More than 217 million tablets were shipped around the world in 2013, which is a more than 50 percent jump from 2012, when an estimated 144 million tablets were shipped. But while you might think that means the market for tablets is still growing like crazy, research firm IDC says tablet growth is actually slowing.
According to IDC, mature markets such as the US are reaching the saturation point — which means that pretty soon everyone who wants a tablet will already have one. That doesn’t mean companies won’t be able to sell new models. It just means they won’t likely see the same kinds of massive growth they’ve grown used to in the past few years.
Tablet users may be prepared to buy new models every few years to replace dying hardware or grab an updated model with fancy new features, better performance, or longer battery life.
On the other hand, students of (short term) history might remember a product that saw growth spikes for a few years and then faded away into obscurity. For a few years netbook shipments saw astronomical growth figures… then shipments sort of plateaued… and then fell off a cliff (both because people weren’t buying, and because there was nothing to buy — PC makers largely abandoned the market and started cranking out tablets and ultrabooks instead).
While netbooks were really just small, cheap laptops (and those still exist), tablets represent an entirely new category of device. It’s not likely they’ll disappear. But unless device makers manage to open up new markets for these products, it’s kind of inevitable that the growth numbers will level out at some point.
And that explains one of the reasons we’re seeing a big push toward a new category of mobile device: Wearable products such as smartwatches and smart glasses. Sure, there’s some evidence that at least some people really want these new devices. But even more importantly (if you’re a big corporation), they represent an opportunity to get folks who already own phones, tablets, PCs, and TVs to buy something new… and maybe to upgrade to a new model every few years.
Incidentally, IDC’s report suggests Samsung and Lenovo actually saw pretty significant year-over-year growth in tablet shipments. Apple’s numbers are still going up as well, as are Asus’s. But IDC suggests Amazon actually saw a 1.7 percent drop in Kindle Fire sales from 2013 to 2012.
IDC is just making an educated guess based on available data though, since Amazon doesn’t release detailed sales figures for its Kindle devices.