill the PC and now you tell before the takeover is even complete something else is killing the tablet. That is what decreased sales mean isn't that the tablet is dead. In fact even a slowed increase in sales should mean the tablet is dead since that is what was reported first about PC sales.
User Rank: Ninja
7/11/2014 | 8:17:01 AM
Re: Only so many
This does seem to be the direction of things.  We've spent decades searching for the perfect screen size for portable devices.  I like the tablet or smart phone as a dockable desktop replacement, we just have to figure out what the size is that fits the most needs.  I could do without a tablet sized display if there were easy to access displays that I could use with a smartphone.  I think Asus was on the right track with their Transformer line that nested a phone into a tablet that had a snap on keyboard.  The problem I had is that the hardware just wasn't ready yet for me to replace my current devices.
User Rank: Ninja
7/10/2014 | 8:18:55 PM
Re: Only so many
The tablet and laptop are often one and the same, and now the laptop and smartphone are converging. Once something like Google Glass becomes commonplace, standardized and cheap, then neither the laptop, tablet, or the smartphone will need a separate screen. Then, one device will be able to encompass all three.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
7/10/2014 | 4:53:02 PM
Internet of Things to the rescue...
At least the hardware industry can rest assured that everyone will buy a smartwatch and connected sofa. Oh wait. Maybe the bubble will pop after all.
User Rank: Author
7/10/2014 | 4:12:42 PM
Re: Only so many
@Danielcawrey, I agree. If I shell out a few hundred dollars, I'd want more than one year's use out of the device. Even people who always trade in for new models -- whether cars or phones -- usually keep each for at least two years. 
User Rank: Ninja
7/10/2014 | 3:27:28 PM
Only so many
There are only so many tablets that people can buy. And I think that the idea consumers would replace their tablets every year is totally ridiculous. Of course slates are going follow the some lifecycle pattern as PCs.

Who came up with this idea that a tablet would have a lifespan of just twelve months? Why would someone pay hundreds of dollars for an electronic product that only lasted that long?
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