The Motorola Xoom tablet enjoyed short-lived star status at CES in January.
The Motorola Xoom tablet enjoyed short-lived star status at CES in January.

Silicon Valley, tech news, reviews - Stark InsiderTurn out the lights, the party’s over. Well, that was fast. The big headlines over the last 24-hours in the tablet space have been about the unexpected sales decline in Q1. According to IDC, tablet sales plummeted by over 28% sequentially (to 7.2 million units), perhaps suggesting that our infatuation with wild over-the-top-Tom-Cruise-style gesturing was merely skin deep.

“Like the PC market, Media Tablets had a bit of a challenging quarter in Q1, as concerns about general macroeconomic issues and the post-holiday letdown took a toll on demand,” said Bob O’Donnell, IDC Vice President, Clients and Displays. “We expect the rest of the year to be much stronger, but we believe vendors who continue to focus on the telco channel for distribution will face serious challenges.”

But… wait!

The odd thing is this data wildly contradicts the historic frenzy (and accompanied shortage) of the Apple iPad 2 earlier this year. Or, was that — say it ain’t so — the world’s biggest tech marketing stunt?

IDC is optimistic, however. So much so, for the year 2011 they’ve raised their forecast to 53.5 million units (up about 6% from previous projections).

Plus, keep in mind Q1 is post-holiday, and this may reflect seasonal variation, though it’s hard to tell since the tablet market is so young.

“Although media tablet sales were not as high as expected in 1Q11 due to slower consumer demand, overall economic conditions, and supply-chain constraints, we believe with the entrance of competitive new devices in second half of 2011, the market will sell close to 53 million units for the year and continue to grow long-term,” said Jennifer Song, IDC Research Analyst.

Q2 results will tell us quite a bit. Is this a trend, or simply an anomaly?

Just a few short years ago (recall, the tablet market really only sprung to life in early 2010 with the introduction of the iPad) it was the Netbook that was the end all, be all. Cheap, portable computing for the masses. It was fun while it lasted – then everyone realized they were underpowered, the screens too small and the keyboards cramped. The market collapsed, aided in no small part by the wizardry of Apple’s techno-wonder iPad.

Discretionary spend is an important thought here as well. Does anyone really – I mean, really – need a tablet? Of course not. Ultimately, it’s a luxury good. Most of us have a laptop. A tablet is just a nice diversion – for the most part (and I do realize there are killer apps out there in the medical field, among others). Sure, Angry Birds is fun. And, absolutely, there is a serious side: the reading, the productivity apps, etc. In the end, though, it’s not a must-have. So perhaps the sales decline is indicative of a category that has seen the early adopters have their day – to be followed by the gap of non-discretionary reluctance. Just a thought.


Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear