Best Buy dreams of laptop revival amid ‘crashing’ tablet sales

A couple years ago, few people would have bet on the laptop as the savior for an ailing tablet market. But that’s what Best Buy seems to be counting on as tablet sales fall flat.

“The tablets boomed and now are crashing. The volume has really gone down in the last several months,” Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly told Re/code. “But I think the laptop has something of a revival because it’s becoming more versatile.”

Although Joly didn’t provide any numbers, IDC estimates that worldwide tablet sales grew by just 11 percent year-over-year in the second quarter, down from 60 percent growth between 2012 and 2013. Apple was hit the hardest last quarter, as iPad sales fell by 9.3 percent over the last year, but rival Samsung’s growth was essentially flat, and Amazon didn’t even appear on the list of top five vendors.

Joly chalks up the weak tablet sales to the way the market exploded at the outset. A lot of people bought tablets early on, but don’t see any urgent need to replace them with something just a little lighter and faster. “The penetration has gone so fast that it’s reaching an amazing degree and therefore it becomes more of a replacement market, and the level of innovation in the past year has not been as great as it had been in the previous two years,” he said.

Meanwhile, the PC—which became a “replacement market” many years ago—is making a comeback, Joly said. That’s partly because Microsoft ended support for Windows XP and prompted users to replace their aging hardware. But Joly also said that two-in-one devices like Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 are blurring the lines between tablets and laptops, and are especially appealing to students.

“If you take the [Microsoft] Surface, is it a tablet or a laptop? I think it’s both. So I don’t think the laptop has said its last word,” Joly said.

Still, a full-blown revival might be wishful thinking. While PC sales are no longer tanking, they aren’t taking off either. IDC estimates that PC sales fell by 1.7 percent year-over-year last quarter, while Gartner’s estimate shows 0.1 percent growth.

The reality for both laptops and tablets is that people aren’t going to replace them as often as smartphones, and won’t need nearly as many of either per household. As tempting as it is to declare PCs “dead,” or tablets just a “fad,” neither category is going away as the lines between them continue to blur.