Android races past iOS to tablet number one, but there's no budging Apple from the top slot

Summary:Android is dominating tablet sales but Apple is still the biggest brand. But will hybrids and clamshells change everything again?

With 120 million tablets sold last year Android has now become the dominant tablet operating system, overtaking Apple's iOS.

Android grabbed around 62 percent of all tablets sold in 2013 — up from 46 percent in 2012, when it 53 million tablets were sold powered by the Google OS. As a result, Apple's iOS-powered iPad's market share declined from 53 percent in 2012 to 36 percent in 2013, even though it increased sales from 61 million to 70 million over the period.

Worldwide sales of tablets to end users reached 195 million last year, a 68 percent increase on 2012, according to a report released today by analyst group Gartner.

It was in 2013 that tablets really hit the mainstream, with cheaper Android devices sporting reasonable specs becoming popular, Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner, said.  However, competing on price alone won't be enough for tablet makers from now on, she added.

"As the Android tablet market becomes highly commoditised, in 2014, it will be critical for vendors to focus on device experience and meaningful technology and ecosystem value — beyond just hardware and cost — to ensure brand loyalty and improved margins," she said.

Gartner said that the improved quality of low-cost tablets from big vendors, plus the growth of 'white box' devices in emerging markets, had eaten in to Apple's market share.

Worldwide Tablet Sales to End Users by Operating System, 2013

Operating system 2013 sales 2013 market share 2012 sales 2012 market share
Android 121 million 61.9 percent 53 million 45.8 percent
iOS 70 million 36 percent 61 million 52.8 percent
Microsoft 4 million 2.1 percent 1.1 million 1 percent
Other

41,598

<0.1 percent 379,000 0.3 percent
Total        

Source: Gartner February 2014

By brand, Apple still sells the most tablets as Android's giant market share is made up by tablets from many different vendors. Apple's 36 percent market share was almost double that of its nearest rival Samsung, which sold 37 million tablets (up from eight million the year before).

The expansion and improvement of its Galaxy tablet portfolio, together with strong marketing and promotions, helped Samsung shrink the gap with Apple , Gartner noted. "In line with its smartphone approach, Samsung's oversegmentation of its tablet portfolio helped it to offer a wider size and price choice but also helped it to test the market and find niches."

Gartner said Lenovo, in fifth place, did particularly well in 2013 with tablet sales growing 198 per cent year on year; sales of its Yoga model and Windows tablets did particularly well. However, Gartner said establishing a strong brand with consumers outside China, which is especially important in the tablet market, remains a challenge for the company.

And, despite experiments with different form factors, the standard black glass slab design remains the favourite for now, accounting for 90 percent of what Gartner terms the 'ultramobiles' market, with clamshell and the hybrids claiming just eight and two percent of sales respectively.

However, interest in hybrids is growing fast, the analyst firm said, mainly because the keyboard offers better use of productivity applications and benefits from a tablet form factor. Asus was the leader in the hybrid ultramobile segment in 2013, due to stronger sales of its Transformer Book T100 .

One trend for this year — the analyst group said replacement buyers will start upgrading to new hybrid ultramobiles especially if they don't want to own multiple devices: "There is an opportunity here for hybrid ultramobiles to marry the functionality of a PC and a tablet, and they will also prove to be an attractive alternative replacement product among businesses," Cozza said.

Although Amazon increased sales of its Kindle Fire devices from 7.7 million to 9.4 million, its market share fell to 4.4 percent from 6.6 percent.

But there was some good news for Microsoft – Gartner calculates that around four million Windows tablets sold last year, up from one million in 2012. That meant Redmond doubled its market share from a tiny one percent to a still-tiny two percent, although the analysts noted that Microsoft does have a better shares in ultramobiles that are more productivity oriented, where its partners are ramping up new form factors and designs.

Further reading

Topics: Tablets, Android, Apple, Mobility, Samsung

About

Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic, and has been writing about technology, business and culture for more than a decade. Previously he was the editor of silicon.com.

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