It seems strange now, but when the iPad was first announced, few believed that the product would become popular. It was dismissed as a large iPod Touch, mocked for its reliance on a mobile operating system, and otherwise regarded as yet another misstep in Apple’s history.
But the naysayers were proven wrong when the iPad created the modern tablet market and was followed by products from Google, Amazon, and Samsung that tried to meet its quality. Tablets no longer seem strange — they’re everyday products used by people around the world.
The iPad was so popular that it was synonymous with “tablet” for a few years. Pundits thought it would eventually become Apple’s most important product. It went from frivolous product to cultural mainstay in just a few years, and seemed poised for total computing domination. As Farhad Manjoo wrote for Slate last April:
The tech industry has been waiting for Apple to release the next big thing for several years now. The clamoring is annoying and irrational—nobody knows what they want from Apple, exactly, just that they want something new, whether it’s a watch, a TV, a phablet, smart glasses, or who knows what. But I wonder if this is a giant distraction from the real story at Apple. In our obsession with the new, we’re missing the potential of the old. It’s very likely that Apple’s next big thing is already out there. The iPad is going to be huge. Just watch.
That is starting to change. The IDC research group reported on Thursday that Apple’s share of the tablet market continues to fall as Android tablets become increasingly popular. This isn’t the first time the iPad’s growth stumbled, either: it’s been slipping since early 2013.
The reasons for this slump are unclear. Christopher Mims, writing for Quartz, suspects that it might be caused by the iPad’s slow upgrade cycle — especially when compared to the iPhone:
Tablets that are mainly used for browsing the web and watching videos don’t need to be re-purchased nearly as often as phones that are getting lost, stolen, broken, or simply radically more useful as time goes by and the number of apps and use cases for them multiplies. That puts tablets on a replacement cycle more like PCs—every five years or so—than phones, which is another reason you’re not seeing sales on the same order as phones.
Others have suggested that the iPad is ceding marketshare to smartphones, which can perform many of the same tasks, are often cheaper when purchased with a wireless contract, and aren’t quite as difficult to carry around. The iPad, like other PCs, is being eaten by phones.
But whatever the reason, it’s clear that the iPad isn’t as popular as it was just a few years ago. The product went from unlikely success to surprising failure in a short amount of time — and, despite increasing competition from Android tablets, it’s bringing the category down with it. Here’s what the IDC says in its latest report:
The total represents a sequential decline of -35.7% from the high-volume holiday quarter and just 3.9% growth over the same period a year ago. The slowdown was felt across operating systems and screen sizes and likely points to an even more challenging year ahead for the category.
That echoes the IDC’s statements from last year, when it blamed the tablet category’s stalled growth on Apple’s inability to ship a new iPad in the preceding quarter. As I wrote at the time:
Never mind that Samsung announced the Galaxy Tab 3 product line in April and began shipping units in July. Or that Asus released the Fonepad in April. You’d think that releasing new products, especially when Apple hasn’t updated its own in nine months, would lead to an increase in shipments — apparently you’d be wrong. Even if the iPad isn’t selling quite as well as it was a year ago, its release and subsequent updates continue to affect the entire tablet market.
There’s no denying that the iPad is down. But, at least according to the IDC, it’s taken the rest of the tablet industry down with it.
[Image by Hallie Bateman]