Amazon pieThe latest first-quarter 2016 numbers in the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker paint a picture of a tablet market in overall decline worldwide – but with some really standout exceptions, Amazon being first. In fact, with its Fire tablet lineup, Amazon’s “year-over-year growth is an astronomical 5421.7 percent.” I guess that really ought to put paid to any speculation about whether the $50 Fire was going to be a success, right?

Tablet sales as a whole, though, continue to fall. “First quarter seasonality combined with an overall disinterested customer base led to an annual decline of 14.7 percent in worldwide tablet shipments during the first quarter of 2016,” notes IDC. Apple, though, is also a beneficiary, at least in the short term, because the detachable form factor, rather than the standalone pure-play slate tablet, “experienced triple-digit year-over-year growth on shipments of more than 4.9 million units, an all-time high in the first quarter of a calendar year.”

“Microsoft arguably created the market for detachable tablets with the launch of their Surface line of products,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “With the PC industry in decline, the detachable market stands to benefit as consumers and enterprises seek to replace their aging PCs with detachables. Apple’s recent foray into this segment has garnered them an impressive lead in the short term, although continued long-term success may prove challenging as a higher entry price point staves off consumers and iOS has yet to prove its enterprise-readiness, leaving plenty of room for Microsoft and their hardware partners to reestablish themselves.” Furthermore, “the introduction of detachables from traditional smartphone vendors is only beginning and pose a real threat to traditional PC manufacturers,” said Jean Philippe Bouchard, Research Director, Tablets at IDC. “Their understanding of the mobile ecosystem and the volume achieved on their smartphone product lines will allow them to aggressively compete for this new computing segment.”

Apple’s lead in detachables, though, isn’t translating into growth across its whole tablet line. IDC recorded 18.8 percent decline in Apple tablet shipments year-on-year for the quarter. “iPad’s future will be largely relegated to replacements – of older iPads or PCs – rather than net new additions,” added IDC.

Amazon’s market share growth, while impressive, still leaves it with only 5.7 percent of the total tablet pie as of the last quarter. Still, as that pie shrinks, Amazon is probably going to eat into it more and more, especially at the low end. And IDC may even be underreporting Amazon’s tablet market share growth. “Amazon’s low-cost Fire tablet is certainly not the first of its kind, but its success speaks to Amazon’s prowess as a household brand and a distribution powerhouse,” noted the IDC announcement. “Though the year-over-year growth is an astronomical 5421.7 percent, it is important to note that Amazon’s 1Q15 lineup featured a 6″ tablet which was not counted by IDC as it did not meet the requirements of our taxonomy.”

What should this mean for your ebook and e-reader choices? Well, you may have a lot more choices in detachable form factors in future. That would mean slates probably running Windows 10 that slot into keyboards for desktop use. As I suggested elsewhere, though, you may not want to lock yourself in to Apple’s ecosystem any more than you may have done already. The company has a tepid near-term product lineup and is recording year-on-year volume decline. Contrast Amazon with its exponential market share growth and turbocharged earnings. Do I need to draw you a diagram?


  1. A tablet is a tool Apple got it. It is the apps that run on the hardware that make it useful.

    Amazon is coming from a different direction. They sell books and other media. They get integration of the hardware and software to support buying and viewing/watching/listening to media provides the continued value to their customers. This is what drives their growth in the tablet and e-reader markets.

    After the newness of the hardware wears off, it is the continued usefulness of the Amazon tablets and e-readers that make them something that continues to get used and upgraded. The satisfaction (despite the few warts such as no all bold option) also drives the word of mouth advertising for the Fire and Kindles.

    While the overall markets for tablets and e-readers may decline, Amazon will continue to provide useful and used tools and customers will continue to buy them from Amazon.

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