Unlike Smartphones, Tablets Aren't True Mobile Devices, And That Explains Why Sales Are Slumping

Tablets are overwhelmingly used on Wi-Fi, not cell connections, meaning they are devices we turn to in home and office settings. Unlike smartphones, tablets are not carry-everywhere gadgets dependent on cell coverage and connections to be useful.

This fact, supported by data from a recent BI Intelligence survey on tablet ownership, usage, and purchase intent, is key to understanding the recent drop-off in tablet sales generally, and iPad sales in particular. Global tablet shipments will grow at just a 9% compound annual rate over the next five years, an unexpectedly quick deceleration from the triple-digit growth rates seen in the tablet market’s early years.

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Here’s how tablet usage breaks down and how that impacts the replacement cycle and sales:

  • Tablets are Wi-Fi devices, period: An overwhelming majority of respondents to our survey (93%) told us they use their tablet primarily on Wi-Fi (this includes 20% of people who had cell access but still used their tablet mainly on Wi-Fi) (See chart above).
  • That translates to a lack of carrier support: The lack of cell usage means tablets are commonly sold “off the shelf,” and outside of the carrier-controlled retail chain: without a two-year contract, subsidies, or support from carriers’ armies of sales people. Carriers are only interested in pushing devices that they can collect data revenue from.
  • And less wear and tear: While a majority of respondents said they use their tablet daily, 93% told us they use their tablet primarily on Wi-Fi (this includes 20% of people who had cell access but still used their tablet mainly on Wi-Fi).
  • As a result, tablet owners are taking a long time to replace their ageing devices with new ones: 44% of our respondents had bought their tablets in 2012, 2011, or 2010. But demand for replacement devices was soft, even for three- and four-year-old devices. People aren’t eager to upgrade.

The report is also full of charts and data that can be downloaded and put to use.

In full, the report:

For full access to all BI Intelligence’s charts, data, and analysis on the mobile industry, sign up for a free trial here.

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