back to article Cheap, lousy tablets are killing the whole market says IDC

It sounds like a big number, but the 43 million tablets that shipped in Q3 2016 are a disaster for vendors, according to prognosticator IDC. The overall market declined 14.3 per cent year-on-year, the analyst house says, dragged down by poor sales at the top end of the market, with consumers switching to cheapies. There's a …

  1. thames

    And if the cheapie does the job, why not buy that instead of spunking out loads of money on something expensive? Vendors are going to have to get used to the idea that people are not going to spend $3,000 on a laptop, plus $1,000 on a phone, and then another $1,000 on a tablet, and then run out and do it all over again in 2 years time when the new models come out. There's a limit to how much money people have to spend and they have other things to spend it on than just another electronic gadget.

    For most people who have one, a tablet fills the pretty simple role of letting them read the news or check the weather forecast, or whatever off the Internet would having to fire up the PC. You can do that quite nicely for well under $200.

    Now this is the point where someone, usually posting as AC, will chime in with his esoteric use case requiring an eyewateringly expensive tablet. That's fine, but as the market share figures show, that isn't what most people want. It may be what you want, but what you want is evidently pretty irrelevant to what is actually going to happen in the marketplace.

    1. Chet Mannly

      And said tablet will last for many years. People don't use tablets like phones, I charge my tablet once a week if that, so the hardware will keep going for a lot longer than a phone, and there's no real reason to replace them - its not like a new ipad will be tangibly better at presenting emails (facebook, news instsgram, whatever's your digital poison) than a 4 year old one will.

      Unless you are a real power user there also isn't a huge difference in laptops either these days.

      1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Most users will probably a low to mid price phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop more than adequate for their needs. Except for a phone these devices should last several years with OS support being the biggest problem.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          £50-60 will get you a new, perfectly useable tablet from China. Don't last as long as an expensive one, of course, but so what? Just buy another one and you'll probably still be ahead. And it's a lot less traumatic if you drop it.

          1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge


            Think of all that extra landfill you are creating with multiple cheapo tablets. Will the maker be around when it fails so that it can be disposed of properly?

            Think of the planet, your children and everything else not to mention the gaping security holes the OS will have.

            {making do with a iPad mini after someone nicked my Kindle while on holiday. Paid $100 for it yet it runs the latest iOS. Aren't Pawn shops wonderful.}

            1. Loud Speaker

              Re: Think of all that extra landfill

              If you open the average tablet, you will find stuff made from (approximately) ...

              1 cup of desert sand (glass, silicon in the chips)

              1 cup of oil (the plastic parts)

              Barely enough aluminium and copper to make a thimble from each.

              A match-head size lump of other stuff (gold for plating contacts three atoms thick, dopants for silicon, etc)

              As far as land-fill goes, they are on a par with a 20p "environmentally friendly" supermarket shopping bag.

              And the plastic case can be recycled - although the cost of doing so is probably at least four times the cost (to the environment) of making new plastic.

              If you want to do something useful with your life - try to find a way to use old iPads as house construction materials.

              1. Bloodbeastterror

                Re: Think of all that extra landfill


              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Think of all that extra landfill

                I use the tablets with broken screens as Android equivalent of Raspberry Pi nodes for whatever purpose. The touchscreen function is broken but easily workaround is mouse or remote desktop/SSH. So, no landfill for mine.

              3. dajames Silver badge

                Re: Think of all that extra landfill

                As far as land-fill goes, they are on a par with a 20p "environmentally friendly" supermarket shopping bag.

                A lot of energy goes into making all those complicated components out of the sand, oil, and metal ores, though. It's not about the cost in landfill terms, it's about the environmental cost of making something as complicated as a phone (tablet, etc.) from raw materials and then abandoning it to landfill after only a year or two.

            2. Tikimon

              Re: Think of all that extra landfill

              What are you saying, that iPads don't go into landfills, only Huawei tablets do? That's utter BS unless you can produce numbers to back it up. Consider too that Apple desperately wants you to buy a new shiny tablet every two years. If you play along with Apple's business model, you'll contribute more to landfills than with these cheaper tablets that are being kept by their owners for longer periods.

