Tablets on the Decline – a Bitter Pill to Swallow?

Hamilton Forth’s Technology specialist, Josh Moreland discusses the declining sales figures for tablet devices, and looks at three of the main contributors to this drop in global purchasing.

In 2010, Apple released its first-gen iPad which is widely regarded as being the pioneer of tablet devices on any mass-market scale.

It sold around 15 million units worldwide and enabled users to browse the internet, play games, access GPS navigation software, play music and send / receive email messages – all displayed on a 9.7” touchscreen.

Since then, all the ‘big players’ have delved into the tablet market; Google, Samsung, Amazon and Microsoft have all released various iterations of their flagship devices, whilst Apple continues to lead the way in global market sales thanks to 9 separate versions of the iPad.

However, since 2018 there has been a steady decline in tablet sales on a UK and international scale, with various reports suggesting anywhere between an 11% and 18% year-on-year drop in sales over the last four years. So, what has gone wrong with the once all-powerful tablet market?


1. A quick fix but not ‘built to last’?

Part of the appeal of the tablet was its larger screen and the fact it was a portable device; users could watch TV shows or browse video-sharing sites on the go. However, many tablets have been found to be incompatible with certain apps when it comes to screen rotation, meaning that users were ‘stuck’ watching videos in portrait-mode – not ideal, particularly for sports-viewers.

The average battery length of a mid-range tablet is around 5 hours. Higher end models claim to be able to achieve between 10 and 14 hours of usage before a recharge is needed, however many users have complained of devices struggling to hold charge for more than an hour or so after 2 years of use. Of course, depending on applications used and background processes running, this figure will vary; but having to charge the tablet on a frequent basis is a major drawback and detracts from the notion of it being a portable device.

There have been several news reports of tablet devices overheating and even exploding when connected to mains electricity for charging. Amazon, Argos and Samsung have all had the unfortunate press of manufacturing devices which exploded, causing damage to customer homes as well as providing a shock for owners of the devices.

Another common issue with tablets is referred to as ‘capping’ which refers to a breakage of the horizontal plane; this is a major manufacturing issue for a device which has a touchscreen.


2. Outlawed at events

Prior to 2018, tablets had already started becoming unpopular when used by visitors of various concerts and events. Manchester United made the decision to ban all tablet devices (larger than certain dimensions) before a 2014 Champions League game against Valencia, citing that it prohibited other spectator experiences and infringed on recording and broadcasting agreements in place.

Internationally that same year, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion also made the decision to outlaw the use of tablet devices at gigs, claiming them to be a ‘distraction to guests and artists’ – probably not the news you wanted to hear if you’ve just spent £500+ on a device with a camera and recording capability.


3. Significant improvements in smartphone technologies

Perhaps the most threatening opponent to the resurgence of tablets is, in fact, the smartphone. The main challenge tablet manufacturers face (almost always the same manufacturers of phones), is that smartphone technologies have improved so substantially that the need for a separate tablet device becomes pretty obsolete.

Smartphones are generally regarded as trendier, more portable and can be paired with other wearable technologies (smart glasses, VR headsets, GPS watches), so the use of a tablet has been rendered redundant.

The fact that smartphone screen sizes have increased too almost steals the USP away from tablets; at a similar price-point, more and more consumers are selecting phones over tablet devices.


Will the trend return?

Tablet enthusiasts may refute the statistics that sales of these devices appear to be in decline, with no real indication of the trend recovering. Although sales of flagship products will still peak at certain times of the year (e.g. Christmas), it does seem that UK and international markets have lost the taste for the once popular tablet device.

This informative site highlights some of the tablet models that have been discontinued by manufacturers, further adding to the feeling that even some of the larger players may look to completely bow out of the tablet market.

With Christmas 2022 just around the corner, it’ll be interesting to see sales figures for tablets over the next month – can a Christmas boom get some models back on the road to recovery?!


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