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IDC reports the world wide tablet market fell 1.5 percent in 2019. Total shipments fell to 144 million units. The Apple iPad strengthend its position as the top tablet brand.

The only winner in the sector was Apple, which saw a fourth quarter year-on-year growth of 22.7 percent in iPad sales. Much of that growth came in the last quarter of 2019 after the launch of new models and the arrival of iPadOS 13.

Apple’s growth for the full 2019 year was 15.2 percent. It sold a shade under 50 million units.

This undermines the negative arguments made by John Gruber and other prominent Apple bloggers about the iPad operating system. The geeks may not like Apple’s iPad direction but customers do.

Apple iPad clear tablet leader

Apple now has a 36.5 percent share of the tablet market when measured by units. It is bigger than the next three tablet brands combined. The company’s top tablet models tend to be more expensive than offerings from rivals, which means Apple would dominate tablet revenues and, by extension, tablet profits.

Samsung is the next best selling tablet brand with its Galaxy Tab range. The company sold 21.7 million units in 2019, that’s well under half Apple’s result. Samsung Tablet sales fell 7.2 percent during the year.

Android doesn’t translate well to the tablet format, but Samsung has the best implementation.  It’s tablets are a decent alternative to the iPad for customers who want to stay in the Android world or opt out of Apple’s orbit.

Huawei under pressure

Third place Huawei faces a challenge reaching customers in the US market and, no doubt, the security scare has affected sales in other markets. Even so, it dropped less than Samsung. Huawei has some solid, if unoriginal, offerings in this space. In 2019 Huawei’s tablet sales fell by 3.5 percent.

We don’t see much of fourth place Amazon in New Zealand. The company makes a range of low price tablets with an idiosyncratic version of Android. For the whole of 2019 Amazon’s sales climbed 10 percent, but there was a big 30 percent dropped in the last quarter.

Lenovo with an 8.5 percent market share also saw a small drop over 2019 for its low-cost tablets.

Top Five Tablet Companies, Worldwide Shipments, Market Share, and Growth, 2019 (Preliminary results, combined company view for the current quarter only, shipments in millions)
Vendor 2019 Unit Shipments 2019 Market Share 2018 Shipments 2018 Market Share Year-Over-Year Growth
1. Apple 49.9 34.6% 43.3 29.6% 15.2%
2. Samsung 21.7 15.1% 23.4 16.0% -7.2%
3. Huawei 14.1 9.8% 14.6 10.0% -3.5%
4. Amazon.com 13.0 9.0% 11.8 8.1% 9.9%
5. Lenovo 8.5 5.9% 8.8 6.0% -4.2%
Others 37.0 25.7% 44.3 30.3% -16.6%
Total 144.1 100.0% 146.2 100.0% -1.5%
Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly PCD Tracker, January 30, 2020

Whatever the expert users say about the iPad, it strikes a chord with Apple’s customers. The move to sell an Apple-branded keyboard and the Apple Pencil, along with the, controversial in geek circles, upgrades to iPadOS have all propelled the iPad. It gives owners of earlier models a solid reason to upgrade and pulls in some buyers who may have considered laptops. The other strategy Apple has got right it pricing. There are low-cost models at the bottom along with more expensive pro models at the top.

PC shipments perked up in the second quarter of the year. While this is the first increase in six years, no-one is talking about a revival yet. It could be what people in the finance industry call a dead cat bounce.

Both Gartner and IDC published sales estimates showing a small increase in sales. Gartner put the increase at 1.4 percent. IDC has a more bullish 2.7 percent increase.

It’s worth noting here the two market research companies are not measuring quite the same thing.

Also, a shipment is not a sale. It is a computer that has moved from a factory to a retailer’s warehouse. But PC supply chains are tightly managed so, in general, shipments closely mirror actual sales.

PC Shipments joy not evenly spread

IDC’s more bullish estimate includes sales of PC-like devices such as Chromebooks, but doesn’t not include Windows tablets such as Microsoft’s Surface Go. Gartner counts a Windows tablet with an attached keyboard as a PC. Its number does not include other tablets nor does it include Chromebooks.

Both IDC and Gartner say that at least some of the increase is down to business computers running Windows 10.

