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Tablet sales growth to tap the brakes this year, says Gartner

Potential tablet buyers are opting instead for alternative devices, and existing owners are hanging onto their tablets longer, according to research firm Gartner.

Tablet sales growth will drop this year, says Gartner. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The once-hot tablet market will cool off a bit further this year, according to the folks at Gartner.

Global tablet sales will hit 229 million units this year, Gartner forecast in a report released Wednesday. That would be an 11 percent increase from 2013. Though that doesn't sound too bad, last year's tablet sales jumped by 55 percent, so this year's estimate represents a serious slowdown in growth.

Why the downturn?

First, tablets are facing increasing greater competition from alternative devices. Big-screened smartphones, aka phablets, are proving popular with consumers who may have previously bought, or been inclined to buy, a tablet. But Gartner also sees other kinds of portable devices as larger rivals for traditional tablets.

"Some tablet users are not replacing a tablet with a tablet, they are favoring hybrid or two-in-one devices, increasing its share of the ultramobile premium market to 22 percent in 2014, and 32 percent by 2018," Gartner research director Ranjit Atwal said in a statement.

Second, existing tablet users are becoming less inclined to replace their current devices. Gartner estimates that the industry will see 90 million fewer new tablet purchasers and 155 million fewer tablet replacements through 2018.


On the upside, the mobile phone market will continue to rise this year thanks to robust sales of lower-end smartphones, Gartner said. Sales of basic smartphones are forecast to leap by 52 percent, while "utility" smartphones (which include so-called Chinese white-box devices) will double. White-box devices are products without known name brands that often prove popular in local markets by selling at low prices.

"The market is clearly favoring those vendors offering value in lower-priced smartphones," Gartner research director Roberta Cozza said in a statement. "This trend has become more apparent, especially in the second quarter of 2014 when most of the top Chinese smartphone vendors grew volume and market share."

The rise of cheaper smartphones is also increasing the global market share of smartphones among mobile phones in general, which is expected to hit 71 percent this year, up 17 points from last year. As this trend continues, Cozza said he expects 9 out of 10 phones sold in 2018 to be smartphones.

Surveying the device market as a whole, Gartner expects shipments of PCs, tablets, ultramobiles, and mobile phones combined to reach 2.4 billion units this year, up 3.2 percent from last year. The biggest drag on the market will be traditional PCs, which will see their numbers drop from 296 million last year to 276 million this year and 261 million next year, Gartner projected.