Analysts have been describing falling tablet shipments for some time but a new study from ABI Research now suggests the user base for the devices will itself start to shrink next year for the first time.
The installed base for tablets, generated from the strong sales that started after the launch of the Apple iPad in 2010, will plateau by the end of this year and start declining in 2016.
According to the Oyster Bay, a New York analyst firm, the global installed base of branded tablets will peak at about 373 million units at the close of 2015.
"Led by North America at 48 percent of the installed base, the operating system mix is expected to be more balanced, with 50 percent powered by Android, while 42 percent will use iOS," ABI Research director Jeff Orr said in a statement.
The rise of phablets - smartphones with screen sizes approaching those of tablets - is one of the factors behind the decline in the user base for slates.
"Phablets are an increasing percentage of smartphone shipments and are a mobile alternative to replacing a tablet," Orr said.
Tablets will also be replaced by 2-in-1 ultraportable PCs, which hold a particular attraction for small business owners looking to maintain the productivity of a PC with the mobility of a tablet.
"Choices for 2-in-1 systems are increasing and are now available with Windows 10 OS," ABI Research said.
In some cases users will not be replacing their tablets at all, with a number of the original handsets being passed on or resold.
A number of others will break or their owners will stop using them and start using other devices for the tasks for which they once employed them. A month ago market-intelligence firm TrendForce predicted a 14.9 percent fall in shipments this year, as seven-inch mini-tablets are displaced by six-inch smartphones or phablets.
Research company IDC put the fall in tablet shipments at eight percent in 2015 but predicted strong growth in 2-in-1 devices.
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