Mikako Kitagawa, a principal analyst at Gartner says: “PC shipment growth in the second quarter of 2018 was driven by demand in the business market, which was offset by declining shipments in the consumer segment.

“In the consumer space, the fundamental market structure, due to changes on PC user behaviour, still remains, and continues to impact market growth. Consumers are using their smartphones for even more daily tasks, such as checking social media, calendaring, banking and shopping, which is reducing the need for a consumer PC.”

All of which has been true since 2012.

Recovery or dead cat bounce

Kitagawa expects business sales to weaken again when the Windows 10 replacement cycle ends.

IDC says the top five PC makers all saw sales growth and collectively they now account for a larger share of the market. This year they make up 78 percent of all sales.

Gartner and IDC can’t decide whether the top PC company is Lenovo or HP. Gartner has Lenovo a nose ahead shipping 12,000 more units than HP. IDC has HP in front by around a million machines. Remember the two companies are measuring different things.

Both put Dell, Apple and Acer in that order behind the leaders. IDC and Gartner also agree that Apple experienced the least growth during the quarter. New MacBook Pro models this week could change that.

Neither of the market research companies is prepared to say if the PC shipments uptick is the start of something new, a one-off before the slide resumes or an indication that shipments have bottomed out. The only certainty is that these top five PC brands are likely to strengthen their hands against the rest of the market. PC manufacturing is a game when volume matters.

IDC says New Zealand phone shipments dropped 14.5 percent in unit terms during 2017. This is the first year-on-year decline reported in this country. A total of 1.60 million phones shipped in 2017 compared with 1.87 million in 2016.

A phone shipment is not the same as a sale. Shipments count the number of phones sent from manufacturers’ warehouses to retail warehouse. Not all shipped phones are sold. To a degree shipments is a measure of the demand anticipated by phone makers and sellers.

Nevertheless, the fall in anticipated demand is substantial.

Chayse Gorton, IDC NZ market analyst says there are three reasons for the fall: market saturation, changing sales strategies and new features not persuading people to upgrade old phones.

All three are valid, but they are not equal.

Shipments down on saturation

On saturation, IDC says 79 percent of consumers owned a smartphone in 2017. This leaves only a few users hanging on to dumb phones – or feature phones in the industry’s jargon.

Even that number seems too high, you rarely see anything other than smart phones in the wild. I suspect there’s a counting problem with older phones being recycled through families and friends that doesn’t capture everything. It’s possible the carriers would know the approximate number of older, dumb phones on their networks because some are not able to connect to 4G.

Meanwhile phone companies spent 2017 focusing on profitability. In earlier years they were happy to shoot for high volumes and hope everything would be all right later. This change mean the average price of phones from the market leaders: Samsung and Apple, increased 14 percent in the year.

This is reflected in IDC’s graph which shows the value of the market flat or even climbing while numbers fall. Rising phone prices isn’t necessarily a form of inflation as more expensive phones offer more capability.

Little reason to upgrade

IDC doesn’t emphasis the point, but it seems the biggest reason for the drop in shipments is that users have little incentive to upgrade. If you look after a phone, it should work fine for three or four years.

There were no compelling new phone features in 2017. IDC says people only upgrade when they see a significant benefit from doing so. This point was underlined at Samsung’s Galaxy S9 launch earlier this week. The new phone resembles the S8, it has upgraded features including a slow-motion video mode, but that’s not enough to tempt the average user to bin or hand down, say, their S8 and spend $1400 plus.

Meanwhile rival research company Gartner reports international smartphone sales recorded their first ever decline in 2017.

Mobile phone handset

Apple sold more phones than any other company including Samsung in the last quarter of 2016.

IDC says it is the first time Apple was New Zealand’s top selling phone brand since early 2012.

During the quarter phone sales hit a record high. Some 672,000 phones shipped1 between October and December 2016. That’s up from 614,000 a year earlier.

Apple shipped 221,000 phones. Samsung shipped 176,000. Third-place Huawei closed the gap on its rivals shipping 143,000 phones.

The three brands accounted for almost 80 percent of total phone sales.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 recall after dozens of fires and explosions only goes part of the way to explaining Apple’s success.

