You can't trust IDC's 2016 tablet forecast, or any other

On the heals of yesterday's smartphone forecast, the soothsayers at IDC are back with another bold, brash, and probably foolhardy prediction -- this time for tablets. Once again, Microsoft plays third fiddle to Apple and Google. In a market so fast changing, no one should take any 2016 forecast seriously. But, hey, clients don't pay IDC for doing nothing. Is there a refund policy, because few analysts (okay, none really) get the numbers right. IDC has revised its forecast at least three times this year. Now what does that tell you?

Let's start with the newest revision and then look back at how IDC got the numbers wrong and why those four years hence are probably worthless, too. For this year, the firm predicts 122.3 million tablets shipped, up from 117.1 million forecast in September. Yeah, three months ago. That number revised 107.4 million made in June. You can see where this is headed, right? No surprise, 2013 is higher, too: 172.4 million, up from 165.9 million in September and 142.8 million in June. For 2016, new forecast is 282.7 million, up from 261.4 million in September and 221.1 million in June.

Since March, IDC raised its forecast for 2012 by 15.3 percent and 2016 by 42.6 percent. This kind of change is huge, taking place during the course of a single calendar year. But forecast versus actual shipments disturb more. In September 2011, the analyst firm revised tablet shipment forecast for the year to 62.5 million from 53.5 million. Actual: 70.9 million.

I don't mean to fault IDC for constantly changing the numbers but to point out the market changes too fast to accurately forecast. Meaning: Ignore most headlines you'll read today based on the market share forecast for Android, iOS or Windows.

Let's look at those numbers and how IDC revised operating system forecasts throughout the year to date. iOS: 53.8 percent, down from 59.7 percent in September and 62.5 percent in June. Meanwhile, Android forecast increased to 42.7 percent share from 38.8 percent in September but down from 35.3 percent in June.

What about Windows? Tablet share is forecast 2.9 percent for the year, down from 4.1 percent in September but unchanged for 2016 at 10.3 percent. In just three months, IDC revised the number downward by more than 29 percent.

What the revisions meaningfully indicate: Android tablet shipments are much greater than expected, while Windows underperforms. That's a simplification. In a fast-growing market, where shipments rise so quickly, X number more units doesn't necessarily mean Y market share gains.

Meanwhile, if you go back to early 2011, most analysts put iPad ahead of all other competitors by huge margins. IDC now sings a different tune. "Android tablets are gaining traction in the market thanks to solid products from Google, Amazon, Samsung, and others, Tom Mainelli, IDC research director, says.

Ryan Reith, IDC program manager, observes Android doing to iPad what it did to iPhone. "The breadth and depth of Android has taken full effect on the tablet market as it has for the smartphone space", he says. "Android tablet shipments will certainly act as the catalyst for growth in the low-cost segment in emerging markets given the platform's low barrier to entry on manufacturing. At the same time, top-tier companies like Samsung, Lenovo, and ASUS are all launching Android tablets with comparable to premium products, but offered at much lower price points".

That statement alone supports what I've been saying. The market is so volatile that the only proof in IDC's numbers is their uncertainty.

Photo Credit: Ahturner/Shutterstock

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