Tablet Shipments to Rise for Holidays but Return to Slow Growth: ABI

While worldwide tablet shipments will rise to 40 million in Q4, up 10 million from 3Q, that will be a temporary holiday increase, according to ABI Research.

fourth quarter peak in tablet sales

Worldwide tablet sales will rise to 40 million units in the fourth quarter, up 10 million units from the third quarter, according to ABI Research forecasts. However, this isn't a result of a resurgence in the popularity of the portable mobile devices, according to the research firm.

Instead, the estimated increase in unit shipments is due to holiday shopping demand as retailers and vendors price the devices to head out the door as holiday gifts, according to a Dec. 3 market report by ABI Research.

About 30.6 million branded tablets shipped worldwide in the third quarter of 2015, which was down from the prior quarter, according to the report. At the same time, the company "anticipates the fourth quarter to be promising, estimating 40 million tablets to ship worldwide and equating to roughly 29 percent of the year's total volume," the report stated.

"Though unit shipments were down by 2.7 percent quarter over quarter and 19.7 percent year over year for the same calendar quarter, new tablets continue to be introduced for the holiday season," Jeff Orr, an analyst at ABI Research, said in a statement. "Vendors are hoping to gain back some of their unit and revenue shortfall from earlier in 2015. New tablets from Amazon and others will utilize a low-cost approach to achieve this strategy."

The numbers continue to show the same patterns for tablet sales that have been evident in the last few years, Orr told eWEEK.

"The message has been that the tablet market has been declining, and that's not changing," he said. "On an annual basis, if we break the calendar year into four calendar quarters, the fourth quarter is always elevated because of the holiday shopping season. While quarters one, two and three have been continuing to slide for vendors, most notably Apple, the fourth quarter will be a reversal of that trend."

Though an increase of 10 million units is a lot, he said, such a holiday rise is "actually very normal" because of holiday shopping patterns. "That's not just for tablets. It goes back before computers and tablets. It goes back to TVs."

The fourth-quarter holiday sales increases can amount to as much as a third of annual sales in a product category, said Orr. "When you see products under $200 [such as tablets], this happens, especially for the holidays. When you get down to that price point, you definitely see these larger [sales] swings occur."

This year, it is even more likely due to the arrival of products such as Amazon's $49.99 Fire tablet (pictured), said Orr. "It's an interesting approach. It's not necessarily designed for Amazon to make a lot of money on the hardware. But the bet is that someone will buy it and buy content and products from Amazon's site, beyond the transaction of buying the hardware."

After the holidays, tablet shipments will again decline in the first quarter of 2016 as the market readjusts, said Orr.

"The only exception that we may see is in China, and that's because China has its New Year's celebration in February," said Orr. "That tends to be the only exception to the rule."

The latest ABI tablet report shows Apple leading in third-quarter market share globally for branded tablets, followed by Samsung, Lenovo, Huawei and Asus. The largest quarter-over-quarter vendor share gains were seen by Lenovo and Asus, the report said.

"Lenovo's quarter gains mark the first time the vendor holds 10 percent-plus share in branded tablets," Orr said in a statement. "Asus is still underperforming against its own estimates, but is in the midst of a sales push on the current tablet portfolio."

The largest quarter-over-quarter vendor share losses affected Apple and Microsoft, the report stated. Apple lost nearly 8 percent share during the first nine months of 2015, but the company expects to regain share and shipment volume during the fourth quarter due to end-of-year holiday purchases, according to the report. "Microsoft lost more than half of its market share in the previous 90 days, with this mostly attributed to the shift from the Surface Pro 3 to introduction of the Surface Pro 4."

In September, ABI Research reported that the installed base of tablet computers—the number of tablets in use—is expected to rise by only about 4 percent in 2016, which would be the smallest amount since the category arrived in 2010, according to an earlier eWEEK story.

The so-called global installed base of tablets will peak at about 373 million units by 2016, which is up only about 4 percent from the 360 million devices being used in 2014, the company stated. In 2011, the tablet installed base globally stood at about 75 million devices, and it soared in 2012 to about 172 million units.