Apple has won the first round of battles in its ongoing tablet war with Microsoft, recording better iPad Pro sales than its rival Surface devices.
Figures from IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker during the fourth quarter of 2015 (4Q15) claim that Cupertino held off the challenge from Redmond, as the market warms to detachable devices from all major vendors.
“One of the biggest reasons why detachables are growing so fast is because end users are seeing those devices as PC replacements,” says Jean Philippe Bouchard, Research Director, Tablets, IDC.
“We believe Apple sold just over two million iPad Pros while Microsoft sold around 1.6 million Surface devices, a majority of which were Surface Pro and not the more affordable Surface 3.
“With these results, it's clear that price is not the most important feature considered when acquiring a detachable - performance is."
But despite the rise of detachables, coupled with the holiday season, the worldwide tablet market declined yet again in the fourth quarter of 2015 (4Q15) with 65.9 million units shipped, down -13.7 percent year over year.
IDC reports that total shipments for 2015 were 206.8 million, down -10.1 percent from 230.1 million in the prior year, yet despite the market's negative trajectory overall, shipments for detachable tablets reached an all-time high of 8.1 million devices.
The transition towards detachable devices appears to be in full swing as pure slate tablets experienced their greatest annual decline to date of -21.1 percent.
On the other hand, detachable tablets more than doubled their shipments since the fourth quarter of last year.
“This quarter was unique as we had new detachables in the market from all three of the major platform players,” adds Jitesh Ubrani, Senior Research Analyst with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers, IDC.
“Despite lukewarm reviews, the iPad Pro was the clear winner this season as it was the top selling detachable, surpassing notable entries from Microsoft and other PC vendors.
“It's also important to note that the transition towards detachable tablets has presented positive opportunities for both Apple and Microsoft.
“However, Google's recent foray into this space has been rather lacklustre as the Android platform will require a lot more refinement to achieve any measurable success.”
Perhaps the most interesting trend to note is that prices on slate tablets have not yet hit rock bottom.
Amazon’s $US50 (or $US42 for bulk shoppers) tablet was the holiday season's surprise hit, garnering the number 3 rank among the worldwide top 5.
Rival vendors like Huawei and Lenovo also continued to focus on the low end while also expanding outside their home country China.
Apple's reign as market leader continued in 4Q15 though the company faced a -24.8 percent year-over-year decline.
With the successful launch of the iPad Pro, the company was able to curb the decline in iPad revenues as its model mix shifted towards higher priced iPads.
Samsung managed to keep its second position in the market though it did decline by -18.1 percent compared to last year.
Samsung is the vendor with the deepest tablet portfolio and manages to reach multiple price points and screen sizes, a position that will facilitate the transition to detachables in 2016.
Amazon's latest Kindle iteration piqued everyone's interest with its low price point, allowing Amazon's annual growth to reach 175.7 percent, the highest amongst the top 5. Amazon's success in the tablet market has thus far been purely based on price.
While this bodes well during the holiday season, it's unlikely the Kindle's success will continue in the remainder of the year.
Lenovo maintained its market share in the last quarter of 2015, shipping 3.2 million units for a -13.5 percent decline over the same period last year.
However, the Yoga, MIIX, and Thinkpad brands' combined traditional PC savoir faire should help Lenovo regain market share in 2016.
Huawei's focus remains on cellular-connected tablets and international expansion - the company has positioned itself well in the adjacent smartphone market and its popularity is likely to bleed over into the tablet market.