After Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPad six years ago, there was widespread speculation that touchscreen tablets would dominate the future of personal computing. For a while it looked like the speculators were correct. Sales of iPads and copycat tablets soared, with the Apple product peaking at over 26 million units shipped in calendar Q4 2013.
Then tablet sales nosedived just as precipitously and have not recovered, despite the fact that recent model iPads, including the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, are better tools than they’ve ever been by a substantial margin, with much more advanced software apps available as well. However, the iPad still suffers by comparison with a Mac or Windows PC when you need to get serious work done efficiently.
Most iPad users love their iPads. I do mine, and I probably push it harder than most users for production work. However, I could not get along without a Mac (or a Windows PC) to do stuff the iPad simply cannot do at its current stage of development — the main obstacle being limitations of Apple’s iOS.
This dynamic was noted and addressed by Microsoft in its making the Windows operating system touch compatible with Windows 8, and after a bit of a wobbly start came together the much-improved Windows 10. Third party PC makers and then Microsoft itself with its Surface family of hybrid hardware stepped up with an array of touchscreen laptops, including convertible and detachable models that can function as tablets, with full Windows 10 capabilities. Undeniably a compromise compared with the purist elegance of Apple’s separate-devices OS formula, but a convenience and value alternative that evidently appeals to a substantial number of users.
For example, according to the latest quarterly metrics published by International Data Corporation (IDC), Western European shipments of convertible and detachable PCs posted positive growth (44.7%) to account for 18.4% of total consumer shipments and 21.9% of commercial device shipments in 16Q1, up from 9.2% and 16.3% respectively a year ago. IDC observes that this trend is even more significant in the context of a contracting personal computer market, which in Western Europe shrank by 13.7% overall YoY in 16Q1, with total shipments reaching 18.2 million units, and a softer decline in the commercial segment, where the shipment drop in sales remained in single digits (-5.2% YoY), while consumer demand fell by 18.6% YoY.
By contrast, detachable PC device shipments grew by an amazing 190.4% on a YoY basis in Western Europe, increasing from about 500,000 units to 1.5 million units over the course of a year, and despite a 12.9% overall decline in PCs sales in the region, convertible notebook sales grew by 12%, driven says IDC, by consumer demand for detachable form factor devices which continue to grow in popularity, with shipments increasing almost fourfold from the same quarter last year, to just below 1 million units.
In IDC’s data-gathering taxonomy, “tablets” include slate and detachable tablets, the latter having previously been referred to by IDC as a 2-in-1 device — designed to function as a standalone slate/tablet as well as a clamshell device through the addition of a physical detachable keyboard specifically designed for the given tablet.
The IDC analysts observe that the robust performance tracked in the convertible and detachable sectors highlights that purchases are being “driven by the need for portable, mobile, and functional solutions, and that despite the challenging market situation, these form factors have significant growth potential,” with a growing number of end users being won over by the new value proposition detachable and convertible devices represent.
“Customers are looking for solutions that allow for flexibility,” says Andrea Minonne, research analyst, IDC EMEA Personal Computing in. a release. “We want to access information, create content, or communicate without constraints. Addressing such market demand represents an opportunity for IT vendors. Convertible notebooks and detachables are the most suitable device to guarantee functionality and mobility at the same time. Both form factors have been well received in the market and have gained momentum across Western Europe. Interestingly, growth in convertible notebooks and detachables in the first quarter of 2016 was above average in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.”
IDC reports that detachables’ penetration continues to increase among both enterprises and professionals, with half a million devices shipped in the first quarter of the year (up 92.9% YoY). “Adoption among business users is only just starting,” observes Marta Fiorentini, research manager, IDC EMEA Personal Computing. “We expect an acceleration in detachable deployments in the coming months as companies evaluate the new and more powerful commercial designs that have recently been introduced. Interest from enterprises is clear and this form factor seems to be a perfect fit with their mobility strategies. In some countries, we also see detachable deployments taking place in the public sector, which is usually more traditional in its form factor choices and often challenged by budget constraints.”
This trend is reflected in the evolution of different ecosystems and consequently different OSs. In terms of OS dynamics, IDC says Windows continues to account for over half of the combined PC and tablet market, strengthening its overall position due to the success of Microsoft’s detachable devices and increasing ODM designs for this form factor, which have increased its tablet market share from barely registering to 13%. In the PC OS market Windows continues to dominate, but performed slightly below average in the first quarter of the year despite strong awareness of Windows 10, with consumers having been slow to upgrade their hardware, and in the commercial segment most users having only recently upgraded from their old Windows XP machines.
Google’s Android/Chrome OS ranks second with Android maintaining its dominance in the tablet market (over 60% but predominantly low-end, smaller, commodity tablets), despite declining annual volumes due to market saturation and weak consumer demand. IDC reports that he cloud-centric Chrome OS is still a marginal operating system in volume terms, but slowly gaining traction in certain geographies — education in particular.
Meanwhile, Apple is not a player in the detachable clamshell laptop market, so is missing out on a large component of this market shift by default. However, IDC observes that OS X continued to grow its market share from last year, anchored by continued success of its MacBook Pro line. Apple might argue that the iPad Pro with optional Smart Keyboard qualifies as a convertible PC, but with no visible file system, no mouse/trackpad support, and no real multi windowing or multitasking (just for starters), the iOS device simply does not measure up as a productivity platform, although IDC does observe that the large installed base of Apple devices in Europe combined with an extensive number of available software applications on both Apple OS platforms makes OS X/iOS users among the most attractive target markets for companies like Walldorf, Germany, based SAP, which recently signed a partnership agreement with Apple which will promote development of powerful native apps for iPhone and iPad with the cutting-edge capabilities of the SAP HANA platform.
This collaboration will also deliver a new iOS software development kit (SDK) and training academy so to aid developers, partners and customers to quickly and efficiently build their own iOS apps for iPhone and iPad, based on SAP HANA Cloud Platform, SAP’s open platform as a service. These native apps will provide access to core data and business processes on SAP S/4HANA, while taking full advantage of iPhone and iPad features like Touch ID, Location Services and Notifications. As an element of the partnership with Apple, SAP will develop native iOS apps for critical business operations for iPhone and iPad to be built with Swift, Apple’s secure, interactive programming language, and will offer a familiar user experience with the SAP Fiori for iOS design language. Workers across industries will be enabled to access the critical enterprise data, processes and user experience they need to make decisions and take action right from their iPhone or iPad through apps designed to enable a field maintenance worker to order parts or schedule service, or a doctor to share the latest patient data with other healthcare professionals. For more information, visit: