IDC_logoA new study from International Data Corporation (IDC) minces no words about its prognosis for the global tablet market, predicting “a massive deceleration in 2014 with year-over-year growth slowing to 7.2%, down from 52.5% in 2013.” The forecast also highlights “the expectation that 2014 will represent the first full year of decline in Apple iPad shipments.”

The conceptual nugget at the heart of this statistical breakdown is that: “in the early stages of the tablet market, device lifecycles were expected to resemble those of smartphones, with replacement occurring every 2-3 years,” as Ryan Reith, Program Director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers, explains in IDC’s materials. “What has played out instead is that many tablet owners are holding onto their devices for more than 3 years and in some instances more than 4 years. We believe the two major drivers for longer than expected tablet lifecycles are legacy software support for older products, especially within iOS, and the increased use of smartphones for a variety of computing tasks.”

Disgruntled recipients of the latest Android 5.0 Lollipop upgrades may not appreciate the fact, but another reason for the stretched tablet life cycles is the success of OS upgrades, and in Android’s case, incremental improvements to the core apps even when the underlying OS remains unchanged. Arguably, one factor that tablet producers and IDC might also have forgotten is that smartphone replacement cycles and usage in general are driven by carrier plans, which by and large do not apply to tablets. It’s no surprise then to see the market dynamics of the latter work out a little differently.

IDC’s trend analysis also highlights strong expansion in Windows 8+ OS tablets, with a 38.1 percent forecast CAGR in shipment volumes over the 2014-18 period leading to an 11.4 percent market share by 2018. Android, meanwhile, is forecast to see more moderate shipment growth over the same timescale at just under 6 percent, while Apple pulls back by just over 1 percent.

“We need to look at how the tablet ecosystem is answering these challenges, and right now we see a lot of pressure on tablet prices and an influx of entry-level products, which ultimately serves Android really well,” added Jean Philippe Bouchard, IDC’s Research Director for Tablets. “But we also see tablet manufacturers trying to offset this price pressure by focusing on larger screens and cellular-enabled tablets. The next six months should be really interesting.”

In passing, though, it’s also worth noting that according to the International Telecommunication Union, 4.3 billion of the world’s population, most of them in developing countries, are still not online. So there is plenty of untapped market growth out there to play for.


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