We’re still buying loads of tablets, but iOS isn’t winning any more

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There may be some truth to the notion that our love affair with tablets is over (or at least not as passionate as it once was), but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop buying them any time soon.

According to tech research company Gartner, worldwide sales of tablets reached 195.4-million units in 2013, a 68% increase on 2012. While that’s not the same kind of growth we’ve seen in previous years, it does show that the market isn’t completely flooded.

As is to be expected, much of that growth came from emerging markets countries with low-end smaller screen tablets market aimed at first time buyers the real winners. Gartner analysts say that emerging markets recorded growth of 145% in 2013, while mature markets grew 31%.

The net result is that, as is the case in the smartphone market, Android is now the dominant tablet OS. According to Gartner, around 62% of tablets sold in 2013 run Google’s mobile OS. That’s a pretty significant increase from the 45.8% marketshare it laid claim to in 2012.

Android’s success though means that the iPad no longer reigns supreme. In 2013, the share of Apple’s iOS dropped 16.8 percentage points to 36%. Despite that decrease though, it doesn’t seem likely that the Cupertino giant is about to disappear off the tablet map any time soon.

“Apple’s tablets remain strong in the higher end of the market and, Apple’s approach will continue to force vendors to compete with full ecosystem offerings, even in the smaller-screen market as the iPad mini sees a greater share”, says Gartner research director Roberta Cozza.

While Microsoft’s seems fairly entrenched in third place, it’s not exactly killing it with just over two percent marketshare. “To compete, Microsoft needs to create compelling ecosystem proposition for consumers and developers across all mobile devices, as tablets and smartphones become key devices for delivering applications and services to users beyond the PC,” says Cozza. Microsoft enjoys better shares in ultramobiles that are more productivity oriented, where its partners are ramping up new form factors and designs.

The hardware challenge

Gartner also reckons that traditional hardware-driven players such as Samsung and Apple will increasingly feel the squeeze from traditionally service-driven players entering the tablet space as well as aggressive prices from white-box vendors.

Those two are however pretty much entrenched as the top of the tablet pile. According to Gartner, Apple’s strong fourth quarter helped it to maintain the top position in the market in 2013. Samsung, ranked number two, exhibited the highest growth of the worldwide tablet vendors, at 336%, in 2013.

The expansion and improvement of its Galaxy tablet portfolio, together with strong marketing and promotions, the research company says, helped Samsung shrink the gap with Apple. 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.

Worldwide tablet sales

Among the vendors that have a less than six per cent share of the worldwide tablet market, Lenovo did particularly well in 2013 with tablet sales growing 198%.

“Lenovo‘s success is a combination of launching innovative new tablet models during the second half of 2013 and the sales of its Yoga model and Windows tablets doing particularly well,” says Isabelle Durand, principal research analyst at Gartner.

“Moreover, Lenovo’s strong R&D capabilities and its ability to react quickly to tablet market dynamics have helped it introduce innovative and a range of attractive products to the market. However, establishing a strong brand with consumers outside China, which is especially important in the tablet market, remains a key challenge.”

Interestingly, Gartner’s research also showed that tablets are still seriously outpacing hybrid devices (which try to mix the best features of tablets and laptops) and clamshells in the ultramobile market.

Worldwide sales of ultramobiles to end users reached 216-million units in 2013, an increase of 68% on 2012. The tablet remained the most popular device, accounting for 90% of overall sales of ultramobiles in 2013 — followed by the clamshell and the hybrid, with eight percent and two percent of sales, respectively.

Gartner does however expect the hybrid category to see serious growth in the near future.

“Although there were few models available last year, the hybrid form factor was the fastest growing category in 2013. Hybrid ultramobiles attracted users’ attention because the keyboard offers better use of productivity applications and benefits from a tablet form factor,” says Cozza. ASUS was the leader in the hybrid ultramobile segment in 2013, due to stronger sales of its Transformer Book T100.

Gartner expects replacement buyers to start upgrading to hybrid ultramobiles that will be introduced into the market from 2014, satisfying users who no longer want to deal with owning multiple devices or who want to keep up with the latest computing trend.

“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 adds.

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