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Detachable tablets return to growth while slate tablets continue decline

07 Feb 2018

The global detachable tablet market returned to growth in the fourth quarter of 2017 (4Q17).

According to research from the International Data Corporation, the market grew 10.3 percent from the previous holiday season and reached 6.5 million units.

Growth for the overall year just remained positive with 1.6 percent year over year growth in 2017, a sharp drop from the 24 percent growth in 2016.

However, IDC attributes some of this to the launch cadence of high profile devices like the Surface, which was off schedule and left older models on shelves as consumers and businesses laid in wait for product launches.

"To date, much of the trajectory of the detachable market has been attributed to Microsoft and Apple pushing their wares in the U.S.," says IDC Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker research analyst Jitesh Ubrani.

"However, continued success of this category hinges on the willingness of other PC vendors to participate and more importantly, consumers from other countries to adopt the new form factor over convertible PCs."

IDC Devices and Displays senior research analyst Lauren Guenveur says after a concerning downturn in the last quarter of 2016 and first half of 2017, they are elated to see the detachable market maintain another quarter of growth.

"With the first wave of Windows on ARM products expected to begin shipping in the second quarter of 2018, we believe the detachables category has the potential to continue its growth trajectory,” says Guenveur.

“Many of these products are being introduced at the premium end of the market. What remains glaringly sparse, and needed, are strong players in the mid-segment of the market."

The now ‘old-fashioned’ slate tablets continued their decline with end-user demand dropping 7.6 percent from the previous year, an ongoing pattern in the last few year.

Despite this, slate tablets are still shipping in large volumes and reached 43.1 million units during the fourth quarter and 141.7 million for the year.

IDC asserts these devices ‘do not offer much in in terms of productivity and have been largely relegated to simple media consumption devices. With narrow margins some vendors are using this form factor as a portal to their larger ecosystems or to promote their brand within broader gadget market.’

In terms of the major players in the market, Apple, Amazon.com, Samsung, Huawei, and Lenovo made up the top five vendors – IDC has provided highlights for each below:

Apple maintained a solid lead in the holiday quarter driving growth both through its lower-priced 9.7-inch iPad as well as its newly refreshed iPad Pro products. While the lower-price iPad has continued to drive a strong consumer upgrade cycle, the shifting focus is to iPad Pro and its potential in the commercial and education segments. With the only expected tablet growth to come from these segments, Apple's recent launch of "Apple at Work" shows their commitment to maintain its leader position.

Amazon.com was able to steal the second position from rival Samsung as the online giant offered steep discounts during the holiday season. The low-cost tablets have been quite effective as shopping catalogs for Amazon's online storefront and in recent quarters the company has taken things a step further by including its voice assistant, Alexa, in the latest tablets and by expanding to new markets around the world.

Samsung dropped to the third position behind Amazon. Shipments of its detachable portfolio continue to rise, however these gains are outweighed by the declines seen among its slate models. As its lower-cost Tab A and E series is challenged by vendors promising better value, Samsung will face a particular challenge in upgrading its base to both a higher-priced and detachable device.

Huawei's half-hearted approach to the growing detachable segment does not offer a promising outlook for the company. However, the company's strong brand, aggressive channel strategy, and inclusion of cellular connectivity in its slate tablets has helped cement its rank in the top 5.

Lenovo's ability to leverage its strength from the traditional PC business is starting to pay off as the company's detachable tablet business has grown in the past year. However, the bulk of Lenovo's tablets are still comprised of slates that offer great value at low prices.

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