Tablet Decline

In the fast-moving consumer tech world, the tablet computer market is already showing signs of fatigue.

By Raed Malhas

Tablet computers have been around for a lot longer than many think. They were first depicted in some of my favorite science fiction novels from the 60s and 70s, such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Then in the 80s and 90s, they began appearing in stores in the form of devices like the Pencept PenPad and the Apple Newton. But despite the best efforts of tech companies, tablets failed to catch on with consumers.

Then Apple surprised everyone in January 2010 by releasing the iPad. It reinvigorated the flagging tablet market and gave Apple a good bump in its stock price. Consumers’ reactions to the iPad were really exciting. I remember seeing people camping out in front of Apple stores in New York, waiting in line to get their hands on one. Apple sold 300,000 units on the first day of its release, and 2 million in less than 60 days. In 2011, the iPad2 sold half a million units on its first day of release. Then in 2013, the third generation of the iPad was released and sold 3 million units in the first weekend it hit the high street.

Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Amazon, Lenovo, and the rest of the tech giants, rushed to release their own versions of the iPad. Today, the market is flooded with tablet options from almost every computer manufacturer. You would think that with all the early hype the tablet device received in the first few years of its re-birth, that the tablet adoption would still be going strong. But that doesn’t seem the case. It looks like, once again, the tablet is about to fade away.

Let’s study the Arab world in specific and Arab users’ tablet usage to access the Internet trend. To do that, I decided to monitor the traffic my website Jawabkom received. Jawabkom receives over 5 million visits a month from the Arab world, so it’s a good source to give us statistically significant data on what’s really happening to tablet usage (in the Arab world at least).

Let’s look at Jawabkom’s web traffic per device in a few countries. Web traffic comes from one of three devices: desktops, tablets, or smartphones. In Kuwait, 6 percent of users accessed the web using tablets in 2014, which dropped to 2 percent in the third quarter of 2015. In the UAE, 4 percent of people used tablets to access the Internet in 2014, which went down to 2 percent in the third quarter of 2015. Saudi Arabia is down from 9 percent in 2014 to 4 percent in the third quarter of 2015. Jordan is down from 4 percent in 2014 to 3 percent in the third quarter of 2015. And such is the trend in almost all Arab countries we studied.

In general, Apple’s iPad sales declined by 19.5 percent, from 13.3 million units sold in the third quarter of 2014, to 10.7 million in the same quarter in 2015. Apple isn’t alone. Other tablet makers have started to see a decline in tablet sales this year for the first time since Apple reignited the tablet market in 2010. IDC Research firm reported a 3.2 percent drop in shipments this year, while research firm Canalys suggested a steeper 12 percent decline.

Are we falling out of love with tablets?

There’s been a plethora of analysis to this question recently. The one I personally believe in is that smartphones with larger screens are proving more popular. Another reason that many analysts mentioned online is that they believe buyers are holding on to their tablets for much longer and aren’t upgrading often. I disagree with that, though. The web traffic per device data I shared earlier clearly shows that less people are using tablets to browse the web.

If the Arab region is an indicator, it’s clear that we have statistically significant data showing that tablets are losing their appeal rapidly. Maybe they’ll continue to be a good distraction for the kids at home, but what is clear is that adults are no longer taking their tablets seriously, and are moving towards mobile devices faster than anyone expected.


Raed Malhas is the CEO and Co-Founder of Jawabkom, the largest interactive questions and answers online platform in the Arab world.