The iPad Pro outsold Surface last quarter; detachable tablets on the rise

Despite the usual mockery and skepticism, Apple has once again proven why their brand still carries authority The International Data Corporation (IDC) just published their Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker for Q4 2015 and with it comes two interesting observations: (1) the iPad Pro outsold the Surface 3, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Book combined over the holiday season and (2) standalone slate tablets (i.e. devices sans keyboard) are basically dead or dying.

Overall, the tablet market is still facing a decline similar to the general PC market, but within that decline two-in-one devices and detachable tablets are rising significantly.

Here are the IDC figures:

  • Q4 12015 saw 65.9 million tablets shipped, down -13.7% year over year
  • Total tablet shipments for 2015 were 206.8 million, down -10.1% from 230.1 million in 2014
  • Shipments for detachable tablets reached an all-time high of 8.1 million devices
  • Pure slate tablets experienced their greatest annual decline to date of -21.1%
  • Detachable tablets more than doubled their shipments during the fourth quarter of last year

The news here is clear, folks: straight up tablets with no ability to expand to other categories are on their way out. Consumers want a tablet than can replace their computer, or, at least, approach that realization. In that sense, Microsoft was ahead of the curve in anticipating the Surface brand, and they are driving this category.

That's the good news. The bad news – for Microsoft – is that Apple had more success with the iPad Pro than many would have thought. According to Jitesh Ubrani, Senior Research Analyst with IDC:

"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."

Microsoft's quarterly report noted that they did $1.35B in Surface revenue, which nearly doubled the amount from the previous quarter and was higher year-over-year. Regarding Surface sales, however, they were likely very much similar to holiday 2014. The reason for the claim is that Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book retail for higher prices than the Surface Pro 3 so while sales could be similar, the revenue captured would be higher.

An appropriate analysis here is while Surface is doing well, it is not significantly expanding regarding growth. Within one calendar quarter Apple was able to step in with an entirely new tablet and outsell Microsoft, who had many more SKUs for sale. Needless to say, even we are surprised by IDC's numbers (assuming their accuracy).

The other interesting analysis is that price is not a factor. While many have lamented the higher cost of the Surface series – even the anemic Surface 3 with an Atom processor – consumers are still willing to pay up when they see the value. This result is perhaps even more surprising with the iPad Pro as that device is not marketed as a replacement for a laptop, even by Apple standards.

As a whole, Microsoft made up about 2.4 percent of the entire tablet market for 2015. Apple (28 percent), Samsung (17.3 percent), ASUS (5.1 percent) and Lenovo (4.9 percent) all outsold Microsoft by a large margin.

Finally, IDC sees Lenovo as being positioned for a stronger comeback in 2016 with their new two-in-one Yoga, MIIX, and ThinkPad brands, many of which run Windows 10 (though some are Android-based).

Are any of you surprised by Apple's success with the iPad Pro? Will an improved Surface 4 – expected this spring – help turn the tables in Microsoft's favor? Let us know in comments.

