Even as Apple is set to launch new tablets on Thursday, the news about tablet sales isn't good.
Gartner and IDC both recently dramatically lowered their tablet shipment and sales estimates for 2014 and coming years, citing primarily the longer-than-expected time customers keep their existing tablets. (That phenomenon is called the "refresh rate.")
Gartner said today it had originally expected 13% tablet sales growth for the year globally; it has now lowered that growth rate to 11%. IDC's forecast change was even more dire: In June, it predicted shipment growth this year would be 12.1%, but in September it cut that number to 6.5%.
In the U.S., things are worse, because more than half of households have a tablet and may hold onto it for more than three years, well beyond analysts' earlier expectations.
IDC said in its latest update that tablet growth in the U.S. this year will be just 1.5%, and will slow to 0.4% in 2015. After that, it expects negative growth through 2018. Adding in 2-in-1 devices, such as a Surface Pro with a keyboard, the situation in the U.S. improves, although overall growth for both tablets and 2-in-1's will still only reach 3.8% in 2014, and just 0.4% by 2018, IDC said.
"Tablet penetration is high in the U.S. -- over half of all households have at least one -- which leads to slow growth...," Mikako Kitagawa, an analyst at Gartner, said in an interview. "A smartphone is a must-have item, but a tablet is not. You can do the same things on a laptop as you do with a tablet, and these are all inter-related."
Tablets are a "nice-to-have and not a must-have, because phones and PCs are enough to get by," added Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel.
In a recent Kantar survey of 20,000 potential tablet buyers, only 13% said they definitely or probably would buy a tablet in the next year, while 54% said they would not, Milanesi said. Of those planning not to buy a tablet, 72% said they were happy with their current PC.
At IDC, analyst Tom Mainelli reported that the first half of 2014 saw tablet growth slow to 5.8% (from a growth rate of 88% in the first half of 2013). Mainelli said the meteoric pace of past years has slowed dramatically due to long device refresh cycles and pressure from sales of large phones, including the new iPhone 6 Plus. That phone has a 5.5-in. display, which is close to some smaller tablets with 7-in. displays.
"As phone displays get larger, they are eating into the sales of 7-in. tablet displays," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "For those who want both a phone and a tablet, we are reaching a state of saturation. Vendors also aren't adding tablet feature improvements at a rate they once were."
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