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Apple keeps its grip on the tablet market despite shipment slowdown

Tablet and Chromebook shipments were down in the fourth quarter, but showed net growth across 2021.

iPad Mini and 9th Gen iPad
Apple remained the manufacturer that shipped the most tablets in 2021.
Scott Stein/CNET

Worldwide tablet shipments rose to 168.8 million last year, up about 5 million from 2020 shipments, according to market researcher IDC, with Apple's iPad devices making up 57.8 million of those shipments.

Annual shipments hit the highest level in five years, despite a significant slowdown in the fourth quarter, where shipments fell 11.9% year over year to 46 million units. IDC said Monday it was the second time quarterly shipments had dropped since the start of the pandemic.

Despite that slowdown, Apple maintained a one-third marketshare of tablets, almost double the next closest competitor Samsung, which sat at 18.3%. 

Read more: Best tablets for 2022

The slowing shipment numbers reflect decreased demand as people have had two years to stock up on tech during the pandemic. As Anuroopa Nataraj, senior research analyst with IDC, explained, "Though 2021 was a great year for the tablet market, shipments have begun to decelerate as the market has moved past peak demand across many geographies."

Shipments of Chromebooks took a much larger hit in the fourth quarter, dropping from 13.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 4.8 million in Q4 2021 -- a year over year decrease of 63.6%. However, Chromebook shipments for the full year rose 13.5% to 37 million.

Jitesh Ubrani, an IDC research manager, said, "Much of the initial demand for Chromebooks has been satiated in primary markets like the US and Europe and this has led to a slowdown in overall shipments. However, Chromebook demand in emerging markets has seen continued growth in the past year."