Apple's multi-year reign at the top of the consumer tablet heap ended in 2013 as slates running Google's Android operating system outsold iOS-based iPads for the year, according to Gartner.
Sales of Android tablets accounted for 61.9 per cent of the global market last year, or nearly 121 million units sold in 2013, Gartner said Monday. Overall, tablet vendors sold just over 195.4 million tablets with various operating systems for the year, up 68 per cent from 116.3 million units sold to end users in 2012.
Apple effectively created the market for consumer tablets in April 2010 with the release of the first-generation iPad. Cupertino remained the market leader for three years, but tablets running Android had gained considerable ground by 2012, when iOS held 52.8 per cent of the global market, followed by Android at 45.8 per cent.
Last year, Apple's iOS-based tablets came in at 36.0 per cent of the market with 70.4 million units sold, according to Gartner. That actually represented a nice increase from the 61.5 million iPads sold in 2012, but Android's major gains—particularly with first-time tablet buyers and in the "low-end smaller screen tablet market" —wound up reducing Cupertino's overall market share by 16.8 per centage points anyway.
"In 2013, tablets became a mainstream phenomenon, with a vast choice of Android-based tablets being within the budget of mainstream consumers while still offering adequate specifications," Gartner research director Roberta Cozza said in a statement. "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."
Apple did hold onto its crown as the top individual vendor of consumer tablets, selling 70.4 million iPads in 2013 for a 36.0 per cent share of the overall market—the same as its share of the market as broken down by operating systems, since the company is the sole maker of tablets running iOS and doesn't sell devices running other software.
Samsung came in second with 37.4 million tablets sold for 19.1 per cent of the global market, followed by Asus (11.0 million units, 5.6 per cent share), Amazon (9.4 million units, 4.8 per cent share), and Lenovo (6.5 million units, 3.3 per cent share). All other tablet makers combined to sell 60.7 million units last year and capture 31 per cent of the market, up dramatically from 30.1 million units sold and a 25.8 per cent share of the market in 2012, Gartner said.
Last year, Microsoft was still looking up at a giant gulf separating its Windows tablets from those running either Android or iOS, Gartner reported. But Redmond managed to more than double its share of the global consumer tablet market as categorised by OS from 2012 to 2013, while seeing nearly 3.5 times as many tablets running Windows sold. The final tally for unit sales last year of the Surface and other Windows-based slates was more than 4.0 million, representing a 2.1 per cent share of the overall market, the research firm said.
Redmond still faces major challenges in gaining more ground in 2014, despite "now acting more rapidly to evolve Windows 8.1" for the mobile device market, Cozza said.
"To compete, Microsoft needs to create a 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," she said.