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Tablet shipments slow for first time, down 5 percent

Despite rapid gains in recent years, consumer appetite for tablets seems to be shrinking, thanks to demand for bigger smartphones.

James Martin/CNET

Shipments for tablets were down 5 percent over the last year, signaling a slowdown for even the most popular of tablets, Apple's iPad, NPD DisplaySearch said Wednesday.

This is the first time that demand for these mobile devices are down, according to the research firm. Global shipments declined to 56.3 million units in the first quarter of this year from 59 million units in the same period in 2013.

Why is popularity of the devices waning? In part, there's generally less growth in the beginning of the year since people tend to buy a lot of tablets during the holiday season. But the main reason is most likely the popularity of bigger screens on smartphones, according to NPD analyst Richard Shim. He expects shipments will continue to fall, given the growing demand for larger smartphone screens.

"Replacing tablet PCs with large-size smartphones is expected to be a theme in the coming years, expanding on a trend that has mainly been limited to China," he wrote in a blog post. "As the emergence of large-size smartphones becomes a bigger influence in the US, shipments of small-size tablet PCs are expected to decline."

Even Apple, which has led the tablet market with its popular iPad line, had a bad quarter. While it remains on top with 20 percent of the market share, Apple's tablet shipments were down 16.1 percent. Samsung, the No. 2 tablet maker with 11 percent of the market, was only in marginally better shape, with tablet shipments up 2 percent.

Other brands have just a small percentage of the market, but Lenovo and Asus did see substantial growth, pushing them above Google and Amazon:


Shim noted that Google may be "tapering off" shipments as it prepares for a new 7-inch and 8.9-inch device later this year, while Amazon's rumored 4.7-inch smartphone could replace one of its existing 7-inch tablets, leaving only one 7-inch device in its Kindle Fire line.

Correction, May 29, 8:24 a.m. PT: This report refers to the number of units manufacturers shipped to retailers, not what retailers actually sold to consumers.