Surface Pro, iPad Pro drag tablet market back from the abyss

Devices with detachable keyboards now account for one in five tablets sold, according to IDC.


Sales of detachable-keyboard devices like the Surface Pro are one bright spot in the otherwise grim tablet market.

Image: Microsoft

The rise of devices like Microsoft's Surface Pro and the iPad Pro -- tablets with detachable keyboards -- has kept the overall tablet market from declining at an even sharper rate.

According to calculations by IDC, over 14 million tablets were sold in Western Europe in the fourth quarter of 2015 -- that's a ten percent drop on the same quarter the previous year, when tablet shipments stood at 15.6 million.

Tablet sales have been struggling for a while: consumers have been slower to replace them than manufacturers hoped, while big-screen smartphones have also eaten into sales.

However, despite the gloom the market value only dropped by 1.8 percent because businesses and consumers are shifting to more expensive tablets with detachable keyboards -- like Microsoft's Surface Pro and Apple's iPad Pro.

In the fourth quarter of 2015, 2.6 million tablets with a detachable keyboard were shipped, said IDC -- up from just over 800,000 units the previous year. This new form factor now accounts now for almost 20 percent of the overall tablet market. IDC also noted that the growing Windows detachable market combined with declining sales of notebook PCs makes for a flat client device market in Western Europe.

"As the detachable tablets available on the market become more powerful and better suited to business requirements, this form factor has been successfully adopted by professionals and executives as it perfectly addresses their mobility needs and is increasingly seen as a notebook replacement," said Daniel Goncalves, research analyst, IDC EMEA Personal Computing.

"The arrival in Europe of these new designs based on Windows 10 and a more powerful generation of processors should support commercial shipments in the coming quarters as IT departments focus on increased security features, application costs, and device and applications management," said Marta Fiorentini, research manager, IDC EMEA Personal Computing.

Microsoft established itself as the leader in this segment in 2015, but Q4 has seen Apple entering the market with the iPad Pro, capturing "a good share" according to IDC. The analyst firm said there's likely to be an increase in the number of affordable detachable tablets aimed at the consumer market, as vendors have been adjusting their portfolios to counteract poor demand for slates.

One bright spot in the consumer market was Amazon's low-priced Kindle Fire, which sold almost a million units -- putting pressure on entry-level and no-name products. Strong appeal from other consumer technologies, such as wearables, also dampened demand as users considered alternatives for their Christmas presents.


Western Europe Tablets: Vendor Trends Q4 15, source IDC.

In terms of vendors, Apple ended the year as market leader despite a strong contraction in iPad volumes, only partially offset by shipments of the new iPad Pro. Samsung declined less than the overall market and closed the gap with Apple.

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