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When you read “Tablet market declines 5.4% in third quarter…” on IDC’s latest report, you could be forgiven for feeling depressed. But you’d also be sort of wrong.

In one important way, IDC is correct. According to its calculations, a total of 40 million tablets were shipped worldwide in Q3 of this year. That is indeed 5.4% fewer than the 42.3 million units shipped in Q3 of last year.

However, of the 5 leading suppliers, only 1 — Samsung — saw its unit shipments decline. The other 4 — Apple, Amazon, Huawei and Lenovo — actually shipped more in this year's Q3 than they did a year ago. (A final category, “Others,” also saw a decline in unit shipments.)

Before digging in further, it’s important to note how IDC defines a tablet. The market watcher says this category includes both slate tablets and what it calls “detachable devices.”  Not included is what IDC calls “convertibles,” which are notebook PCs with the displays that rotate, but do not physically detach.

Unit shipment breakdown

So let’s look at the results by suppliers. Here’s the breakdown, courtesy of IDC in its latest table:

IDC table - Q3 2017 tablet sales

As you can see, Samsung’s unit sales dropped by nearly 8%, and “Others” dropped by slightly more than 26%. Their declines were enough to tank the entire overall market by the aforementioned 5.4%.

Ah, but if you count up just the 4 gainers — again, that’s Apple, Amazon, Huawei and Lenovo — then you get a total of 20.7 million units shipped in this year’s Q3. That’s against a total of 17.6 million units they shipped in Q3 of last year. Which works out to an increase of nearly 18%.

That's a lot better than a 5.4% drop!

Tech-provider takeaways

Want to succeed in today's tricky tablet market? Here are some takeaways we've gleaned from IDC’s report:

> Consider offering low-cost tablets. Amazon is doing quite well with this approach, with its Q3 unit shipments up by nearly 40%. How low is low-cost? At one point, Amazon offered a 7-inch tablet for just $30. I’m guessing that was a loss-leader for other business. But you get the idea: low.

> Think about replacements. Essentially, everyone who wants or needs a tablet, already has one. So most sales will now be replacements, mainly updates and upgrades. However, note that IDC says the tablet-replacement cycle has lengthened, and that many replacement purchases involve those low-cost (and thus low-profit) devices mentioned above.

> Don’t overlook smartphones. Growing demand for these pocket-sized device is one reason why tablet sales can be tricky. IDC says the tablet market is now caught in “an awkward middle,” between smartphones and PCs.

Looking for a smart strategy? Help customers figure out which devices are best for their needs. There's a lot for them to choose from, including desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets and 2-in-1s — all of which can (and should) be mixed and matched. 


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