              Fight the Apple snobbery, comrades!

              1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

                Re: Think of all that extra landfill

                nope, that is not what I'm saying.

                It is well recognised that iPads are not replaced every two years, more like 3 or 4 years. Generally they don't get the poinding a phone does so they last longer.

                So if an iPad lasts say 4 years and your cheapo tablet lasts two, then there will be around twice the landfill generated.

                And due to WEEE the maker is responsible for recycling the device properly. Apple has a big facility in Texas for recycling their kit. Can you say the same for your cheapo Chinese maker?

                That's all I'm saying.

                1. Triggerfish

                  Re: Think of all that extra landfill

                  Why do you think you are needing to replace the cheaper tablet every two years? My Asus is about that, can't see it needing replacing soon, and a lot less cost than an ipad.

        2. James 51

          It's the lack of support that is limiting my use of my playbook, not the hardware. I'd love a goodereader e-reader. It's one of the most interesting things I've seen in years.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "Except for a phone"

          Why a phone shouldn't last several years too? OK, it could wear out a little quicker because of use, but still they are replaced more for "showing off" reasons than anything else.

    2. Triggerfish

      Yep bought a cheap Asus, that was an old model for about 70 quid. It gets used for browsing the web when laying on the sofa, controlling VLC on the pc, few bits like this. Why do I need something that costs five times the cost? Not even sure the lower resolution in comparison with the big names even effects me that much, I don't notice it.

  2. ecofeco Silver badge

    How's that...

    ...Chinese outsourcing working out for ya?

  3. Chris D Rogers

    Three year life cycles?

    Not surprised by this, well apart from the fact that vendors seem determined to ensure one year lifecycle of purchasing, rather than three years, which is how long my iPad 3 lasted before giving up the ghost, unless I replaced the battery and connector dock, which was not worth the investment, i.e., cheaper and more effective to purchase an Android tablet, in my case a Nexus 9 and NVIDIA Shield K1, both used and combined less than the cost of one used iPad - both perform well enough for what's required of them and the N9 is supported by Android 7. Moral of the tale, can't see the point of investing large sums in latest Tablet's from high-end vendors when existing mid-range products run just as well - same applies with mobile phones, I'm happy with my N6 and will replace with a N6P next year for a used price of approx. US$200.

  4. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Make them so they don't shatter at a gnat's-breath and I won't consider them disposable.

  5. David Roberts

    Diffetent use cases?

    I have a fairly expensive tablet - Sony Xperia Z - but I've had it a few years now and it still works fine. Used every day for reading El Reg.

    My potential use cases for tablets now revolve around cheap screen and wide ranging software.

    Engine monitoring and diagnostics over Bluetooth.

    Satnav with large screen (and free software).

    Possibly a WiFi reversing camera.

    None of these need a top of the range tablet. Sub £100 UKP makes any similar use more attractive.

    As usual, correlation does not imply causation. Cheap tablets are quite possibly finding new use cases and not generally replacing expensive tablets.

  6. Nifty Silver badge

    Sales of cheap usable tablets up, sales of expensive ones down. Shock horror, consumers seeking value for money.

    Ironically the only site my 1st gen iPad struggles with is El Reg due to the heavy and animated ad content.

  7. Anonymous Coward


    My tablet is a 1st Gen 8" Asus; the ONLY reason I am thinking of replacing it is because my daughter (3), dropped it on a friends stone floor and cracked the edge of the screen.

    (Just bad luck, she has dropped it loads of times without damage).

    Main use is keeping her entertained when out, and as a large Satnav; a 5.5" phone has made it pretty much obsolete for internet browsing, so the only other use is as an eReader (rare).

    Samsung, Apple eetc, can blame cheap tabs all they like, the truth is that there isnt much of a market left for an expensive tablet now that you can buy phones with a screen not that much smaller.

