Tablet shipments slipped 10% in 2015 but iPad Pro and Surface Pro growing ‘detachable’ market

Rob Attrell

February 1, 2016 3:37pm

Tablets are an odd story in the technology world. When Apple first released the iPad, it was seen as a huge success, and grew even faster than the iPhone did at launch.

Fast forward a few years and growth has stopped, with sales actually falling relative to previous years. It remains to be seen exactly whether replacement just takes longer with tablets when compared to smartphones, but the recent decline is nevertheless a cause for concern.

A new report from IDC indicates that while overall tablet sales declined by over 10 percent in 2015, detachable tablets, like the iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface, rose to an all-time high. The two biggest sellers of tablets, Apple and Samsung respectively, both lost ground, but managed to retain their one-two positions. The biggest surprise of the year was Amazon. The company’s affordable tablets were able to keep the company in third place in shipments, with 175 percent year-over-year growth.

With detachable tablets gaining ground while older-style ‘slate’ tablets continue to slump, performance is quickly becoming an important feature, as many modern tablets are being sold as computer replacements. While Apple and Microsoft have both experienced positive results with the iPad Pro and Surface Pro, it seems clear that Google needs to step up its Android tablet offerings if the company wants to compete. The Pixel C, released late last year, disappointed in this regard.

Rounding out the top five, Lenovo and Huawei both have a reasonable outlook for 2016. Lenovo’s tablet sales shrank last year, but the company has been investing in laptop technology and should be able to offer a reasonable tablet experience in 2016. Huawei, on the other hand, grew by 126 percent, and is looking to continue expanding into new global markets this year.

  • MassDeduction

    “We believe Apple sold just over two million iPad Pros while Microsoft sold around 1.6 million Surface devices, a majority of which were Surface Pro and not the more affordable Surface 3. With these results, it’s clear that price is not the most important feature considered when acquiring a detachable – performance is.”

    If that’s the case, then iPad Pro sold a little better than I expected. It may also mean that Microsoft is beating Apple in revenue on detachables, given Surface Pros cover a much broader range of prices. It’ll be interesting to see if Apple keeps that momentum going past the early adopters, since the iPad Pro is so limited compared to a Surface Pro.

    • Mo Dabbas

      Ipad sales has declined during the last quarter. From twenty something to 15 million or so. If the ipad pro really sold that much that means that. Other two ipad sales are really hurt now.

    • MassDeduction

      If this list were by projected revenue (rather than unit sales) this list would look vastly different, with manufacturers focused on Windows tablets going up the list, makers of Android tablets generally going well down, and Apple staying about the same.

    • Mo Dabbas

      I think those sales estimation are the kind of numbers that those who call themselves analysts get it straight out of their butts. That’s what I was trying to say.

      Android tablets are mostly aimed at the mid to low range spectrum. They are the kind of stuff you give it to kids so that when they break it it’s not such a big loss.
      Apple iPad has not been worth to pay more for upgrading since the iPad 4 or iPad mini 2 (the one with retina display). That’s why sales are declining (no real reason to upgrade).
      Windows are a different story in this though (what I think is going on). We are seeing lots of those convertible tablets perfectly capable of replacing traditional laptops. And because they are light, more portable, as capable and can function as both a laptop and a tablet, many are going for that route. We are seeing more pc makers jumping on ideas similar to the Lenovo Yoga line or with detachable keyboards (lots from Asus and Acer). They work well, they can replace your 2 lbs laptop for half the weight, and they are reasonably priced. So yeah, windows tablets (convertible ones) sounds like a good buy now.

    • Vito R.

      I understand your logic – but I think you’re jumping to conclusions. I bet Microsoft sells more of the 128GB i5 Surface Pro 4 than any other model and I also bet they sell more Surface 3s than high end Surface i7s. It’s just a guess on my part, but it’s no less accurate than your assumptions.

      While I don’t think Microsoft is beating Apple at either sales or revenue (on “detachables”) I don’t think Microsoft is overly concerned. As long as consumers who buy an iPad Pro also subscribe to Office 365 then I think Microsoft is pretty happy.

    • Mo Dabbas

      yeah, I also don’t think microsoft is making more money on surface than apple making money on iPad pro. Apple has a good thing (for them of course) going on when it comes to their profit margin. I don’t think any company does sales with such a high profit margin like apple does.

  • Raj Singh

    The iPad Pro is a Surface Pro wannabe. Might as well rip off other people’s work and make money off of it for Apple’s shareholders…

    • MassDeduction

      Ripping off the Surface Pro is one thing. Every tech company does that, Apple and Microsoft equally included. BOTH Apple and Microsoft ripped off DOS (from CP/M and other disk operating systems that preceded them).

      But the iPad Pro is hilarious. Appled talked down about the Surface Pro for years (a finger is the only input method you should need on a tablet, convergence devices end up being good at none of the things they’re intended to replace, etc), and then finally ripped it off. More than a little amusing. 🙂

      Apple hates convergence devices. They want to sell you a smartphone, a tablet, and a laptop at a minimum (maybe both a mini and a full size tablet, and maybe also a desktop computer if they’re lucky). Apple makes money off the hardware, so they want you to buy as many hardware configurations as they can convince you to do. They resisted phablets for years, for example, as market research strongly suggested that phablet owners were far less likely to purchase tablets (or upgrade tablets they already have).

      Microsoft is a software and services company first and foremost, so they love convergence devices. They have smartphones that can replace your desktop PC, and tablets that can replace your laptop, as examples. Microsoft is doing more than most to make mobile software that can let you be as productive on phablets and tablets as you can on full PCs. Apple hates convergence devices, and Microsoft is going whole hog into them. It’s a fascinating study in contrasts.

    • Mr Dog

      Microsoft is pushing these devices not because they want too but have too.

      They have no hope of selling tablets otherwise. This is the only way for microsoft to cut into Apple’s market, because they have no app store large enough to attract tablet buyers. By putting together a tablet/laptop they are using their existing ecosystem to attract developers and consumers. That is the real reason for convergence. Saying otherwise makes you just as much a Windows fanboy as you might say I am a iFan.

      I personally am not a fan of converging devices, no matter who makes it. I want my laptop connected to a monitor at my desk, and easy access to take on trips where I plan on doing work. I want a tablet beside my bed or in the living room for the casual surf/read. And I want a phone all other times with information shared between them.

      Why do I need giant buttons on my laptop when I have pinpoint accuracy of mouse? It is a waste of space.