Microsoft Climbs to 5th Rung in Soaring Global Tablet Market
Though it's not within striking distance of Apple and Samsung, Microsoft nevertheless is making headway in the tablet market, claiming the No. 5 spot behind Asus and Amazon. Apple hung onto the No. 1 position -- barely -- shipping 19.5 million devices to Samsung's 18.7 million. Microsoft has yet to crack the 1 million mark, but it shipped a respectable 900,000 units in the first quarter of 2013.
The worldwide tablet market is surging. Shipments increased 142.4 percent year over year in the first quarter of 2013, IDC reported Wednesday, for a total of 49.2 million units. That figure surpasses the total for the entire first half of 2012.
Some interesting trends are evident in the report: Apple and Samsung, the leaders of the pack, outperformed IDC's expectations. Meanwhile, Microsoft has moved into the top five rankings.
The Top 5
Apple shipped 19.5 million units, topping its forecast of 18.7 million units. The company historically experiences a steep drop in first-quarter shipments, but its decision to move the iPad launch to the fourth quarter of 2012 prevented that slump.
Samsung, at No. 2, also performed above expectations, shipping 8.8 million units. Its success was fueled in part by demand for the company's smaller-sized tablets. Samsung is taking advantage of its recent Android smartphone growth to usher its tablet line into new markets, IDC said.
Asus moved into the No. 3 vendor spot, with 2.7 million shipments of Google's highly marketed Nexus 7 device.
Amazon shipped 1.8 million Kindle Fires, taking No. 4.
Microsoft entered the top five for the first time, IDC noted, with its combined shipment of close to 900,000 Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets.
An Exploding Category
This growth story is easy to understand: Consumers simply love their tablets.
"The use of tablets has exploded over the past few years," said Bruce Saulnier, professor and chair of computer information systems at Quinnipiac University.
"In fact, in our department, all professors are provided a tablet as part of their normal operating equipment," he told the E-Commerce Times.
"Contrary to the prediction of BlackBerry [CEO Thorsten Heins], it appears that the use of tablet computers will rise rapidly," Saulnier added, "as the advent of cloud computing has led to the ability of doing development work without having programs resident on one's device."
For How Long?
How long can this expansion continue?
The category likely will stay in growth mode for at least a couple of years, predicted Andrew Till, Symphony Teleca's SVP and head of mobile and media devices. During that period, increased competition will put more pressure on pricing. Also, there will be more segmentation and a greater focus on some of the emerging vertical markets.
"We will also see more from the chipset vendors as they focus on the tablet market as a key growth area," he told the E-Commerce Times. "In particular, I would expect to see some additional focus on power management for larger display devices, as well as new hardware enablers for innovations in sensors, gestures and new display technologies."
The Wrong Question
Whether tablets will survive for another five years, which the BlackBerry chief doubted, is not the right question, said Tyler Lessard, CMO of Fixmo. Rather, the question should be, what single device will consumers use five years from now?
"The expectation is that over time, users want to carry one device that will connect to a lot of different screens and keyboards," Lessard told the E-Commerce Times. "Whether the device is four, five or eight inches seems to matter less and less. Right now, there is a preference towards large screen smartphones, for example."
The most important point is that the hardware form factors are becoming less relevant and as a deciding factor for the industry, he concluded. Instead, "the industry is becoming a software and service industry that is focused on how platforms are powered."