According to the market researchers at Gartner, sales of tablets based on Google's Android mobile OS dramatically surpassed those of the slowing iPad. And while Windows-based tablets are still just a tiny part of the market, Microsoft got a tidbit of good news: They were responsible for the biggest growth by far.
Overall tablet sales grew pretty dramatically in 2013, jumping to 195 million units from 116 million in 2012. That's 68 percent growth.
And while Android already controls 80 percent of the market for smart phones, Gartner says it now owns 62 percent of the tablet market too, a big increase from its 46 percent market share in 2012. Windows is a distant third with 2.1 percent market share.
The big news here, of course, is the rise of Android. According to Gartner, hardware makers shipped 121 million Android-based tablets in 2013, up from 53 million in 2012 and a unit shipment of over double. Meanwhile, while sales of Apple's iPad lineup did grow from 61 million to 70 million units in the same timeframe, that's just a 15 percent bump in unit shipments.
The 16.8 percentage point drop in iPad market share was attributed to both the improved quality of smaller low-cost tablets from branded vendors like Samsung and Amazon, and grow in emerging markets, where cheap "white box" vendors reign.
On the Windows side of the fence, sales grew to 4 million units, up over three times from the 1.2 million hardware makers delivered in 2012, the biggest growth in the group. It's not clear what Gartner is measuring here, though the firm calls out Lenovo and its Yoga products, which are hybrid PCs (or 2-in-1s, or transforming PCs, depending on who you ask) and not just tablets. (The firm notes that it includes "hybrids and clamshells" in its tablet count. Are these all multi-touch devices?)
Speaking of Lenovo, Gartner reports that the top five tablet vendors in 2013 were Apple, Samsung, ASUS, Amazon and Lenovo. Apple sold 70 million iPads, good for 36 percent share as noted, and down from 53 percent the previous year. But number two Samsung surged: It sold 37 million units, with 19 percent market share, up from 8.6 million units and 7.4 percent market share in 2012. That's an astonishing leap of 4.3x, and suggests that Samsung is on track to overtake Apple in the tablet market in the same way it did in smart phones. Could Samsung surpass Apple as soon as this year?
The remainder of the top five all have single digit markets share—11 million units and 5.6 percent market share for ASUS, 9.4 million and 4.8 percent for Amazon and 6.5 million and 3.3 percent for Lenovo, respectively—and only Lenovo saw major growth year-over-year. That firm jumped from 1.9 percent of the market to 3.3 percent in 2013.
Looking over the numbers, it's pretty hard to imagine Microsoft and Windows making huge strides here. Fast growth is easy to achieve when you start from a small place—just witness the Mac—but that doesn't always translate into big market share gains down the road (again, witness the Mac). Windows 8.1 has apparently had a bit of an impact on sales, but I'd guess that improved designs from hardware makers had even more of an impact. Which of course explains the cheaper new licensing for low-cost Windows devices: If you can't convince customers with software design, go for the pocketbooks. This, I suspect, will be the trend to watch in 2014, whether consumers will fall for very cheap Windows tablets.