The global tablet market is shrinking

The latest global tablet shipment numbers from Strategy Analytics show the overall market shrank by 10% in Q4 but was otherwise boringly stable.

SA reckons 48.5 million tablets were shipped in Q4 2019, a significant decline from 54.4 million in the year-ago quarter. Annual shipments fell from 173.1 million to 160,2 million, implying the rate of decline may be accelerating. Within that, however, market shares remained very stable, with Apple still way ahead of any Android or Windows vendor.

“A massive shift has taken place for Huawei to focus on the domestic Chinese market and sell older inventory in EMEA and Asia (excluding China),” said Eric Smith of SA. “This pattern will intensify until the China-US trade war reaches detente and while there have been positive signs with the Phase 1 trade deal signed last month, tariffs and US component/software supply restrictions are still in place, and will likely will be until after the November 2020 US presidential election.”

“The commercial refresh has been a disappointing period for Detachables as Windows mobile computing demand has favored thin-and-light notebooks in the premium tier,” said Chirag Upadhyay of SA. “Adding to this trouble, most Windows Detachable 2-in-1 vendors are exclusively targeting the premium tier for enterprise users to make higher profits but a crowded market prevents all vendors from growing at once, especially now that Apple is competing strongly with two iPad Pro models and an iPad Air (with keyboard) in this price tier.”

So it looks like part of the blame for the tablet market decline is the US China trade aggro, but if so why are tablets more exposed to it than smartphones, which seem to be doing fine? The advent of hybrid laptop/tablets with detatchable keyboards seems to complicate the job of classifying shipments, but we suspect the main reason for the decline is that tablets have a much longer refresh cycle than phones as newer models offer nothing more than minor spec upgrades.