Nexus 7 lifts ASUS to third place

So much for Apple's tablet reign that analysts stoutly stood by even just months ago. Android kicks ass, crushing iOS shipments during first quarter, according to IDC. Among the top four, the fruit-logo company posted the lowest year-over-year growth (65.3 percent), and considerably less than the overall market (142.4 percent). Meanwhile, the company's market share fell by 18.5 points to 39.6 percent.

Among tablet manufacturers, Apple is market leader, with the question being for how much longer. Samsung share rose 282.6 percent -- ASUS even more (350 percent). Strong Nexus 7 shipments pushed ASUS past Amazon to take third place. ASUS' challenge and opportunity could be Google I/O, where the tablet launched last year and new model is rumored for the event starting May 15. Challenge is maintaining shipments during product transition; opportunity is capitalizing on new sales.

Measured by operating system, Android soared 247.5 percent year over year, with market share rising to 56.5 percent from 39.4 percent. iOS was near mirror opposite, falling from 58.1 percent to 39.6 percent.

Despite share losses and slower growth, "sustained demand for the iPad mini and increasingly strong commercial shipments led to a better-than expected first quarter for Apple", Tom Mainelli, IDC research director, says. "In addition, by moving the iPad launch to the fourth quarter of 2012, Apple seems to have avoided the typical first-quarter slowdown that traditionally occurred when consumers held off buying in January and February in anticipation of a new product launch in March".

So there's the silver lining. For the previous three years, new iPads launched in March or April. Apple launched a second iPad in late 2012 concurrent with the mini's introduction, changing the release cycle.

Microsoft is the quarter's biggest surprise, with tablet shipments soaring 700 percent, arguably from smaller base. IDC puts Surface shipments at 900,000 for the quarter, majority the Pro model. A week ago, Strategy Analytics also tallied stronger-than-expected Q1 Surface shipments.

NPD DisplaySearch predicts that 7-7.9-inch tablets will account for nearly half of tablet shipments this year, a big shift downward in screen size. Microsoft is headed there, too.

Top Five Tablet Vendors, Shipments, and Market Share, First Quarter 2013 (Shipments in millions) 

Vendor

1Q13 Unit Shipments

1Q13 Market Share

1Q12 Unit Shipments

1Q12 Market Share

Year-over-Year Growth

1. Apple

19.5

39.6%

11.8

58.1%

65.3%

2. Samsung

8.8

17.9%

2.3

11.3%

282.6%

3. ASUS

2.7

5.5%

0.6

3.1%

350.0%

4. Amazon.com Inc.

1.8

3.7%

0.7

3.6%

157.1%

5. Microsoft

0.9

1.8%

0.0

N/A

N/A

Others

15.5

31.5%

4.9

24.1%

216.3%

Total

49.2

100.0%

20.3

100.0%

142.4%

Source: IDC Worldwide Tablet Tracker, May 1, 2013

Last month, CFO Peter Klein said that Microsoft is "working closely with OEMs on a new suite of small touch devices powered by Windows. These devices will have competitive price points, partly enabled by our latest OEM offerings designed specifically for these smaller devices, and will be available in the coming months".

Ryan Reith, IDC program manager, sees little promise in "smaller screen Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets hitting the market. He emphasizes: "The notion that this will be the saving grace is flawed. Clearly the market is moving toward smart 7-8 inch devices, but Microsoft's larger challenges center around consumer messaging and lower cost competition".

Top Tablet Operating Systems, Shipments, and Market Share, 2013 Q1 (Shipments in Millions) 

Vendor

1Q13 Unit Shipments

1Q13 Market Share

1Q12 Unit Shipments

1Q12 Market Share

Year-over-Year Growth

Android

27.8

56.5%

8.0

39.4%

247.5%

iOS

19.5

39.6%

11.8

58.1%

65.3%

Windows

1.6

3.3%

0.2

1.0%

700.0%

Windows RT

0.2

0.4%

0.0

N/A

N/A

Others

0.1

0.2%

0.2

1.0%

-50.0%

Total

49.2

100.0%

20.3

100.0%

142.4%

Source: IDC Worldwide Tablet Tracker, May 1, 2013

Execution will be everything. "If these challenges are addressed, along with the desired screen size variations, then we could see Microsoft make even further headway in 2013 and beyond", Reith emphasizes.

Unlike smartphones, where Apple and Samsung, Android and iOS, dominate the market, tablets are increasingly uncertain, particularly in context of iPad's share losses (even as shipments rise). Where Windows Phone unlikely will gain much share, plenty of opportunity remains for Windows 8/RT. Shipments through fourth quarter will answer how much.

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