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Too Many Tablets? Saturation to Cause Slump, IDC Says

From 7-inch and 8.9-inch slates to 10-inch devices and giant 12-inchers like the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro, today’s tablets come in all forms and sizes. However, according to research firm IDC, there could be some serious challenges moving forward.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that markets such as the U.S. are reaching high levels of consumer saturation,” the IDC’s Tom Mainelli said in a recent report. “And while emerging markets continue to show strong growth this has not been enough to sustain the dramatic worldwide growth rates of years past.”

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IDC says worldwide tablet shipments jumped to 76.9 million units shipped in Q4 2013, which represents a 62.4 percent increase over the previous quarter and a growth of 28.2 percent compared to the same time period in 2012. While this sounds like a significant surge, however, the firm warns that this year-over-year number is much lower than the 87.1 percent rate from one year ago. This could indicate a “significant slowing of the overall market,” the company said.

In Q4 2013, Apple once again led the worldwide tablet market with 26 million shipments, which is up from 14.1 million units in the previous quarter. This is Apple’s most successful quarter yet, but its year-over-year growth of 13.5 percent is still below the “industry average” according to IDC.

Phablets to Blame?

While tablets still account for a large chunk of the mobile industry, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard that slates are heading toward a slump. In December 2013, IDC reported that the increasing popularity of phablets, phones with screens larger than 5.3 inches, could dig into tablet market share. Consumers, therefore, would be less likely to purchase a 7-inch tablet because there isn’t much of a difference in screen size.

Techanalysis Research also predicted that phablets would outsell tablets in 2014, forecasting that 175 million larger-screened smartphones would be sold compared to 165 million tablets. Bob O’Donnell, founder of the research firm, notes that this trend will occur outside of the U.S. first, since phablets make up about two-thirds of mobile phones in regions such a South Korea.

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“Many in the U.S. have failed to look past the idea of a phablet as anything more than a device that looks ridiculously large when held up to your head to make a phone call,” O’Donnell said.

With such a saturated tablet market, it’s unclear exactly what types of devices we’ll see in the future. But one thing is for sure -- as smartphone screen sizes continue to grow beyond the 5-inch range, tablet makers will have to make some compelling arguments to keep consumers hooked. Maybe former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins wasn’t so ridiculous to say the tablet would be irrelevant in 5 years.