    I'll get my coat - DAMN, the pocket isnt big enough for this tablet!

    1. Grifter

      Re: Meh!

      >> (Just bad luck, she has dropped it loads of times without damage).

      If she's 3, and has dropped it loads of times, then it's not really bad luck is it, it's just a bad choice on your part.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Meh!

        I bet your kids are only allowed a ball made of screwed up paper to play with; and then only on days with a "z" in them.

        1. Grifter

          Re: Meh!

          Huh? So there's only expensive electronics or wrappers, nothing in between? Did I hit a nerve?

  8. Mage


    Yet Apple is very expensive for the spec.

    The Amazon Fire and Fire HD are expensive compared to similar spec non-name Android and are a "crippled" Android, locked to Amazon, no Playstore. Yet Amazon apps are available for Android.

    So the sales ranking shows that Marketing and Perception are more important than price.

    1. Eddy Ito

      Re: Cheapies?

      Huh? A Fire tablet goes for $50. They don't get much cheaper than that although Wally World has an RCA for $39.98. The catch is the ties to Prime and Kindle that some people love so much. There's also another hook I've noticed and it's that one can buy a few for cheap money and not worry about bringing along a computer. I know some retired folk who leave a Fire at both of their children's homes for when they visit so they can read or watch shows on Prime when the grandkids are at school and their kids are at work. Sure, they could do this with any tablet but it's a common interface and they come all set up for you which is what seals the deal.

  9. Mage

    Cheap or very Cheap and rubbish

    I got a cheap 7" tablet (less than £60). 1G RAM, 16G Flash (11G free), Andriod 5.1, 800 * 1280 IPS, 2MP Bluetooth 4.0 with 4000mah Battery. It's fine.

    Cheaper seem to be junk:

    The "Cheap" Tablets at £25 to £40 seem to be 0.5G RAM Flash 4G to 8G (1G to 3G Free), Andriod 4.1 to 4.4, 600 x 1024 (NOT IPS), 1100mAH to 4000mAH Battery. Some €99 in Tesco Lenovo and Lidl seem to be almost this bracket. Two sons have had ones in this bracket that the touch screen broke.

    So there are a lot of "impulse buy" priced Tablets that give tablets a bad name, that no doubt is affecting all sales?

    I can understand why some people might pay the Apple premium for an iPad, but is growth on Fire fuelled by Amazon's marketing? They promote their own products on landing page and in search and suggestions. Do people realise it's just a "crippled Android" locked to Amazon, no better than some cheaper Android tablets? It's not a real "Kindle" either.

    1. Stuart Halliday

      Re: Cheap or very Cheap and rubbish

      If you believe the specifications the cheapo tablet tells you, then you're perhaps a gullible fool?

      Most are overclocked or simply return a false CPU model type or speed.

  10. bordersboy

    Times changed

    I agree with so much here and as a 40 year tech veteran am still amazed at 2 simple facts that seem to be constantly ignored

    1 just because apple charges a lot for items they aren't worth more. All suppliers reduce costs over a production run and the market for 40 years has benefited. It has driven innovation current pricing practices stifle it

    2 lack of said innovation and massive increase in reliability means things last and there's no need to change. Can you tell 2 tablets apart?? Phones get changed because we break them not really much else

  11. heyrick Silver badge

    Will it run MXPlayer? Can it cope with 720P? Can it play MP3s and streaming radio? Can it run Firefox?

    That's more or less what I'd be using a tablet for. Sure, there are the odd unusual uses (telnet to an ANSI BBS) or use the gyro thingy as a spirit level...but I don't do that so much.

    So why buy an expensive model when a cheaper one will do the job? Better yet, less risk of heart attack of it gets dropped.

    1. DropBear

      Whoah there! You have some tough requirements! I mean 4K video at 100FPS is not an issue, but man... Firefox... I just dunno...

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        You, sir, owe me a keyboard.

