Tablets sales will grow just 6.5% this year

Overlapping mobile tablets and phones
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IDC lowers its tablet shipment growth forecast as smartphones, wearables and PCs jockey for buyer attention

Tablet shipments worldwide will continue to grow this year, but not as quickly as previously expected, according to a forecast released Friday.

After four years of double- and triple-digit growth, worldwide tablet shipments this year will grow by just 6.5% over last year, according to IDC. The research firm had previously forecast 12.1% growth.

The tablet market is maturing and long-term trends are becoming clearer, said Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director for tablets.

More money is being spent on cheap laptops, smartphones or wearables, and people are keeping tablets longer than expected, Bouchard said.

"We originally thought the [ownership cycle] was two years. We realized it was closer to three years," he said.

In addition, users aren't discarding older tablets and are instead handing them down to their kids.

Meanwhile, laptop prices are also coming down fast, and putting pricing pressure on tablets, especially in Europe, Bouchard said.

In the last month a plethora of sub-$250 tablets running Microsoft Windows 8.1 with Bing started shipping. Microsoft is helping PC makers build cheap laptops to battle threats from Chromebooks, Android and iOS and is offering the OS royalty free.

Interest is swaying in the direction of smaller-screen tablets, and those looking for larger screens are moving to laptops, Bouchard said.

"As you move up in screen size, you move towards productivity. The keyboard is becoming more important," Bouchard said.

Tablet shipments will continue to grow in emerging markets, at a 12% rate, driven by small screen, low-cost tablets from Chinese companies. Shipments in mature markets, where buyers are moving to larger-screen devices, remain flat.

Buyers are increasingly considering wearables and smartphones versus tablets, but more data generated by small-screen devices could ultimately help tablet shipments, Bouchard said.

"Long to medium term, it's a positive thing, it creates a halo effect, it will generate more data, and you'll need more screen to visualize the data," Bouchard said.

IDC's tablet forecast also accounts for 2-in-1 devices, which can be used as laptops or tablets.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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