Tablets, once the darling of the consumer electronics industry, have hit hard times — if you measure by shipments and sales. While the installed user base continues to grow — Forrester forecasts that 580 million people will be using tablets globally by the end of 2015 — shipment numbers have been disappointing, even looking at Apple's iPad. In Q2, 2015, Apple sold 12.62 million iPads, a whopping 23% drop compared with Q2, 2014 when the company sold 16.35 million. Clearly, all is not well in tablet-land.

We lay out the reasons for this generalized market volatility in our major new forecast report, Global Tablet Forecast 2015 to 2018: Despite Market Volatility, Tablets Are Big In Business. Some important factors? A lack of replacement behavior, whereby many consumers hold on to older tablet models, has persisted due to a lack of genuine new innovations (and the fact that, say, an iPad 3 still works well). We present other factors in the full report.

But there's a bright spot in the tablet industry — the company-purchased segment. Our forecast shows that enterprise tablets are growing as a percentage of the market, from 6% in 2010 to 20% by 2018. These tablets can be Apple iPads, Windows-based tablets, or Android devices, and they are generally purchased and managed by the company on behalf of employees, who might receive them individually or, in other use cases, share the devices.

The enterprise segment is being driven by a variety of factors.

  • Vendors have upped their games. Apple's important partnership with IBM has led to the development of numerous enterprise applications for iOS. Microsoft and its partners — particularly Dell, with its enterprise focus — have made Windows into an important OS for enterprise tablets, a trend that will accelerate with Windows 10. The Android ecosystem has begun to benefit from the Android for Work initiative, solving some of the security problems associated with the platform.
  • Workers demand tablets. Workers themselves say they value tablets, with over half of information workers using one at least weekly for work. And many companies now co-opt the energy of consumerization — the inclination that drives workers to bring their own tablets to work — by providing company-owned devices.
  • New scenarios employ tablets. Not all workers are desk-bound, and tablets are finding their way into the hands of many different types of workers: Package delivery drivers. Retail sales associates. Car-return specialists at the car rental companies. Menus at restaurants. Field technicians. Growth in these and other scenarios expands the addressable market for enterprise tablets significantly.

Ultimately, I&O leaders need to build a multi-year, multi-device strategy around equipping the workforce with appropriate hardware, including tablets. I invite you to read and download the full report for many more insights and a tool for how to choose the right AR or VR device for the right task.

J. P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals. He has covered the tablet market since the debut of the iPad in 2010. Onalytica named him one of the five most important people on wearable computing for 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @jgownder