  12. Ralph B

    Not Just The Cheap Ones

    It's not just the cheap ones that put me off buying another tablet. My rather expensive (full-spec) iPad 2 was quite spritely for the first 2 iOS updates but slowed to an unusable crawl for the last 2. (Yes, I did turn off all the bells and whistles. It's still awful.)

    Surprisingly, the battery is still good. Probably due to a neighbour who dropped it on the floor paying for a replacement/repair in mid-life.

    But I'm never going to buy another iPad if Apple are going to "update" it to unusability within 3 years.

    (BTW, I can very much recommend the Asus Chromebook Flip C100 as an excellent tablet replacement. Quick, safe, functional, with keyboard and (since recently) Android apps too!)

    1. cambsukguy

      Re: Not Just The Cheap Ones

      I don't see why the updates should slow it down, even if they add functionality.

      If they added bells and whistles, like animations on app opening, whizzy fade effects etc, I suppose it could.

      But adding, say, some extra VPN capability or a later BT version support, why, does that affect the overall performance.

      I only used an iPad once, for work. It hurt my wrist after a while if I held it safely and slid about in my hand dangerously if I held it comfortably.

      Three Surface RTs in my house, two V1, one v2, all with keyboards, all used a little bit (all laptop users primarily). Travel, bedroom, kitchen etc. At least one was dropped (by me) in a car park, onto concrete, deformed case, no cracks, luckily. It would break any normal wrist in one handed use, if it wasn't for the hinged support giving a useful 'handle' to prevent drops.

      But they all get updated regularly and all seem to run just like new though.

      I feel bad not to use it more often but I just don't have the real need. But, it beats taking a laptop on holiday, especially with RyanAir and EasyJet luggage limitations; the battery can last the airport/plane journey more easily too for that matter.

      1. Ralph B

        Re: Not Just The Cheap Ones

        > I don't see why the updates should slow it down, even if they add functionality.

        Well, let's put it this way: If device slowness is encouraging customers to purchase the latest model then Apple will hardly be motivated to optimise performance on the older models.

        I'm sure that's the reason. Rather than it actually being deliberate action by Apple to make old models perform badly. No. It can't be that, can it?

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Not Just The Cheap Ones

      Yes the iPad 2 (16GB) has got a little slower, in the sense that there are times (particularly with Safari) when it now seems to hesitate before performing the action you are wanting, but otherwise is still quite usable.

      However, it is a very a good benchmark against which to judge other tablets and espaecially Windows 10. I've yet to come across a Windows 10 tablet at the same price point (ie. sub £300) that performs anywhere as well as this device from 2011. It would be nice to see an iPad2 complete with iOS 4.3 compared to Win10; I suspect it would show just what a cluster f**k Win10 is and just how far behind in UI/UX Microsoft really are...

      Mind you, low end Android tablets also don't compare well...

  13. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Spot on there


    Yes, if good enough is good enough why waste good money and pay for something new?

    Most devices seem to be able to do everything that most of us need. And that counts for everything from phone up to desktop. Why pay for something that is largely redundant capacity or bling?

    So the only reasons for replacing or updating old or cheap items are vanity or accidents.

  14. Chz

    More like killing the middle ground

    There are £200+ tablets and there are sub-£100 tablets. Both seem to sell well enough. But with both the Hudl 2 and Nvidia Shield off the market, there is no middle ground left. You either live with 1280x800 and 1GB of memory or you shell out more than twice as much. The Hudl and Shield in the £120-160 range both had lovely Full HD screens and ample memory. What's replaced them? Nothing, that I've seen.

    Feel free to point one out, because I'm sure the six year-old will eventually find a way to destroy the Hudl. And I'm not going into the Amazon ecosystem if I can help it.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: More like killing the middle ground

      The Hudl and Hudl2 were good low middle market devices and whilst not in the same league as say the iPad2, they certainly were good for the kids. Only complaint (re: hudl) is that kids can and do mess up the USB charging port, to be kid 'proof' a tablet really needs a magnetic power connector.

      The iPad and iPad2, once installed in a suitable case are reasonably kid proof (although these also suffer from an inappropriate power connector), a relation's SEN child uses one of these all the time. Whilst it has had to be replaced from time to time, replacements are currently readily available through CEX and other used equipment outlets.

