The striking decline of tablets – Gone are the days when everyone wanted a tablet

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We wouldn’t be honest if we said that the innovations that have occurred in the tablet market in recent years have all been bubbles, but it’s not far off. The tablet market, which had a successful kick-off in 2010 with the presentation of the first iPad, is not completely standing still, but it is not easy to get excited about the developments in the tablet area.

Sure, last year Apple came out with its iPad Pro series with the Apple Pencil and Microsoft rumbled on with its increasingly successful Surface series, but for this year Samsung has only given hardware refreshes to its Galaxy Tab series so far and other manufacturers also do little to make the user’s hearts beat faster. The enthusiasm we sensed with the first iPads and Nexus 7 tablets is fading.

Logical right? Yes, a market that used to be in full swing sooner or later calms down, as products all get better and the market reaches maturity. With smartphones, that took about fifteen years; the tablet market took about three years to do so.

Why are there now less appealing tablets? Probably because people don’t buy them in such large numbers anymore. In this story, we look at the numbers behind the unexpected decline of the tablet market, why it happened and in which areas tablets still show progress with each generation.

What is a Tablet?

Actually, this is the first thing we need to establish; what is a tablet anyway? It is more difficult than you think to give a clear definition. For example, it starts with devices such as the Asus Zenfone 3 Ultra with a 6.8″ screen and the Samsung Galaxy J Max with a 7″ screen. You can make calls with them and they look like a smartphone in everything except their size. Smartphone or tablet?

Then, if you count from smaller to larger, come the 7″ devices without calling function. They often run Android and have screen ratios such as 16:10. Almost everyone would say that these devices are tablets.

Then comes the mid-range, which are really tablets, such as the iPad mini series with a 7.9″ screen, the LG G Pad with an 8.3″ screen, the iPad Air 2 with a 9.7″ screen and the Galaxy Tab tablets with mostly 10.1″ screens. Easy enough, those are tablets anyway.

Above that are the larger tablets, devices with even larger screens, almost always optional clickable keyboards and other accessories, such as the Google Pixel C with a 10.2″ screen, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 with a 12.3″ screen and the iPad Pro with a 12.9″ screen. Where does a device have to be on a tablet and is it a laptop with a detachable keyboard? Is it the operating system, which, for example, also runs on phones with the iPad Pro with iOS, but with the Surface Pro 4 with Windows 10 also on desktops?

For this story, that’s where we draw the hard line. Devices such as the Zenfone 3 Ultra are smartphones and devices such as the Surface Pro 4 are counted as tablets. Everyone can use a different definition, but we have to draw the line somewhere. This is the limit that analysts also use, so that we can properly compare the figures.

The tablet, like many products, is partly a true seasonal product. There are always strong peaks in the last months of the year. This of course coincides with the offers around Black Friday and holidays such as Sinterklaas and Christmas, when many people give themselves or someone else a tablet as a gift. The downward trend is clearly visible. Over the past holiday season, shipments totaled nearly 66 million, down more than 10 million units from the previous year. The peak was in the last months of 2013.

After the stormy growth in the first years – after all, it is easier to grow when the numbers are lower – that leveled off around 2014. After a new small peak in the autumn of 2014, the decline started at the end of 2014 and is still continuing. IDC says the decline would have been even sharper if tablets like Microsoft’s Surface Pro series hadn’t appeared. Such tablets with a clickable keyboard are more popular than before, but not enough to compensate for a significant drop.

One of the main reasons for the decline, according to the research firm, is that people don’t tend to buy a new tablet quickly. With phones, many users tend to get a new one in one to two years; this seems to be a lot less the case with tablets. We find support for this in the figures from Telecompaper, which show that tablet ownership.

Innovation: especially along with telephones

The tablet market relies heavily on the smartphone market. New software functions and especially components are mainly the same as those that can also be found in smartphones. It is clear that manufacturers take into account the larger screen of tablets in certain features.

A good example of this is Apple. On the one hand, that manufacturer only makes a separate variant of its socs for iPads, with more GPU cores. This is especially necessary for the higher resolution of iPads compared to iPhones. Where the iPhone 6s Plus has to drive 1920×1080 pixels on the screen, that has been 2048×1536 pixels on iPads for several years, and with the large iPad Pro 2732 by 2048 pixels. A stronger GPU comes in handy here. In addition, Apple has built a split screen mode into iOS to make use of the larger screen of its tablets. There is also a picture-in-picture function on the newer, more powerful tablets, which makes it possible to play a video in a small corner, while the user is doing something else at the same time.

The same development can be seen on Android, but on Windows it is of course a radically different story. Windows is a desktop operating system adapted for tablets. Windows tablets also often have x86 processors, very different beasts than the Snapdragons and Exynossen in Android tablets.

Screen resolutions on tablets have been virtually silent for several years now. Especially with budget tablets, it is often still about screens around a full-HD resolution, with sometimes outliers to resolutions such as 2560×1600 pixels, so wqxga .

A new kind of tablet is on the rise

As we noted in the shipment numbers, there’s been a shift in the types of tablets people are buying. Tablets with a clickable keyboard, including the Surface series, but now also the Google Pixel C and iPad Pro series, have been gaining popularity for several years, while the number of ‘regular’ tablets is falling.

This can also be deduced from the new range of tablets. Apple’s last regular tablet is the iPad Air 2 from late 2014. Since then, it only came with Pro models, which are therefore equipped with extra functions, such as input via a stylus and keyboard. Other manufacturers have also moved in that direction, such as Samsung with the Galaxy TabPro S, with Windows and an included keyboard.

What we also see less and less are the budget tablets from a few years ago. The Nexus 7s from 2012 and 2013 are a good example of this, but the Nvidia Shield series of small tablets also falls into that category. There are still small tablets, but they no longer have the price-performance ratio of those older tablets.

The emphasis on tablets has also increasingly shifted to the larger and more luxurious models. It is no longer always a product that, as Steve Jobs announced in 2010, falls between laptop and smartphone, it is almost a replacement for the laptop, a machine to quickly do something on the go.

About one in eight tablets supplied is now a copy with a clickable keyboard. That is three times as many as a year ago. It still seems relatively little, but secretly it is quite a lot; the rest of the market largely consists of cheap Android tablets that are, for example, at the drugstore around the corner next to the toys and shampoo in the offer box.


Many people who have a tablet are very satisfied with it and if it breaks down, they will undoubtedly buy a new one. People who expected the tablet to replace the desktop and laptop in this post-PC era, however, are somewhat disappointed. Manufacturers do not earn nearly as much from tablets as they do from smartphones and therefore seem less inclined to invest in new models.

On the other hand, the tablet has conquered a place in many lives in record time. A product category that barely existed seven years ago is now a major industry with numerous manufacturers large and small, and shipments still running into the tens of millions of units per quarter. Tablets have also played a major role in the lives of children, for example, who can use educational apps, and many people who find a desktop too much of a hassle. A tablet with a touchscreen and apps that are easy to install is a lot more inviting than a desktop with its range of possibilities.

While the tablet may not have become the nail in the coffin of the desktop and laptop, it is here to stay . On the coffee table, for at least five years, until it really breaks down with age.

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