In Transitioning Tablet Market, Detachable Devices Create New Channel Opportunities

As traditional smaller slate form factors fail to resuscitate the struggling tablet market, vendors are turning their focus to detachable tablets, according to market research firm IDC.

Detachable tablets have held just a single digit percentage in the overall tablet market, according to an IDC report released Thursday, but the researcher expects sales of these devices to "increase dramatically" over the next 18 months.

"Consumers tend to have a PC that's old and a tablet that's old, and are looking to combine two devices," Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst at IDC, told CRN. "So when they're thinking about making a purchase, they can kill two birds with one stone in buying a detachable device. On the vendor side, vendors have seen the PC industry struggling for some time, and are more than happy to enter the growing detachable market."

[Related: IDC: Samsung, Apple Pave Way For Strong Third-Quarter Smartphone Market]

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The emergence of detachable devices could be just the lifeline that the sluggish tablet market needs. According to IDC, in the third quarter tablet shipments declined 12.6 percent, facing continued pressure from the large-screen smartphone market and suffering from long product replacement cycles.

Partners, for their part, say the new interest in detachable tablets, from Microsoft's newly released Surface Book to Apple's recently announced iPad Pro, paves the way for new business opportunities.

"From a partner perspective, this opens a new product line to me, and drives new business opportunities," said David Felton, founder of Canaan Technology, a Norwalk, Conn.-based solution provider. "Apple has had the tablet market locked up and solution providers are always looking for an alternative to the iPad. Now with the detachable market taking off, all these different brands who I have a relationship with, like Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, and Dell, have opened a new product line to my business."

The overall tablet market is currently led by Apple with 20.3 percent share, followed by vendors like Samsung and Lenovo. But even the Cupertino, Calif.-based company saw sales decline by 19.7 percent during the third quarter.

Felton, who works with SMBs and partners of vendors like Lenovo and HP, said while detachable tablets certainly have a business opportunity for the channel, it is too early to quantify how big that opportunity is. "Customers in the commercial segment are looking for devices that have the same power and graphics as laptops, but are lighter," he said.

Apple in September took the wraps off its iPad Pro, which will be available in November and features an enhanced keyboard accessory, as well as the Apple Pencil, an accessory stylus for writing notes and drawing on the device.

Only a few weeks later, Microsoft announced its $1,499, 13.5-inch Surface Book with a detachable touch screen, followed by Hewlett-Packard, which rolled out its $799 12-inch Spectre x2 with a detachable keyboard and stylus.

PC makers like HP and Dell, however, will face ongoing competition in the detachable tablet market from traditional smartphone manufacturers like Samsung that have longer track records in delivering low-cost products. They also face continually changing trends in the tablet market.

"In the coming months we'll be keeping an eye out in the tablet market for larger devices, detachables, and cellular enabled devices," Ubrani said.