Tablet trends for 2014: More Windows tablets, 3G/4G and phablets

IDC sees big businesses adopting more tablets, too

Android and iOS tablets will both begin to lose global market share in 2014, while Windows ramps up slightly, according to research firm IDC.

Android's market share is expected to drop slightly this year to 60.7% (from 60.8% in 2013), while iOS is expected to drop to 33.1% -- down from 35% in 2013 -- while Windows grows this year to 5.7% from 3.2%.

Trends that will also begin this year are a slowing in the popularity of sub-8-in. tablets and an increase in shipments to the education and large business segments, IDC said in a research note earlier this month. More tablets will also have 3G and 4G cellular connections instead of just Wi-Fi.

The report notes that the overall market should grow to 270 million tablets shipped in 2014, up from 221 million tablets in all of 2013. IDC in November slightly revised downward its tablet forecast for all of 2013 on the basis of a slow second and third quarter, partly because buyers were waiting for new iPad products; Apple didn't ship its new iPad Air until Nov. 1.

The long-term trend shows Windows tablet market share is expected to grow to 10.2% in 2017, while Android's share will slip to 58.8% and iOS dips to 30.6%, IDC said.

Windows RT will continue to decline and is already below 1%. "Consumers don't know what to make of Windows RT-based tablets," IDC said. "All of Microsoft's partners have abandoned the platform; only Microsoft's Surface and Surface 2 and Nokia's 2520 remain."

Tablets in general are becoming more capable and accepted in business settings, and the use of Windows in traditional PCs used in business will transfer to Windows tablets, IDC analyst Tom Mainelli said via email. IDC said the combined education and large business market will grow from 12% of the total tablets shipped in 2013 to 21.7% in 2017.

As for cellular connections, IDG said 27.5% of tablets had 3G/4G connections in 2013; that number is expected to reach 34.7% in 2017. "In the U.S. market, carriers became much more aggressive in fourth quarter 2013, offering impressive savings on 4G-capable products," Mainelli wrote in the recent report.

IDC and other analysts have noticed an impact on smaller tablet sales (under 8 inches) from sales of large smartphones, often called phablets, in the larger than 5-in. range. Mainelli said that sub-8-in. tablet shipments will peak in 2014 at 57% of the market, then fall back slightly. "Interest in phablets is growing rapidly," IDC said.

IDC also said that wearable devices such as smartwatches may prove to be symbiotic to the tablet market or could cannibalize tablet sales. "Wearables for now remain a guessing game. To date, little has slowed the tablet market's rocket growth, but wearables is one area to monitor closely."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

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