Following the launch of the iPad in 2010, the tablet market exploded, and companies including Apple, Samsung and Microsoft reaped the benefits. But recent figures from Canalys show a global decline of 15 per cent in tablet sales in 2015, with a 12 per cent decrease in UK sales.
But tablets have, until the launch of products such as the Microsoft Surface and the iPad Pro, seemingly been predominately consumer focused.
Dave Wilding, account manager at VAR Shadowfax, argues that the business market has never widely adopted tablets.
"A lot of our clients have stuck with PCs and laptops. I don't think tablets have really taken off in business," he said. "We only sell to the business sector and most of our clients didn't really have any need for tablets in a business environment. For us at least there has only really been a peak in interest following the release of the Surface."
Conversely, PCS Business Systems sells tablets from Microsoft, Lenovo, HP and Fujitsu, and its operations manager Chris McQuade says he has not noticed any decline in sales.
He explained: "I would say we are quoting a tablet of some description every day without fail. But what we are noticing is people want more from their tablets. For example, the Microsoft Surface, - it has the prestige, the high build quality, and with Windows 10 as well it has started to find its own place in the market. These products are seen as more like laptop replacements than traditional tablets."
Gartner's research director Ranjit Atwal confirms that there was indeed a 13 per cent decrease in tablet sales across EMEA in 2015, with another three per cent decrease expected in 2016.
"The need to replace the devices in the consumer market is not urgent," he said. "The market has not expanded across the population as one might have expected. There seems to be a fairly swift levelling off of the market."
Atwal expects that tablet demand will continue decreasing as users move towards two-in-one devices and hybrids.
He explained: "As people realise that they do need a keyboard sometimes, it is a possibility that tablet demand is going to keep decreasing. In terms of innovation as well, we aren't really seeing tablets move forward.
"From the channel perspective it's still operational, because it is not so much about the tablet as it is about the business needs and how a tablet fulfils those different needs. I think the products need to be pushed more through the channel, because when businesses are understanding what can be done with tablets, there is more of a demand for them."
Someone else who has yet to notice a decline in customer appetite for the technology is Hemini's marketing manager Barry Dodhia. The VAR has been in the industry for over 30 years and serves primarily SMB and corporate customers.
Dodhia said: "The demand from our customers for tablets is still the same. But I think trends are changing, with smartphones now taking over from tablets. So from what I have seen I think the tablet market will slow down."
Trends do seem to be shifting, with IDC reporting that in Q4 2015 slate tablet shipments declined by 21 per cent, but detachable tablets had a growth of 163 per cent.
The analyst also reported in 2015 that 40 per cent of tablet users now use them as their sole work device.
Tim Coulling, senior analyst at Canalys, explained that the way users view tablets is changing, with the cheap disposable tablet market drying up and customers starting to use tablets as notebook replacements.
"We aren't predicting much growth in the future for the market, but disposable tablets are going to drop out and professional tablets will come in, keeping the market in balance," Coulling said. "The market does have a future. If you look at the products becoming available it means there is a margin to be made in tablets where there hasn't been before in the business sector.
"Tablets have not been good business for the channel in the past, but I don't think that is necessarily true for the future. The Surface is doing well; channel partners are getting excited about it and we are seeing channel sales pick up. It will take time for enterprises to fully adopt detachable tablets and two-in-ones, but we are on the path to seeing tablet technology being more prevalent in the business sector."
While the future of the tablet market is under question, there seems to be no sign of it ever fully disappearing. Dodhia thinks that with vendors creating more innovative technology, tablets will definitely have a future.
"I would be surprised if it drops dramatically because people still want the products and there are still people entering the market in the tablet sphere," he said. "I still see things continuing steadily on with tablets. There will always be a need for that kind of product."
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