Samsung takes a nibble out of Apple's tablet lead

Tablet shipments soared to record highs in Q4, though Microsoft couldn't outsell Barnes and Noble

Some 52.5 million tablets shipped during the final quarter of 2012, and 22.9 million bore the Apple logo, according to the latest IDC data. However, rival Samsung managed to put a small dent in Apple's overall market share lead by shipping 7.9 million tablets, a year-over-year increase of 263 percent. Conspicuous by its absence among the top five tablet makers is Microsoft, which, according to IDC, shipped just 900,000 Surface tablets during the final quarter of 2012.

"Devices based upon [Microsoft's] 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 for IDC's Mobile Device Trackers. That figure could overstate sales, as Microsoft reports how many units it ships to stores, not how many units customers buy. (Apple reports sales to customers, but most other providers -- including Samsung -- report sales to stores.)

Overall, the 52.5 million tablet shipments represented a new quarterly record, spurred by lower-priced tablets, a wealth of new product options, and a surge in holiday spending. Shipments for Q4 in 2011 had totaled 29.9 million. "The record-breaking quarter stands in stark contrast to the PC market, which saw shipments decline during the quarter for the first time in more than five years," said Tom Mainelli, research director for tablets at IDC.

Samsung takes a nibble out of Apple's tablet lead

Apple shipped the most tablets for the quarter at 22.9 million, representing growth of 48.1 percent for the quarter. IDC attributed the company's success to a strong iPad Mini launch, along with the availability of the fourth-generation full-sized iPad. However, the company's overall year-over-year market share dropped from 51.7 percent to 43.6 percent due to increased competition.

Samsung shipped the second-most tablets for the holiday season, 7.9 million in all. That's up from 2.2 million from Q4 of last year, an impressive 263 percent increase. The company's market share for the quarter was 15.1 percent, up from 7.3 percent last year.

Amazon, meanwhile, shipped 6 million Kindles last quarter, up from 4.7 million during Q4 of 2011. Year-over-year growth was 26.8 percent, and the company's market shared dropped from 15.9 percent to 11.5 percent.

Thanks to strong sales of its Google-branded Nexus 7, Asus jumped into fourth place. The company shipped 3.1 million tablets in all for the Q4, up from 600,000 in Q4 2011. That added up to a year-over-year growth rate of 402.3 percent and gave the company a 5.8 percent chunk of overall market share.

Barnes and Noble rounded out the top five with around 1 million Nook shipments for Q4 -- 400,000 fewer than it shipped in 2011. The bookseller's market share dipped from 4.6 percent to 1.9 percent.

IDC's Reith said that Microsoft needs to wake up to market realities if it's going to make a better showing in the tablet market. "In the long run, consumers may grow to believe that high-end computing tablets with desktop operating systems are worth a higher premium than other tablets, but until then, [prices] on Windows 8 and Windows RT devices need to come down to drive higher volumes," he said.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.