Apple’s iPad Pro handily outsells Microsoft’s Surface in launch quarter

Despite the holiday season, the worldwide tablet market declined yet again in the fourth quarter of 2015 (4Q15) with 65.9 million units shipped, down -13.7% year over year, according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker. Total shipments for 2015 were 206.8 million, down -10.1% from 230.1 million in the prior year. Despite the market’s negative trajectory overall, shipments for detachable tablets reached an all-time high of 8.1 million devices. Total tablet market includes slate tablets plus detachable tablets. References to “tablets” in this report include both slate tablets and detachable devices.

The transition towards detachable devices appears to be in full swing as pure slate tablets experienced their greatest annual decline to date of -21.1%. On the other hand, detachable tablets more than doubled their shipments since the fourth quarter of last year.

“This quarter was unique as we had new detachables in the market from all three of the major platform players,” said Jitesh Ubrani, Senior Research Analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers, in a statement. “Despite lukewarm reviews, the iPad Pro was the clear winner this season as it was the top selling detachable, surpassing notable entries from Microsoft and other PC vendors. It’s also important to note that the transition towards detachable tablets has presented positive opportunities for both Apple and Microsoft. However, Google’s recent foray into this space has been rather lackluster as the Android platform will require a lot more refinement to achieve any measurable success.”

MacDailyNews Take: Lukewarm reviews?

• AnandTech reviews Apple’s iPad Pro: ‘Size is something that feels like it should have been done from the start’ – January 22, 2016
• ZDNet reviews Apple’s iPad Pro: A genuine alternative to a laptop for business users – November 20, 2015
• Apple’s super-sized ‘iPad Pro’ shines for work, play and creativity – November 19, 2015
• TIME Magazine reviews iPad Pro: ‘The best computer Apple has ever made’ – November 16, 2015
• iPad Pro: Day 2 and already making my work better, easier, and faster – November 13, 2015
• Why Apple’s new iPad Pro makes Mac users feel weird – November 12, 2015
• Apple’s new iPad Pro is faster and more affordable than beleaguered Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 – November 12, 2015
• Analyst: Apple’s iPad Pro and its powerful A9X CPU pose threat to Intel – November 12, 2015
• Apple’s A9X-powered iPad Pro offers Mac-like speed – November 11, 2015
• Wired reviews Apple’s iPad Pro: ‘The best tablet, and the best case for tablets, anyone’s ever made’ – November 11, 2015
• Horace Dediu reviews Apple’s iPad Pro: Unlike anything we’ve ever seen before – November 11, 2015
• Ben Bajarin reviews Apple’s iPad Pro: ‘The start of something new’ – November 11, 2015
• Gruber reviews Apple’s iPad Pro: A MacBook replacement for many – November 11, 2015

If anything, the iPad Pro criticisms had to do with the non-availbility of Appel Pencil and Apple Smart Keyboard at launch.

Perhaps the most interesting trend to note is that prices on slate tablets have not yet hit rock bottom. Amazon’s $50 (or $42 for bulk shoppers) tablet was the holiday season’s surprise hit, garnering the number 3 rank among the worldwide top 5. Rival vendors like Huawei and Lenovo also continued to focus on the low end while also expanding outside their home country China.

“One of the biggest reasons why detachables are growing so fast is because end users are seeing those devices as PC replacements,” said Jean Philippe Bouchard, Research Director, Tablets at IDC in a statement. “We believe Apple sold just over two million iPad Pros while Microsoft sold around 1.6 million Surface devices, a majority of which were Surface Pro and not the more affordable Surface 3. With these results, it’s clear that price is not the most important feature considered when acquiring a detachable – performance is.”

Tablet Vendor Highlights

Apple iPad Pro and Apple Smart Keyboard
Apple iPad Pro and Apple Smart Keyboard
Apple’s reign as market leader continued in 4Q15 though the company faced a -24.8% year-over-year decline. With the successful launch of the iPad Pro, the company was able to curb the decline in iPad revenues as its model mix shifted towards higher priced iPads.

