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Apple and Microsoft still haven’t saved the tablet market

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Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The tablet market continues to shrink worldwide, with the beginning of 2017 marking the 10th straight quarter where shipments declined year over year.

The research firm IDC says that first quarter 2017 shipments were at 36.2 million, down 8.5 percent from the same time last year. First quarter shipments peaked back in 2014, when 50.4 million tablets were sent out globally.

IDC includes both traditional tablets and more powerful devices, like the Surface Pro, in its count of tablet sales — any tablet with a first-party detachable keyboard counts, but convertible laptops with permanently attached keyboards don’t.

Apple remains the market leader, with just under a quarter of all shipments by IDC’s calculations. But its control over the market shrank slightly, which suggests the iPad Pro hasn’t done much to improve sales. In fact, the only major tablet manufacturer to grow this quarter was Huawei, which was up to 2.7 million shipments, from just 2 million the same time last year.

The coming months could be interesting to watch. Apple’s tablet lineup got a lot more aggressive at the tail end of March with the release of a $329 iPad — one of the lowest prices Apple has put on a tablet to date. But it shipped too late to have an impact on this quarter’s results.

IDC also says to look out for whatever Apple and Microsoft have planned for later in the year, saying the market “will move with major product launches” from the two of them.

That said, Microsoft’s Surface line doesn’t seem to be having a huge impact. Microsoft doesn’t rank in IDC’s list of the top five tablet makers, which may be because it’s focused on high-end, expensive devices. Amazon ranks third in market share, and it focuses entirely on low-cost tablets.

IDC analyst Ryan Reith sees a couple reasons why people aren’t buying as many tablets these days. “We continue to believe the leading driver for this was the increased dependency on smartphones, along with rather minimal technology and form factor progression,” Reith says.

For now, IDC says the tablet market’s growth is in “detachables” — that is, tablets like the iPad Pro with first-party, detachable keyboards. Shipments of these devices continue to grow, and IDC thinks they’ll continue to beat out convertible laptops in the long run. Though, this quarter, that didn’t quite happen.