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.

Tablets

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.

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8 replies on “Report: The tablet market isn’t growing like it used to”

  1. I see the tablet market following the same progression as the netbook market. I’m glad you touched on the similarities.

    I agree that a lot of the initial explosive growth of the netbook market was just because it was the new thing. There were still a lot of people (like me) who appreciate a small, inexpensive laptop, and can handle the limitations. At first, we saw significant product improvement, bigger/better screens, more memory, faster processors, better keyboards, etc. Then product improvement plateaued, and there was no compelling to reason to buy a new netbook (unless yours broke).

    The same thing has happened to the tablet market. Sure, we’re seeing better faster processors, sharper screen resolution, and more memory, but the improvements are minor. Comparing a 350ppi screen to a 300ppi screen is like comparing a 350hp car to a 300hp car. Both are more than enough.

    I was surprised to see the netbook market disappear completely. I expected it to decline to a handful of choices. We’re seeing netbook(ish) laptops pop back up, but they’re not called netbooks anymore. I expect tablets to take a similar market contraction. I’m not saying that I expect tablets to disappear, but I think the days of 100+ models is limited. I personally think they’re great for certain situations (mostly long car rides), but I’d much prefer a physical keyboard with a desktop OS (Windows 7 or Linux) if I’m doing something that’s going to take more than a few minutes. I have a few tablets, but I hardly ever use them at home.

    I don’t think the PC industry will ever be what it was, now that people can access the internet with their phones, tablets, TVs, etc, but I think once the tablet craze is over, and Windows 9 is available, PC shipments will perk up.

  2. Automation, wearables, self-driving cars, 3d/4k TVs… these may be ‘considered’ as the next big markets, but most of those are either not mature, or simply don’t have the compelling ease of use and feature sets that will lead to wide spread adoption right now. Someone will make something eventually that may drive new consumption, but I don’t think we’re there yet. I think the next step will be utilitarian in nature before the next wave of awesome products hits, and I think it will be power generation and better batteries.

    As for tablets, I own a half dozen and most families i know own 2-4 as well, so I agree with the premise stated here.

  3. Who didn’t see this coming? The acceleration of product improvement points out that early adopters are now beginning to look foolish, that the wise tech buyer waits for products to mature somewhat (and prices to drop) before plunging in. Basically, don’t buy something unless you have a compelling reason to do so (that you actually NEED it–as opposed to WANT it, or it does something really useful for you), other than spare cash burning a hole in your pocket looking for a shiny new toy to acquire.

    This also means that me-too manufacturers and and those that make substandard products have a higher gauntlet to overcome. Such economic Darwinism, where the thrivers are those who provide real value, can only redound to the consumer’s benefit.

    1. If there are no early adopters then how will it eventually trickle down to the “wise tech buyer”?. If early adopters dont buy the products then they’ll be dead in the water and seize to exist.

  4. I think the next “growth” market is home automation. If the manufacturers could ever settle on a single standard for communication between devices this could be the next “big thing” for them to sell us consumers lots of new shiny objects.

    1. I completely agree with you on this. They are also struggling with monetization models and (at least some) with privacy concerns. I’m playing around with the VeraLite Mi Casa Verde system and a couple of Z-wave and Insteon devices that can be controlled both from a desktop OS via web browser and via mobile apps on the 3 leading mobile platforms. No subscription fees help make it a great point of entry to get your feet wet in home automation.

  5. Look, I’ve purchased my share of tablets in my search, as I’m sure others have.
    I now own a 10, a 7, and my Note 2 smartphone, which has essentially replaced the 7 for most things.
    I’m good now.

  6. Moreover, the pricing in the tablet market is really going to drop. So, rather than 100 million units at $500, the market will be 250 million units with an average price of $200.

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