IDC New Zealand client device analyst Chayse Gorton says:

“…even with some consumers expected to be holding off upgrading their smartphone until the release of the 10th anniversary edition iPhone, forecasted in late 2017, the demand for iPhone 7 has been stronger than anticipated”.

Gorton says the iPhone 7’s updated specifications were enough to entice Apple users.

He says: “It’s hard to say with confidence that a single feature drove customers to upgrade, such as increased durability. It is likely a combination of improvements leading to consumers perceiving the iPhone 7 models as superior”.

Samsung loyalty

That explains why Apple users upgraded, not why customers of other phone brands switched to Apple. Gorton says the Note 7 problems meant some consumers questioned their loyalty.

It looks as if Apple’s surge is greater than upgrades and Samsung refugees alone might suggest.

Also interesting is Huawei’s rapid growth. Until late 2016 Huawei phones offered similar features and style to Samsung models at a sharp discount.

Samsung faced a battle on three fronts:

  • self-inflicted wounds,
  • Apple at the high end and
  • Huawei cutting the price ground from under Samsung’s feet.

Despite all this Samsung stayed in the top spot for the year. IDC New Zealand puts its market share at 32 percent, while Apple and Huawei were at 27 percent and 14 percent.

This year will see added competition from Oppo. At the same time, Huawei is moving upmarket into Samsung territory with the NZ$1400 Mate 9 Pro.


Vodafone phones

IDC’s chart shows Vodafone has an 11 percent market share with its own branded phones. Some of these are excellent value, in extreme cases they have much of the function of phones costing eight or ten times as much.


  1. IDC counts phone shipments, a measure of how many phones leave warehouses. That’s not quite the same as sales. ↩︎

Abstract, Jackson PollockWorldwide PC sales were down 9.6 percent year-on-year during the first quarter of 2016 according to Gartner. Total sales for the quarter were a shade under 65 million. This was the first quarter with less than 65 million units sold since 2007. In contrast, sales in the same quarter of 2013 were a little over 76 million.

Gartner’s falling PC sales numbers are optimistic compared to IDC which put the figure at 60.6 million units sold, down 11.5 percent on the same period a year earlier.

Both analyst companies say Lenovo remains the world largest PC maker. IDC gives it a 20.1 percent market share, Gartner puts the figure at 19.3 percent. Lenovo’s sales fell slower than the overall market.

HP down 9 percent

Number two brand HP saw sales fall 9 percent, while third-place Dell was stable. Gartner says its sales dropped 0.4 percent while IDC put the drop at 2 percent.

Asus and Apple are number four and five. Gartner has Asus a whisker ahead of Apple, IDC reverses the positions. Gartner thinks both companies managed to grow during the quarter, IDC disagrees.

The rest of the market slumped, depending on which set of numbers you prefer sales either fell 18.4 or 19.8 percent. Either way, it’s a bloodbath.

Currency a red herring

Gartner thinks currency movements can explain the decline with PCs now more expensive outside of the USA. Maybe.

However, the figures point to the fifth year in a row of falling PC sales. Sales have dropped year-on-year in each of the last 12 quarters.

The recent quarter’s decline is the worst on record. Look beyond the top brands and you have to ask how long before computer makers exit the business. There is no apparent upside, no recovery in sight.

Earlier analyst forecasts looked forward to the arrival of Windows 10 fueling fresh sales. That was over a year ago and there was no bump, no up-tick.

Keep taking the tablets

You might explain some of the drop in PC sales by the rise in tablet sales. Incidentally, I wrote this blog post on an iPad Pro — a few years ago it would be a PC task.

About 100 million tablets are purchased each year. Some will have been purchased as laptop alternatives. Yet tablet sales are also falling. And, anyway, some hybrid devices that combine PC and tablet features are counted in the PC sales numbers.

The obvious explanation is that phone sales are killing PC sales. Not only do they suck up money that might otherwise be spent on PCs, in many cases, they deliver enough PC functionality for a sizable slice of the population. It turns out many people only bought PCs for mail, browsing, video calling and other simple tasks that work just fine on a phone.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has made a point of questioning why people still bother buying PCs. That’s an interesting statement given that Apple is one of the few companies to do well in PC sales in recent years. Perhaps, unlike Gartner and IDC he thinks MacBooks and iMacs don’t count as PCs. He suggests most would be better off buying an iPad.