IDC: Apple and Microsoft aren’t enough to stop the decline of the tablet market

IDC has just released its quarterly analysis of the tablet market, and much like the PC market, the decline continues – albeit slowed by the rise of lower cost devices.

Tech observers will recall that Apple had the best iPad fiscal quarter in a while, selling over 15% YOY growth, mostly attributed to the new iPad. Indeed it is devices like that, and lower-cost devices sold by white-label markets that helped slow the decline. Furthermore, Microsft’s Surfaves and the various copies it spawned have had an impact on the market, albeit a smaller impact than was expected – especially with the launch of the new Surface Pro and devices like Huawei’s Matebook.

“There’s been a resetting of expectations for detachables as competing convertible notebooks offered a convincing and familiar computing experience for many.

To date, the 2-in-1 market was bifurcated as Apple and Microsoft led with detachables while the PC vendors led with convertibles. Though that is slowly changing as smartphone vendors and traditional PC vendors begin to offer compelling alternatives, the pace has been rather slow as Surface and iPad Pro still dominate shelf space and mindshare.”

It seems like the problem with the mainstream tablet market is the same as that of the detachables market. It’s not a particularly large market. There is a market for the iPad, and associated knock-offs, and there is a market for the Surface and similar knock offs. Unlike the smartphone market, however, most users and buyers don’t seem to be in love with the form factor. Rather they are infatuated with specific products. Apple’s iPads and their vast library of apps are desirable, Xiaomi’s knockoffs less so. Hence why Microsoft and Apple have the mindshare locked up. Google’s neglect of Android tablets and the lack of any real high-end competition to the iPad and Surface from Android also play a part.

“The tablet market has essentially become a race to see if the burgeoning detachables category can grow fast enough to offset the long-term erosion of the slate market. From that lens, the second quarter was a slight righting of the ship and there is still much to be hopeful about in the back half of 2017. New product launches from Microsoft and Apple are generally accompanied by subsequent quarters of inflated shipments, the reintroduction of Windows to the ARM platform could help remedy the aforementioned hollowing of the middle of the market, and we expect a proliferation of Chrome OS-based detachables in time for the holidays.”

IDC expects Windows 10 on ARM (but inexplicably not Windows 10 S) and ChromeOS powered detachables to help prop up the tablet market and build up the now anaemic mid-range market. It’s not impossible, but judging from past performance from both these OSes and that of the tablet market, I wouldn’t hold my breath.