  15. DropBear

    Dear Manufacturers,

    as regrettable as it is, we can't keep buying stuff you make solely and exclusively to keep you in business. Because we certainly have no other reason whatsoever to - there has been no compelling new feature in computing for many years now, and everybody who needed more computing in their life has long got their fill by now. No thanks, we're good.

  16. Chris 125

    Cheap stuff for low power use is fine. My son is fine with a £79 Archos tablet, actually the low res screen makes it better for him as games run faster at 1280x800 than they would at 1920x1080 with the same processor. It's got a nice big screen, it bounces when he drops it (so far) and the only thing that makes him want an iPad is the School Status Symbol aspect which I'll gradually beat out of him.

    Would I use it? No way, it'd be through a window in less than a day. I've seen it struggle with a dozen tabs open, it tends to close App A when you spend more than 3 seconds in App B (thanks to 1GB RAM) and it can get a bit laggy. But he never sees any of this so he's happy.

    So some people need powerful stuff, others can make do with low end. The problem is when people are either told their cheap tablets are as good as a £400 jobbie (and disappointment happens) or that they need a £400 tablet to watch a YouTube video and they feel (rightfully) conned.

    (Obviously, the third problem is people buying tablets for themselves, without any idea, and just choosing the cheapest one. That's called the Argos Effect).

    None of these need me to buy a new tablet every year though, so yes - manufacturers should have seen the day coming where most of the population says "Actually, I'm fine with the one I've got" and there's a slump.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So, I'm guessing you're not Scottish then

      "The problem is when people are either told their cheap tablets are as good as a £400 jobbie"

      That's not an unreasonable comparison. I've no idea where one would get a £400 jobbie (possibly NSFW) but I doubt it would run Angry Birds very well. Or at all. ;-)

      Matter of fact, I'd pretty much expect sh***y performance from it. (^_^)

      (FWIW, I'm assuming you didn't mean a 400 lb jobbie, which would be a horrible prospect.)

  17. cambsukguy

    There are other markets

    Shouldn't they be selling more into 'aspirational' new markets.

    Perhaps that is where sales are still happening, that or business where they can't just buy anything that takes their fancy and put it on the company network; except maybe a serviceable, mid-range, Win10 tablet with decent pedigree and the built-in device support that comes it.

  18. jason 7

    I had a tablet...

    ... a 64GB Playbook I got new for £120 in 2012. I stopped using it in 2014 due to lack of support.

    The hardware makes it a great media player still but it sits in a drawer. I have no desire to buy another tablet.

    I don't see anywhere near as many iPads in the wild now either.

  19. Richard Lloyd

    Not seen a decent new tablet released recently

    Having a lot of tablets myself, I've come to the conclusion that you do indeed get what you pay for. To me, the most critical aspect of a tablet is its display (i.e. must be >= 8", 16:9 or 16:10, a high resolution and ideally AMOLED) and owning a Galaxy Tab S 10.5" has spoiled me in that respect.

    What we've seen from Google and Samsung with their last "flagship" tablets is the wrong aspect ratio (sorry, but 4:3 is an epic fail for videos and games) and eye-watering prices. Google skipped tablets completely with their latest launch and no sign of a Samsung S3 yet (and if it's 4:3 again, I for one won't be buying it).

    Now if the Yoga Book could have detached its display from everything else then it might have piqued my interest more, but the specs are a bit underwhelming for the price anyway, IMHO.

  20. Planty Bronze badge

    Cheap tablets are too good

    Ruining things for premium priced products.

    Essentially, the title should be, "cheap, half decent tablets are killing the overpriced tablet market"

    Oh well, what a shame....

  21. Inertia

    Yep. Welcome to GoPro vs Everyone.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We all know that Android devices last much longer than iOS ones. Android users update their phones far less frequently, holding to a 2+yr cycle, while Apple users tend to need to update every year or less.

