Samsung's 9.7-inch Galaxy Tab A.
Courtesy: Samsung
By Andrew Nusca
August 3, 2015

It was just over five years ago that we were waiting with bated breath for Apple’s tablet computer. The company delivered, dubbed its new creation the iPad, and set about redefining what a “tablet” could be.

Remember? Tablet computers used to be clunky, convertible laptops that ran Microsoft Windows and reeked of compromise. The release of the iPad helped redraw that gadget in consumers’ minds. No, this wasn’t the hefty hunk of steel lugged around by UPS workers; this was the future of the computer.

Here’s the truth: I was always suspicious of them. Sure, they seemed wonderful and light and perfect for couch-based computing. But they weren’t the right format for a lot of the ways I used a computer. They were great for a meeting but less so for my desk. When I needed to grind out a report or design a page, I needed the precision of my otherwise anachronistic mouse. And, toughest of all, I already owned a laptop, like most people. Buying another computer seemed more of a “nice to have” than a “must have.” (Unless you’re a UPS worker.)

New figures from IDC, the market research firm, suggest that we’ve reached a ceiling for the modern tablet computer. According to the firm, shipments of the device in the second quarter of this year dropped 7% worldwide compared to the same time last year. Apple and Samsung, the market leaders (41% combined market share), each experienced a drop year over year as competitors like LG and Huawei surged.

But the overall market is shrinking, just five years after it appeared. For good reason: Laptops continue to shrink—have you seen the latest Macbook?—and smartphones continue to grow, even as both get lighter and longer-lasting in terms of battery life. Tablets, stuck in the middle, still have their place. But the utility of that place is dwindling.

Here’s a look at IDC’s top five worldwide tablet vendors for the second quarter of 2015:

1. Apple

10.9 million units shipped in 2Q15
24.5% market share in 2Q15
13.3 million units shipped in 2Q14
27.7% market share in 2Q14
-17.9% growth year over year

2. Samsung

7.6 million units shipped in 2Q15
17.0% market share in 2Q15
8.6 million units shipped in 2Q14
18.0% market share in 2Q14
-12.0% growth year over year

3. Lenovo

2.5 million units shipped in 2Q15
5.7% market share in 2Q15
2.4 million units shipped in 2Q14
4.9% market share in 2Q14
6.8% growth year over year

4. Huawei (*tie)

1.6 million units shipped in 2Q15
3.7% market share in 2Q15
0.8 million units shipped in 2Q14
1.7% market share in 2Q14
103.6% growth year over year

4. LG Electronics (*tie)

1.6 million units shipped in 2Q15
3.6% market share in 2Q15
0.5 million units shipped in 2Q14
1.0% market share in 2Q14
246.4% growth year over year

Others

20.4 million units shipped in 2Q15
45.6% market share in 2Q15
22.4 million units shipped in 2Q14
46.7% market share in 2Q14
-9.3% growth year over year

Total

44.7 million units shipped in 2Q15
48.0 million units shipped in 2Q14
-7.0% growth year over year

Not very encouraging for a young, new computing format.

Are tablets dead? I genuinely don’t think so. They remain critical for specialized uses, from hospitals to delivery trucks to sales meetings. Hundreds of millions continue to be sold every year. And some of their best traits have been absorbed by the latest generation of laptops. (What is the new Macbook if not a touchscreen-lacking iPad with a permanent keyboard and OS X, Apple’s desktop operating system?) But from the looks of these numbers, tablets have an identity problem that can’t be ignored.

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