The PC may be dying, but tablet growth is slowing as consumer saturation sets in

If you thought the tablet was the savior to the ailing PC market, we may need a better alternative if the latest tablet growth forecasts are to be believed.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
Image: CNET

And there we were thinking the tablet uprising might replace the clunky traditional desktop.

While the chances of a PC market resurgence are slim, latest IDC figures released Wednesday suggest the tablet market may not be as healthy as first thought.

Preliminary figures suggest worldwide tablet shipments grew to 76.9 million units during the fourth calendar quarter of 2014, representing a 62 percent growth quarter-over-quarter and 28 percent growth year-over-year.

Compared that to the growth figures released this time a year ago — 87.1 percent from 2012 — and it's clear that's a significant slowing of the overall market.

By comparison, the PC market saw worldwide shipments of 82.2 million units during the fourth quarter, but contracted by 5.6 percent year-over-year.

For the full 2013 calendar year, worldwide tablet shipments totaled 217 million units, a 50 percent growth on the full 2012 calendar year of 144 million shipments. 

PC shipments may still be ahead of tablet shipments, the rate at which PC shipments are declining and tablet shipment growth is slowing, tablets may soon overtake PCs in shipments but may not stem the decline altogether.

IDC's Tom Mainelli said in remarks: "It's becoming increasingly clear that markets such as the U.S. are reaching high levels of consumer saturation and while emerging markets continue to show strong growth this has not been enough to sustain the dramatic worldwide growth rates of years past."

"We expect commercial purchases of tablets to continue to accelerate in mature markets, but softness in the consumer segment—brought about by high penetration rates and increased competition for the consumer dollar—point to a more challenging environment for tablets in 2014 and beyond," he added.

Top five tablet vendors, shipments (million), and market Share, Q4 2013 (Table: IDC)

Not surprisingly, thanks to the iPad's success, Apple led the fourth quarter with 26 million shipments with a year-over-year growth of more than 13 percent. But its share declined thanks to an uptick in Samsung tablets.

Samsung came in second with 14.5 million shipments — with about half of Apple's total shipments — rising from 13 percent market share to close to 19 percent year-over-year.

Amazon saw a year-over-year decline in tablet shipments bringing in 7.6 percent of the share, while Asus remained flat with just 5 percent.

Lenovo, which has been ramping up its tablet efforts in recent quarters, saw a spike in fourth-quarter shipments, rising by more than 300 percent in year-over-year growth.

On Lenovo's massive tablet share growth, IDC's Jitesh Ubrani said Lenovo's access to Chinese whitebox manufacturing infrastructure helped raise its low-priced tablet profile. 

"The company's strength in emerging markets, and its increased market share in adjoining markets such as PCs and smartphones, makes it well positioned to see additional tablet gains in 2014," he added.

Exactly where the tablet goes from here remains unclear. Market saturation shows extreme prior growth. Unless tablet makers can maintain that momentum and keep refreshing models to ensure a line of succession, upgrades, and replacements, the entire tablet market could begin to topple in a not-too-dissimilar way to the PC market.

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