Why tablet sales tanked in South Africa

Tablet sales in South Africa and around the world have declined significantly due to smartphone screens getting larger and becoming more effective at handling applications previously more suitable on their larger siblings.

That is according to Arthur Goldstuck, CEO of independent technology market research firm World Wide Worx.

Goldstuck told MyBroadband that statistics from the International Data Corporation showed how severe the global decline in the tablet market has been.

In the first quarter of 2023, global tablet sales stood at 30.7 million units — 19.1% less than the 38 million sold in the same period in 2022.

Amazon was worst impacted, selling 62% fewer tablets during Q1 2023 than in Q1 2022.

However, even the more popular brands struggled with the downturn in demand.

“When you see a high-end brand like Apple report a leap in market share, from 31% to 37%, while reporting a big drop in unit sales, from 12.6 million to 10.5 million, you know the sector is in trouble,” Goldstuck said.

“The number two player, Samsung, also upped its share while seeing a drop in real numbers.”

“It tells you that the market is shrinking rapidly, and even the big names cannot maintain sales levels.”

Goldstuck said although the decline — globally and in South Africa — could be partially attributed to the tough economic environment, it did not tell the full story.

Amazon Fire tablets are known for their cheap prices but often also for their stuttery performance.

He explained the major reason for the sales decline was the increase in smartphone screen sizes.

“In the past five years, the average screen size of all smartphones on the market — from entry-level to flagship, has increased from around 5.7 inches to about 6.4 inches,” Goldstuck said.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but suddenly, one can do far more on a smartphone than ever before, or at least do it comfortably.”

“Even in the lower mid-range, an increasing number of handsets is coming out with screens as big as 6.7 inches.”

“This means that a lot of what one would previously have preferred to do on a tablet can now be done on a smartphone.”

Goldstuck said South Africa was an incredibly price-sensitive market, with consumers focused on getting the most value for their money.

“This is a key factor behind Huawei maintaining high sales levels in this country, and the likes of Honor and Oppo making strong inroads,” he said.

“Even their low-cost phones now come with large screens.”

In cases where the average consumer has to think carefully about the next purchase, that device is increasingly unlikely to be a tablet.

Arthur Goldstuck, CEO of World Wide Worx

Less use = longer lifecycles

Goldstuck added that most people with a tablet probably also had a smartphone.

“Once they realise they are barely using the tablet, because they are now defaulting more and more to the smartphone, there is far less likelihood of them, choosing to upgrade or buy a new tablet,” he said.

In addition, using tablets less often also means their batteries can last longer, and they are less likely to get damaged.

“The built-in obsolescence that plagues smartphones becomes almost a non-issue on tablets,” Goldstuck said.

“The result — buying a tablet becomes increasingly rare, even among high-income users.”

Now read: Samsung launches Galaxy Tab S9 — including Ultra model boasting a laptop-sized screen

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Why tablet sales tanked in South Africa