Tablet shipments will fall by 15 percent this year but Surface Pros are leading the move to bigger screens

Tablet shipments are still falling but tablets and 2-in-1s with bigger screens, like Microsoft Surfaces, are helping to extend the market from entertainment to business, from content consumption to creation.

TrendForce is predicting that shipments of tablets will fall by 14.9 percent this year to 163 million units, as once-popular 7-inch mini-tablets are displaced by 6-inch smartphones or phablets. But it's not all bad news. TrendForce is also predicting that shipments of large tablets such as Microsoft's Surface Pro range and Apple's forthcoming 12.9-inch iPad Pro will grow as usage extends from entertainment to business, from content consumption to creation.

TrendForce tablet predictions 2015 - table

The Taiwanese research company reckons that 75 million tablets were shipped in the first half of 2015, the market leaders being Apple (23.6m) and Samsung (16.7m). It predicts tablet shipments of 88.4 million in the second half of the year, which includes the back-to-school and Christmas selling periods, However, it predicts that both Apple and Samsung will lose market share.

TrendForce said in a statement dated August 27 that "shipments of Samsung's mainstream 7-inch products have dropped significantly as Chinese brand vendors have been taking away their demand in the Greater China region."

Anita Wang, TrendForce's notebook analyst, noted that "Tablets have yet to evolve beyond their main role as entertainment devices". However, Microsoft's Surface range "and Apple's upcoming 12.9-inch iPad change their functions depending on situations. They therefore can assist in the expansion of tablet applications by capturing a share of the business application market."

Shipments of Microsoft Surfaces will grow from 1.5 million in the first half of 2015 to 2.6 million in the second half, according to TrendForce. It says: "The success of Surface 3 also proves that 2-in-1 PCs with better specs have the potential to expand into the business application market. Based on TrendForce's analysis, Microsoft's tablet shipments this year will soar 52 percent year on year and hit the four-million-unit mark."

TrendForce's prediction is much lower than IDC's. The US-based research company recently (August 26) predicted 212 million tablet shipments in 2015, a year-on-year decline of 8.0 percent. (See: Tablet shipments to fall 8 percent in 2015, says IDC)

IDC also said that Windows' market share grew by 59.5 percent to 17.7 million units. It added: "IDC expects the share of larger screen (>10") tablets and 2-in-1's will grow from 18.6 percent in 2014 to 39.5 percent in 2019, fuelled by the impact of phablets and a growing commercial appetite for productivity solutions."

US-based Strategy Analytics also picked up the trend with "11-inch and greater segment to nearly triple in 2015, led by Surface Pro 3".

Strategy Analytics screen size pie charts

Strategy Analytics said in its August 27 statement: "By 2019, shipments of Tablets with screen sizes 11 inches or greater will nearly double to 19.3 million units, grabbing a 7 percent share of the market - a combination of enterprise adoption of large screen-sized Tablets (for PC replacement and workflow transformation) and consumer adoption of 2-in-1 Tablets will contribute to this strong growth."

Strategy Analytics' senior analyst Eric Smith added that "the ultra-portability and versatility of 2-in-1 Tablets and premium Slates like Surface Pro 3 and iPad Pro will enable the Tablet to increasingly serve new market segments, such as field work, healthcare, retail point of sale, education, and even desk work."

The various research companies are all telling much the same story, but classic 2-in-ls like the Asus Transformer T100 - and similar machines from more than 40 vendors including Acer, HP, Lenovo and Toshiba - are both tablets and PCs. Indeed, it's a good bet that they are more often used as laptops than as tablets.

If they are counted as tablets then obviously Windows' share of the tablet market is going to grow. But if they are not counted as PCs, then clearly the PC market decline will look worse than, in reality, it is.

Obviously no research company will want to count 2-in-1s in both categories.

The rational solution would be to count 2-in-1s separately - with the various researchers agreeing on which models to count - so that we could subtract them from the tablet numbers and add them to the PC numbers, or vice-versa. But I don't think there's any chance of that....