Did 2014 mark the end of the tablet boom? Early signs of trouble came last May, when first-quarter tablet shipments missed expectations. IDC subsequently downgraded its 2014 forecast in September. Now, the market research firm says the fourth quarter of 2014 saw the first-ever decline in quarterly tablet shipments.
76.1 million tablets and "2-in-1 devices" were shipped in Q4, a 3.2% drop from the same quarter a year before, IDC reports. The market still grew in 2014 as a whole, but that growth amounted to only 4.4%. That's an order-of-magnitude decrease from 2013, when shipments soared by 50.6%.
IDC blames the slowdown on a "top-heavy" tablet market and a lack of excitement around Apple's and Samsung's offerings:
"The tablet market is still very top heavy in the sense that it relies mostly on Apple and Samsung to carry the market forward each year," said Jitesh Ubrani, Senior Research Analyst, Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker. "Although Apple expanded its iPad lineup by keeping around older models and offering a lower entry price point of $249, it still wasn't enough to spur iPad sales given the excitement around the launch of the new iPhones. Meanwhile, Samsung's struggles continued as low-cost vendors are quickly proving that mid- to high-priced Android tablets simply aren't cut out for today's tablet market."
According to IDC's breakdown of shipments among the top five vendors, Apple and Samsung both saw their tablet shipments shrink by about 18% in Q4 2014. Asus and Amazon experienced even larger declines—24.9% and 69.9%, respectively—while Lenovo managed to enjoy 9.1% growth. In terms of market share, Apple and Samsung still occupy the top two spots on the podium, followed by Lenovo, Asus, and Amazon.
Gloomy as the numbers may be, IDC expects some growth in the tablet market in 2015. The research firm reckons that growth will be spurred by the launch of Windows 10, "innovations such as gesture interface[s]," and the arrival of larger and more "productivity focused" devices. Apple is indeed expected to introduce a larger iPad aimed at business users this year.
Still, the tablet market isn't proving as resilient as some might have thought—and recent PC shipment figures don't look half bad in comparison.