Ten years ago, tablet computers were marketed as the avant-garde of the “post-PC” era, but traditional desktop and notebook PCs remained popular because tablet sales were on a plateau. However, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, tablets experienced an unexpected resurgence in the last quarter, which benefited all major tablet manufacturers at a time when desktop computer shipments were declining significantly.
According to Canalys, a market research firm, total tablet shipping rose a whopping 26% in the second quarter of 2020, reaching just over 37.5 million units across the industry. At the same time, deliveries of desktop PCs decreased by 26% and deliveries of notebooks increased by 24%. This helped computer manufacturers expand this segment of their business in an otherwise potentially catastrophic quarter. Retail stores were closed in several countries due to coronavirus concerns, resulting in Microsoft permanently closing its computer-based brick-and-mortar stores and forcing other companies to face severe losses and bankruptcies.
Apple was a notable exception to doom and gloom, posting record quarterly sales with billions of dollars in growth in both iPad and Mac sales. While Apple does not offer sales, Canalys has fixed shipments for the quarter at 1
Canalys’ numbers, however, should be understood as well-founded estimates: Mac deliveries are said to total only 5.35 million units in the quarter, but Apple’s own numbers reflected a 21.6% increase in Mac revenue compared to the previous year, which would indicate a higher total sales. However, due to Apple’s accounting practices, it is unclear whether the leap in sales is actually due to the sale of more units, the sale of a larger number of higher-priced computers, or both.
Samsung tablets also had a good quarter, up 39.2%, but with a lower total number of units than Apple. They rose from just over 5 million in the second quarter of 2019 to just over 7 million in the second quarter of 2020. Huawei, Amazon and Lenovo all seem to have strong double-digit percentage increases, but each with shipments under 5 million units compared to the Market leaders. Lenovo combined deliveries of tablets, desktops and laptops and led the industry with 20.2 million units shipped and a 18.3% market share, ahead of Apple’s share of 17.7% and HP’s share of 16, 4%. The latter offer new 5G laptops in particular, but are missing in the tablet department.
Whether tablets stay hot depends on the impact of the pandemic on distance learning and economic pricing like everything else. Millions of students will be returning to school in the next two months and in some cases will need new or improved computers compared to what they used at the end of the last semester. Computer and accessory manufacturers continue to offer solutions to turn tablets into miniature laptops, although some are much cheaper than others.