How long before tablet saturation? IDC predicts single digit growth by 2017

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Tablet Family

If you were one of those people who thought that the iPad was a giant, pointless version of the iPhone, chances are you’ve changed your mind recently. The global tablet market has exploded over the past few years, finding applications in areas of life even Steve Jobs couldn’t have dreamed of.

Like all big technology form factors however, its growth will inevitably slow down. Indeed, technology research house IDC reckons that tablet growth could slow to single digit figures by 2017.

The company says that worldwide tablet shipments are expected to reach 221.3-million units in 2013, down slightly from a previous forecast of 227.4-million but still 53.5% above 2012 levels. Shipment growth is forecast to slow to 22.2% year over year in 2014 to a total of 270.5-million units. By 2017, annual market growth will slow to single-digit percentages and shipments will peak at 386.3-million units, down from the previous forecast of 407-million units.

The rise of small tablets

IDC also says that the trend for smaller tablets we’ve seen over the past 24 months or so could be pushed back by the increased uptake in large-screened smartphones. Along with the launch of Apple’s launch of the iPad Air, this could herald another market transition back toward larger screens. That is, of course, presuming consumers are willing to pay the higher costs associated with bigger screens.

“In some markets consumers are already making the choice to buy a large smartphone rather than buying a small tablet, and as a result we’ve lowered our long-term forecast,” said Tom Mainelli, Research Director, Tablets. “Meanwhile, in mature markets like the US where tablets have been shipping in large volumes since 2010 and are already well established, we’re less concerned about big phones cannibalizing shipments and more worried about market saturation.”

One company that could benefit from this trend, IDC says, is Microsoft because tablets running Windows generally benefit from a larger screen area. Even so, Windows-based tablets are not expected to steal share from tablets running iOS and Android until the latter part of the forecast.

Tablet market share

“For months, Microsoft and Intel have been promising more affordable Windows tablets and 2-in-1 devices,” said Jitesh Ubrani, Research Analyst, Worldwide Tablet Tracker. “This holiday season, we expect a huge push for these devices as both companies flex their marketing muscles; however we still don’t expect them to gain much traction. We’re already halfway through the holiday quarter, and though there have been some relatively high-profile launches from the likes of Dell, HP, and Lenovo, we’ve yet to see widespread availability of these devices, making it difficult for Windows to gain share during this crucial period.”

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