Tablet sales have been steadily declining for years, according to data released by IDC. Apple managed to increase its market share slightly in the last quarter, though this is because of low sales across the board — Apple’s overall sales remained roughly the same.
This begs the question: is the tablet on its way out? People have been ringing the tablet’s death knell for years, predicting the worst, and the technology has held out this long.
Two years ago, CNET asked “Where have all the tablets gone?,” already noting a decline in sales. At the time, TechCrunch was more definitive, declaring “tablets are dead.” Last summer, Business Insider suggested Android tablets were losing their momentum, part of a larger trend towards the death of the tablet.
The IDC numbers show that the tablet’s decline isn’t such a simple matter. While Apple’s sales are holding steady, Amazon has seen a spike in its tablet sales, jumping up to second place, replacing Samsung just behind Apple. Nevertheless, the overall numbers paint a bleak picture for tablet manufacturers. One or two companies may be holding steady or even growing, but the bulk of consumers are dropping off the tablet bandwagon fast.
Breaking down what a tablet is and what it does, it's not altogether surprising that they're falling out of fashion.
IDC tracked both slate and detachable tablets, so tablets with touchscreens and tablets with attached keyboards. Looking at those two categories, breaking down what a tablet is and what it does, it’s not altogether surprising that they’re falling out of fashion.
Early tablets seemed like a great middle ground for a ton of on-the-go uses. They were conveniently portable, unlike big and clunky laptops, without the drawbacks of smartphones (small screens and limited functions). But that middle ground between smartphones and laptops has gotten increasingly small.
For those who don’t need a separate keyboard, slate tablets have lost some of their appeal in the face of the increasingly-standard large smartphone screens. The tide seemed to change when even Apple joined the phablet revolution started by companies like Samsung, offering a 5.5-inch screen on its iPhone 7 Plus. The very designation “phablet” already says a lot. Phones can easily be subbed in for tablets, with their large screens, fast speeds, and expansive storage. Some phones can even be docked and used as computers.
If you prefer something even bigger, or liked the separate keyboard offered by detachable tablets, you can bypass the middle-ground option from the other end of the tech spectrum and buy one of the many lightweight, compact laptops available. Tablets are a great, discrete alternative to a laptop, but only when your laptop is too big or heavy to do the job. That doesn’t seem to be a problem for most people anymore.
It may be too early to count tablets out. Sales are dipping, but that doesn’t mean they’re useless. If you’re someone who likes to use a multi-purpose tool instead of buying multiple single-use items, a tablet may be obsolete for you. But tablets are still smaller and lighter than laptops, and they’ll likely continue to be, even as laptops evolve. They’re also still bigger than a phone and better at mimicking standard computer functions. The market for those features may be getting smaller, but is it really going away?
Maybe the tablet’s days are numbered, but these numbers seem to show a shifting market rather than a device on its way out. One way or another, our options keep getting better. Tablets are part of an ever-evolving ecosystem of devices, and their dip in sales is likely just a symptom of better phones and laptops. No complaints here.