Tablet sales have fallen for the first time since the devices went mainstream in 2010, so says research firm IDC.
According to its most recent data, 76.1 million tablets were sold globally by tech firms during Q4 2014, down from 78.6 million for the same period a year earlier. This represents a 3.2 percent drop in sales overall, though take a look at the vendors’ individual figures and you notice some pretty wild variations.
Amazon, for example, saw its October-to-December Kindle Fire sales plummet by a whopping 70 percent compared to a year earlier, with only 1.7 million units shipped during the most recent holiday season compared to 5.8 million in Q4 2013.
Apple, too, experienced a drop, though of a less startling 17.8 percent, according to IDC. The company sold more tablets (21.4 million) than any other vendor during the quarter, though it’s possible the recent release of its large-screen iPhones impacted sales to some extent.
Rival Samsung sold about half as many tablets as Apple at the end of last year (11 million), while its fall in sales was slightly bigger than the Cupertino company’s at 18.4 percent.
In fact, as the table below shows, four of the top five vendors saw a fall in Q4 slate sales, with only Lenovo – likely helped by its strong presence in Asia – managing to buck the trend with a 9.1 percent uptick in sales.
Commenting on the data, IDC senior research analyst Jitesh Ubrani described the tablet market as “still very top heavy” in that it continues to rely mostly on Apple and Samsung to push it forward.
The analyst added, “Although Apple expanded its iPad lineup by keeping around older models and offering a lower entry price point of $249, it still wasn’t enough to spur iPad sales given the excitement around the launch of the new iPhones.”
Samsung’s struggles continue, Ubrani said, “as low-cost vendors are quickly proving that mid- to high-priced Android tablets simply aren’t cut out for today’s tablet market.”
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One bright spot for the market showed up in the data for the whole of 2014, which saw 229.6 million tablets shipped, marking a 4.4 percent increase on 2013.
So how is 2015 likely to pan out for tablet makers? A myriad of factors are set to haul the business one way or the other, among them increased rivalry in emerging markets, saturation in established ones, the presence of Apple’s large-screen iPhone 6 devices, and the introduction of lighter, increasingly powerful, and competitively priced laptops. You never know, Apple’s expected supersized tablet might even shake things up a bit.