FRAMINGHAM, MA – The fourth quarter of 2016 marked the ninth consecutive quarter that tablet shipments have declined, says the International Data Corp.

According to preliminary data, vendors shipped 52.9 million tablets during the quarter, a decline of 20.1% year-over-year. Similarly, shipments of 174.8 million units for the full year 2016 were down 15.6% compared to 2015, marking the second straight year of declining shipments.

"The sentiment around the tablet market continues to grow stale, despite a lot of talk about vendors pivoting their product portfolios toward the detachable segment," said Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. "Typical tablets without a dedicated keyboard, which IDC refers to as slate tablets, are continuing to lose relevancy across all regions, and as a result, we see the decline happening globally. We do see future growth in some emerging markets like the Middle East and Africa, as well as Central and Eastern Europe, with the sole catalysts being simplicity and low cost. Unfortunately for the industry, these are the devices that don't equate to large revenues."

Vendors that have historically led the notebook PC market are also talking about expanding their product portfolios to include more detachable tablets, although currently there is more talk than action, says IDC. As a result, Apple and Microsoft are dominating the detachable tablet segment. IDC believes the second half of 2017 will bring a wide range of new detachable devices from the notebook PC OEMs, as well as those playing primarily in the smartphone space.

Yet, even detachable tablets struggled to maintain momentum in the fourth quarter, as flagship products from key players like Microsoft and Apple started to show signs of age.

"The market continues to warm up to two-in-one devices, but we're now getting to a point where the price and performance disparity between detachables and convertibles has started to narrow, and this added competition led to a dampening in the growth of detachable tablets," said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. "However, we expect this to be temporary, as only two of the three major platforms have any significant hardware presence in the detachable market, and as the ecosystems are further refined with future updates and developer support."

Apple's venerable hold on the tablet market is yet to be challenged, although the company is not immune to overall market challenges, declining 18.8% in the fourth quarter, according to IDC. The iPad Pro lineup made up only a small portion of overall shipments, as the iPad Air 2 and Mini tablets continued to account for the majority of shipments for Apple. For every 10 slate tablets shipped, Apple sold one iPad Pro tablet.

Samsung remained the No. 2 tablet vendor in the holiday season, capturing 15.1% market share on 8 million shipments. The bad news is this was down 11.4% from the holiday quarter in 2015. The Tab S2 and Tab A continue to be the strongest models for Samsung, and its largest markets for tablet consumption continue to be the US, Europe, and Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan).

Amazon's Fire tablets continued their hot streak, earning the company third place overall in the fourth quarter. The already low-cost tablets were further discounted during the Black Friday sales period, although this was still not enough to stave off an annual decline. However, it is important to note Amazon is in the unique position where tablet market share is likely not of significant importance, as the company remains highly focused on acquiring additional Prime subscribers regardless of the type of device used, says IDC.

Lenovo was one of the two vendors to grow in the quarter, gaining 2.1 percentage points over the same period in 2015. With a broad lineup and innovative designs, IDC expects this vendor will be one to watch in 2017.

Outside of price, Huawei's value proposition is cellular connectivity, and this was evidenced in their portfolio as the majority of their tablets offered built-in 3G or 4G connectivity, says IDC. To date, the Chinese company has done well expanding its reach to Asia, Europe and the Middle East, though its tablet presence in the US is close to nonexistent.

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