Small tablets are suddenly outselling bigger ones

Credit: MokshaDolphin via Flickr

Shipments of small tablets and so-called phablets continue to be strong, indicating that these devices no longer fall neatly into “phone” or “tablet” categories. Devices falling anywhere between the once-standard 4 inch smartphone and 10 inch tablet are proving popular, while sales of the standard-sized iPad are suddenly slowing down.

New research from NPD's DisplaySearch group shows that if January is any indication, small tablets are likely to outsell full-size tablets this year.

Of the 245 million tablet shipments NPD expects this year, it predicts that the 5 inch to 8.9 inch category will make up 136 million with the 9 inch to 10 inch size shipping fewer – 118 million.

Shipments of 9.7 inch tablets have “collapsed,” NPD said, dropping from 7.4 million shipments in December to 1.3 million in January. The most prominent tablet at that size is the original sized iPad.

Smaller tablets, between the 7 inch and 7.9 inch range – including the iPad Mini – grew from 12 million shipments in December to 14 million in January. Shipments of 10.1 inch tablets, which includes the Samsung Galaxy Tab, grew just a bit in that time period.

NPD’s research is in line with an earlier report from IDC that predicts that 60 percent of tablet growth this year will come from tablets that are 8 inches or smaller. In December, IDC said the smaller tablets made up just 33 percent of the market.

With clear interest from buyers in a range of sizes, though, it’s hard to say how things might change in the coming months. NPD points out that the emergence of the 5 inch to 6 inch “phablets” could bite into the 7 inch tablet market.

The “phablets” took center stage at CES earlier this year, meaning those devices are likely to be front and center on store shelves.

NPD also wonders how potential pricing changes might impact the 7 inch to 9 inch tablet range, but I think the researchers put too much emphasis on price as a sales driver. “Until now, the 7 to 9-inch tablet PC purchases are mainly due to the comparatively lower price point,” NPD's David Hsieh wrote. He expects upgrades in hardware will drive the price of this size tablet up, possibly slowing down sales.

While I suspect that the relatively lower price of the smaller tablets drove some first time tablet owners to them, buyers – including those that had previously purchased larger tablets – are also seeing the value in the increased portability in the smaller tablets. A 10-inch tablet is likely to sit at home or get packed along only on trips, while the smaller tablets are more likely to make it along anywhere, including a quick meeting at a coffee shop or on errands.

Some of the smaller “phablets” are also proving just right as replacements for much more expensive purpose-built field service devices used by sales and delivery people.

While it's possible that the popularity of such a range of sizes is just a blip -- the novelty factor -- if current sales keep up, the "everything in between" category is here to stay.

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