Tablet Market Shrank in 2014, Here are Some Possible Reasons Why

Last week we learned iPad sales declined … again. It was another sign of a shift in the tablet market different from the smartphone market. Now we hear from the IDC that the broader tablet market shrank with both Apple and Samsung along with ASUS and Amazon taking large hits and only Lenovo and ‘others’ gaining share. We asked ‘why’?


I set out a group of potential reasons for the drop in the tablet market, based on discussions we’ve had in the past as well as finding them as common themes discussed everywhere since Apple’s revenue announcement. Let’s take a look at each and see how the Gear Diary crew elaborated:

Some possible reasons for Tablet Market Decline

1. Phones are larger and more capable

My thought is that with larger screens – nearly as big as a Kindle – there is much more real estate for actually getting work done. The Gear Diary crew agreed, saying:

Wayne: Bigger smartphones are filling the gap / replacing the need

Wayne: Just as easy to be productive on the big screen phone as it is to carry separate keyboard and assorted doodads (pita).

Travis: I am on board with the idea of bigger phones acting as tablets. I have barely used my iPad since I have owned an iPhone 6 Plus. If I need something other than my phone, I use a laptop or desktop. My habits have completely changed.

Joel: Tablets don’t get as much use as our phone, which we carry around all the time. The tablet? Not so much.

Mitchell: I’m certainly using my 6 Plus in more situations that would normally have had me reaching for the iPad.

2. People are disillusioned with tablet limitations

I have long called the iPad my 90% computer – I have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to accomplish 90% of my tasks using the iPad, while excluding PC-only gaming from that equation. The iPad is not only great for normal daily tasks like email, web, RSS, social media, etc … it is great for Office productivity, blogging, movie and image editing (at my level, anyway), gaming and studio music making (as highlighted in recent commercials).

And while I have argued that the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a good convertible laptop but a mediocre tablet, it reminds iPad users of one thing – you don’t get ‘real’ apps. Productivity, statistical analysis, even my favorite music and games apps are all either ports of games from previous years, or scaled down versions of desktop apps or games. This is something that was agreed upon broadly:

Wayne: Few apps that truly take advantage of tablet

Wayne: Cost/benefit of a separate tablet is not obvious

Wayne: Aside from bigger screen – argument for $500+ purchase not compelling outside of niche/early adopter

Wayne: Break one big screen (think kids) and you sort of cool on the entire market

Mitchell: As for buying a new iPad, I’ve got an iPad Air and simply can’t justify the upgrade cost to get the Air2 right now. It’s does some things marginally better and the screen is much improved, but I simple can’t be bothered! Would also mean rebuying cases and accessories.I recently spent $100 on a ZAGG keyboard case, and I really don’t feel like wasting money on the next generation’s accessory.


3. Laptop replacement cycle catching up with tablet adoption

Historically replacement cycles have been 5 years for desktops and 3-4 years for laptops. However, during the recession people stopped buying new computers and made use of what they had … and that cycle continued for several years, and then shifted to people trying to supplement their aging laptop with a small-screen smartphone and a tablet to avoid buying a new computer.

But over the last year something happened – rather than the double-digit declines of previous years we got more or less a flat sales for laptops (and solid gains for Macs as usual). People are making the choice to use a laptop or desktop around the house instead of updating their tablet – and possibly shifting the load to their phones instead.

4. Tablets just have a longer replacement cycle than expected

This one has been discussed quite a bit over the last year – the initial assumption was that tablets would have a two-year replacement cycle like cell phones. However, that has not proven to be true. And even reading enthusiast web forums like MacRumors you see many people who simply cannot justify replacing their iPad 4 with the iPad Air 2 based on their usage.

Many thought that what we were seeing initially was a branching out people would buy an iPad, then maybe a 7″ tablet like a Nexus 7 or a Kindle Fire HD, then come back to a large-screen iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab. But the latest news coincides with what I suspected was happening – people are spending time with a tablet, maybe trying one or two brands and one or two screen sizes before finding what works best for them.

And … unlike tech enthusiasts or people using niche capabilities (i.e. me), most people realize that they don’t need to hop on the annual replacement treadmill because what they were using tablets for – email, web, social media, light gaming and content consumption – wasn’t taxing the device they had.

5. Some combination of these …

Most everyone agreed that there isn’t really a singular reason, but rather a combination of factors. And also that tech writers and tech-heads in general have a warped sense of reality. Here are a couple of thoughts:

Joel: I am not sure I would say 5 but I am close. We are a weird group. We’ll by something every year when our friends who don’t do what we do will keep what they have far longer. I have a friend that still clings to his 4s and will only upgrade when his wife does, and then he gets her hand me down. When we got excited about the iPad Air and other iPad or Tablet iterations, he clung to his iPad (the original iPad!)

Carly: I think it’s a combo of bigger phones, tablet replacement cycles being longer, laptops becoming cheaper and more powerful (and a better tag team with a large phone), and the fact that as phone companies push people into monthly cost over subsidizes it’s that much easier to just swap out your phone over swapping out your tablet.

Final Thoughts

2014 was a transitional year for the tablet market: there were some amazing new products released providing incredible capabilities for the iOS, Android and Windows tablet enthusiast … yet the market shrank – a lot. The only gains came in the low-end ‘disposable’ tablet market, which means that higher end makers such as Apple and Samsung need to work hard in 2015 to prove their case of WHY you should buy a new tablet.

The market for tablets isn’t dying (yet), but it has plateaued or stagnated much sooner than analysts predicted. What the landscape for devices looks like over the next few years remains uncertain.

What are YOUR thoughts? Are there other possible options?

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. If you are shopping on Amazon anyway, buying from our links gives Gear Diary a small commission.

About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!