There's a silver lining in the Cloudy tablet forecast: Workplace tablets

With global tablet sales softening, there's a bright spot for hardware manufacturers: Company purchases of tablets for workers are expected to remain brisk.

With global tablet sales flat, or even falling in some cases, there is a bright spot for hardware manufacturers: Company purchases of tablets for workers in jobs such as retail sales or field work.

Forrester has predicted that tablets used for enterprises will grow to 20 per cent of the entire market by 2018, up from 6 in 2010. These include Apple iPads as well as Windows and Android tablets that are generally purchased and managed by a company on behalf of workers, either for solo use or shared with others.

That level of growth is impressive compared to the recent sales dip for the iPad, which sold 12.62 million iPads in the second quarter, a drop of 23% compared to the same period a year ago, Forrester analyst JP Gownder noted in a blog.

"Clearly, all is not well in tablet-land," Gownder said.

In a separate report, Gownder noted a nose-dive in Android tablet prices, which recently went from below $200, then to less than $100 and even under $50 -- "stripping away profit margins."

Forrester and other analyst firms have noted the general tablet decline, attributed mainly to consumers keeping older tablets and to the growth of bigger smartphones with displays that are larger than 5-in., sometimes called "phablets," that reduce the need for smaller tablets. The Galaxy Note 4 and iPhone 6 Plus are examples of such smartphones.

IDC noted the tablet slowdown last October, and predicted slowing growth from 2016 through 2018.

The bright spot -- tablets purchased by companies -- is being driven by various factors, Gownder said, including a vendor focus on enterprise services and apps. Microsoft and Dell, among other partners, will benefit with Windows 10 on tablets, while the Android for Work initiative will help address Android security concerns with tablets, he said. And Apple has partnered with IBM to provide iOS apps for tablets that matter in workplaces.

Gownder also expects a "three-horse race" among the three tablet operating systems over the next several years, but didn't reveal his forecast for each OS's share.

The desire by workers to use tablets and bring their own devices to work has helped push company purchases, he said. The tablets are being used in various ways by different workers, including package delivery drivers, sales associates and field technicians and even by restaurant customers to review menus at their tables.

Forrester's latest forecast shows that annual tablet sales globally will grow modestly from 217 million units sold this year to 229 million in 2016, then to 240 million in 2017 and 249 million in 2018. By comparison, the installed base of old and new tablets will jump from 580 million globally this year to 781 million in 2018, Forrester said.

Gownder contended that tablets will open up business opportunities and noted that half of information workers already use a tablet weekly while in the office. They also can be used more easily than laptops while standing.

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