Tablets coming back to earth after years of breakthrough growth

Tablet shipments will grow 19.3 per cent in 2014 compared to last year, a signal that the rate of uptake of the devices is slowing

This diagram explains how Fujitsu's prototype haptic tablet uses ultrasonic vibrations to create a sensation of texture.

This diagram explains how Fujitsu's prototype haptic tablet uses ultrasonic vibrations to create a sensation of texture.

The rate of increase in tablet shipments is expected to slow this year after unabated growth during the product category's first three years of existence.

Research firm IDC is projecting tablet shipments to grow at 19.3 per cent this year compared to 2013, when tablet shipments increased 51.6 per cent compared to 2012.

IDC is projecting tablet shipments this year to be 260.9 million units. The numbers include both tablets and hybrids that can function as a tablet or laptop.

The slowdown in shipments is due to a maturing tablet market, along with stabilizing prices and a decline in purchases of cheap tablets, IDC said. The blazing growth in tablets during the prior years was partly driven by inexpensive tablets made by no-name makers -- also called white-box makers -- that shipped devices running on slower processors and older versions of Android.

Price declines helped drive growth in previous years, but IDC said prices will be leveling off in 2014, which could be a factor in slower growth rates. Meanwhile, some users are trying to get more from their devices and moving to high-end tablets, IDC said.

Google's Nexus 7 represents a hike in tablet prices, with a base price of $US229 for a 7-inch Google Nexus 7 tablet, while its predecessor was $US199. But the latest Nexus 7 base model has more features such as higher storage capacity, a faster processor and two webcams.

Most buyers are also happy with their tablets, and "few are feeling compelled to upgrade the same way they did in years past, and that's having an impact on growth rates," said Tom Mainelli, program vice president for devices and displays research at IDC, in a statement.

Research for Gartner, meanwhile, earlier this week said tablet shipments worldwide in 2013 tallied 195.4 million units, increasing by 68 percent year over year. Growth was driven by new tablet buyers and low-end tablets, it said.

Android tablets -- led by Samsung Electronics -- had a 61.9 per cent share, with shipments tallying 121 million units, compared to 53.3 million units and a 45.8 per cent share in 2012, Gartner said. Apple's iPad tablets with iOS had a 36 per cent market share, a drop from 52.8 percent, but shipments increased to 70.4 million units in 2013 from 61.5 million units the previous year, Gartner said.

In its study, IDC said Microsoft's Windows OS could benefit in 2014 as businesses start buying tablets and hybrids and the consumer market slows down. But that will only represent a small market segment, and Android and iOS will continue to dominate the market.

The sentiment that the tablet market is maturing was reflected by Seagate's chief financial officer Pat O'Malley earlier this week, who said that innovation in the PC market has gained steam, and people are increasingly looking at tablet-laptop hybrids. That has helped increase Seagate's hard-drive shipments.

"You look at the Lenovo Yoga. Really nice device, really gives you that tabletesque view of the world, but also gives you that heavy compute," O'Malley said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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