Will the new iPad range revive lagging tablet sales?

Apple iPad Air M2 2024
Image: Apple.

Apple made a lot of noise when announcing its refreshed tablet range, including an ultra-thin iPad Pro and a modest upgrade to the iPad Air. Tablets are a hard sell at the moment, with sales figures the lowest they’ve been in a decade. Has Apple done enough to renew interest in the device category?

Data from market research firm IDC indicated that 2023 saw the lowest global tablet shipments since 2011. Multiple factors are at play, including the surge of devices bought during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, in addition to general cost of living pressures.

But sales during the first few months of 2024 show little change. Tablet shipments only improved by 0.5% compared to the same time last year. It’s not all doom and gloom for the tablet market, though. According to IDC, customers are shifting to premium-level devices suited to productivity.

iPad continues premium tablet trend

It lines up with Apple’s recent announcements: the iPad Pro uses the new M4 system on a chip (SOC), designed to compete with laptops, especially in the AI stakes. It not only competes with laptops in specs, it also competes in term of pricing: $1,699 for the 11-inch model and $2,049 for the 13-inch variant is a big chunk of change for a tablet.

To be fair, that’s roughly the same price as the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra, similarly positioned as a high-end productivity tablet. Apple and Samsung still lead the way, capturing 32% and 21.7% market share respectively but it’s still a year-on-year decline. Huawei, Lenovo, and Xiaomi are on the up while the top players stagnate.

Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra with Fold 5
Samsung is also targeting the productivity market with its Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra. Image: supplied (Ken Leanfore)

Recent Samsung-commissioned research also backs up the demand for premium devices. 40% of surveyed Australians believe that tablets could replace laptops. Conversely, 39% also indicated that value for money is the main consideration when buying a tablet, with web browsing the most popular use case due to tablets’ large screens.

Samsung’s latest earnings report includes a prediction that the mobile market will grow in 2024, off the back of “economic growth” and its Galaxy AI features.

Will iPad and tablet sales rebound?

Going back to the original question: will the new iPads, particularly the iPad Pro, see a change in fortunes? Recent data suggests we won’t see a return to the halcyon days of tablet sales anytime soon.

In dollar values, iPad sales spiked in 2021 to US$31.86 billion, accounting for roughly 8.7% of Apple’s total net sales. Since then, tablet sales have been on the decline. Even after the company launched the M2 iPad Pro in late 2022, overall iPad sales still slid further, dropping to US$28.3 billion, just over 7% of Apple’s 2023 net sales.

It’s unlikely to concern Apple, though. It’s still making substantially more net sales on iPads than before 2020, even accounting for inflation. ¬†Fewer people might be buying tablets but companies still seem to be making plenty of money.

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