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Tablets on the slide BlackBerry? Not just yet

07 May 2013

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins is confident tablet devices will fade within five years, but with worldwide shipments continuing to surge - research begs to differ.

Global research firm IDC says shipments amassed to 49.2 million units during the first quarter of this year, representing a 142.4% growth from the same period in 2012.

The figures surpass that of the entire first half of 2012, and fuelled by increased market demand for smaller screen devices, IDC says tablets have shown no sign of slowing down.

Yet speaking to Bloomberg early last week, BlackBerry's chief executive was damning in his verdict of the product.

“In five years I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore,” he said.

“Maybe a big screen in your workspace, but not a tablet as such. Tablets themselves are not a good business model.”

But after being shot down by many industry figures last week following the interview, IDC joined the long list of experts keen to prove Heins wrong.

"Sustained demand for the iPad mini and increasingly strong commercial shipments led to a better-than expected first quarter for Apple," says Tom Mainelli, research director, Tablets, IDC.

"In addition, by moving the iPad launch to the fourth quarter of 2012, Apple seems to have avoided the typical first-quarter slowdown that traditionally occurred when consumers held off buying in January and February in anticipation of a new product launch in March."

Top vendors

Apple outperformed IDC's most recent projections for the quarter, shipping 19.5 million units compared to a forecast of 18.7 million units.

The company, which historically has experienced a steep drop off in first quarter shipments, following strong holiday sales in the fourth quarter, saw some smoothing of that seasonality this year.

IDC says number two vendor Samsung also performed above expectations and managed to grow its shipments over the fourth quarter as more of the company's smaller-sized tablets began to gain traction in the market.

Samsung has also used its recent Android smartphone growth to help bring its tablet product line into new markets and channels, leveraging the opportunity to package and bundle.

The strong performance of the two market leaders helped drive total shipments to an impressive 49.2 million units for the quarter according to the research.

ASUS managed to move into the number 3 vendor spot as it continued to see decent tablet shipment demand from the highly marketed Nexus 7 device.

But, with Google's I/O conference right around the corner and expectations of an imminent device refresh, the company will need to find a way to sustain its momentum.

Amazon fell to the number 4 position, once again the victim of a highly seasonal product cycle.

Microsoft, which is a focal point for many in the tablet space, entered the top five for the first time as shipments of its Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets combined for a total of nearly 900,000 units.

Many of those units were Surface Pro, which the company started shipping to the U.S. and Canada in February. Microsoft has said that it is actively widening its regional distribution of both Surface RT and Surface Pro products.

Beyond the Surface products, Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets continued to struggle to gain traction in the market.

Total combined Windows 8 and Windows RT shipments across all vendors reached 1.8 million units.

"Recent rumors have circulated about the possibility of smaller screen Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets hitting the market," says Ryan Reith, program manager, IDC's Mobility Tracker program.

"However, the notion that this will be the saving grace is flawed. Clearly the market is moving toward smart 7-8 inch devices, but Microsoft's larger challenges center around consumer messaging and lower cost competition.

"If these challenges are addressed, along with the desired screen size variations, then we could see Microsoft make even further headway in 2013 and beyond."

Current findings suggests the tablet isn't just a 'fad' - but will it last five years? Tell us your thoughts below