In early August 2016, the IDC released worldwide tablet shipment numbers showing a drop of over 12%. The reason for the fall in tablet sales is seen as being because the market is shifting towards “productivity” and tablets, especially Android powered models, are not considered to be as productive as other types of portable machine. Manufacturers are changing their portfolios and consumers are wary of buying or upgrading an existing tablet for something that appears to do largely the same thing, but costs more money.
Apple remains the market leader, but in terms of platform composition, approximately two thirds of all tablets sold in the second quarter 2016 were powered by the Android operating system. Just over one quarter were powered by Apple iOS and the balance, a little under 10%, ran Microsoft Windows. Android remains the dominant platform but a number of manufacturers that offer this platform are now offering Windows-powered tablets, such as Dell. This looks like a “chicken and egg” scenario; manufacturers are seeing a decline in Android tablet sales and are reducing or consolidating their Android-powered lines. In the case of Dell, the company has stopped selling and supporting the platform.
Google has been behind the curve here in improving Android such that it is is a more productive platform. The next version of Android, 7.0 Nougat, will support multi-windows for smoother and easier multitasking: something Samsung and other competitors have offered for years on their own tablets. In 2015 in the wake of the Stagefright security vulnerability, Google introduced monthly critical security patch upgrades. And over the last few years, Google has slowly redesigned Android with improved security and productive features such as full disk encryption, originally with the introduction of Android 5.0 Lollipop, which was then rescinded until the introduction of Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Android Nougat is expected to be released in the next couple of months and it will make it easier for manufacturers to include enhanced productivity features for their Android tablets.
Although Google is committed to keeping Android and Chrome OS separate platforms, we are seeing some of the better features of each platform being shared: Chrome OS is receiving support for the Google Play Store as accessible on Android tablets, and Android is receiving a similar seamless platform update system as Chrome OS benefits from today. These changes are important: Microsoft Windows still has under 10% of the market, but Windows 10 is a significant improvement over older versions and works well on the tablet platform. Will the changes introduced with Android 7.0 be enough to reverse declining Android tablet sales? In isolation, probably not as the market is changing. Manufacturers need to redesign their products to better cater for consumers’ tastes and this is also happening. The next twelve to eighteen months should prove very interesting indeed for tablet buys and it’s no surprise that consumers are sitting on the fence.