Remember when tablets were exciting? The amount of hype that surrounding the launch of the original iPad and the first crop of Android tablets has died down in recent years (as has the average selling price of a tablet), and now research firm IDC reports that tablet shipments are down… for the 12th consecutive quarter.

In other words, the overall number of tablets shipped around the world has fallen during every single 3-month period in the last 3 years… according to IDC at least.

That said, there are a handful of individual companies that actually saw growth in tablet shipments in the most recent quarter.

  • Apple is said to have shipped 10.3 million units in the third quarter of 2017, up from 9.3 million a year earlier, for an 11.4 percent year-over-year increase.
  • Amazon’s tablet shipments rose 38.7 percent, from 3.1 million to 4.4 million.
  • Huawei’s shipments were up 18.8 percent, from 2.5 million to 3 million.
  • Lenovo’s were up 8.9 percent, with an increase from 2.7 million to 3 million.

So what accounts for the decline? Samsung shipments were down 7.9 percent (from 6.5 million to 6 million). And “other” tablet makers saw shipments drop 26.3 percent (from 18.1 million to 13.3 million).

In other words, companies that didn’t make the top 5 saw an overall decline, which means that while 40 million tablets shipped in the quarter, that number is down 5.4 percent from the 42.3 million that shipped a year earlier.

I suspect the same trends we’ve been seeing for a while account for the decline. The first tablets were basically phones with big screens and batteries (but no cellular connectivity). But in recent years phone screens have gotten bigger, some models have longer battery life, and generally speaking folks who might have been drawn to tablets for their screen size might not feel the need for a separate device anymore.

And just because shipments are down doesn’t necessarily mean people aren’t using tablets. They just may not feel the need to upgrade or replace them very often. If you think of a tablet as a secondary or tertiary device that complements a phone and/or PC, it’s probably the device you’ll upgrade the least frequently since older models are still good enough for basic use like web browsing, media consumption, and light gaming.

It’s interesting to look at the companies that are continuing to see growth. Amazon is now number 3 on IDC’s list. The company has pretty much given up on high-end tablets, instead focusing on low-cost devices with decent, but not spectacular hardware. With prices starting as low as $50, Amazon’s Fire tablets are almost a no-brainer for folks looking for an inexpensive device for reading Kindle eBooks, streaming music and movies from Amazon, and surfing the web, playing games, and generally anything else you can do on an Android tablet that’s tightly tied to Amazon’s ecosystem.

Apple, meanwhile, has taken a two-pronged strategy. It’s one of the few companies that’s still offering high-end tablets that ship with a mobile operating system. But Apple’s entry-level iPad and iPad mini tablets are also some of the company’s most affordable products. Sure, with prices starting at $329, they’re expensive compared to Amazon’s Fire tablets, but by Apple standards they’re pretty affordable entry points into the company’s ecosystem.


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15 replies on “IDC: Tablet shipments have declined for 3 years straight”

  1. Market saturation plus more mature products with longer useful lifecycles.

  2. Because tablets have crappy hardware and companies focus more in smartphones.

  3. Have a couple of tablets as secondary devices. Bottom line… the OS just doesn’t cut it for me. I expected more from Android by this point – keyboard/mouse support, multitasking with resizable windows, security upgrades.

    I’m also cognizant that these systems are always tracking, watching. Most apps can’t be trusted either. Such an effort to secure these devices. Now we have Google segueing into ChromeOS and Android (a system built from the ground up to collect user data) is now playing second fiddle to an even better surveillance device. One that’s even more patchwork, hodge-podgy than Windows 10’s hybrid OS.

    All of this aside… whenever you do searches for apps, you’re constantly hit in the face with brain-dead games. They’ve turned tablets into a kid’s toy and most tablet users I know just pass them off to their kids to keep them busy. It’s the new boob tube.

  4. I think a major factor in tablet decline is the improvements in the mobile phone experience — i.e. that web sites have gotten so much better with their mobile site design (helped by the improvements in browser and hardware capabilities, of course). Back when tablets were new, surfing the web on a phone could be a frustrating experience. These days, thanks to responsive designs, I actually prefer reading some sites on my phone than I do on my PC, where they tend to have messy layouts and too many ads.

    I used to use my Nexus 10 tablet all the time to surf the web and play mobile games. Now I can’t remember the last time I picked it up.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head. Over the last several years as smartphones have become nearly universal most popular web sites have been redesigned with them in mind. Now I have to scroll more than I used to when using my laptop or desktop, which I kind of dislike. But it sure beats having to scroll across a gigantic page on a small screen when I’m on my phone. Tablets handle this kind of content well also, but now that phones can handle almost anything tablets are a much less important intermediate.

  5. I don’t think this need over analysis. Tablets were a new category. Nobody had one. People bought one = huge sales. Once people bought one, they haven’t needed to replace them much at all. Nothing has pushed the hardware to make it outdated quickly enough. That’s it. People like tablets, but most everyone has one. Smartphones replacing tablets? Where I come from, if I’m home that 5-inch screen eats crap compared to a 7-10 inch tablet display. Tablets fill a need and to suggest smartphones are the biggest factor in slow tablet sales is weak at best.

    1. I disagree, I have no interest in having another device around with a Nexus 6P. I use that to browse, read articles etc. No need to buy another device to do these tasks.

  6. It’s pretty simple… phones need to be replaced due to (1) physical damage, (2) camera improvements and (3) improved performance. My older tablets work just fine and there isn’t a new feature or improvement that would significantly change my tablet experience. Just like most people here, I am only going to replace the tablet when it dies.

    1. yeah tablets have stagnated.. just hasn’t been anything worth it.. I wish tablets would just give way to tablet docks, because unless they can make a 10″ tablet that is under a half pound with all day battery life i am just not interested in upgrading… my issue is that the tablets i usually wind up buying are about 1/2 as powerful as my mobile phone..

  7. I haven’t really thought about much, but it is no surprise that table shipments keep going down. Besides the fire tablets, which arguably keep innovating, or something like the new ipads, there are no table that utilize split screen or other newer features that many users are now aware of and looking for.Plus bigger phone displays.

  8. On the Chinese side of things, tablets are becoming a lot more scarce. There’s little replacement for the Android 5.1 generation, and buying a 5.1 today hurts my butt. Teclast have the excellent T10 and T8 at $150-$200, but there’s nothing worthwhile at 12″-13″ which I prefer, or Windows-only which doesn’t work for me.
    Also waiting for an update the the Yoga Tab family, excellent for general use w/ the built-in stand and loud sound. My parents had me pack up their Win10 PC just last week, they only want to use their Yogas now.

  9. I’m surprised Amazon doesn’t have more sales at those prices, but I’m also surprised they even report tablet sales.

  10. I bought a 7″ Amazon tablet and don’t like it and almost never use it. I bought a 10″ no-name Android tablet and use it regularly. When a phone just isn’t big enough and you really don’t want to pull out the laptop, the 10″ inch tablet does fine. Sure, it is running an old version of Android (Lollipop) but I am not using it for banking or anything critical. Will probably continue to use it until the battery dies. ONLY THEN will I consider getting a new tablet. At this point pretty much anyone who wants a tablet has one. The manufactures would love for users to replace them every two years like phones but that isn’t going to happen. Maybe those who use them for business will, but regular consumers just don’t feel the need. Most of my Apple loving friends have ipads that are more than 4 years old. Nobody seems concerned that they are not the new hotness. The last time a friend bought a new ipad did so to replace the one she gave her daughter who took it to school out of town.

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