Samsung managed to keep its second position in the market though it did decline by -18.1% compared to last year. Samsung is the vendor with the deepest tablet portfolio and manages to reach multiple price points and screen sizes, a position that will facilitate the transition to detachables in 2016.

Amazon‘s latest Kindle iteration piqued everyone’s interest with its low price point, allowing Amazon’s annual growth to reach 175.7%, the highest amongst the top 5. Amazon’s success in the tablet market has thus far been purely based on price. While this bodes well during the holiday season, it’s unlikely the Kindle’s success will continue in the remainder of the year.

Lenovo maintained its market share in the last quarter of 2015, shipping 3.2 million units for a -13.5% decline over the same period last year. However, the Yoga, MIIX, and Thinkpad brands’ combined traditional PC savoir faire should help Lenovo regain market share in 2016.

Huawei‘s focus remains on cellular-connected tablets and international expansion. The company has positioned itself well in the adjacent smartphone market and its popularity is likely to bleed over into the tablet market.

Top Five Tablet Vendors, Shipments, Market Share, and Growth, Fourth Quarter 2015
(Preliminary Results, Shipments in millions)
IDC: Top Five Tablet Vendors, Shipments, Market Share, and Growth, Fourth Quarter 2015

Top Five Tablet Vendors, Shipments, Market Share, and Growth, 2015
(Preliminary Results, Shipments in millions)
IDC: Top Five Tablet Vendors, Shipments, Market Share, and Growth, 2015

Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, February 1, 2016

MacDailyNews Take: Beleaguered Microsoft, firmly ensconced in the “Others” category well behind even a bunch of cheap Android iPad knockoffs that mainly only run blown-up phone apps.

Moving on to meaningful vendors, Apple seemingly still has no answer for falling iPad sales. Obviously, it’s impossible to say for sure, but we bet that Steve Jobs would have figured out what is going on with iPad and what to do about it before now, especially as he seemed to hope iPad would be the future of personal computing and he was, indisputably, a freaking visionary!

iPad Pro is a good start, but even that is late, coming several quarters after iPad sales began to exhibit worrisome signs. Obvious features — like multi-user capability for every iPad, for just one example — that make iPads more valuable and therefore easier to sell, should be here by now.

A single quarter of iPad Pro sales will exceed the total of all Microsoft Surface tablets ever sold – November 24, 2015


  1. So what? MS sold two, Apple sold 100, big deal.

    Only comparison that matters is how much apple spent to build the device and how much they made off of it. This is not a baseball game.

  2. Owning a zune, windows phone and surface tablet puts you in the triple loser category. Additional bonus loser point if you bought a Ford car powered by MS Sync with Ford MyTouch.

  3. Ipad pro vs surface is silly…

    There were 20M+ 2in1s sold in 2015 and >90% of the market was Windows. If you were Microsoft would you rather sell 20M Surfaces with 20-25% margins or 20M Windows licenses to OEM’s where your margins are >90%?

  4. Wouldn’t get too excited yet my overly devoted friends. This statistic could be missing the point entirely.

    Headline circa 1985: “IBM PC (PC-DOS) sales drop 18% YoY, but still outsell all PC clones (MS-DOS)!”

    The overall % market drop says much more about who outsold who at the moment, which is often the result of a lingering halo effect that pushes up volume momentarily, but may eventually fade. Note the % market increase is currently for Surface, as it was for PC clones in the mid 80’s. That rise may indicate it is hitting the mark on a new trend, and the iPad no longer is. The fact that iPad Pro was introduced but did little to shore up total sales is telling.

    Might want to wait before you throw eggs. They might end up on your face.

  5. Oh and one other factor to consider before you pop the champagne:

    Surface is only one variant of Windows detachable; there are other options consumers can choose. With iPad, there is only one. So this metric is essentially an apples to oranges comparison, similar to comparing total iPad sales to Nexus, instead of to all of android tablet sales, in order to determine which is the best selling tablet (equally fallacious).

    Note the research says 8 million detachables were sold in the period, 2 million of which were iPad pro, and 1.6 million surfaces. What were the other 4.5 million? Good chance they were Windows detachables. All of a sudden the metric looks different, doesn’t it? 

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