The biggest tech success story of the past three years is undoubtedly tablets. Since the debut of the iPad the tablet industry has grown at a breakneck pace with shipments now set to top 221 million units this year.
According to market research firm IDC this represents a massive 53.5% increase in shipments over units shipped in 2012. However, as quickly the industry has reached this level, its growth will also slow just as quickly as established markets reach their saturation points. IDC is predicting that tablet growth will slow to a 22.2% increase in unit shipments in 2014 and to single digits by 2017. The firm sees just over 386 million tablets being shipped in 2017.
Much of the growth in tablets in the past two years has been in smaller 7- and 8-inch tablets that are more affordable for average consumers. As the tablet market slows, however, IDC believes that larger tablets could again become a focus. This is due to the rising display sizes seen on high-end smartphones. Though other analysts believe that smartphone displays will top out at under six inches and that smaller tablets will remain the preference, IDC is predicting that 7-inch tablets will give way to more capable smartphone handsets.
"In some markets consumers are already making the choice to buy a large smartphone rather than buying a small tablet, and as a result we've lowered our long-term forecast," said Tom Mainelli, research director for Tablets at IDC. "Meanwhile, in mature markets like the U.S. where tablets have been shipping in large volumes since 2010 and are already well established, we're less concerned about big phones cannibalizing shipments and more worried about market saturation."