IDC predicts the tablet market will return to growth... if you include Windows PCs

The tablet market is declining faster than ever, but IDC's researchers predict a rebound by 2020. Unfortunately, this is based on the growing market for Windows detachables and 2-in-1s that are usually purchased as PCs rather than tablets.

HP Pavilion 10 x2 Detachable Laptop

Is this a tablet that I see before me? If the detachable screen hadn't been flipped around, you couldn't distinguish it from a normal Windows laptop. (Image: HP)

It's no secret that the tablet market is in decline, and manufacturers are either dropping out of the market or focusing on more promising areas such as virtual/augmented reality. However, US-based research firm IDC has just predicted that the worldwide tablet market [will] rebound in 2018 as Windows opens doors for growth and iPads come out of a slump.

IDC reckons that, this year, the tablet market will tumble by another 11.5 percent (a new low) to 183.4 million units, but it will grow back to 194.2 million units in 2020. This will still be lower than last year's actual sales.

IDC graph of tablet market shares

Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, August 30, 2016

In rough terms, IDC expects Android's tablet market share to drop around 10 percentage points by 2020, with Apple's iOS dropping a single point. Their losses will be Windows' gains: IDC predicts its share will grow from 8.6 percent of the market in 2015 to 19.3 percent in 2020.

According to IDC's senior research analyst, Jitesh Ubrani, the growth depends on detachable tablets "appealing to the commercial audience" and thereby taking "a larger piece of the traditional PC market".

He says: "Windows and iOS already have solid detachable offerings and with the latest version of Android, Google will also have a horse in the race as they finally offer better multitasking support and added security features."

Apple's toaster-fridge, the iPad Pro, is largely copied from Microsoft's Surface Pro design, but its sales have not yet reversed the decline in iPad sales.

IDC reckons that the move to detachable and 2-in-1 Windows tablets will lead to an increase in average screen sizes. "In 2016, 55 percent of all tablets will be 9 inches or smaller. By 2020, however, this share is forecast to drop to 40 percent," says the company.

Even in 2020, the majority of tablets will be the traditional type, but "most of these will be destined for emerging markets where consumers seek out any low cost computing device", says IDC.

If the prediction comes true, this will be good news and bad news for Microsoft. The good news will be that it has a growing share of the tablet market. The bad news is that it will overstate the decline of the PC market.

Some people -- me, for instance -- might wonder why IDC doesn't count Windows "tablets" as PCs, because that's how they are really sold and used. People don't buy Windows 10 detachables or 2-in-1s to use as tablets. They buy them to use as PCs. The fact that they also work as tablets is a bonus.

IDC's system makes it harder work to figure out what's happening in the PC market. To get a realistic number, you have to extract the number of Windows tablets from the Quarterly Tablet Tracker and add them to the PC numbers from the Quarterly PC Tracker.

In sum, IDC's headline is basically nonsense. There is hardly any market for pure Windows tablets, and I'd bet most people who snapped up a cheap one during Intel's short-lived bid for the tablet market added a third-party keyboard.

Yes, there is a market for Windows 10 detachables and 2-in-1s, but it's mostly a PC market, not a tablet market.

Dear IDC, isn't it time to stop this charade and move on?

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