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How Smartphone Vendors Disrupted the Tablet Market

Seasonality combined with disinterested customers led to an annual decline of 14.7 percent in worldwide tablet shipments during the first quarter of 2016 (1Q16). Global shipments of tablets reached 39.6 million, according to the latest market study by International Data Corporation (IDC).

Slate tablets continued their decline while still accounting for 87.6 percent of all shipments. More importantly, the slate tablet segment has become synonymous with prices at the low-end of the market.

While this may bode well for vendors like Amazon that rely on hardware sales to increase their overall ecosystem size, it has not helped other leading vendors who rely solely on greater margins for hardware sales.

Ongoing Gains for Detachable Tablets

Meanwhile, detachables experienced triple-digit year-over-year growth on shipments of more than 4.9 million units, an all-time high in the first quarter of a calendar year. But that performance won't result in a celebration. Many challenges remain in this nascent market.

"Microsoft arguably created the market for detachable tablets with the launch of their Surface line of products," said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst at IDC.

With the PC industry in decline, the detachable market stands to benefit as consumers and enterprises seek to replace their aging PCs with detachables. IDC analysts believe that Apple's recent foray into this segment has garnered them a lead in the short term.

That being said, continued long-term success for Apple may prove to be difficult, as a higher entry price point can turn-off some consumers. Meanwhile, iOS has yet to prove its enterprise-readiness, which may enable Microsoft and their hardware partners to reestablish themselves. It's hard to predict what happens next.

Market Development in the Middle

Likely due to eroding margins in regular slates, 1Q16 also saw the introduction of detachable tablets from traditional mobile vendors -- such as Samsung and Huawei. According to the ABI assessment, the mid-range pricing for these new devices will make them a difficult sell as consumers seeking performance will likely go for a Surface-like device, and the budget conscious will seek options from other low-price vendors.

The introduction of detachables from traditional smartphone vendors is only just beginning, and IDC is concerned that this will pose a real threat to traditional PC manufacturers. Their understanding of the mobile ecosystem and the volume achieved on their smartphone product lines will allow them to aggressively compete for this new computing segment.

It is likely that those savvy smartphone vendors will utilize the detachable segment to create new mobile computing end-user experiences, if customers are using their detachables in combination with their smartphone apps.

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