Tablet sales expected to grow, but just barely, in 2015

Researcher IDC cuts its forecast for tablet shipments in 2015, adding that Apple's iPad should keep losing market share.

IDC says Apple's iPad business should keep showing weakness in 2015. CNET

Things just keep getting worse for tablet makers -- especially Apple.

Researcher IDC on Thursday chopped its outlook for tablet growth in 2015, now saying device shipments will increase by only 2.1 percent to 234.5 million units, down from its prior estimate of 5.2 percent. That forecast includes tablet-laptop hybrids, known as as "2-in-1" devices, which IDC said should account for most of that growth.

"There is a slowdown," said Jean Philippe Bouchard, IDC's research director for tablets. The fourth quarter of last year "was much lower than we expected, so we reduced everything."

Bouchard said that the first half of the year should be difficult for the tablet market, but the third quarter may pick up, thanks to the release of the new Windows 10 operating system from Microsoft and the potential for a larger iPad from Apple.

This situation should be particularly painful for Apple, since it remains the biggest tablet maker and doesn't sell 2-in-1 devices. Despite price cuts and hardware upgrades, its iPad business in January posted its fourth consecutive quarterly sales decline, as consumers opted for large phones over tablets. Tablets have also had to contend with thinner and lighter laptops, which saw increased consumer interest last year.

Following several years of huge tablet growth, IDC now expects tablet sales to increase in the single digits for the next five years, following 4.4 percent growth in 2014 and 52.5 percent growth in 2013. In a sign of eroding demand, tablets posted their first-ever shipment decline in the fourth quarter of last year.

Apple is seen as the weakest link in IDC's forecast, with its share of the market expected to decline in 2015 from 28 percent last year to 26 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, Microsoft's share should increase from 5 percent last year to 14 percent in 2019. Despite slow adoption of Microsoft's Surface tablets so far, IDC said the company's new Windows 10 operating system should have a big impact.

An Apple representative declined to comment.

Apple, the highest-valued company in the world by market capitalization, isn't exactly hurting for profits. It netted $18 billion in its latest quarter, the most by any company in corporate history. But a lack of strength in the iPad segment could make it overly dependent on its iPhone smartphone business.

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