IDC: Tablet Market Will Continue Slow Growth In Coming Year

Growth in the tablet market, which only a few years ago was flourishing, will continue to slow, to 2.1 percent growth for worldwide shipments in 2015, market research firm IDC predicted Thursday.

IDC expects shipments for tablets -- including Apple's iPad models, Microsoft's Surface Pro series and Samsung's Galaxy Tab series -- to experience sluggish growth in the coming year, from 229.7 million in 2014 to 234.5 million in 2015.

Partners, for their part, have mixed views of the tablet market's future in the coming year, as more devices become integrated in the marketplace.

[Related: IDC : Q4 Global Tablet Shipments Show First Year-Over-Year Decline ]

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"I think we are in for some interesting surprises in the coming year in this space," said Douglas Grosfield of Xylotek Solutions, a Cambridge, Ontario-based solution provider. "Yes, the market may be dipping a bit, players may be pulling back or eliminating product lines, ... but I believe the tablet market is actually finally figuring out how to deliver on the promise of more mobile, yet powerful enough and feature-rich enough functionality, to more firmly carve out the niche space between one's desktop and one’s smartphone or phablet."

IDC scaled back expectations for tablet growth in the coming year after the fourth quarter of 2014 saw a year-over-year decline of 3.2 percent, because of the long replacement cycles of tablets.

"The main factor behind this slow market is the extended, longer-than-anticipated life cycle of tablets," said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst at IDC. "That is hindering tablet sales. We'll see a really slow, constant growth over the next few years, in the low single digits."

Another cause for the tablet's decline, said Jonathan Levine, CTO of Intermedia, a Mountain View, Calif.-based solution provider, is the increasing array of integrated devices, such as laptops, large-screened phones and ultrabooks.

’As integration between devices gets better and better, … the use for tablets in business will continue to shrink. Except for very specific mobile business cases like medical charting, the phone plus an ultrabook will probably be a better choice for most business users," he said. "The advantages of tablets are being eroded on both the low end by phablets, and on the high end by solid-state-drive-powered ultrabooks and laptops -- the new MacBook, for example, is nearly the same size and weight as the iPad."

On the tablet platform level, IDC analysts expect Android-based tablet devices to stay at the forefront of the market, but experience very little growth in the next year, moving from 67.3 percent market share in 2014 to 67.4 percent in 2015. The iOS-based tablet devices are expected to lose share, dropping from 63.4 percent to 60.1 percent in 2015.

Meanwhile, Windows-based tablets will see an increase in shipments from 5.1 percent of market share in 2014 to 7 percent in 2015. Windows 10, which will be launched later this year, could give Microsoft's Surface Pro tablets the boost they need as devices on other platforms continue to sink in the coming year, said Ubrani.

Xylotek Solutions' Grosfield, a Microsoft partner, agrees that Windows-based products will flourish in the tablet market because of the connectivity of Windows 10.

"Anyone in the corporate world who truly wants to get meaningful work done has always reverted to the laptop to get it done, as the tablets available were sorely lacking," he said. "Security has always been an issue too, in the Android tablet market, and the iOS market, with the proliferation of the app world for this medium. The latest Surface models are bridging that gap, and mitigating those risks, providing a small enough, and light enough, alternative to carrying the laptop around in your briefcase. Microsoft will indeed make significant inroads in terms of market share in the next four to six quarters."