Tablet Sales Slowed Worldwide in Q1 Across All Operating Systems

While Lenovo tablets enjoyed a feisty 224 percent year-on-year growth, the overall tablet market only inched forward during the first quarter.

Research firm IDC has confirmed what Apple's most recent earnings report suggested: that worldwide tablet sales are slowing.

During the first quarter of the year, worldwide tablet shipments fell nearly 36 percent from the earlier, holiday-benefiting quarter, and grew just 4 percent over the same period a year ago. The slowdown was felt across screen sizes and operating systems, IDC said in a report.

Total sales for the quarter were 50.4 million units, up from 48.6 million a year ago.

"The rise of large-screen phones, and consumers who are holding on to their existing tablets for even longer periods of time were both contributing factors to a weaker-than-expected quarter for tablets and 2-in-1s," Tom Mainelli, IDC Devices and Displays program vice president, said in a May 1 statement.

"In addition, commercial growth has not been robust enough to offset the slowing of consumer shipments," Mainelli added.

Apple shipped 16.4 million iPads during the quarter, down from 19.5 million a year ago. Samsung, by contrast, boosted last year's 8.5 million to 11.2 million units during the first quarter, while third-place Asus slipped slightly from 2.6 million last year to 2.5 million.

Fourth-place Lenovo, a company to watch in the space, jumped from sales of 600,000 units in Q1 2013 to 2.1 million in the recent quarter—a year-on-year growth increase of 224 percent. Fifth-place Amazon, meanwhile, saw sales slip by 47 percent, from 1.8 million to 1 million units.

The real winner of the quarter, it could be said, was Android.

"With roughly two-thirds share, Android continues to dominate the market," said IDC Research analyst Jitesh Ubrani.

"Although its share of the market remains small," Ubrani added, "Windows devices continue to gain traction thanks to sleeper hits like the Asus T100, whose low cost and 2-in-1 form factor appeal to those looking for something that's 'good enough.'"

The Trouble With Tablets

Apple CEO Tim Cook had a ready explanation for the 16 percent fall in year-over-year iPad growth during Apple's April 24 earnings call.

Apple increased its iPad channel inventory this year, while last year it had reduced it; and this year supply and demand were balanced, whereas last year there was a backlog, Cook said in his opening remarks.

Still, later during the call he addressed the topic again, this time pointing out the great success Apple has had with the iPad. In four years, Apple sold more than 210 million iPad, and it was the only product, Cook said, that was "instantly a hit in three of our key markets."

Analysts say that until Apple offers the next big thing in tablets—the major change that can make current tablet owners believe it's time for an upgrade—the growth pace will stay where it is.

Still, carriers, facing a saturating smartphone market, are doing what they can to push tablet sales.

T-Mobile, which sold 67,000 tablets during the first quarter, compared to the 313,000 AT&T sold, has said that it's just getting started on its mission to get more people using LTE-enabled tablets. Or, to sell tablets, period.

"Our shift to tablets won't be what you've seen so far," said CEO John Legere.
"We want to move to an environment where people are using [tablets and smartphones] interchangeably. … Watch for us to do things in this space, but not as a way to fill in a hole."

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