The drastic fall in tablet shipments is a sign of the changing times, and that includes the Apple iPad

According to the International Data Corporation's (IDC) quarterly tablet tracker, the worldwide tablet market has seen a slump with a 14.7 percent year-on-year decline in terms of shipments.

Tablets shipment numbers haven't been able to maintain the same momentum as smartphone sales. In it's latest quarterly tablet tracker, International Data Corporation (IDC) states that the worldwide tablet market has seen a slump with a 14.7 percent year-on-year decline in terms of shipments. In Q3 2015, the tablet sales stood at 50.5 million units, which came down to 43 million units in Q3 2016. But when compared to Q2 2016, the Q3 2016 shipments were up by 9.8 percent, thanks to upcoming holiday season.

One of the major reasons being stated is the rise in low-cost detachables being sold under $200 (approx Rs 13,500). But according to IDC's senior research analyst Jitesh Ubrani, low cost detachables also lead to a low cost experience, which is detrimental.

"The race to the bottom is something we have already experienced with slates and it may prove detrimental to the market in the long run as detachables could easily be seen as disposable devices rather than potential PC replacements," said Ubrani.

The state of tablets

Among the tablet makers, only Amazon and Huawei showed a growth from last year. Apple with 9.3 million units sold is still a market leader in the tablet category with a 21.5 percent market share. Samsung follows with 6.5 million units sold and 15.1 percent market share. Amazon at number 3 recorded the largest year-on-year growth of 319 percent thanks to the Amazon Prime Daily Sale, which saw the already low cost Fire tablets selling at a further 30 percent discount.

 The drastic fall in tablet shipments is a sign of the changing times, and that includes the Apple iPad

Image: IDC

Lenovo also saw a decline of 10.8 percent, but maintained its strong position in the APAC (excluding Japan) and EMEA markets. Huawei saw a 28.4 percent jump in tablet sales thanks to its integrated cellular connectivity. According to IDC, over two-thirds of Huawei's tablet offerings come with integrated cellular connectivity which are sold at similar price points as other Wi-Fi only tablets.

The report also stated that Apple iPad Air and iPad mini continue to outsell the iPad Pro line of tablets. The iPad Air and iPad Mini accounts for more than two-thirds of the Apple tablet shipments in Q3.

Tablets going the netbooks way

The tablet market is seeing a decline year on year. With the rise of low-cost detachables, the pure tablets sales are going to see further decline. According to a Gartner report in 2011, tablet sales were supposed to scale over 300 million units by 2015, but in reality IDC's 2015 tablet shipment total was around 207 million units.

According to this Gartner report, Ultramobiles (basic and utility) device category is expected to remain pretty much the same in 2017 and 2018.

It is no surprise that detachables, which offer a keyboard, are getting more attention. Detachables, irrespective of the low cost, still give a consumer an illusion of having a laptop. One can hope to get at least some work done, as opposed to the touchscreen experience on just a tablet which is great only for content consumption. With smartphones offering comparable resolution, better battery, albeit at a lower screen size, tablets have lost that USP of being a media consumption powerhouse.

IDC in its February 2016 report had also stated that one in every five tablets sold in Q4 2015 was a detachable. It is no surprise then, that the Indian market has also started seeing a flood of low-cost detachables starting from Rs 10,000 onwards which come with Windows 10 onboard.

Popularity of phablets 

Oddly, these did not make it to the list.

The 6.44-inch Xiaomi Mi Max beside the 5.5-inch OnePlus 3 and 5.3-inch LG G5

Apart from detachables, another product category that is eating into the tablet market is surely the phablet segment. With smartphones going from 4.7-inches all the way to 6.44-inches, with 5.5-inch becoming a standard size, there is little incentive to add in another tablet. Barring a larger display, a smartphone can give you a lot more flexibility to stay connected and get your content consumption done. In the last couple of years we have seen the likes of Lenovo and Xiaomi released 6.8-inch and 6.44-inch phablets respectively. These are comparatively more pocketable than say a 7-inch tablet.

iPad Pro with iOS can never be a PC replacement

It is no wonder that iPad Air and iPad mini sales are far higher than the iPad Pros. At the price at which iPad Pros are selling, one would be better off investing in a similarly priced MacBook Pro which gives you a better overall feature set and macOS. We reviewed the iPad Pro (12-inch) and came to the conclusion that while it was an extraordinary gadget, it was not a laptop killer yet.

Apple 9.7 inch iPad Pro Smart Keyboard

Unlike the Microsoft Surface Pro series, which offers desktop grade Windows 10 OS, the iPad Pros come with the same iOS that's seen on the iPhones and iPads. Going by the sales numbers of high end tablets, it isn't hard to guess that they will start bundling the keyboard (which is now sold separately) soon. iPad Pro with its iOS still offers a superior touch, but the Surface Pro has little relevance without its Surface Type Cover.

The state of high end tablets such as the iPad Pro as well as a Surface Pro series proves that these products still belong to the niche category. It will be way too ambitious to say that their shipment numbers, at their current price points, are going to rescue the ailing tablet category as a whole.

At the same time, it would be too premature to say that tablets are dead, just yet. But at the rate at which things are going, it is safe to conclude that there isn't going to be an explosive growth in this segment. With Intel offering fanless chipsets powerful enough to power laptops and 2-in-1s, those categories are bound to see some growth. The parallels between the tablet and the erstwhile netbook category, are there for all of us to see.

In an age of large screen smartphones and powerful 2-in-1s, the writing is on the wall for the tablet category.

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