When Apple first introduced the iPad back in 2010, it promised to add a whole new dimension to computing. As the first real tablet, the iPad combined the touchscreen functionality of a smartphone with the larger screen size of a laptop. That original iPad was highly touted as being ideal for both personal and enterprise computing, and sales of the initial iterations of iPads, in addition to competitive products made by Samsung, Amazon and others, were robust.
Fast forward to today, however, and the outlook for the tablet is far more grim. International Data Corporation found that around 10 percent fewer tablets were shipped in 2015 versus what was sent out in 2014. In the critical fourth quarter of last year, when most consumer devices are boosted by holiday shopping, tablet sales were down by more than 13.5 percent compared with the last three months of 2014.
"10.1% fewer tablets were shipped in 2015 versus 2014."
IDC were not the only ones to spot this slowdown in the tablet marketplace. A January 2016 report from Strategy Analytics found that while close to 70 million tablets were shipped worldwide from October through December of 2015, more than 78 million of these handheld devices were sent out during the same period in the previous year. No matter whose numbers are used, tablet sales are clearly on the decline.
While all signs point to a precipitous decline in the tablet market today, the reasons for the dropoff vary. Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a 2015 earnings call, said the tepid tablet market may be due to consumers keeping their devices around for longer than initially expected.
"The upgrade cycle is longer," Cook said, according to The Guardian. "It's longer than an iPhone, probably between an iPhone and a PC. We haven't been in the business long enough to say that with certainty, but that's what we think."
But, Cook's official sentiment may be optimistic. The Guardian's Stuart Dredge noted that larger smartphones plus compact laptops from the likes of Dell and others may be more realistically to blame for the decline in tablet popularity. On the touchscreen side, with most major smartphone manufacturers now creating so-called "phablets," or smartphones with larger screens, the size benefits of a tablet compared with its smaller brethren may be disappearing.
And from a functionality standpoint, with many light laptops now available today, many users may prefer the increased functionality of a lightweight device with a keyboard versus something just with touchscreen capabilities. This is a big differentiator on the enterprise side, as the keyboard plus USB ports make laptops much more useful than a tablet for business.
"If fewer techy potential tablet owners are finding that a phablet can cater to their needs, so the more techy ones may be finding the lure of a laptop hard to resist," Dredge wrote. "Given that these people are also likely to have large-screened smartphones, a tablet may seem like more of a luxury device."
The market has spoken, and the tablet is out. This is especially true on the enterprise side, as business users increasingly find laptops to be much more functional than any tablet. While some frequent fliers may have once turned to tablets due to their compact nature and minimal weight, today's leading laptop manufacturers like Dell are manufacturing PCs that rival tablets in this arena.
Take the Dell XPS 13 for example. It features a 128GB solid state hard drive, a 13.3-inch display and 4GB of RAM, yet it weighs only 2.7 pounds. In addition to all of this, it also comes with state-of-the-art wireless networking capabilities, a full keyboard plus all the ports a business person would ever need, Digital Trends reported.
PCWorld even noted that the Dell XPS 15 outperformed the MacBook Pro in just about every way. With all of this advanced functionality available in a small frame, it's no wonder companies are ditching tablets in favor of laptops like the Dell XPS line.
"[T]oday's tablet shoppers are not only considering price – they're also interested in performance, and using tablets instead of PC's," TechCrunch contributor Sarah Perez wrote.
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