Once skyrocketing tablet sales growth sees a slowdown

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Don’t dismiss tablets as a fad. But those days of skyrocketing sales may be coming to an end, according to figures from IDC.

The market research firm (whose parent company, IDG, owns PCWorld) found that worldwide tablet shipments grew by 28.2 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2013, reaching 76.9 million units. While tablet sales are still growing, the rate of growth was much slower than in the 2012 holiday quarter, when shipments increased by 75.3 percent year-over-year.

Nearly every top tablet vendor was hit by this trend, including frontrunner Apple, whose year-over-year growth was 13.5 percent, compared to 48.1 percent in 2012. Although the iPad has been a huge hit for Apple, the new iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display haven’t stopped the slowdown in growth that’s been happening for months.

idc tablet shipments 4q 2013 Source: IDC

Amazon, meanwhile, saw small a decline in shipments according to IDC’s estimates, from 5.9 million units in 2012’s foruth quarter to 5.8 million units for the same three-month period in 2013. (Amazon, which does not publish specific sales figures, boasted of “record-setting” Cyber Monday sales for Kindle devices, including e-readers. In previous years the company bragged about the entire holiday weekend, if you want to indulge in a bit of tea-leaf reading.) The retailer still snagged third place in overall tablet shipments, but was far behind the 14.5 million shipments of second-place Samsung.

Rounding out the top five was Asus, with 3.9 million shipments—no doubt buoyed by Google’s second-generation Nexus 7—and Lenovo, whose 3.4 million shipments marked a 325 percent year-over-year improvement. Lenovo’s “access to the Chinese whitebox manufacturing infrastructure” propelled to company to its first top-five appearance, IDC says.

What’s behind the overall slowdown in tablet growth? IDC says it’s a simple matter of saturation, particularly in mature markets such as the United States. Stronger growth in emerging markets were not enough to offset the end of explosive tablet growth elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the traditional PC saw its worst sales decline in history last year, but there are signs that the drop in sales will level off. With IDC reporting 82.2 million PC shipments last quarter, it may be a little while longer before tablets take over.

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