    The same is the case here for tablets, except tablets seem to last a lot longer. I got a Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 a couple years ago. Still works fine. No reason for a new one. Battery lasts for weeks in standby and days in use.

    So what drives sales? New users. New users tend to be college kids, poor folks who couldn't previously afford one, and kids/teenagers who are getting old enough to want their own. All of these are good targets for 'cheap' devices. Thus, cheap devices are selling well.

  23. andrewj

    Not surprising. The iPad I got 4 years ago is still in perfect condition and is overpowered for the tasks I use it for. Zero reason to replace. And I have tended to use it less with time anyway. If I were to replace it, I'd get a cheap Android that would be fine for my needs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      iPads seem to need replacing more often than

      My wife has an iPad mini which is about the same age as my nexus tablet. She uses it a lot but I find it is more or less unusable now. The several iterations of IOS appear to have ground the system to a halt. Typing has become such a chore because there is a huge lag before the characters are displayed. I have heard similar things from friends with older iPads.

      My nexus on the other hand seems to be getting better with each new version of Android. Even more annoyingly for the Apple - the browser seems to still not work with a large number of websites (especially for shops).

      Don't get me wrong - I have a MacBook pro and think Apple makes good products, but there seems little point in buying the most expensive tablets, when cheaper ones can do the same tasks that I need a tablet for. Perhaps there are some cases where an expensive tablet is needed - but that would be pointless for the majority of email / youtube / browser fraternity.

  24. Oengus

    When vendors won't issue OS updates what is the point of buying the expensive device when I have to buy a new one to get the updated OS.

    I have a $AU100 that has a later version of Android than many of the $AU500+ Android tablets on the market.

  25. Astara

    Disposable portables & replacing PC's

    Saw the comment about disposability being related to not replacing PC's... Why? With all their data in the cloud, who needs a permanent local storage? (FYI -- not in this group, as don't have portable and don't have data in cloud, but on local linux file server w/50TB storage, but how long it will last? It's only 7 years old and still lots of expansion room if I can afford it...(and there's the rub))...

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How do you define cheap?

    About 5 years ago, I bought an e-ink Kindle, the cheapest one they had. It still works, it still gets updated, it still is the best e-book reader I have. Charge it once a week.

    A year later I bought a Gen2 Fire 7, the cheapest one they had. It still works, it still gets updated, it still has the best sound system of any device I have, phone, tablet or notebook.

    I have a Gen4 Fire 6 and 3 Gen5 Fire 7s (the $49 one), all were the cheapest one I could buy at the time. They all still work, they all still get updated, they are all used heavily every day.

    My phone is an LG Optimus V that I bought years ago on Ebay, used, for $35. Still works, etc.

    My last iThing was an iMac (Blue Ice Cube, OS/X) that I paid $1600 for. In the same week, I bought a white box Lindows computer from WalMart for $199. The iMac had a 700mz PPC. The white box had a 800 mz AMD Duron. Remember how the FanBois said that it didn't matter that the PPC ran slower than the Intel because the PPC was so much more efficient? I put Yellow Dog Linux on the iMac and tested the performance against the white box on Lindows. The junker ran circles around the iMac. To beat a dead horse... The $200 junker was faster than the $1600 Apple.

    The iMac died (video card) in less than a year, but was repaired under warranty. Then at the end of the second year, it couldn't find the hard drive any more. Out with the trash. The white box WalMart computer with the AMD Duron cpu ran for 5 more years.

    I had a friend who worked for General Electric. When he got a promotion, he talked them into getting him a computer at home. They bought him an IBM 486 DX2 PS/2 with a scsi drive. The cost for that machine was $9,000. I bought a white box 486 DX2 computer from Computer Shopper for $1300. We ran performance test on both. There was almost no difference. To top it off, the isa drive on the white box was actually faster than the scsi drive, PS/2 bus and all. Can you buy an IBM PC today?

    People eventually wise up and see that the Emperor (IBM then, Apple now) has no clothes.

    Somebody want to give me that "you get what you pay for" crap again?

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