IDC cuts tablet sales forecast, cites growth of phablets and emergence of wearables

Research firm IDC slightly lowered its sales forecast for the tablet market for 2013, warning that the market will likely be slowed by the growth of so-called phablet smartphones with screens of five inches or larger as well as the emergence of wearable computing devices.

Even though the modern tablet market is only three years old, IDC sees some signs of its slowing, especially in mature markets such as North America and Western Europe. Yet growth for 2013 is still expected to be robust, despite the cut in the forecast.

IDC now expects tablet shipments to reach 227.4 million units worldwide in 2013, down slightly from a previous forecast of 229.3 million but still 57.7 percent above 2012 shipments. The market will likely continue to grow, but that growth will be driven more by emerging markets than IDC previously expected; by 2017 IDC expects worldwide shipments to be nearly 407 million units.

"A lower than anticipated second quarter, hampered by a lack of major product announcements, means the second half of the year now becomes even more critical for a tablet market that has traditionally seen its highest shipment volume occur during the holiday season," IDC analyst Tom Mainelli said in a statement. "We expect average selling prices to continue to compress as more mainstream vendors utilize low-cost components to better compete with the whitebox tablet vendors that continue to enjoy widespread traction in the market despite typically offering lower-quality products and poorer customer experiences."

There are a handful of tablet announcements on the horizon that might juice growth in the market, including a likely update from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) for its iPad and iPad mini line, a rumored 8.3-inch Android tablet from LG Electronics and perhaps a Nokia (NYSE:NOK) tablet running Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows RT operating system that will sport Nokia's Lumia design.

Still, IDC now expects the mature market (comprised of North America, Western Europe and Japan) to shrink from 60.8 percent of the worldwide tablet market in 2012 to 49 percent by 2017. As a result, emerging markets (comprised broadly of Asia/Pacific but not Japan, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa) will grow from 39.2 percent in 2012 to 51 percent in 2017, IDC predicted.

IDC said phablets could stem shoppers' desire for tablets. Indeed, sales of phablets continue to gain steam as Huawei, Samsung, LG and others release smartphones increasingly massive screens. 

Additionally, wearable devices like Google Glass and smart watches could hamper tablet growth. Those gadgets are likely to drop on mature markets first, and shoppers could choose to spend their money on those devices instead of tablets.

For more:
- see this IDC release
- see this TechCrunch article
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

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