At Mobile World Congress 2015, the tablet computing market appears to be in rude health. Archos, Blackphone and Sony have all announced new tablets, while Lenovo has unveiled three of its own.
However, the tablet market is actually starting to plateau. Growth has slowed over the last few years, and the most recent research from Gartner indicates that PCs will continue to be more popular next year.
So, is the influx of new releases simply a last hurrah, or is there life in the tablet market yet?
It is important to remember that sales are still growing, albeit at a slower rate. They are expected to hit 233.4 million worldwide across 2015, up from 216.1 million the year before. The concern, however, is that tablets have not dominated the computing industry as some predicted.
Frank Gillett, vice president of research firm Forrester claimed in 2012 that tablets would become our primary computing device, but this has not transpired for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the boundaries between smartphone and tablet are beginning to blur. Back when the iPad was first released in 2010 larger screened smartphones were not in vogue and the Samsung Galaxy Note was still a year away.
Now, with phablets growing in popularity and the iPhone 6 embracing the larger screen approach, consumers are starting to question whether they need both a tablet and a smartphone. When a phone can do everything that tablet can, plus make calls, on a screen that’s not much smaller, the tablet is going to lose out.
Consumers are also likely to feel less pressure to upgrade their tablet device, when compared to their phone.
Despite their portability, many individuals only use their tablets indoors to consume media, like listening to music, surfing the web or watching Netflix. Tablet manufacturers are finding that, as many older models are still more than adequate at carrying out these tasks, early adopters are resisting the temptation to buy newer tablets.
When it comes to buying a new smartphone, camera resolution, security features and mobile payment functionality are all relatively new and evolving concepts, causing consumers to upgrade more regularly. Across tablet users, these functions are less significant.
If that explains why tablets are playing second fiddle to smartphones, what about their ongoing battle with PCs?
The issue is ultimately one of functionality. Desktop and laptop PCs, with their own built-in keyboards and mouse are simply quicker and easier to use for work-based tasks that PCs. While touch-screen applications are improving – Microsoft now includes touch-optimised Office software across its Windows RT tablets - many users still prefer a more traditional approach to work.
However, the future is certainly not bleak for the tablet market, and manufacturers are well aware that a change in approach is needed to stimulate further growth.
Many companies are now looking at producing larger screened tablets, helping to distance themselves from smartphones and encouraging more productivity. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, with its 12-inch screen, has been described as the closest replacement to a laptop yet, while Apple is rumoured to be working on a new iPad with similar dimensions.
With organisations requiring increased mobility from its workforce, tablet manufacturers are making a concerted effort to capture the lucrative business market.
Lenovo’s recently revealed Yoga Tablet 2 Pro has a built-in projector, while Sony’s Xperia Z4 comes with its own bespoke Bluetooth keyboard. It remains to be seen whether this tablet-PC hybrid approach will be accepted by consumers but it’s clear that tablet vendors have to try something different to arrest the current slump.
Between 2012 and 2013, tablet sales almost doubled from 124.8 million to 216.3 million, but now that kind of growth is a distant memory. The market leader, Apple, actually sold 15 per cent fewer iPads through 2014 than it did the year previous.
Tablets may never experience the runaway growth of the early years, but they still have a place in the computing market alongside smartphones and PCs. The task for manufacturers is convincing consumers that tablets are just as essential as their other connected devices.