Apple will experience the first full year of decline in iPad shipments during 2014, as the worldwide market experiences “massive deceleration” with year-over-year growth slowing to 7.2 per cent, down from 52.5 per cent in 2013.
According to a new forecast from International Data Corporation (IDC), at the core of this market slowdown will be the iPad, with the slowdown coming as “no surprise” to analysts who point to the lengthening of device life-cycles, increasingly resembling those of PCs more than smartphones.
"The tablet market continues to be impacted by a few major trends happening in relevant markets," says Ryan Reith, Program Director with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers.
"In the early stages of the tablet market, device life-cycles were expected to resemble those of smartphones, with replacement occurring every two to three years.
“What has played out instead is that many tablet owners are holding onto their devices for more than three years and in some instances more than four years.
“We believe the two major drivers for longer than expected tablet life-cycles are legacy software support for older products, especially within iOS, and the increased use of smartphones for a variety of computing tasks."
Among different form factors and product groups, Reith says “significant advancements” have been made recently by hardware manufacturers to advance the 2-in-1, or detachable, product category.
“Devices have become thinner, prices have come down, and more models are available,” the report adds.
But despite these advances, shipments of 2-in-1 devices are only expected to reach 8.7 million units in 2014, which is just 4 per cent of the total tablet plus 2-in-1 market.
IDC believes a large reason for the relatively small uptake has been consumer hesitancy around the Windows 8 platform, which the majority of 2-in-1 devices are built upon.
"We need to look at how the tablet ecosystem is answering these challenges, and right now we see a lot of pressure on tablet prices and an influx of entry-level products, which ultimately serves Android really well," adds Jean Philippe Bouchard, Research Director for Tablets, IDC.
"But we also see tablet manufacturers trying to offset this price pressure by focusing on larger screens and cellular-enabled tablets. The next six months should be really interesting."
Looking forward, the few unknowns that could impact overall tablet shipments are: the industry reaction to Windows 10; what Google does in this space with Android and Chrome OS; and Apple's rumoured product line expansion.
Despite all of these unknowns, it seems clear that consumers can be expected to hold onto tablets longer than smartphones.