Sales grew a miniscule 1 percent on a year to year basis, according to a new study

When the Apple, Inc. (AAPL) iPad debuted in 2010, analyst excitement over this "new" (er, not really) form factor exploded and bold estimates of what heights the market might reach quickly surfaced.

2014 was a hard dose of reality for the tablet market, which after having grown to a serious business finds itself in a similar, if slightly better position to the traditional PC market.  In Q4 2014, the PC market contracted slightly, shrinking 2.4 percent on a year to year basis, according to market research data from the International Data Corp. (IDC).  Tablets, were even worse, though, shrinking 3.2 percent in sales on quarterly year-on-year (YoY) basis, according to the IDC's Tablet Tracker.

In Q4 2014, the IDC estimates that 76.1 million tablets were sold, compared to 80.7 million PCs.

IDC tablet growth

IDC group

According to the IDC figures, Apple -- who created much of the hype surrounding the tablet market -- was among the losers.  Its official sales figures showed sales of the iPad declining nearly 18 percent on a YoY basis., Inc. (AMZN), though, saw an even more precipitous fall with sales of its Kindle tablet line dropping nearly 70 percent.

For the quarter, only The Lenovo Group, Ltd. (HKG:0992) managed to sustain growth in the tablet space among the top five OEMs.  On a full year basis, only Lenovo and Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.(KRX:005930) (KRX:005935) sustained growth (although Samsung was roughly flat at 1.1 percent year-to-year growth and saw a bigger drop than Apple in Q4 sales).

Lenovo Yoga Pro
Only Lenovo maintained growth in Q4 as its rivals saw their tablet sales dip.

Strategy Analytics also released estimates of its own, which were slightly cheerier, suggesting an anemic 1 percent tablet growth.  It looked at things on a per platform basis, so the distinction between individual Android OEMs (e.g. Samsung vs. Lenovo) was largely lost.  However, its numbers showed Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android OS and Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows growing on a platform basis and Apple's iOS falling amidst this stagnant landscape.

Strategy Analytics

While these numbers cumulatively reveal there are some losers (namely Apple and Amazon) and some winners (Lenovo, Google, and Microsoft), the biggest take home message is that tablets -- having achieved the long awaited tie with traditional PCs in sales, have fallen victim to a PC-like upgrade cycle.  People are buying tablets, but they're not replacing them fast enough to achieve smartphone-like sales growth.  While smartphones may eventually top a billion units in sales, tablets are likely stuck and more PC-like annual sales of between a quarter and a third of a billion units.

Sources: Strategy Analytics [press release], IDC Group [Tablet Tracker], via VentureBeat

“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads

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