Tablet shipments drop to three-year low in Q2

Business use of tablets expected to grow, both IDC and Canalys say

surface pro 4

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 is the kind of device leading the trend toward detachable tablets, also called 2-in-1s. 

Credit: Microsoft

Tablet shipments reached their lowest point in three years in the second quarter of 2016, according to analyst firm Canalys.

However, analysts at Canalys and IDC are seeing a glimmer of hope for the devices with business demand for detachable tablets like the Microsoft Surface Pro and the iPad Pro. The Windows 10 anniversary update, which rolls out tomorrow, could further the business trend toward detachable tablets as could the next version of Android, called Nougat, with its better multitasking support.

Canalys reported 35 million tablets shipped in the second quarter, down 16% from a year ago. IDC said overall shipments reached 38.7 million, a decline of 12.3%.

According to Canalys, Apple tablets took the top spot at a 28% share of the market, while Samsung took a 16% share and Lenovo and Huawei got 7% and 6% respectively. IDC's numbers were about the same: Apple had 25.8%; Samsung, 15.6%; Lenovo, 6.6% and Huawei, 5.6%. IDC tracked Amazon with a 4% market share, citing its low-priced Fire tablets, based on an Android variant, including its 6-in. tablet, for the first time.

For more than two years, analysts have watched the tablet market decline. The reasons are primarily because users hold on to the devices for longer and because larger smartphones — those with displays over 5.5 inches — have caught on as an alternative to smaller tablets.

In June, IDC predicted global tablet shipments would drop by 9.6% for all of 2016, up from a prediction of a 6% decline in March.

IDC said the tablet decline would occur even when newer detachables tablets are included with slate tablets. Slates "are not coming back," IDC analyst Jean Phillippe Bouchard said at the time.

Later in June, Bouchard joined IDC analyst Bryan Bassett in predicting that global business use of tablets would grow by nearly 6% annually through 2020. Even so, that figure would still not be enough to reach the number of total consumer and business tablets shipped in 2015. In 2015, IDC said 206 million tablets shipped, including 35 million for business users, but in 2020, the total number will reach only 202.6 million, including 59.4 million for business users.

Business demand for tablets won't push overall tablet shipments to the heights of the past, Canalys agreed.

"The ongoing transition to Windows 10 and the arrival of multitasking in Android Nougat should provide an opportunity for vendors to capitalize on selling tablets and their associated services to businesses," Canalys analyst Tuan Anh Nguyen said, in a statement Monday.

In an interview, Canalys analyst Tim Coulling said detachables for business are "not seeing great growth for the moment, but consumer tablets are decreasing and we don't see that ending."

Still, IDC noted that slate tablets make up more than 75% of the market. "Slate sales are declining but they still serve a purpose and will do so for a long time to come," Bouchard said. IDC also reported that 65% of all tablets shipped in the second quarter were Android-based, followed by iOS at 26% and Windows at 9%.

IDC expects more business users to adopt detachable tablets as their primary computing device. In addition to the Surface Pro 4 and iPad Pro, IDC includes HP's Envy x2 and Asus' Transformer Book Trio as examples of the detachable category. Canalys includes the Samsung Tab Pro S, the Huawei Matebook, the Lenovo Miix 700.

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