Consumers aren't buying as many tablets as they used to, but now businesses are starting to buy more.
According to figures from analysts IDC, in the first quarter of this year the overall tablet market in Western Europe dropped 10.5 percent year-on-year. Shipments totalled 8.5 million units for the period - down one million on the first quarter of 2014.
IDC blamed the fall on "sluggish consumer demand" for new devices as individuals held onto their tablets for longer than manufacturers had hoped, or bought big-screen phablet devices instead.
But as consumers held back, business users began getting more comfortable with tablets: sales to businesses increased by more than 50 percent year on year - up from around one million units in the first quarter of 2014 to 1.6 million in the same period this year.
IDC includes hybrid two-in-one devices - such as the Microsoft Surface, HP Envy X2, and Asus Transformer Book T100 - in its tablet figures. The share of the tablet market held by these devices remains small - IDC puts it at 5.9 percent, but said they are becoming more popular with businesses and consumers, with shipments up 44 percent year on year.
"Tablet usage for professional purposes is a reality," said Marta Fiorentini, senior research analyst at IDC. Deployments are growing beyond early adopters: "Adoption is far from being mainstream but we now see companies of all sizes choosing tablets and two-in-ones to support their normal business activities."
The UK, France, Germany, and Nordic countries remain at the forefront of this trend, Fiorentini said, adding adoption in other Western European countries tends to be limited to occasional deals. "The release of Windows 10 is likely to resolve most of the infrastructure legacy and integration problems that have so far hindered tablet and two-in-one adoption in some existing enterprises. The growth of the commercial segment is therefore expected to continue in the coming quarters, supporting overall market volumes in 2015 and beyond," she said.
Android tablets still dominate the market. IDC said that while Samsung, the largest Android vendor, "underperformed the market" in the consumer space, it showed strong growth in the enterprise. While Apple's iOS retained second place, IDC said the success of the iPhone 6 has partially impacted sales of the iPad Mini.
The rest of the market is represented by Windows devices, which IDC said posted strong double-digit growth for the third quarter in a row. The growth was the result of an increasing number of models available on the market running Windows, including new two-in-one hybrids like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, but also the Acer T100, and Acer's Switch range.
Chrystelle Labesque, IDC's EMEA personal computing research manager, said the growth opportunity for tablets will come from enterprises and professional users, as vendors have significantly expanded their product portfolio with devices aimed at the segment.
She added that demand for two-in-one devices is gathering momentum driven by improved hardware as well as better pricing attracting consumers as well as professionals.
IDC said the tablet market could bounce back later in the year on the back of new models and renewals as existing devices reach the end of their life cycle. Increasing adoption of tablets and two-in-one devices for commercial purposes is also expected to improve the outlook, it said.
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