Source: IDC

Daniel Rubino
Editor-in-chief

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

355 Comments
  • Honestly not that much of a surprise. Disappointing for Windows fans, but not a surprise.
  • in how many countries MS is selling the surface ?
  • In how many African countries is the surface sold? In how many African countries are ipads sold? I have yet to see a surface irl. Ipads are plentiful though. Posted from my Note 5
  • I see surfaces the time.
  • Just for the record surfaces are in Africa but not really bought in Africa, why not make them readily available here. Almost everyone I know that has it didn't buy it here. That's poor from MS, besides the same can't be said about the ipad
  • Exactly, comparing absolute numbers does not work in this case. The entire MENA region did not even have the Surface choice, and even if it did, it currently has 0% market share, so it needs at least 3 - 4 years in the region in order to out sell anything.   I dont understand these business analysts. :S
  • I don't believe that Apple is sellingf iPad Pro everywhere currently, only few markets... But even if they were, its MS fault of not selling and marketing them in more markets. I heard the same excuse when comparing Xbox One vs PS4 sales fiigures, no one was stopping MS to sell in more countries/regionns. MS made a business decidion to sell in selected markets.
  • Not only in Africa, but here, in South America, we don't have all the Microsoft Products to buy. In Brazil we just have Lumias and Xbox...
  • iPad Pro has just released so wonder how total sales of iPad Pro stand up to total sales of Surface models. Those who already have a Surface will not be buying every release.
  • The 2 Million number for iPad Pro vs 1.6 Million for all Surface only includes the iPad Pro, they don't include the regular iPad Air or Mini.
  • Thanks - but iPad total sales have still decreased by 25% YOY so be interesting to revisit sales in 6 and 12 months.
  • Very true. I have a Surface Pro 3 and my wife has an iPad Pro, so I know what I think is a better device. The iPad Pro I call the iPad Monstrosity.
  • And yet...both numbers are complete speculation, as neither Microsoft nor Apple has released numbers for sales of these devices. All we know about iPad sales in the most recent quarter is that the entire product line's sales were DOWN 25% and that the entire product line sold around 11 million units. There is no breakdown for how many they sold of each of the now *several models* of iPad currently on sale.
  • The more important question, and accurate comparison, would be sales of iPad Pro against all convertible tablets from Microsoft and Windows OEMs combined. That would be the true representation of this category, and a precise study of consumer interest in the form factor against preference of operating system. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • I'm surprised. IPad sales have declined year over year for a while now. It's incredible that adding a keyboard and a "pencil" made that much of a difference. The rest of this year & next holiday season will tell, after it's been on the market a year and the halo effect has worn off.
  • Even though iPad sales have been in steady decline, they have still sold in huge numbers the whole time. The Pro model alone outsold all of the Surfaces, that isn't including any of the non-pro iPads.
  • We don't actually know that. These numbers are pure speculation, as neither Apple nor Microsoft have released sales figures for these devices.
  • "pure speculation" is a bit exaggerated. iPads as a whole obviously outsell Surfaces many times over, and it seems the iPad Pro may be outselling all of Surfaces combined (even including the non-pro Surfaces). Whether iPad Pro can sustain its sales is the more interesting question, IMO.
  • I concur with your statement, evidently when people on these forums read that iPad sales are down and that Surface sales are up they don't get that iPad sales still far exceed Surface. If Microsoft sold half the number of Surfaces in a good quarter that Apple sells iPads in a bad quarter it would be a huge win for Microsoft.
  • I'm not surprised. Pen input is awesome.
  • Heck, I am an Apple fan and I am surprised!
  • Well I'm not surprised. Apple will rule the world soon.
  • We live in a post Apple world now, dont you know? Thats what all the Apple fans were saying when PC sales started to decline. Now tablets are too, and the iPhone is flat... ;)
  • actually the iPhone is kinda rounded around the corners and the back.  but very flexible, so with the right tool can be made very flat:)
  • Lol Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • *Apple + Fanboys (Even tho that Apple Pencil  just amazing. just like its $99 price and the way it charges /s)
  • I'm surprised that iPad Pro did as well as it did. I am encouraged however that any device by "competing OEMs(Asus, Lenovo, etc)" running Windows is perpetuating Microsoft's ecosystem and thier success works in Microsoft's favor. Particularly as Daniel points out here, Microsoft is leading (and intentionally pushed the industry toward) this category. 2-in-1's rise in the industry are helping to push Microsoft's ideology of context conforming devices - something I posited not long ago as foundational to the markets preparation for the anticipated Surface Phone. So, its all good. :-)
  • Intel was the bottle neck to this category explosion, It took them too long to make capable and competitive SoC vs ARM that Windows can shine on. Imagine the type of designs that will be capable with 10nm in a i7 fanless configuration.
  • And ARM will sit still... They are improving as well with each new release
  • I agree, it seems like the original vision of the Surface line (a device to showcase the windows platform, and a new form factor) is playing out, and competing OEMs can see the value of this category. I truly believe the iPad Pro's success can be attributed to the larger form factor, keyboard, and "Pro" status. I think consumers inheriently believe that these additions mean the device's capabilities are now greater than the iPad Air, without realizing the direct similarities. It will be interesting to see whether or not it will continue to generate growth, or if it will dwindle like the iPad Air.
  • Agree. They may have been beaten in sheer numbers this time around, but they drove this category and disrupted the somewhat stagnant smarthphone-tablet-laptop world we were in. They deserve credit for that push in innovation, making things more affordable to other markets. I too see some turnaround here with large OEMs hopping on the W10 bandwagon, if CES was any indication what is to come. I am scratching my head now, thinking what to do with our two macs, two apple TVs and few iPads in our house, not counting the iPods.... I feel like I'm in a deja vu from 15 years ago when Apple was growing strong by day and came out with Darwin and Aqua and huge MSFT lazily ruled the IT world. Now, the rules have flipped. MSFT is the underdog with **** after R&D and customer experience, while Apple has gotten too large to be a flexible mature startup it used to be. It's simply too big now to be manageable and still enjoy organic growth as it used to.
    .
  • Proof that the average person is an idiot.
