Worldwide tablet shipments grew 75% in the fourth quarter to a record 52.5 million units as lower average selling prices, a wide range of choices and season spending drove up sales. Shipments were up nearly as much from the prior quarter as from a year ago, at 74%, according to new data from research firm IDC.
"We expected a very strong fourth quarter, and the market didn't disappoint," said Tom Mainelli, research director, Tablets, at IDC. "New product launches from the category's top vendors, as well as new entrant Microsoft, led to a surge in consumer interest and very robust shipments totals during the holiday season.”
Apple led the way with 23 million units shipped, up 48% from a year ago on strong demand for the iPad Mini and the rollout of the fourth-generation iPad. IDC noted, however, that Apple’s market share in the quarter declined to 43.6% from 46.4% in the third quarter, as Samsung and other competitors chipped away at the company’s dominant position.
Samsung’s share doubled in the quarter to 15% from 7.3% a year ago, with combined Android and Windows 8 tablet shipments of 8 million. Amazon also had a strong holiday season, nearly doubling its share to 11.5% in the quarter while shipping 6 million tablets.
Rounding out the top five were Asus, with 5.8% share on shipments of 3.1 million tablets, and Barnes & Noble, with 1.9% of the market and quarterly shipments of 1 million units. Asus actually saw its share slip from 7.8% despite promising shipments of the Google-branded Nexus 7 tablet. With the rollout of its two low-priced HD tablets last September, it gained some ground but remains a tiny player overall.
As for Microsoft, its Surface with Windows RT tablet launched with much fanfare in October.The company ended up shipping 900,000 units in the quarter, leaving it out of the top five.
“There is no question that Microsoft is in this tablet race to compete for the long haul. However, devices based upon its new Windows 8 and Windows RT operating systems failed to gain much ground during their launch quarter, and reaction to the company's Surface with Windows RT tablet was muted at best," said Ryan Reith, program manager, Mobile Device Trackers at IDC.
He added that Microsoft has to adjust to the market realities of a smaller screen and lower prices to make any headway against its rivals. But it looks like Microsoft is going in the other direction. The Windows 8-powered Surface Pro, coming out Feb. 9, will sell for $899, compared to $499 for the Windows RT version.