Tablet computers are still hot items as people write up their Christmas shopping lists but signs are showing that sales growth may be on the wane.
IDC today released a forecast that tablet sales growth may slip into the single digits by 2017 as the gadgets approach market saturation in places like the U.S. Meanwhile, the tablet market is in a kind of flux as consumers are increasingly choosing smaller tablets, typically with a 7-inch diagonal screen, over larger tablets that edge closer to a 10-inch screen. Complicating matters further are the number of smartphones coming out with 6-inch screens, making them almost the same size as a small tablet.
“The market has trended toward small tablets in a big way over the last 24 months, but the rise of large phones could well push consumers back toward larger tablets as the difference between a 6-inch smartphone and a 7-inch tablet isn't great enough to warrant purchasing both,” IDC states in its Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Track report.
Popular 7-inch tablets like the Google Nexus 7 and the Apple iPad Mini are indicative of the small tablet trend, IDC argues, which has been growing over the last two years. But the popularity of the recently released iPad Air, with a 9.7-inch screen, indicates that the larger form factor still has some appeal.
Meanwhile, IDC says that a transition toward larger tablets could be a positive development for Windows tablets, which generally benefit from a larger screen area. Even so, Windows tablets aren’t expected to steal much market share from Android or Apple iOS models.
Tablets running Windows 8 are expected to only reach 10.2 percent market share by 2017 from 3.4 percent in 2013, IDC reports. Android will remain the market leader with a 58.8 percent share in 2017, down just slightly from 60.8 percent in 2013. More troubling is the slide of Apple iOS-powered tablets to 30.6 percent in 2017, from 35 percent this year and from 45.6 percent last year.
Though Apple still gets people to line up for each new model, it needs something more to get people excited at more than just launch time.
To be sure, tablet sales are far from "been there, done that" status. IDC forecasts tablet sales to top 221.3 million units by the end of 2013, a 53.5 percent gain over 2012. Unit shipment growth is expected to slow to 22 percent in 2014 -- but hey, all sorts of other product vendors would love a 22 percent annual growth rate.
IDC sees growth rates slipping into single digit percentages by 2017 to 386 million units, down from a previous forecast of 407 million units. But who knows what will be the hot new must-have gadgets by then?