  • Not brand new info. They have been buying crappie devices for years. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • So because they didn't chose the brand You like, they are idiots.... ok Maybe they wanted something that does 99% of what a laptop does with an awesome ecosystem and local support, without all the viruses.  
  • Sorry my friend,  the ipood pro does NOTHING that a laptop does.  Its only a large table with a keyboard.  Nothing more.  And IOS scaled to the larger screen looks horrendous.  Also,  I have been using windows since 3.1.1.   I have never had a virus on my computer.  There are virus for apple crap too. 
  • Well if you think that virus is the problem of Windows devices then i think you should not click any where on those bloody ads which says congratulations you won an iCrap!!! ;-)
  • Let's talk about viruses. My mom managed to get one on her iPad Air within 2 months of getting it, while meantime, in my Windows-only household, I have yet to get a virus that does anything more than installing some adware.
  • How does it do 99% of what a laptop does when it doesn't even run a laptop OS?
  • Basically. I was sitting next to a lasy in a lobby as she used her iPad Pro attached to its awkward angled keyboard case, propped up on her purse in her lap. Only to browse through a calendar app. Unless you're a digital sketch artist that uses an iOS specific app, there's no real reason to get the Pro over the standard iPad.
  • The larger screen itself is a real bonus even for non-artists, if you are an Excel or Word user, both of which are excellent apps in iOS, by the way. Would I get an iPad Pro, though? Seriously doubt I would. Too pricey and still runs iOS, which I'm starting to dislike more an more. I ended up giving my iPad to my son to play Rayman and kids games. I'm really hoping for a good update on Surface 4 this summer, a good all rounder, affordable, yet not too slow. iPad Pro will run out of its breath after the "wow" effect wears off, and iOS will be to blame for that.
  • Only disappointing if I somehow think that Microsoft's profits affect my device.
  • Not really much of a thinker, are you?  If you are invested in the Microsoft ecosystem then any Microsoft success will be good for you.  It's not Microsoft's profits that people directly care about but Microsoft's ability to and interest in creating devices and services that they want and enjoy using.  Certainly, far too many people attach too much of their own self-worth on the brands they use but it's not all superficial.
  • Not a surprise. How many of the people who bought an iPad Pro already had the latest iPad, the latest iPhone, the latest iPod, the latest iTV, etc... Apple has a devoted following snatching up every morsel they can get from that table. It is an automatic sales generator. The fact that the surface wasn't utterly blown out of the water is encouraging to me.
  • look at the price difference between the ipad pro and the surface tablets. it's just stupid. And Daniel stop pretending that does not matter.
  • What's your point? The price difference between the 2 is negligible. Infact the IPad Pro cost more than a comparable Surface Pro 4. 
  • Exactly because the IPad Pro is more expensive AND it still outsold ALL SURFACES is impressive. Then again, it's Apple we're talking about here Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Microsoft services in iOS have made "iPad Pro" Pro... Take that Satya ;) ..
    ..joke aside..
    ..
    Comparing sales of a phone OS hardware and a PC OS hardware doesn't make any sense for me.. This was anticipated since PC sales are going down.. May be professionals needs a real PC... For common people like me, our phone/phablet does things .. Like Satya mentioned "iPhone Pro" .. Many people are going away from Programs and are convinced with phone apps which are easy to use..
    ..
    Microsoft really needs to start marketing their services and devices as Apple do.. And build up a fan base so that people will buy whatever **** they release like Apple fan boys do...
  • Not surprising. Besides MS basically wanted the surface devices to be examples for the other OEMs. Now that they have shown the way there will be more surface like devices out in the market which together will outsell iPad pros like windows laptops do MacBooks now...
  • I'm not sure it's disappointing.  It really depends on why Surface has plateaued.  If it's because other PC vendors are selling similar products, then who cares?  Windows is still doing well. Indeed, I think MS' main goal with the Surface is not to sell a lot of them, but to make their partners sell lots of Windows devices. If the iPad pro took a lot of would-be PC buyers' money instead of Windows, then there's a problem for Windows fans.
  • Actually one thing that the Surface line did was revolutionize the Windows tablet line. MS' previous tablet pc lines were really bulky and didn't pan out too well. Having a real tablet form factor that actually worked well kind of showed how a Windows Tablet should look and feel. The devices since then have largely copied the Surface form factor in one form or another and the idea of a touchscreen Windows device isn't nearly as strange-sounding as it used to be. I agree that their goal likely wasn't so much to sell a lot of them as it was to get PC makers to change the way they made these types of PCs. I also don't think MS will really be able to catch up until the Surface is sold in more places and they can address the universal apps a bit more.  (though the ability to run regular Windows apps is a huge positive to me, it still doesn't always run them well in a touch-only interface)
  • Not a surprise at all. Ppl Apple sold Apple Pro in more than 40~50 markets in DAY 1 and it have expended to almost 100 by December. MS, in the order hand, sells surface in what? 20 countries or less more than 3 YEARS. 
  • Well, the Surface Pro line is advancing very well and is having a well reception all over, but it's just initiating. It can not be compared in sales with the ipad pro because ipads has many years selling with a probed OS and MSFT is still in the making of its own OS, but the hardware is there. And like FernandoDB says, in ho many countries is MSFT selling its devices? Not many. Here in Mexico you can buy an Ipad Pro or any apple devices in its mexican website and you'll have it the very next day. In the mexican MSFT website you onlycan buy their office line of software but no hardware, no surface, no lumias, no xbox. So there is no way that MSFT will ever have apple's sales numbers until they really want to sell.
  • I'm constantly surprised with Apple fans, the iPad Pro is a larger iPad, the only real difference being it has a "pencil" (That doesn't come with an eraser), yes it has a keyboard too, but I've seen iPads with 3rd party keyboards attached for years. It's still JUST an iPad, I fail to see in any way how it's even considered in the same market as Surface. I think the real test should be if the device can run Photoshop or not, if the iPad Pro ran OSX then it could happily compete in the same arena as Surface but it doesn't and likely won't for a few years. The sales of iPad Pro would have mostly been iPad owners who saw a new iPad with a bigger screen, creamed their pants and bought the Pro, I don't think many sales came from people who actually want / need a productive tablet, because people who do need that would actually look at what's in the market and make a smarter choice.